Here’s a list of the nicest and rudest players I’ve encountered at my 600 (or so) major league games.
THE NICE GUYS:
• Josias Manzanillo — I met Josias during Spring Training in 1994, and he remembered me during the regular season at Shea Stadium for years. Of all the players who’ve ever recognized me, he’s the only one who continued to throw me balls. On several occasions, he played catch with me from the field, and he always greeted me with a handshake.
• Fernando Vina — Once upon a time, when Vina played for the Mets, he saw me catch a practice ball behind the dugout and asked me to give it to him. I asked why. He told me to toss it. I questioned his motives. He told me to just do it. I was skeptical. “I’ll take care of you,” he said and promised to remember me, so I tossed him the ball and he tossed it right back. He was just being playful and wanted to see if I’d do it. He kept his word and remembered me for as long as he was with the team. (Unfortunately, he was traded to Milwaukee four months later.)
• Turk Wendell — Turk was another Met who recognized me, even after he’d moved on to other teams. A couple years ago, I caught up with him during batting practice at Shea and asked if he’d write a letter on my behalf to the people at the Guinness Book of World Records, who are making my “most baseballs caught” claim impossible to prove. Turk said he would, and he did.
• Trevor Hoffman — I once ran into Hoffy early in the afternoon as he was leaving the subway outside of Shea. I got his autograph and asked him if he’d toss me a ball later on during batting practice. He said he would and kept his promise. (I wrote an entire entry about the experience. Click here to check it out.)
• Todd Hundley — He never recognized me or even talked to me, but the man deserves an honorable mention for having given me more balls than anyone else, ever. I’m not sure exactly how many he tossed my way, but it’s probably about 15.
THE RUDE GUYS:
• Rick Reed — Pitcher Rick (or “P Rick” as I was forced to call him) was one of those guys who recognized me in a NOT nice way. He decided that I had too many baseballs and took it upon himself to make sure I wouldn’t get any more. During batting practice at Shea, when he was supposed to be shagging balls in left field, he’d move all the way over and stand on the foul line so he could run over and scoop up grounders before they reached me.
• Barry Bonds — In the early 1990s, Mr. Flaxseed Oil once rolled up to the Press Gate in a stretch limo with tinted windows. I was one of a dozen kids who approached his car and started begging him to come out and sign. Two minutes passed. No Barry. Five minutes passed. No Barry. Ten minutes passed. Barry stepped out of the car, and we shouted his name even louder than before. He snapped, “Y’all need t’chill. Y’all’re giving me a headache. I’m late.” And he left. It was three hours before the first pitch.
• Marvin Freeman — This clown taunted me and other fans with baseballs, rude expressions, and snotty remarks during batting practice. He did it every time he came to town.
• Hector Villanueva — It was 1992. I was 14. Senor Fatso tossed a ball into the crowd. I reached to my left and caught it. He walked over and said that the ball wasn’t for me and demanded that I give it back. I refused. He threatened to come into the stands and get it.
• John Rocker — Shea was an interesting place when the 1999 Braves came to visit. Rocker cursed at fans. Rocker spat (from a distance) at fans. Rocker gave “the finger” to fans. Rocker threw balls AT fans. Rocker grabbed his crotch at the entire bleachers section. (Perhaps, he was irked by the homemade sign that said “ROCKER LIKES COX.”)