A Tale of Two Players - 11/29/2001
It was a certain hall of famer, and it was a thirty-two year old rookie...
Most A's fans will remember the 2001 season for the team's winning ways the second half of the year and for missed opportunities against the Yanks in the October. Other fans will remember Luis Gonzalez winning the seventh game of the Series in dramatic fashion, or watching Barry Bonds obliterate the home run record.
Not me. I'll remember following every at bat of two players that couldn't be further apart in the spectrum of stardom. I couldnít care less about Barry in September. Instead, I was working my satellite receiver in overdrive to make sure I didn't miss any at bats by Rickey Henderson or Jalal Leach. Jalal who!?
It's easy to understand why I was keeping track of Rickey. After all, he reached incredible milestones in 2001. Rickey broke the Babe's career walk record in the beginning of the season. And in the final days, Rickey hit his 3000th hit and broke Ty Cobb's career run's record. Incredible.
Rickey is undoubtedly the best player I ever saw play. Yes Barry, no doubt about it. It started at the first Major League game I ever attended, when Rickey hit a solo homer in the bottom of the tenth to win the game. Rickey had a way of becoming a home run hitter at will when the situation called for it. But in his heyday, it was amazing to watch his walking triples. Rickey seemed to get to first base three or four times per game. And pitchers would simply freak out as he wreaked havoc on the bases. It gave me great thrill to watch him slide home to break Cob's record with a home run.
But it was just as important to me to watch Jalal, a minor league journeyman, get his first major league hit. I attended high school with Jalal, and remember how great a guy he was. I followed his career as closely as I could as he went to Pepperdine, then started an eleven year minor league career with the Yankees, Phillies, Seattle, and Giants. Until 2001, he hadn't seen one day of Major League service, but he deserved to be called up several times. In 2000, he hit .379 with the Giants AAA affiliate in the second half.
I don't like the Giants to begin with, and I was furious when the first group of September call-ups for the Giants didn't include Jalal. But he got called up the next day. Emails were flying amongst all my old high school buddies. We were acting as if we got called up to the majors ourselves. All the local newspapers published nice interviews with him describing his minor league journeys. He admitted that he couldn't resist crying when he finally got the news. Since I wasn't a very close acquaintance, I resisted the temptation of contacting him when he got called up. But he emailed a friend of mine the night he heard the news saying that he was walking on air.
Jalal was a backup in a crowded Giants outfield, so he only got ten at bats. I watched about eight of them. He did get a hit, and the look on his face was priceless when he returned to the dugout afterwards. The Giants were losing badly, and he was trying to keep his game face on. But while being congratulated by the entire dugout, he couldn't hide a smile.
Because of the terrorist attacks on September 11, Jalal and Rickey were a very welcome diversion for me. They made 2001 the most memorable baseball season I've had as a fan. My hope for 2002 is for Rickey to squeeze out one more year, Jalal to prove himself at the Major League level, and for the Aís to take The Series. Thatís not too much to ask, is it?
by Phil B.
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