Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Great Friendship Formed Out of a Love of Baseball

San Diego's Otay Mesa Customs Cargo Inspection Facility
We both worked the in the scorching heat and smoke and dust of the Southern border during a period in which we dealt with a lot of stress, action, violence, excitement and emotion.  We also showed up at our new assignment location on the exact same day in November 1991.  Immediately after having a conversation with Pete about sports, I knew we'd have a special bond.
Pete’s a New Yorker.  Raised in the Bronx, a National League guy, a Met fan.  His dad followed the Dodgers, until Adolph O”Malley, (as he would refer to him), moved the team.  He attended parochial schools and tells the story of a nun smacking his knuckles with a ruler whenever he wrote with his left hand, even though he is a natural southpaw.  "Can you write left-handed now Pete?" I asked.  "Not a word," he replied.  
He loved his New York sports teams.  The Mets, the Knicks.  We’d talk about sports.   He about his Mets and Knicks and me about the Dodgers and Lakers.  We’d get through those days dealing with constant searches, cargo examinations, looking through a 40 foot containers of women’s blouses or ceramic pottery in search of the drugs, while talking about sports from our youth.

"What if Nolan Ryan had never been traded for Fregosi?"   "Can you imagine how Ryan would have excelled in New York?" he'd say.  He talked about the '69 Mets, Tommy Agee and Ron Swoboda’s catches.  We spoke of the 71-72 Lakers 33-game winning streak.  Don Drysdale’s scoreless streak.  Willis Reid and the 70 Knicks.   "How can it be possible that Gil Hodges and Maury Wills aren’t in the Hall of Fame?"   He hated Gail Goodrich, I hated Bill Bradley.  Now I look back and can’t understand how we couldn’t stand either one.  They were both great players.    One day Pete asked me how would Koufax perform in today’s modern game,  “He’d win between 16-18 games, after all, the man is 52 years old now,” I said.

Pete did something that I could never do, as he moved to the west coast,  he switched team allegiance over to the Padres.  He said it wasn’t a complete transformation.  He still rooted for the Mets.  But he managed a convenience store in Phoenix for a few years and he ran across some Padre players at his store.  "They were really down to earth, nice guys...not like Dante Bichette, he was an (expletive).

When his Knicks were in the NBA finals in 2004, the game was interrupted by the O.J. Bronco chase.  First the game continued on a split screen, eventually they cut away from the game altogether.  Man, Pete was fuming!  I told him O.J. was just sparing him of the embarrassment of loss to the Rockets.  He didn't think that was very funny.

We attended a few Padre games together.  I remember going to Randy Jones’ barbecue pit at the Old Jack Murphy Stadium and Pete talking to him about his post-Padre days as a Met.  “I loved the Met fans,” said Randy.   Pete said, "Of course, us New Yorkers are so easy to get along with," with a wry smile.  I have to say, if all New Yorkers were like Pete, I'd agree with that statement. 
I recall Pete talking about the ’86 season and how he had tickets to game seven at Shea.  His seats were way up top, down the right field line.  It would be freezing up there.  But this was game seven.  How many times in a lifetime do you have tickets to game seven of the World Series with your team in it?  As he is walking into Shea, someone offered him an outrageous sum of money for them, two grand, something like that.  He looked at Laura, his wife, she knew better: “It’s up to you...I mean, it's game seven.”  Pete thought about how he now had his rent money for the next three months, “Nah, fahgettaboutit, I’m going to the game.”  I asked him, “Any regrets?”  He said, “Are you kidding Evan, it was game seven, probably one of the greatest nights of my life, and I was there.”

Between searches, paperwork, drug seizures,  and getting our hands dirty on the trenches at work, we got through the day talking baseball and family.  He met my kids and tried to convert my son over to Padre fandom,  During a game we attended, he slipped a Padre cap over to my 6 year old son.  I gave my boy that “look,” and he tried to give the cap back.  “No, it’s your’s little Evan,”  he said.  I noticed the other day that Evan Jr. still has that cap.  He turns 22 this year.
One day we were working at the old Virginia Street Southbound truck export location and a Border Patrol Agent was chasing a group of smugglers through the Customs compound.  We usually would try to help them out.  I stepped in and grabbed one of the southbound runners.  We butted heads and I split my lip really good.  Right then a photographer stepped out to snap a bunch of pictures, (journalists were running around carte blanche, because the Southern Border was a big story at the moment).  Pete kidded me for the longest time about that saying that my bloodied face would be on the cover of Time Magazine.  I wish I could have got a picture of that action shot.  If Pete had got it, he'd be photoshopping it on everything and sending to to me.  Someone has it somewhere,
Angel's Spring Training Home, Tempe Diablo Stadium
We always talked about going to Spring Training in Florida, but it never materialized.  I took a trip to Spring Training in Arizona with my two children back in ’95.  While in Tempe, I had to call Pete at work and rub it in.  There were no cell phones back then...well, let me correct myself, there were, but you’d pay about two grand for them and they were the size of a basketball.  So I dropped about 50 dimes into a pay phone and called him, "Guess where I am?"  He was gracious about it, not jealous.  “We’ve got to do that together one day,” he said.  He was right
I transferred to San Francisco in '96.  Pete threw me a going away party at the Olive Garden in Chula Vista where about 20 friends from work showed up.  He gave me a Dodger jacket.  Not a cheap one either.  It had to set him back a couple of hundred.  He said, “I could tell by the look on your face that you appreciated it.”  I did.  I love that jacket.  It has been 15 years and I cherish that thing.
The jacket that Pete bought me as a going away present when work transferred me to another location.
We kept in touch over the years.  Pete transferred to a Customs Preclearance Station in Toronto.  He’d email me and tell me of all the athletes he’d meet as they cleared Customs upon departure out of there.  He sent me an email with the caption "Guess what I cleared through Customs today?"  He attached a photo of him posing with the Stanley Cup.
He wrote me and told me of a co-worker of his that had a familiar surname.  It turned out that he was the son of a former Dodger, someone at the time that was still affiliated with the team in a coaching capacity.  Yes, Pete had an “in” for getting us some good tickets.  So in 2001 we set it up.  We’d meet in Orlando and head out to Vero Beach, Jupiter and Port St. Lucie for 2-3 days of baseball nirvana.
We met at his hotel and drove out.  For two days we saw 5 games. I have searched high and low for our pictures of these few days and have come up empty.   I'm sure they'll turn up as soon as I click "send" and post this article.

For our first day at Dodgertown we picked up our tickets at will call.   Those seats were in the front row directly behind the plate.  Heck, we were sitting next to scouts and Pat Sajak was three rows behind us.  We walked around the practice diamonds and there was Stu Nahan in front of us.  "Hey Pete," I said. "I was watching Rocky III at the hotel last night and that announcer, you know the guy that was announcing the fight,  Stu, whatshisname?"  Pete continued, "Yeah, he deserved an academy award as supporting actor for that performance."  Nahan smiled and turned and said, "Okay guys, I hear ya, knock it off!" 
One of the coolest things I remember from that game was having constant interaction with Bruce Froemming.  This game with the Braves was started by Kevin Brown and Greg Maddox.  You couldn’t ask for more, and even better, a brawl broke out in the first inning when Brown plunked Brian Jordan and he wasn’t too happy about it.  It was on ESPN that night, first story coverage.   My son called me that night and said "Woah, you're on TV dad!"  I wish I had somehow taped that.  You could clearly see our smiling sunburned faces on SportsCenter that night.    Here’s Jason Reid’s L.A. Times story on that game:
Brown, Jordan Nearly Come to Blows
March 14, 2001|JASON REID
VERO BEACH, Fla. —Dodger pitcher Kevin Brown and Atlanta Brave outfielder Brian Jordan had to be separated Tuesday during the Dodgers' 7-3 victory at Dodgertown.  Brown hit Jordan with a pitch on his left forearm in the first inning, and the players grabbed each other and exchanged words near the visitors' clubhouse after the fourth inning, eyewitnesses said.  The benches cleared, but no one was ejected.
"He was upset," said Brown, who gave up five hits and two runs in four innings. "[The count] was one and two, I've got a man on first and nobody out. I don't know. I don't claim to understand it.
"He was standing out there [near the visitors' clubhouse], and I walked by, I thought he was out there to give me a hard time. It's not like I tracked him down.
"He wanted to know if I was trying to hit him on purpose. I said, 'Good gracious, you tell me, why would I hit you on purpose in that situation?' He was upset. That was about the gist of it."  Jordan, who left the game after being hit, said Brown hit him with a pitch last spring training.
"We just had a conversation, no punches were thrown," the outfielder said. "Of course, I was angry I got hit. When you get drilled, and your arm swells up, you're angry.
"You can only get hit so many times before you take offense to it. I know he has better control than that, but everyone blew it [the altercation] out of proportion.

As much as I remember the 2 brawls and the classic pitching match up, the one thing that stood out was our interaction with Bruce Froemming that day.
I’m not really a heckler.  In fact, I kinda wish I was, but I don’t have the snapping wit that most hecklers have.  You have to be quick, smart and fast with the comebacks.   It’s kind of like being a good stand-up comedian.  Over the years I have heard my share of hecklers and there’s nothing worse than a heckler that is not knowledgeable about the game.  But the guy that sat next to us, George from Brooklyn, he could really heckle.
Now Pete and I immediately took a liking to George as we struck up a conversation before the game.  George has followed the Dodgers since he was a kid in Brooklyn in the fifties.  He was loud, outgoing, friendly, funny and wow, was he giving it to Froemming.  “Hey Bruce, you missed that pitch,”  on the very first batter.  After Jordan got plunked, “Bruce, you’re losing control of the game buddy, you can’t take the day off because it’s Spring Training.”  And Pete and I couldn’t help but laugh along.  “Bruce, you’se gotta lay off the sweets buddy, I've gotta Jenny Craig coupon here for ya.” 

So in the middle of the first frame, Bruce came over to us.  “Come on guys, can you give me a break, it’s Spring Training for heavens sake, can’t you lay off me for a Spring training game.”  And George pipes up, “They didn't let us in here for free Bruce...Okay Bruce, we’ll back off.”  Then the first pitch at the bottom of the frame,”Ahhh, Bruce!  You missed it again!”  This banter went on for several innings until George decided to take on Andruw Jones in the on-deck circle.  “Hey Jones, you need Jenny Craig too.”  “What are you weighing now Andruw, 260? 270?” Little did we know how accurate George’s comment would be a in 2008 when he landed on the Dodger roster.
Pete at McCovey Cove, San Fancisco, 2008

Over the years, Pete and I have picked time to meet up.  A few years back, he flew up here to San Francisco to check out the new Giants ballpark.   Also, his wife set up a surprise 50th birthday party reunion between Pete and a number of his friends in Las Vegas. Gullible Pete couldn't figure out why he was meeting all these people in Vegas, he didn't figure it out that it was a set up until he ran into the 4th person he knew out of "coincidence" at the Bellagio.  

He has since transferred to Phoenix and my brother will accompany me as we meet up for 4 days of games from March 20-24th.  Baseball nirvana, the cactus league version is coming up with a great friend.

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