Maybe I should have named this ‘The Night Before I Got Traded.’ It started when I heard rumors that my name was on the trading block while I was watching SportsCenter, Fox Sports and all the other major sports outlets.
What did I do? I was hitting .301 with 10 homers and 49 RBI with the Dodgers in 2004, and at the time and I really thought we had finally climbed the mountain we were aiming for. I truly thought I was part of that solution. I finally became an everyday player in 2001 after a couple years of bouncing up and down from the minor leagues.
Did it hurt to get traded? Yes. Let’s be honest. Guys look at another guy at the gym and get mad because he can bench more than they can and he’s like 50 pounds lighter. So yes, it was an ego check.
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That night, I was at a Mexican restaurant in the San Diego area with my wife at the time, some teammates and their wives. We were in town to play the Padres. I remember being really anxious all night.
I kept calling my agents, and both of them kept reassuring me that the rumors were false and that they had spoken with the Dodgers’ higher-ups and they said they were not trading me.
The conversation with my agents had eased my anxiety, but then I started to get a bad feeling in my stomach. Within five or 10 minutes, I received a phone call from our manager at the time, Jim Tracy. He was an honest man, a solid manager and acted as a father figure when you needed him. He told me, “We just got out of a meeting and I promise you, you’re not getting traded. This is all false. Guys stood up in the meeting for you, etc.” It was the same stuff that my agents told me, so now I was at ease. It was the ultimate Alka-Seltzer.
I won’t say I slept like a baby that night, but I was okay. I honestly felt that both of my agents and my manager wouldn’t lie to me. I woke up early the next morning, ordered room service and kept my phone close to me. All I wanted to do was go to the ballpark and play. I wanted to be a Dodger.
Around noon or so I went to take a shower. Within moments my wife was knocking on the door.
“Maybe you should come out of the shower.”
“It says you got traded on the bottom of SportsCenter.”
I almost fell down.
I jumped out of the shower and immediately called my agents.
They told me that nobody knew what happened and that they were lied to. I called my teammates, and everyone was wondering what happened. I still didn’t really know what was going on. I didn’t believe that my second family said goodbye to me.
Something the public doesn’t understand about trades is that you build relationships within the organization. For 11 years I was building friendships with coaches, security guards, parking attendants, you name it. You’re around them more than your own family during the season. It’s very hard. Plus, that coaching staff basically raised me. I never said this to either of them but I was really going to miss Eric Karros and our clubhouse manager Dave Dickinson. They both took care of me, protected me and told me to keep my mouth shut at the right times but also advised me to open my mouth at the right times as I grew as a leader.
So now, I faced the dreaded drive to the ballpark. Want to know what it’s like to walk into the “lovely room of death” as Jim Carrey put it in Ace Ventura 2? Get traded. I walked into that locker room and it was like I was Kryptonite and everyone else was Superman. I didn’t blame anyone; who wants to be the first guy, you know?
I broke down. I couldn’t stop crying. I remember the cameras caught me crying and I was a mess on air. I didn’t want to do an interview, I just wanted to pack my stuff and leave. I felt betrayed and I still had yet to hear one word from our general manager at the time, Paul DePodesta, or assistant general manager, Kim Ng. That hurt the most. No one up top reached out to me. Not ONCE.
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I packed my stuff and said my goodbyes before finally meeting with management. DePodesta, Ng and Jim Tracy walked in. I honestly didn’t give a s— about what came out of their mouths. I was numb. I remember looking at all three of them, shaking their hands and saying, “You will regret this.” I looked at Trace, gave him a hug and cried. We had a great relationship that way. He would call me sometimes on the way home to see if I was okay to play on Sunday after a night game. Then we would talk about his kids. To this day, I can’t believe he wore my number the rest of the year in my honor. I could tell he was upset, but it was the Frank McCourt era in Los Angeles. We don’t need to go there, so we won’t (unless you want free trips around the world on the Dodgers).
I wasn’t a Dodger anymore. On the drive home I decided to torture myself by listening to talk radio and they were burying me for crying. I couldn’t understand it. I had passion! Then you realize, I was a crying millionaire. I get it completely. Who wants to see a guy crying about getting traded when he’s going to get a raise next year?
My emotions took over. I remember turning off the radio and telling my wife, “Let’s go to Del Mar racetrack.” What’s better medicine than that? It was July, and the races were running. Dogs are most people’s best friends, and I love dogs, but horses are my best friends. They’re my passion. So I called my good friend and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and he got us a suite. We played the ponies that day before heading back to Pasadena. It was something I needed to get my mind off things.
When you get traded in baseball, you have to hop on the next flight. I had to leave my pregnant wife, who couldn’t travel, and find a way to get my stuff to Miami. I was traded along with Guillermo Mota and Juan Encarnacion for Hee Seop Choi and Brad Penny. The Dodgers kept saying they needed a front-line starter and that’s what we were told when we got traded.
After an awful night’s sleep, I got a call from my father. I took a long sigh because I knew what was coming. This would be the “truth call.”
I told him I still didn’t get it. Why would they trade me? He cut me off immediately.
“Listen, it’s over with now. Stop making excuses, stop blaming people and go do your job and shove it. I grew up a Brooklyn Dodger fan. They moved. I hated them. They drafted my son. I loved them again. And now they trade you? I’ve had enough, I hate them again.”
We had a big laugh.
“One place you’re not wanted. But the other place, you’re COVETED.”
That resonated with me that night and stuck with me my whole life.
We hopped on a flight that wasn’t direct. We had to connect in Dallas and there were bad storms. The Marlins’ front office — Michael Hill, Larry Beinfest and Jeffrey Loria — had been in contact with all three of us and told us they wanted us to play that night. Dallas wasn’t cooperating. Our flight kept getting delayed due to high winds and a tornado warning.
We got another call from the Marlins. They were going to push back the game so we could start. I started to think to myself, okay that’s kind of crazy but pretty cool, too. They wanted to show us off like Hulk Hogan.
About 45 minutes later, the flight I thought would never take off began to board, but they couldn’t hold up the game. We landed in Miami around 7:30, and Loria was there to meet us. He was good like that. I always respected him for doing stuff like that. I know he gets a bad rap, but he was fine with me. He looked at me and said, “You’re not a summer rental. I’m going to give you a contract.” And he did. “Now go help us get back to the World Series.”
The ride to the park was nerve-racking because you’re about to meet all new people. It’s awkward. So we got to the park around the third inning and only some of our equipment shows up. I have no catcher’s gear, basically nothing.
The first guy who ran in from the dugout was Mike Lowell. We had the same agent. He gave me a hug and told me he was glad to have me. I told him thanks and then said that none of our stuff showed up. I doubted I was going to play but I asked him what shoe size he was. We happened to have the same shoe size, we both wore the same batting gloves and he gave me one of his bats. He basically gave me everything and then went back out to the dugout.
Now it was time to put on a different uniform. It was kind of like a blind date; this could be good or bad. I have to say, I looked good in pinstripes and teal. It was also the first time I didn’t get the number 16. Wil Cordero had it and I didn’t bother to ask, because he was a heck of a player and had seniority. That’s the way it works, 14 it was.
I slowly walked out of the clubhouse with literally nothing of my own on my body. I went to greet all my teammates and all the coaches. We were in the midst of a tight game against the Expos. I went to sit down at the end of the bench and started talking with Dontrelle Willis for a bit before saying, “I’m going to the batting cage, I’m going to stretch and take some swings off the tee just in case. There’s probably no way I’m playing, but my back is stiff from the plane. Please let me know if you hear my name.”
Dontrelle says no problem. Now before I could put in the VHS tape to “Sweatin’ to the Oldies”, Dontrelle comes down to the cage and tells me that I’m hitting for the pitcher and double-switching to catch. I started laughing. I got up and went back to the dugout and what would you know, I’m on deck. I couldn’t believe it. Is this guy crazy? Trader Jack? Yes.
I remember looking at McKeon. He had his legs crossed and looked at me and gave me the “go get ’em kid.” I started to chuckle a little bit but was beginning to put things together. A few weeks earlier I was an add-on to the 2004 MLB All-Star Game roster. Guess who the manager was? Jack McKeon.
That eased my mind a bit. I got to the on-deck circle and before I could even put the weight on my bat to warm up, the announcer starts to say my name. I’ve just gotten off the plane, I was crying 36 hours ago and I had none of my equipment on. I took two warm-up swings. Is this happening? I had made up my mind. I was swinging at the first pitch. I wanted this day over with.
When I got to home plate, I remember Expos catcher Brian Schneider asking me, “how you doing, man?”
“I really don’t know, I just landed and I’m still confused.”
And we, including the home plate umpire, started laughing. I stepped out of the box to go through my routine. I started to get focused and really tried to live in the moment. People talk a lot about handling the pressure in sports, and of course there’s pressure in sports, but real pressure is when you lose your house in a hurricane and can’t provide for your loved ones. That’s real pressure, so I was never afraid playing sports.
I couldn’t believe how comfortable I was. Maybe I was tired from the flight or maybe it was just meant to be. I knew the Marlins didn’t have a ton of fans, but it sounded loud that night, and when I settled into the box, it just felt right.
Rocky Biddle rocks back and throws a room-service fastball that looked like it was in slow motion. Boom! The first pitch I swing at lands in the left-field pavilion and I’m a superhero. I don’t remember the ball touching my bat, I don’t remember rounding first or second. If you watch the video, you can see that it doesn’t hit me until I round third base and start smiling. I gave Alex Gonzalez and Juan Pierre high-fives and the next thing I know is I’m getting hugs from teammates I just met. This is insane. I could have walked through a wall. I needed the Rocky anthem immediately. Then I remembered, I had to go out there and catch. It was a subtle reminder that you only live in the moment in baseball for a short period of time, but it still lasts forever.
Baseball is a sport that requires a short-term memory, but this was something I’ll never forget. In 36 hours I went from agony to ecstasy. In 36 hours my life changed. I went to bed that night telling myself that this was all supposed to happen. Things don’t just line up the way they did. I’m supposed to be here.
Remember COVETED. That’s where’s it’s at.
This story is part of Paul Lo Duca’s ‘People’s Articles’ series. Follow him on Twitter for more insight.
This article was suggested by @_danielcortes21 on Twitter.