CHAVEZ RAVINE – They say you always remember the name of the kid who threw the hardest fastball growing up. For me it was Ronnie Thomas… but he was a few years older and seemed more legend than man to a fifth grader. The next, and even harder thrower I knew was a kid in my grade, Clay Bellinger. Clay was very good at baseball. I’d say freakishly good if that didn’t diminish how seriously he took it even at that age, and by the time he led our high school to a regional championship it seemed a real possibility he might have a shot at going pro.
Indeed, he got drafted in the 2nd round by the Giants in 1989. This was a kid from Oneonta, New York, without the luxury of perpetual summers in baseball factories like Florida, California, and Cuba. I remember him hitting a laser of a home run on a frigid early season game in 9th grade… I remember this mostly because I was the kind of player who was told to go coach first at the time, and he high-fived my hand so hard rounding the bag that it was numb for three innings. He bounced around every position on the diamond, and then he bounced around a number of organizations, looking like a super-utility version of Crash Davis until, at the age of 30, the dream came true and the Yankees called him up (it’s said Don Zimmer got teary-eyed when Clay signed the contracts in Torre’s office). This was 1999, the peak of the dynasty, and not just for a cup of coffee. He played in 98 games in 2000, and hit six home runs. He has World Series stats, and rings.
It was around then that my old buddy Sherm, who like Clay, I hadn’t seen since high school, happened to be in Los Angeles the same time the Yanks were playing down in Anaheim. So he called me and told me to call Clay and get us tickets for the game. Now I was classmates, teammates, and I would go so far as say friends with Clay in school (we ran in the same circles, drove to see Eddie Murphy in at the Binghamton Arena for the Lawd Have Murphy tour, and he was in my car the night I got my first speeding ticket. We were listening to Ratt on the tape deck of my Subaru), but I hadn’t talked to him since we graduated and of course felt a bit icky being that guy. Still, I gave it a shot… I called Angel Stadium, asked to put me through to the visitor’s clubhouse, and asked for Clay, never thinking it would work. It did. We made small talk but it was very awkward and he was certainly distracted, but he said he’d try to get us some tickets. It didn’t happen, and I don’t blame him at all, especially since he turned out to be in the starting line up that night. Sherm and I got seats up in the nose bleeds and joked that they were the “Clay Bellinger seats,” but it was awesome to see the guy down on the field and we had a blast.
The next time I saw Clay was on TV when he was one of the dad-coaches of the Arizona team in the Little League World Series. His kid Cody was a stud player on that team. The next time after that was just this last week, as Clay and his family sat in the stands as Cody Bellinger became the latest star call-up for the Dodgers. The road was a little easier, perhaps, for Cody (who knows what Clay could’ve done if he was raised in sun-bleached Arizona… but then I wouldn’t be telling this story). He did it by 21, and was thrust into the starting line-up against the team that drafted his daddy, the Giants, delivering a hit and getting intentionally walked at one point. The other night he hit two home runs in one game, including one in the ninth that helped foster a comeback win in front of the home crowd. My Facebook feed is a crazy cross-over of high school friends and Dodger friends all posting the same highlights. The Clippers are out of the playoffs, there’s nothing else going on in town right now, Cody Bellinger is the hottest thing going in La La Land right now (even if he may be sent back down when Joc Pedersen returns from the DL).
When I told my own son this story, he said “You should call him and get tickets.” I don’t think I’ll be doing that, though I imagine the Cody Bellinger seats would be pretty good.
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