If I was inclined to root for the Rockies, it would be for one reason, only. The team's manager is the only person I've ever seen pour a full bottle of champagne over his genitalia.
I'll bet you didn't see that one coming. Here's the story.
It was September, 1983, and I was at the beginning of my senior year at the University of Virginia. It had been a few days since my friend, Gordon "G-Bone" Gerson had begged for my help. He was the incoming sports editor of the University Journal, a campus almost-daily - the Herald to the Cavalier Daily's Globe, if you will - and as he commenced his reign, he nervously regarded the depth of his writing staff similar to how, today, you might view the Miami Dolphins' secondary. We had always talked sports, and despite my complete lack of journalism experience, he suspected I could contribute. He eagerly accepted my one condition to climb aboard: I write whatever-the-%$&# I wanted.
So I set out looking for a debut topic. Of course, there was limited information (no internet) in these days. Like many baseball fans, I relied heavily on The Sporting News for my insider fix. Always enthralled with the minor league stats only TSN provided, I began leafing through from the back page forward. Beginning with the Carolina League, my eye caught something that didn't compute: a pitcher at the top of the charts with a 19-4 record and a 2.50 ERA - impressive enough - but also showing 191 IP, with ... 300 strikeouts! I looked again. 300??? Couldn't be right; must be 200.
The name next to the numbers was this: Gooden, Dwight.
The team was the Lynchburg Mets. So I got on the phone to Lynchburg, spoke with someone in the front office.
"I'm calling about Dwight Gooden."
"Yeah, he's really something, isn't he?"
"It's these numbers. It's 200 strikeouts, not 300. Right?"
"No, it's 300."
"I gotta write about this guy."
It took some geographic exaggeration and about 3 seconds to convince G-Bone, a Mets fan, that minor league baseball in Lynchburg was a "local" story in Charlottesville. So I set the whole thing up, and a couple of days later, made one last call to confirm before I set out in my car across the state. This is what I was told.
"I'm glad you called. I had misplaced your number."
"The interview is off. The Mets sent Dwight up to Triple-A to pitch for Tidewater in the playoffs. He's gone."
Rats. But wait. Wasn't Tidewater playing the Richmond Braves in the championship? That's even more local. And my uncle from Norfolk was one of the owners of the Tides. Back to the phones. In about an hour, I had successfully set the whole thing to go down in Richmond, in the locker room after Dwight's start the next day.
Meanwhile, sitting in the U-J office listening to all this wheeling-and-dealing was perhaps G-Bone's only other competent writer, Adam Sachs. He wanted in on this field trip, so he picked up the stray Sporting News and began hunting. Soon, staring up at him from the Tidewater roster page was an epiphany: Clint Hurdle. Adam was from Kansas City, and a dedicated Royals fan (remember, they used to be pretty good back then). He remembered Hurdle, the failed phenom from '78, who was now trying to claw his way back to the majors via the tools of ignorance -- by learning the art of catching. We talked, and a story idea was quickly born: "Dwight Gooden and Clint Hurdle: On The Way Up and On The Way Back". Pretty obscure stuff for a college paper. But what choice did G-Bone have? He needed copy. Bad.
The next afternoon, Adam and I made the 70-mile trip to Richmond. It was Game 4 of "The Governor's Cup" - that's what they call the International League championship. A best-of-five, the Tides were up 2-to-1. So on Dwight's debut hung a title. And he would be guided by the "grizzled vet" Hurdle, who would call the pitches.
Dwight didn't disappoint. With the help of two 2-run dingers off the bat of Terry Blocker (Anyone remember him? Got some real time with the Braves later), Dwight pitched the Tides to a 6-1 victory. If memory serves, he was very good, but not completely dominant - went the distance, yielded at least a half-dozen hits, and struck out a pedestrian 8 (though I recall him nutting up down the stretch and really blowing people away ... a portent of what was to come). The Tides did their on-field dogpile, then headed for the clubhouse. I turned to Adam. Time to make our move.
When we got inside, it was, shall we say, a weird, wild scene - a sports fan's dream come true, to tell the truth. Here we are, two college shmucks sort of pretending to be journalists, in the middle of a clubhouse championship bacchanalia. There's screaming and laughing, alcohol flowing both down throats and over heads, semi-clad players desperately trying to make travel plans home for the off-season. There were discarded uniforms strewn about, and I recall us struggling with an ethical dilemma, wondering if we can still maintain our faux professionalism while swiping one or two of them on the way out (I had my eye on a Wally Backman model).
Adam's subject had a documented history, so his plan was just to sit down with Hurdle. To introduce Gooden to our campus readership, I had more to get, so I made the rounds.
The first person I recall interviewing was Tides' pitching coach Al Jackson, an original member of the Mets, who was enjoying a tasty looking chicken breast as he shared his thoughts. To be perfectly accurate, he was sharing his chicken as well as his thoughts - as he spoke, small bits of it propelled from between his teeth and found refuge on my face. There I am, pock-marked by bits of masticated poultry, but not budging an inch, or even blinking. I'm talking to Al Jackson!
Next, I cornered the Tides' manager, Davey Johnson. Not a great moment. "So, are you looking forward to Dwight anchoring your rotation here in Tidewater next season?" I didn't know Johnson was angling for the Mets' job - managers were usually recycled, not promoted from the minors. He looked at me cold and said something like, "what the hell kind of question is that?" I slinked away.
Dwight was reserved but happy to engage (I cleaned up his grammar a little in the article). While we spoke, I was tapped on the back by Terry Blocker, who was apparently disappointed that his two blasts were not drawing attention from a reporter. I explained to him that I was writing a feature on Gooden, and he looked at me square, grabbed my shirt collar, pulled on it, and delivered the entire contents of a Budweiser down my chest. I had officially joined the celebration.
Glancing across the room, I noticed Adam had finally gotten Hurdle's attention. They were seated on a bench in the corner, Hurdle dressed in nothing but a jock strap. Adam opened his notebook and un-capped his pen. He was ready.
But suddenly, silence swept trough the room, as everybody's attention turned to the back, where one of the team officials had emerged from the office and was calling for quiet. Shhhh. He spoke:
"That was New York on the phone. Clint, get packed. You're expected at Shea by tomorrow afternoon."
And this was the moment Mr. Hurdle, metaphorically speaking, opened his equipment bag, removed his bat & balls, and deluged the sporting goods with a fermented rain delay. Red in the face, buck-naked, screaming like a lunatic, he raced around the room, cheap Asti Spumanti gushing over his fruitbowl. I guess it was good to make it back.
We made the trip back to Charlottesville, wet and stinking up my used Toyota Corona with moldy booze, sitting in virtual silence; frankly, in something of a daze, in disbelief of what we had just experienced. When we wrote it up, I recall G-Bone angrily confronting Adam: "Did you even talk to Hurdle?! There's not a single quote in here!" I had to stick up for him. Bad timing.
And that's what I think about every time I see Clint Hurdle. Sort of stands in contrast with all that Rockies' evangelical goody-goody Boy Scout talk, doesn't it? So now that you've got that visual firmly planted in your mind as well, enjoy the rest of the Series.
G-Bone, today: Dr. Gordon Gerson, Aspen cardiologist to the stars.
Hacky Sachs, today: Adam P. Sachs, Esq., KC superlawyer
 Hurdle's virtual nudity briefly reminded me of a yarn Adam used to tell from the real insider's KC sports scene - something about a groupie and George Brett wearing nothing but a Harpo Marx wig. What was it about those former Royals?