For some reason, Lou Piniella, the excellent manager of the struggling Devil Rays who open their season next Monday against the Toronto Blue Jays, does not want to acknowledge something from way back when.
Life, like history, is empirical. That is, it builds and what happens today is often governed by what happened yesterday, or even a long ago yesterday. Our life is, after all, a collection of yesterdays?
"Oh, it happened so long ago, it makes no difference now," some might say. Who knows what makes a difference? A grain of sand can ruin a fine set of gears. Perhaps the importance of an event fades; there is no denying that.
And certainly the event I recall when Lou was a youngster of angry visage if of not much importance. But, then again, who knows?
Of course, there are those events in one's life that elude memory, and there are others that one wants to shut out, to forget about, and on top of that, don't want it mentioned.
I have been following Lou's career and adventures for a long time -- I would say 40 years or so now.
Maybe he won't want to admit it, or perhaps he has forgotten, but I knew a very angry and discouraged Lou Piniella in Pensacola in the early 1960s.
At that time the Kansas City Athletics held spring training for their lower farm clubs in Pensacola. The A's were in Kansas City then, on their way from Philadelphia to Oakland in the great barnstorming days of baseball, begun by the Boston Braves in 1952, followed by the St. Louis Browns to Baltimore where they became the Orioles, and many more, along with additions of new teams.
Hank Peters was the A's farm director in those days. His assistant was Walter Brock, a lovely fellow who died young.
Piniella was a kid among a collection of kid hopefuls who had dreams of the "Bigs" and nightmares of failure. If you don't think the baseball life is a tough go, think about it -- everybody wants your job, if you have one.
I encountered Lou one day in my peregrinations in my hometown of Pensacola -- I was a ball writer then and found great fascination in young men who played a boys' game.
Lou was angry. Burned up. I kind of connected to him because he looked startlingly like my brother in law, Roy Suddoth.
What's the matter, Lou?
Turns out the Tampa kid -- he couldn't have been long out of Tampa Jesuit -- was in a state of confusion and impatience.
Lou's complaint was that he had been signed by one baseball club, assigned to another and now, here, was with yet another club.
Boil it all down and it came to -- "I don't know who I belong to and I don't know where I'll be. I'm going home."
This agent could see a budding career being nipped in its beginnings -- a classic case of slicing off the nose to spite the face. He was angry at himself, afraid maybe, confused for sure.
So I told him, urged him to calm down and not make that 400 or so mile trip back home. Don't do it, Lou, you will make the big leagues. Don't blow it now.
Who knows how effective the ball writer's words were? No way of knowing now. But he did stick and he did go to the big leagues. You know the story -- very good player and excellent manager.
And why not? He had all the tools. Good and sure hands, a great arm and he could get that bat around quick.
He decided not to give up 40 or so years ago. It is a trait that has stayed with him.
As for me, do you mind if I take credit for having kept Lou in baseball?
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