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LIFE'S A PITCH

part 2 of 2 Brad arrived in Philadelphia determined to keep his mouth shut and do exactly as he was asked. He knew he had been called up because the Phillies ace reliever, Kent Tekulve, was injured. Brad had no illusions about staying on the squad the rest of the...
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part 2 of 2
Brad arrived in Philadelphia determined to keep his mouth shut and do exactly as he was asked. He knew he had been called up because the Phillies ace reliever, Kent Tekulve, was injured. Brad had no illusions about staying on the squad the rest of the season; when Tekulve got healthy, he'd be sent back down. But in the meantime, he hoped to pitch enough innings to open a few eyes and then, when the rosters expanded in September for the pennant races, maybe he'd be invited back.

His first night in a major-league uniform, Brad was sitting in the bullpen watching the game against the Montreal Expos. Then the bullpen telephone rang. Brad's stomach came alive with frenzied butterflies when the coach shouted, "Moore, get loose."

When he stepped onto the field it was like he was walking in a dreamscape. He couldn't hear whether the fans were cheering or quietly wondering who in the hell Number 59 was. But by the time he reached the mound, the butterflies were quiet again. This was what he was there for. And he was ready.

On the mound, Brad listened patiently as manager Elia explained the situation. There was one out and men on first and second. The batter was Casey Candeale. Brad stepped up to the rubber and looked down the lane at the catcher who called for a fastball away. Brad nodded. He went into his windup and delivered the ball for a called strike. The crowd cheered.

He leaned forward again, turning the ball over in his hand. This was it...what baseball was all about. At last he belonged. The catcher gave a signal. Brad wound up and tossed the pill again.

This batter hit the ball, but right into a double play that ended the threat. Montreal was retired. Brad walked to the Phillies dugout. There were high-fives all around and a pat on the rump from Elia.

Brad pitched two more innings, got hit a couple of times and walked one, but no runs scored. That night after the game, he could hardly wait to get to a telephone. This time he called Lisa first.

She joined him later that week in Philadelphia and began to catch major-league fever herself. She loved Brad and would love him if he gave it all up to work as a carpenter back in Loveland. But she couldn't help but feel a little envious of the money the big-leaguers were making, especially the night she saw the wife of superstar Lenny Dykstra waltz into the stadium in an expensive fur coat and flashy jewelry.

Then, just three weeks after he'd arrived in Philadelphia, on the plane ride back from a game in Chicago, a coach told Brad that Elia wanted to see him. Brad nodded, swallowing hard. He knew what was coming. Tekulve, a future Hall of Famer, was healthy and ready to come back.

Brad had gotten to pitch only five and two-thirds innings in three weeks, but no runs scored and he had been in command. Although it really wasn't enough time to prove that he could pitch consistently in the major leagues, it was enough to satisfy Brad that he could play with the big boys.

On the plane, Elia assured him that he had made a favorable impression. He couldn't promise anything, but he would certainly keep Brad in mind the next time there was an opening.

A few days later, Brad went back to Reading--there were no spots for relievers in the Triple-A club--and Lisa returned to Florida. He said he wasn't going to worry about what might have been; what he had to do now was concentrate on business. He was on fire as a relief pitcher. By the end of the season, he had eighteen saves, one of the best records in Double-A and was voted his team's best pitcher--the sort of accolade he hoped might bring him to the Phillies' attention again. Unfortunately, Elia was fired shortly after Brad was sent down. But others had seen him pitch, Brad reasoned, and surely someone would notice how he blew away Double-A batters.

September rolled around, and the rosters were being expanded. Brad waited for the telephone call. Another player came down to Reading from the Phillies and said he had already heard they were about to call Brad up. His teammates waited almost as anxiously as he did. One of their number was about to go to the magic land again.

Right up until the last day of the season, the rumors flew. But the call never came.

Only Lisa knew how hurt Brad was. Maybe it was time to give it up, he told her. But she knew he wasn't ready. While she longed for the day when they could make a real life outside of baseball, she realized Brad would be miserable if he quit now. "You'll try again next year," she told him. "This time you'll make it."

The season over, Brad and Lisa drove back to Loveland, where he had a construction job waiting. That spring he again reported to the Phillies camp in Clearwater. It was 1989; he was 25 and no longer qualified as a prospect, but there was still a chance to catch on.

This time, the Phillies sent him to their Triple-A club in Scranton. Lisa moved with him. It was a great place to play baseball. There was a brand-new stadium that was practically as nice as some big-league parks. And the Scranton fans certainly treated the local boys like major-league heros.

Of course, that meant the groupies were even more enamored of the players. Brad wasn't married, and that made him fair game to some. To make matters worse, as the quality of baseball improved in Triple-A, so did the quality of the groupie. They were a little prettier, dressed better and, if anything, were more persistent. Especially the trollop the players knew as Pyscho Woman.

She worked as a waitress at one of the restaurants the players frequented and was a fixture around the ballpark. At one point in the season, she decided to latch onto Brad and began leaving suggestive notes and even flowers on his truck.

He told her he was seeing someone, but he was too polite to tell her to get lost, even on the night she got into his truck and refused to get out. So Brad went back into the clubhouse and called his little groupie-buster.

Lisa wasted no time on pleasantries. She marched up to the truck and hauled the woman out. Words flew and then fists, which attracted a crowd. Lisa pulled a heavy bracelet from her purse, intending to use it as brass knuckles should the need arise, but she was thwarted by another player's wife. Brad ended up having to drag Lisa off her defeated opponent.

Brad spent all of 1989 in Scranton making $2,300 a month--decent pay for a Triple-A player with his experience. He had the most appearances of any relief pitcher in the league, but the end of the year passed without a call to the majors.

Toward the end of the season, he and Lisa got engaged to be married the following October. In the meantime, he accepted an assignment to play winter ball in Puerto Rico. It was a romantic place for the young couple, who had a house on the beach and plenty of time for each other between pitching stints.

Brad was a star and garnered a lot of attention. Lisa jealously noted that the Puerto Rican groupies were even prettier than those in Scranton and Reading, and they didn't wear a whole lot, either. But she managed to avoid any physical confrontations.

Still, she was relieved when they left the island in January for spring training...relieved and pregnant. They married in February.

In 1990 the major-league baseball players' union went on strike. It was settled before the season began, but a decision was made to allow the teams to keep two extra pitchers at least until the regulars got in shape. Brad was one of the two, but he pitched only two and two-thirds innings (allowing one run) and otherwise spent most of his time on game days guarding the Phillies bullpen from foul balls.

He was happy to be part of the big-league experience, and the $109,000 salary was also a pleasant shock. But he itched to pitch and wasn't entirely unhappy when he got sent back down to Triple-A. The team needed a starter, though, and he struggled in the new role.

The best thing to happen that season was the birth of their son, Logan, in August. Even that went according to a baseball schedule. As she entered the ninth month, Lisa waited until Brad was back in town for four days and then had labor induced so that he could spend a few days with his new son. His baseball career might not have been going anywhere fast, but he had a beautiful wife and a healthy son. His teammates gave him a standing ovation when he entered the clubhouse after the birth and handed out cigars like any proud papa.

Brad was popular in Scranton, and gifts poured in from the fans: baby clothes, flowers, a handmade afghan. Pictures of the little family appeared in the newspapers. And more kids than ever flocked around him at the ballpark for autographs, which he signed until there were no more takers.

If they could have just stayed in Scranton, Brad might have been satisfied. But baseball wasn't through throwing him curves.

That winter, the Phillies didn't sign Brad. He went back to his construction job and took college courses for a teaching degree. He was preparing for the future but without much enthusiasm. The Phillies didn't want him; he was washed up. Even his friends in Loveland, the ones who didn't understand how the farm team system worked, kept asking, "When are you going to turn pro?" He thought of quitting, but Lisa wouldn't hear of it. He was still young, only 27. He could pitch; someone would give him a chance.

A week after he got back to Loveland, his agent called. The New York Mets wanted to sign him to a contract with their Triple-A club, the Tidewater Tides in Norfolk, Virginia. In February, the family of three piled into the truck and headed for Port St. Lucie on the opposite side of Florida from Clearwater.

They weren't there long when Lisa learned that she was pregnant again. It wasn't that she didn't want more children; she had just hoped to have them further apart. Her mother had pumped out babies one right after the other with no time for any of them. Lisa didn't want Logan to suffer the same way.

But otherwise, life was fine. From spring training on, it was Brad's best year ever. His ERA didn't touch 3.0 until the last night of the season. He was the Tidewater Pitcher of the Year. And once again, the rumors flew about the clubhouse: The Mets were still in the pennant race, they were sure to call up Brad. His teammates agonized with him right up until the final night of the season. But there was no call.

It was the beginning of what looked like a dismal end to his career. First there was winter ball, this time in Venezuela with Lisa eight months pregnant. They hated the country and the baseball.

That was followed by an inconsistent 1992 season with the Tidewater Tides, which Lisa blamed on the stress Brad was feeling because their daughter, Eastyn, who had also been born through induced labor to match Brad's home stand, was often sick. Lisa was under a lot of duress herself; she had two small children, not much money and a husband who was gone half of the time.

At the end of the season, the Mets did not re-sign Brad. The young family returned to Colorado. Lisa almost hoped that the telephone wouldn't ring with another offer rather than see Brad go through these ups and downs. But she knew he wanted to play.

It seemed like a miracle when a representative of the Baltimore Orioles called Brad at home without going through his agent--a sure sign they wanted him pretty badly, which was backed up with the exceptional offer of $7,500 a month. It didn't last, though. Brad was having a good spring with the Orioles Triple-A club when he heard the major-league team had decided to bring former Los Angeles Dodgers ace Fernando Valenzuela out of retirement. That created a chain reaction, with Valenzuela knocking a player off the major-league roster, who in turn knocked Brad right out of baseball. They felt bad, they said, but they released him anyway.

At that time of the year, with the rosters set and no one yet injured, there weren't many other jobs available. Brad figured it was over, at least for the season, but then the Cincinnati Reds organization called his agent and asked if Brad could help out their Triple-A team in Indianapolis.

Brad's agent reached Lisa at home. They wanted him immediately, he said. Was Brad in pitching shape?

Lisa thought a moment. If she said no, that he would need some time to get ready, they might go out and find someone else. That might mean she'd have Brad all to herself--but it wasn't time yet. "Of course he's ready," she answered. The next day, Brad was on a plane to Indianapolis and she was packing up the kids and their things and was back on the road.

Of course, he wasn't ready. Brad injured his arm the first game he pitched. He wound up on the disabled list. Another season ended in disappointment and the Reds made no attempt to re-sign him.

The family returned again to Loveland and, with the money they had saved, bought a double-wide trailer in a park just north of town. It was too tough to keep renting places and then move out on a day's notice, only to have to try to find a place again. At least the trailer would give Lisa and the kids some sense of stability, even if the small yard was surrounded by a chain-link fence and not the white, wooden pickets she'd dreamed of.

That winter was a struggle to make mortgage and car payments. Brad worked in construction when the weather allowed, and Lisa found a job as a waitress.

Brad was 29 and a long way from his days as a major-league prospect. A friend told him to call a Denver agent named Oscar Suarez, who had a lot of contacts in the international league. Maybe Suarez could find him a job in Mexico.

A few days later, Suarez called back. There was nothing in Mexico, but what would Brad think of playing in Taiwan? The money was good, and it was still baseball.

In January 1994, Brad, Lisa and the two kids left for the Far East. They had been in Taiwan just ten days when Brad had to leave for spring training on the far side of the island. Lisa and the kids stayed behind in a rat-infested apartment rented for them by the team. She hated it.

Brad had been gone a month before she was finally able to visit. She arrived the day he pitched his first, and last, game for the Taiwan club. He allowed only two runs, but according to the interpreter, the Japanese team manager didn't like Brad's "style." For one thing, the interpreter said, Brad wasn't tall enough.

When Brad told her the news, Lisa tried to look glum for his sake. That lasted about a minute. Then she was jumping for joy.

Brad was just as happy to get out of Taiwan. Still, there was no getting around the fact that he had been released again, this time by some nutty Japanese manager who thought he needed taller pitchers to win baseball games.

It wasn't long after they got back to Loveland that Suarez called again. He had a spot for Brad with a team in Campeche, Mexico. This time, Lisa said she would stay at home and visit in a few weeks after he was settled. That would let him concentrate on his job and give the kids a break.

At first the news she got from Mexico was good. On his first outing, Brad threw a three-hit shutout, and suddenly he was the hero of Campeche. But what was he going to do for an encore? The fans expected a shutout every night, which just wouldn't happen. And though his ERA remained respectable, there was soon grumbling from the stands.

Brad had been in Mexico six weeks when Lisa went to see him. On the last night of her visit, Brad was pitching when he was struck in the arm by a line drive. The doctors said he'd be out only two weeks, but team officials called him into the office. They were releasing him and, what's more, they refused to pay his travel bills as promised.

Again, Lisa found herself bringing her husband back home earlier than planned. The travel had decimated their savings--maybe it really was time to think about getting out. Then Suarez called again. The Pittsburgh Pirates needed someone for the last six weeks of the season on their Triple-A club in Buffalo.

It wasn't much of an opportunity, but it was baseball. Brad packed his glove and went off again. Alone.

When the major-league players went on strike at the end of the summer of 1994, Brad hadn't paid much attention. The strike didn't affect the end of the minor-league season, and he figured it would be over in a matter of a few weeks. But as it dragged out, it created a new problem: No one was going to sign a free-agent minor-leaguer until the strike was resolved.

The strike dragged on into December, then January. He began to believe his career was over. But then the club owners started talking about playing the 1995 season with replacement players.

Suddenly, everybody wanted Brad to play. Sixteen teams called trying to sign him to a replacement contract. He told them no; he wasn't going to be used as a pawn by the owners against the players.

The strike would be settled sooner or later, and then the guys who crossed the picket lines would be up a creek. The regular players were sure to hold it against them, and the owners wouldn't want the friction in the clubhouses. And when push came to shove, who were they going to toss out in the cold? Andres Galarraga? Bobby Bonilla? Hardly. It would be the replacement players, many of them career minor-leaguers who had always been treated as if they were expendable.

"They'll treat you like a prostitute," his first agent said of the owners, "and throw you out when they're done with you...Don't bother calling me if you sign." Suarez, too, said he couldn't advise Brad on what to do.

But then the Rockies called. They had a different proposition, a split contract: one set of terms if Brad made the team as a replacement player and the strike continued; another set should the strike be settled, in which he'd get a shot at making the Rockies' Triple-A team in Colorado Springs, the Sky Sox.

Brad had dreamed of playing out his last few years in Colorado. He'd tried to get on with the Rockies from the start, sending resumes and pushing the local-boy-makes-good public-relations ploy. But the Rockies roster was always full.

Now they wanted him and were even offering a chance to make the team the right way, up from the bottom.

Brad reported to spring training in Tucson determined to make it. He talked to Lisa every night, when much of their conversation dwelled on the status of the strike. In February Lenny Dykstra complained that the union was being too uncompromising and might cost him a lot of money--$31,000 a day during the regular season, more than Brad had ever made in a season of play.

Brad, too, wanted the strike to end. He wanted an order to report to Colorado Springs, where he could prove he could pitch.

But, as neither side showed any indication that it was willing to budge, it was looking more and more likely that the season would begin with replacement players. Brad needed to make a decision soon.

If he crossed the union, the regulars might hold it against him. On the other hand, if he refused to play in a replacement game, management would simply cut him and find someone who would. Then he'd never get a chance at the Sky Sox.

Lisa knew it was a tough decision for Brad. For her, it was easier: To hell with the players. Brad had done his time, and so had she. What had the players' union ever done for minor-leaguers anyway? Sure, they preached togetherness and claimed this was all being done to protect players in both leagues. But in reality, the union protected its stars--current and future. The rest of the guys, the backbone of the farm-team system, were just so much cannon fodder between the union and the owners.

At night when they talked, Lisa angrily told Brad about the Denver media's portrayal of replacement players. She was particularly irked at Channel 9 sportscaster Ron Zappolo, who ridiculed replacement players as not belonging in baseball. They were plumbers, bankers...softball players.

"What about Jim Tatum?" Lisa complained, using the journeyman Rockies catcher as an example of what she felt was a double-standard. "He's selling cars. Are they going to do a story about the car-salesmen players when the regular guys get back?"

What really got her going was when Zappolo said he wouldn't go to replacement games and urged viewers not to go, either. Like other sportscasters and writers, Zappolo claimed fans wouldn't support a team if they they didn't know who the players were.

How many Rockies fans, Lisa countered, knew who in the hell Andres Galarraga was before the Rockies opened in Denver? Or Dante Bichette? Or Marvin Freeman, an old friend of Brad's?

If it wasn't for the Rockies and Florida Marlins expansion teams, a whole lot of guys who now boasted major-league credentials would still be scrabbling in the minors.

Lisa was so mad she called Channel 9 and the KOA radio sports-talk show hosted by Dave Logan and Scott Hastings to complain about their comments about replacement players.

Brad tried to calm her down. It wouldn't help his career if she said the wrong thing, he told her, but then he wound up laughing. Nobody, but nobody, was going to shut up his girl when she was on a tear. And God help Zappolo if she ever got close enough for a right cross.

Brad had bigger worries. He had decided that come game day, he would have to play replacement ball or say goodbye to the game altogether. "It's not the right chance," he told Lisa. "But it's probably my last chance."

He took full advantage of the opportunity. Brad Moore led all pitchers in bunting and batting practice. His first outing he pitched three innings with one hit, one walk, three strikeouts and no runs. His second he pitched three innings and allowed two hits and one run while he struck out three.

The day before Lisa was scheduled to arrive, he pitched his best game. Only Albert Bustillos and Jim Hunter were ahead of him in the rotation, and the Rockies would need five starters to open the season. The way it looked, he'd be going down in the history books as having thrown the first regular-season pitch at Coors Field.

Then came the morning of Saturday, March 18. A few minutes after six, Lisa woke to a crash and ran to find Brad on the floor. He'd slipped getting out of the shower, and her first worry was that he had struck his head. But it was worse than that...much worse for a man whose dreams relied on his ability to grip a hardball and hurl it 60 feet, 6 inches, into a space about 18 by 24 inches.

Brad held up his right hand. There was a funny lump on the back below the knuckle of his small finger.

"I broke my hand, " he said.
Lisa shook her head.
"Yes," he said, tears in his eyes, "I broke my pitching hand."

Lisa refused to abandon hope. Maybe it wasn't so bad. Maybe it was just a sprain.

"What do I do?" Brad said quietly. "Lisa, I can't tell 'em. I can't. I'd be gone."

Then he got a wild idea. He'd just act like nothing happened. He'd go to the ballpark, get in his uniform and work out. In a few days, he'd pitch. He walked into the bedroom and grabbed a baseball. See, he could still grip it, and he'd deal with the pain. The coaches would never know.

Lisa helped him dress. But by the time he left for the ballpark, his hand was swollen like a catcher's mitt and turning purple. They both knew it was over.

It was the Tuesday before the first exhibition game at Coors Field. Brad and Lisa Moore were seeing the new stadium for the first time.

Lisa watched her husband as he looked at the field. The lines that fanned out from his eyes no longer disappeared when he wasn't smiling. But he was still looking around like a kid. He'd heard that the clubhouse was nothing short of spectacular. Lockers four feet wide. Jacuzzis and a pool. A training room as large as the clubhouses in other stadiums. The magic land.

Around them, workers scrambled with last-minute preparations for the opener. Lisa knew Brad wanted to get down there on the field. To scuff the rubber on the mound. To breathe in the sun-warmed dust and the smell of fresh-mown grass. To close his eyes and savor the imagined roar of the crowd.

She knew how it ate at him to read newspaper reports about the Rockies struggling to find a third starter. He tortured himself watching television for glimpses of his former teammates.

The Rockies had released him after he broke the bone below the small finger on his right hand. Afterward, some reporters had suggested that he could rip the organization for not sticking with him, at least until he could demonstrate whether he'd ever be able to pitch at that level again. But that wasn't Brad.

He had nothing but good things to say about the Rockies. General manager Bob Gebhard had offered to find him a job somewhere in the organizaton. And Gebhard had promised him the opportunity to come back once his hand healed. He might still have a chance. It was all he could ask.

After the accident, Lisa had wondered if she really was a jinx. It wasn't fair: Brad was as good and decent a man as she had ever met, and she knew in her heart that he could play this game he loved.

Love. That was why she had pressed the black Wilson glove into his hands year after year after year and told him to try one more time. Why she had followed him from Clearwater to Reading, Scranton, Taiwan, Campeche and all the little places in between.

Through the magic of baseball, she had found love and learned how to return it. So with her arm around her boy of summer, Lisa led Brad away from Coors Field. With any luck, they'd be back soon.

end of part 2

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