I got star struck three times in professional baseball. The first time was against the Texas Rangers in Spring Training where, as a catcher, I followed a foul-ball back to the net only for it to fall out of play and as my eyes followed the ball to the stands I locked eyes with my childhood idol, Nolan Ryan, sitting front row. I returned to my position behind the plate with the hairs on my neck standing up that he was now watching me play. Ryan was a competitor, who struck out more hitters with his 100+ MPH fastball than anyone in the history of the game. The big Texan would fist fight you, too.
There may never be a human to throw a baseball as dominantly as Nolan Ryan.
The second was meeting Hall of Fame legend, Greg Maddox, as a special assistant pitching coach of the Padres my first year. Maddox was a wizard of control on the mound and won baseball games because he pitched like a chess master. I always assumed he’d be dorky, but he was hilarious and most of his pranks aren’t appropriate to share.
There may never be a human to control a baseball like Greg Maddux.
The third may come as a surprise. Let me be clear that all three examples are certified legends, except the first two are immortalized Hall of Fame players who’s legends will never die. The third time I was star struck by is a bit of a sleeper.
I was always a regular at “early outs,” which is basically practice before practice. I knew I’d find him there. After all, guys like this don’t get to professional baseball by just doing the regular amount of practice. As I put my bats down in the cage to move a bucket of balls in position to hit off the batting tee, I saw all five foot seven of him twirling his bat in his usual fashion. David Eckstein was a major league hero and there was not reason for him to be there.
He wasn’t big enough or fast enough. His glove wasn’t flashy, and he had the body of a middle schooler. He surely didn’t hit with enough power. Without any notable stand out skills, David basically forced his way into his job. Doing this for a decade in the Major Leagues only came after he wouldn’t take no for an answer in college. After trying to walk-on at the University of Florida, he was cut from the team immediately. Nonetheless, he came back the next day to the coaching staff’s amazement. They politely cut him again and again and again.
The rest is history, though, because he would later become such a pest that the Gators let him walk-on to the team where he would eventually become an NCAA All-America and future MLB World Series MVP.
Hitting with him felt like hitting with Barry Bonds, but for different reasons. Hitting with Barry Bonds would be amazing, because what Barry could do was out of this world. Hitting with David was amazing, because who David was is out out this world.
There may never be a human with better character than David Eckstein.
You’d think a future legend professional athlete would be recognized for it in his high school year book. What was David Eckstein voted his senior year of high school, you ask?
30 Double Unders