This is about the pitfalls of a superstar athlete who is trying to remain true to himself.
| When the owner called A.J. to inform him of his unanimous election into the Hall of Fame he had just returned home from a much needed vacation with his family. A.J. answered his office phone and was under the impression that this was a horrible joke concocted by one of his former teammates. After all he had just retired at the end of the season and he wasn’t even eligible for the next five years. It took Mr. Hanson several minutes to convince A.J. that he was on the “up and up” with this news and then another few minutes to get A.J. to respond. A.J. was stunned and speechless at the idea of even being considered for the hall not to mention being elected prior to meeting the eligibility requirements.
Mr. Hanson informed A.J. that the baseball gods wanted to make this an unforgettable moment in the game’s enormous history so they promised to hold the information until the media were gathered a few days from now. Mr. Hanson wanted to use this grand appointment to promote the club A.J. had spent his entire carreer playing for but he wanted approval before setting things in motion. He wanted to have a news conference in three days at which time the team would also announce that A.J. had been elected to the Phillies hall of fame as well as Cooperstown. Mr. Hanson also wanted to have a piece written by a national magazine - either Sports Illustrated or ESPN. All this was overwhelming to A.J. but he remained loyal to the man who started his career, just like he did when he was playing, and agreed to the PR frenzy. His only condition was that he got to choose the writer of the story. Mr. Hanson had no problem with this until he heard who A.J. wanted.
Teddy and the Phillies had not split ways on the best of terms.
Mr. Hanson said, “No way! That guy is a 2nd rate sports reject at best”!
A.J. told Mr. Hanson that Teddy was one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet when it came to the game of baseball. He also explained that only someone who knew everything about him could do the story justice and not turn it into another content void puff piece like most articles have been over the years.
Mr. Hanson reluctantly agreed to the terms and set the wheels in motion for the largest story in sports history. A.J. told his wife the overwhelming story and then started packing for the trip.
As A.J. called his longtime friend to let him in on the secret his faith wavered ever so slightly. He worried that his friend would be too trashed to handle the pressure that was certainly going to overshadow an otherwise normal reunion of two old-time friends. But just as quickly as the fear arose it disappeared when A.J. was washed over by a sense of calm and understanding. It was God’s way of telling him that Teddy desperately needed A.J.’s help and this was the perfect opportunity to intervene before Teddy was lost forever.
Teddy was hesitant to accept the offer for fear of another intervention by his friend but then realized the money that this story would generate and agreed. Teddy told A.J. it would take some time for him to drive to Philadelphia since his financial portfolio was not exactly at the same level as Bill Gates.
A.J. said, “Don’t give it another thought buddy. My jet will be standing by to pick you up the day after tomorrow. We can rendezvous at the hotel and catch up over lunch".
Teddy told his friend he couldn’t wait and hung up the phone. He then went to the kitchen and fumbled through the cabinets until he located the bottle of Jack Daniels he kept hidden for emergencies just like this one. He spun the cap counter clockwise until it fell to the floor. He paused just long enough for the saliva to poll in his mouth and then inhalwd three large gulps. He pulled the bottle from his lips as the overflow trickled down the corners of his mouth. Teddy walked into the next room and was in a drunken cocoon before noon.
When he woke, Teddy wasn’t sure if his conversation with A.J. had been real or an alcohol induced nightmare. Teddy decided that however unlikely this opportunity was he had to at least go to the airport and see if a fancy lear jet was waiting for him. So for shits and giggles sake he started preparing for his trip into the history books.
The hour was late, somewhere between 2 - 3 am, but Teddy could not be sure because he did not have a working clock in his apartment. He packed his overnight bag, showered and headed out into the darkness of the early morning. He reached the airport 45 minutes later and went to the counter where undoubtedly there would be a problem and there was.
What shocked Teddy was that the plane was merely delayed a few hours. The phone call had been real and the nightmare continued. Teddy had two hours to kill and the problem with this was there wasn’t a bar open at this time of day. Teddy sighed both in disappointment and relief. He wanted a drink but he needed to arrive at the interview sober and at least somewhat composed in order to fool his friend and collect on this priceless payday. He parked his body at the terminal and waited for daylight to show its face.
The plane took off at 6:30 sharp and Teddy resisted the temptation of the fully stocked bar during the flight. This worried and surprised Teddy for he had not ever been able to resist the unexplainable comfort he found in the bottle. When he arrived there was a car waiting to drive Teddy to the hotel.
In the room where the interview was to take place there was a buffet of fruits, rolls and assorted juices. Teddy wanted to eat but feared the food spoiling his liquid diet from the day before so he sipped on some bottled water and waited for the guest of honor to join the party.
The men stepped into the hotel room and sat at a table that was set up in the corner. Sitting on the table was a yellow legal pad, a few pens and a mini tape recorder.
A.J. asked, “When did you get so high tech and start using a recorder?”
Teddy’s response was in a monotone voice, “the day you called to tell me they elected you into the hall”.
Teddy Wilcox was only a few months older that A.J. but his premature grey hair and age ridden face made him look as if he was in his late fifties. Now this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing cause as anyone could attest Teddy has no problem keeping up with the young pups that are half his age, at least when it came to downing drinks at the local pub. Over the years Teddy had come to find comfort and solace in the bottom of a bottle of Captain Morgan's rum.
Teddy stood on a solid 5’8” frame that amazingly supported his over 300 pounds with ease. Someone had once described Teddy as an exceptionally jolly Santa. He enjoyed life and it showed in every bit of his massive body. A.J. had lightly breached this subject only once before in their thirty seven year friendship.
It was several years ago when A.J. noticed that Teddy was constantly looking sickly and in need of a new diet. A.J. had used the tactic that he was concerned for his friend’s health Teddy attacked him and claimed that A.J. was calling him a drunk. Teddy became defensive and didn’t talk to his lifelong friend for eight months.
When the two did start conversing again it was only for brief moments and the subject would remain in the general categories…how you doing, what’s the weather like, is the family okay…things of that nature. Over the last couple of years the distance between these once inseparable comrades would now rival the width of the Grand Canyon.
Teddy Eugene Wilcox was a better than average ball player but toured the minor leagues for most of his career. He would get the occasional cup of coffee with a big league team but never anything on a consistent basis. He did however wear his most prized possession on his right ring finger - a 2003 World Series ring.
Both Teddy and A.J. were drafted in 2002, A.J. was chosen by the Phillies and Teddy was drafted by Detroit a couple of picks later and then traded to Philadelphia. Both young men were talented, hard working and when they went to spring training the following year the coaches were impressed at their determination to compete at the highest level. The Phillies were set at catcher so Teddy was sent to the minors but management promised to give him a chance as long as he stayed patient. A.J. on the other hand was asked to stay with the big club at the end of spring training. The team had a young 3rd baseman but the skipper told A.J. if he continued to dominate as he did all spring the starting job would be his within a few weeks.
A.J. did just what the skipper predicted, he hit .440 with 10 homeruns and 18 RBI’s in the first month of the season and by May 1st he was in the starting lineup on a daily basis. The manager would switch A.J. in the lineup from time to time. Some days he would hit in the number 2 hole and other days he would hit 7th in the order. However, it did not seem to matter where he hit because A.J. was tenacious at the plate and refused to give into any pitcher - whether it was a rookie pitching in his first game or a veteran like Randy Johnson. The kid simply could hit the ball and his defense was equally impressive. He only made 2 errors on the entire season and some of the defensive stops made by the rookie are still talked about today.
He went into a slump, if you could call it that, in June by only hitting .304 with just 1 homerun and 6 RBI’s. The silver lining to his diminished stats was his on base percentage was at .560 and he had 26 doubles, 3 triples and 22 stolen bases. By the Mid Summer Classic, A.J. was elected to his first all star team and his average climbed back up to the .390s. In the all star game he had 3 hits - a single, double and a homerun. He stole a base scored 2 and drove in 3 runs.
The critics and news media could not believe the phenomenal year this 18 year old kid was having. Some were praising his work ethics and skills while others made slanderous accusations of steroid use or other illegal activity. Most young players would probably let these comments affect their play and to a degree A.J. did just that. He continued hitting in the second half of the season but his power numbers went through the roof. At the end of the regular season A.J.’s stats looked like they were made up: a .385 average, 32 homers, 86 RBI’s, 42 doubles, 12 triples and 64 stolen bases. As a reward for his astounding play A.J. won his 1st gold glove and won the batting title.
Teddy did not disappoint the organization either; he hit .467 with 26 homeruns and 75 RBI’s at the clubs AAA affiliate. His reward was being called up to the majors on September 1st and then added to the post season roster. Teddy and A.J. were living their childhood dream as the Phillies breezed through the playoffs and faced the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. A.J. continued his stellar play and Teddy was a force to be reckoned with off the bench. The series was almost swept when the Royals squeaked out a tenth inning win in game 4. Teddy got the start at catcher for game 5 and shined like the North Star. He went 4 - 4, hit a grand slam and drove in 8 runs. The city exploded in joy and celebrated with the team until the sun game up. A.J. and Teddy drank until they thought there eyes would pop out and then staggered back to the hotel at 8:30 in the morning.
Now A.J. had never really enjoyed drinking but he didn’t have a problem going out on the town after a game. Normally an 18 year old would have trouble gaining access to the night life but when you are the star rookie 3rd baseman for a major league ball club the world is at your fingertips. And after winning the World Series….are you kidding - a night of celebration, women and spirits was definitely in order. A.J. and Teddy didn’t pay for a thing that night. Everywhere they turned someone else was buying them a drink to congratulate them on a great year and for being World Champs.
The next morning was extremely traumatizing for both of the young ballplayers. It started at 12:00 when the maid came to clean the room. She was a slightly older Hispanic female. She had been born in the U.S. but was raised with a very cultural enriched heritage. When the housekeeper walked into the room she was exasperated by the sight that was before her eyes. Teddy and A.J. were on the bed, in their birthday suits and in a compromising embrace. What she didn’t understand is that their female companionship had left only minutes before her arrival. Still the chambermaid screamed something in Spanish and ran out of the room. The two hung over youngsters laughed and Teddy jokingly asked, “Did you bring her here or did I?”
Teddy and A.J. got up, took a shower and then checked out of the hotel. Their next stop was a bite to eat, although neither really touched the food they ordered. They nibbled on the meals but mostly drank coffee in hopes of returning their stomachs to a semi-settled state. They were in no rush as the flight home did not leave until 3:15 pm and there were already 1st class tickets with theirs names on them waiting at the gate.
The trip went off without a hitch and the ballplayers returned to their hometown of Tybee Island, Georgia as Heros. The plane touched down and a swarm of fans stood at the gate patiently waiting to catch a glimpse of the local boys who proved dreams do come true if you tried hard enough. As they descended down the ramp the roar of the crowd grew to a deafening decibel level. The young boys in the crowd held out baseball cards, caps or gloves hoping for an autograph. The girls carried signs saying, “WE LOVE YOU!”
It was a rarity to see professional ballplayers sign so many autographs. Most will scribble 1 or 2 and then leave. The others simply declined and said their agent won’t let them sign unless it is at a sanctioned event. But not these two, they stayed until every last fan had a picture, signature or just a plain old handshake. Granted their star power wasn’t as high as guys like Barry Bonds or Mark Mcguire but in the eyes of the hometown fans they were bigger. They brought a World Series championship and more importantly notoriety to this little coastal town!