When the Astros announced their roster, I saw a kid named Wallace "Beau" Torbert had been drafted out of the university my wife had spent her first two years of college. Turns out he was from a town just a few miles down the road from where I grew up. One of the first games we went to, we connected and we made arrangements for Beau to come over to the house for lunch one day.
Just a few weeks later, my son (then 4) was at McDonald's with my wife. He saw some young guys nearby and he said to my wife "I think those are Astros players". She told him to go ask. Sure enough, they were.
That night, he and I were at the game and I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a young guy with a clip board. He looked at James and said, "Were you the kid who was at McDonald's today?" My son nodded. The player then said, "My name is Troy Patton, I am one of the pitchers but I am charting pitches today. Meet me at the field after the game and I will give you a ball." That night, my son went home with a brand new clean Appalachian League baseball. He still has this ball. It is still clean and he meant to bring it to Florida for Troy to sign but he forgot.
Troy was then added to lunch plans with Beau. They came over and shared a meal with us and then shared some wiffle ball with James. Troy would pitch to my son and make a fuss over him hitting his curve ball. The season wore on and we continued to build relationships with our "dinner table guys". They come over to the house once more and at my son's requested brought another player with them.
Later that year, I learned I had close to one million dollars in signing bonuses sitting around the table. But I was clueless at the time. These were guys who were happy for a home cooked meal.
The season ended and we exchanged email addresses. We stayed in touch and got to see Troy over the next few seasons in both Low A and High A ball. Then he was promoted to AA and before long, he was wearing a Houston Astros uniform. The morning I woke my son up to tell him that Troy made his major league debut, his response was, "Now I can say I hit a major league curve ball." This year will be Troy's 10th season of pro ball.
We were able to connect when we were at Spring Training last week. Troy continues to make a fuss over my son (who is 13 now) and my son continues to soak up every word Troy says. Last Thursday, Troy showed my son a different change up grip. Saturday, my son was trying to throw that pitch behind the condo. It looked pretty good. Oh, and he also gave him a shiny new Major League Baseball with his name signed on it.
|Troy with my son in 2004|
|(Photo by AppyAstros/All Rights Reserved)|
Spending time with Troy and the other dinner table guys this spring training makes me long for the players to report to Greeneville and to add more names to the list.
In nine season, we have had a total of 18 players over to our house for meals. Some were top prospects, some were raw talent that took some time to develop, some were non drafted free agents just trying to get a chance and some were guys spending their third year in Greeneville and knew their pro baseball career would be over at the end of the season. We provided the meal and they provided the memories.
Of those 18 guys, four were in big league camp with two assured a MLB spot. Two more are battling for roster spots. We got to see all four of these guys play on our trip to spring training and got to talk to three of them. Of the rest of the dinner table guys, one other is in a minor league camp and one is a hitting coach in indy ball. Two are coaching high school baseball. One owns a small construction company. One works as a division director for a staffing company. One plans to graduate law school in a few months. One is working on obtaining a visa to come back to America. One is selling fitness products and giving private hitting lessons. There are a few that I have lost touch with over time.
Each one of them will always be one of our dinner table guys. There are other players who we were never able to have over but hold honorary seats at the table. So if you ever see biases in my writing you can bet they were likely a dinner table guy.