Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Rock

The Baseball Hall-of-Fame shall welcome three new members this summer.  I must confess that I am entirely apathetic regarding the election of Jeff Bagwell and Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, both of whom were talented, productive players worthy of immortalization in Cooperstown but neither of whom was a player in whom I ever had any particular interest.   I had to chuckle a bit when I received an e-mail from the New York Yankees the other night, inviting me to join them in congratulating "former Yankee" Rodriguez on his election.  In light of the fact that Rodriguez - acquired from Detroit for Kyle Farnsworth at the 2008 trading deadline - played just 33 games for the Yankees, during which he hit a robust .219 while mashing two home runs and driving in a total of three runs, it would be more than a mild upset if Rodriguez's likeness in Cooperstown has an interlocking NY on his cap. 

On the contrary, I am very happy that Tim Raines is finally being recognized for the player he was and that, at long last, he shall be enshrined in the Hall-of-Fame this summer.  He was a superstar when he played for the Montreal Expos and, later, after spending five years with the Chicago White Sox, he arrived in New York in 1996 to play for Joe Torre's Yankees.  During his three years in the Bronx he was, along with Darryl Strawberry, an integral part of two World Series Champions. Raines no longer was a superstar and he was no longer the center of attention.  He was a supporting player.  And his played his role with aplomb. 

In 1999, Raines signed to play for the Oakland Athletics and in the summer of 1999 he was diagnosed with lupus.  He played less than forty games.  When the United States held tryouts for its 2000 Olympic Baseball Team, "Rock" Raines was invited to try out.  He signed a contract with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League - as did former Yankee Pat Kelly.  Rock's time in the Atlantic League was brief (seven games) but it was productive.  He batted .346.  

He made his debut in the Atlantic League on a brutally hot, humid summer evening.  I know this because the Patriots play their home games ten minutes from where I live so I bought two tickets and Rob and I went to the game.  Pre-game, Kelly and Raines sat - dressed in their Patriots uniforms - behind a table and signed autographs for everyone who wanted one.  Rob scored Kelly's and then, after the line to get Raines' autograph had thinned out a bit, went to Raines to get his.  

When he reached the table, the two of them apparently had a brief conversation about how Raines had arrived in New York just as Rob was starting to follow the Yankees (he was ten years old) and that while Rob had not seen Raines play in Montreal or Chicago, he loved what he did in New York and thanked him for helping the Yankees win the World Series twice.  As I watched from my seat, I saw Tim Raines look up at my son, smile, and then shake his hand.  Upon Rob's return to his seat, he told me about their conversation.  I asked him what Tim Raines had said to him when he shook his hand and he told me that he said, "Thanks."  He appreciated a then-fourteen-year-old boy sharing a baseball memory with him.  Me, I appreciated him taking the time for creating a memory for Rob.  I have never forgotten it.  Neither has Rob. 

Congratulations, Rock, on a well-earned honor. 


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