Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gary Scott and the Hoff

Micah Hoffpauir is turning into Mr. February down in Arizona. He hit another homerun yesterday against the Rangers to raise his Cactus League batting average to .364 and his RBI total to seven in three games.

That is all very nice, and I am very happy for the man (I can't really call him a "young" man since a 29 year-old ballplayer is not considered young anymore), but his performance so far has been making me think about Gary Scott.

Gary Scott was a third base prospect in the early 90s that was hyped by the Cubs and their propaganda newsletter, Vine Line, as the next coming of Ron Santo. Scott was the prototypical kind of player the Cubs like to hype to their fan base: a hard-playing, team-oriented, defense-minded, high-character white guy.

Scott would go down to Mesa and tear the cover off the ball all spring long and make the team as the starting third baseman. Then the airlines would apparently lose the luggage in which he stored his talent on the flight to Chicago. In 1991, he batted .165 until May 14, when the Cubs sent him down.

In 1992, he had another great spring and made the team again as the starting third baseman. Again, somewhere between Arizona and Chicago, he misplaced his talent. He was batting a robust .103 on the season when I stepped into the picture.

On April 20, 1992 I headed for the bleachers with a group of my college friends for what the Cubs billed as "Opening Night IV" (first night game of the year), and I decided that I was going to be a Gary Scott fan. The guy needed a fan, and I was going to cheer for him, no matter what.

Greg Maddux started the game and when he struck someone out, I would yell to Gary that he did a great job standing there. I took every opportunity to try to boost his confidence.

Gary's first at-bat resulted in a weak grounder to short where he was thrown out easily. I yelled to him that he did a great job hustling, and that he had been robbed. (I was not above stretching the truth a bit in my efforts to help him out.)

It is important to note that I did not have a single drop of alcohol in my system. I was not of age quite yet, and I was not a cool kid who managed to get a fake ID or talk older people into buying drinks for me. I was drinking nothing stronger than Pepsi that night.

The game went on and Greg Maddux hit a towering homerun over my head and out of the stadium towards the Budweiser building, so the Cubs had the lead and we were all in good spirits. I was consistently telling Gary Scott how well he was playing, despite not doing anything more impressive than spitting and scratching himself on occasion.

Later, the Cubs had two runners on and Doug Dascenzo at the plate. After the count went to 2-0, I realized Gary was on deck. So, I yelled out, "Go ahead and walk him! Gary will hit a grand slam!"

At this point, most of the folks in the bleachers were probably pretty convinced I was either drunk, crazy, or a combination of the two, but I could care less. Dascenzo walked to load the bases, and as Gary came up to the plate, I rose to my feet for the pre-emptive one-man-standing ovation.

On the very first pitch, he cranked a deep drive to left that from my perspective definitely had homerun distance. As the ball sailed, all I could say was, "No way! No way! NO WAY!....... It's FOUL! F---!"

"Thats OK, Gary! You can do it again. Straighten it out a bit! You own this guy!"

Gary returned to the batters box and ran the count to 2-2, and then fouled off eight straight pitches. When I say he "fouled off" the pitches, it would be more accurate to stay he barely managed to touch the ball eight straight times. He hit a conglomeration of piddling grounders and pop-ups that barely made it into the stands. It was not awe inspiring in any way.

As the at-bat wore on, the attitude in the stands started to change. Around the tenth pitch of the at-bat, the rest of Wrigley joined me on the Gary Scott Bandwagon, and began chanting, "Gar-y, Gar-y, Gar-y." Quietly at first, as though everyone was still a bit embarassed to be rooting for a guy batting .100, but it steadily rose in volume.

Every swing he took caused me to have a brief heart-attack until I saw he would live to swing at least one more time. I was barely alive to see the thirteenth pitch in the at-bat. He finally hit one that was not going to be foul. He hit it pretty well and it arched out towards the left-field basket, getting pushed ever so slightly by the wind as it went. When it landed in the first row of the bleachers for the grand slam I had predicted, the entire stadium exploded into bedlam.

Beer was tossed everywhere. High-fives and hugs were had all around like the Cubs had just won the division. I was suddenly the most popular guy in the bleachers.

Gary did a little curtain call that has to be one of the earliest curtain calls in a Cubs season, and the place went nuts again.

I figured that was the moment when Gary would turn the corner. He came up next (with the stadium again joining me in our displays of admiration), and sure enough, he hit the ball pretty hard.... right at the second baseman for an out.

He then went the next three games without a hit and was sent back down to the minors again. After a couple of brief call-ups later in the year, his major league career was over.

So what does this mean for Micah Hoffpauir? Probably nothing, which is about how meaningful these three games are to the overall track of his future career success.

Perhaps he'll become a fixture at Wrigley for the next few years, providing numerous clutch hits to thrill the crowd. Perhaps he'll have that once-in-a-career opportunity to thrill us in the moment, and wax nostalgic about seventeen years later. Perhaps he'll never make the team and we never hear from him again.

If he learns anything from the Gary Scott story, he should definitely pack his talent in his carry-on bag if he makes the major league club.


Anonymous said...

That's a quintessential Cub-fan story. Awesome.

Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

You are trying too hard here. Just tell the story. Every man that really knows baseball knew by pitch 8 that Scott would hit a grand slam, based on the pitcher mentality and the desperate batter mentality. You can either echo this or tell an ironical tale; you cannot do both.

Anonymous said...

I was at this game. I remember it exactly as described. Classic. I also remember that although it was the second week of April, it was 80 degrees at the park and an unseasonable gale-force wind was blowing out of the south.

project rover said...

I grew up with Gary. Great guy who palyed with damaged wrist that second season. He was rushed by a desperate Zimmer

Anonymous said...

Great story! I remember the game well. Gary went to the high school I went to (a few years before me) and was a legend in Pelham, New York. He and his family are great folks. I heard stories of his amazing hitting and fielding at Villanova and anxiously awaited his arrival on the big stage. The grand slam was a great moment that I hoped would carry him to stardom. It didn't work out, but it was a heck of a great ride. Thanks for bringing back a great memory.

Anonymous said...

I was watching that at-bat when I was like 10 years-old! Wasn't it like 19 pitches before he hit the grand slam. What is the most pitches a batter has faced in one at-bat? I thought he was up there?

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