Ahead in the Count

3rd inning..1-0 good guys

posted by Matt Whiteside

On August 5th, 1992 I was in a hotel room in Oklahoma City, Ok.  I received THE phone call from my manager, Tommy Thompson.  He asked, “ would you like to go to Arlington Tx  tonight and pitch for the Texas Rangers?”  After making sure he was not kidding, I confirmed that I thought I would be able to make it.  The Triple A team in Oklahoma City that year was a veteran laden team, and there were several guys deserving of a call up.  One, John Barfield, found out I had been called up and came to pick me up and give me a ride to the airport.  A kind gesture for sure,  but not one all veteran big leaguers would have made like John did.  It made an impression on me.  THE CALL, could have easily gone to John who was having a fine year himself.  He showed me in that gesture what a veteran is supposed to act like in all situations.  Over the next 2 months I would see plenty of those examples displayed, as well as a few who you’d rather not emulate. 


Upon arriving at Arlington Stadium the first person I met was Joe Makko, the Home Clubbie.  The 2nd person I met was my childhood hero, now teammate, Nolan Ryan.  So many times, the hype is more than the real thing.  Not in this case!  Nolan exemplified all the things a Professional Athlete should be.  He was a tireless worker, an intense competitor, gracious in public, and a great teammate. One example, of many, was that Nolan had a routine he went through prior to each start, as most great players do.  A few weeks into my rookie campaign Nolan asked for my assistance with his routine.  I obliged of course, and proceeded to the bullpen where I held my hand out for Nolan to perform the “towel drill” for 5 minutes.  When he was finished, he lumbered off to the mound, and I retreated to the clubhouse.  The following day in Kansas City during batting practice, Nolan asked if I wanted to do the “towel drill”.  I assumed he meant hold my hand out so he could do more work.  Instead, he got down on one knee, and let me go through the drill, with his hand being MY target. After 26 years ( at that time) in the Big Leagues, Nolan was still not to good to get on a knee to help a Rookie teammate.  What an impression that made.


Toward the end of this story book year, actually coming off a long road trip in late August, Kenny Rogers asked where I was staying at home in Arlington.  I told him an extended stay.  He said, “you stay in a hotel on the road.  Get your bags, and come to my house.”  That would have been a considerate offer from a bachelor in the big leagues, but Kenny was, and is married, and had a 2 year old daughter.  Kenny and Becky assured me it was no trouble, actually insisted, and had me as a guest in their home for the last month of the season.  I can’t begin to describe how these two examples, and countless others, influenced me in what it means to be a “teammate”


Just as clear as those examples were in what to do, I was also privy to how not to do things.  As cordial, considerate, helpful and positive Nolan and Kenny were, Jose Canseco was in stark contrast.  His short comings and poor decisions are well documented, so I won’t bore you with most of them.  However, one instance clearly defined the type of guy Jose is.  We were playing the Cleveland Indians in old Cleveland

Stadium.  Kenny was pitching, and Jose was in right field.  Most of you have probably seen the high light ( low light) reel where Jose takes a fly ball off the forehead that bounces over the fence for a home run.  What no one ever hears about is that 2 hitters before that, Jose went for a fly ball down the right field line.  While he had himself positioned in foul territory, the ball fell fair by 3 feet for a double. Now the “home run ball” is a 2 run homer. 2 Earned runs for Kenny and a few laughs for Jose.  It was bad enough, the plays themselves. But, on the bus after the game back to the hotel, all Jose could do was laugh and make jokes about it.  Not an apology, or remorseful bone in his body to the pitcher/teammate who he turned 2 outs into 2 earned runs.


Now at the highest level possible, I was still being influenced by people, men, who I had “seen on TV” and looked up to.  Yes, you come in contact with all types through out the years.  Yes, you can easily be influenced in negative ways.  We all have here at one point or another. But, knowing, understanding, and filtering the people in your life, and the impact they make, develops you, and what you eventually stand for.  Surrounding yourself with positive people, and then trying to “pay it forward” if you will, helps you  appreciate and become a quality person/ teammate in life.

November 30, 2008 - Posted by | Overview / Background, written by Matt Whiteside

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