The last time Seattle Mariners reliever Keith Comstock drank chocolate milk was 16 years ago, after he pitched a no-hitter for the Walnut Tree of the Senior Babe Ruth League in Menlo Park, Calif. Chocolate milk was the special treat his mother used to give him. "I'll always remember how it tasted," he says. "And I'll always remember that day and that team." He snaps out of his reverie. "It was one of the few I've played for that didn't release me."
Comstock, who's now 34, has practically made a career out of rejection. Since he was drafted by the California Angels in 1976, he has been dumped by 10 teams in five countries (the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Venezuela and Japan) and one commonwealth (Puerto Rico). In 1983 the Oakland A's sold him to the Detroit Tigers for $100 and a bag of balls, which Comstock had to hand deliver to the Tigers camp in Florida. He even got bumped from a semipro team in Red Deer, Canada, after he injured a shoulder. "I didn't think anybody got axed in semipro ball," he says, "but somehow I managed."
Comstock has had more cups of coffee than Juan Valdez. In all, he has pitched only 112‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings in the majors, for four different teams in parts of five different seasons, en route to a 4-4 record and one save. The only reason Comstock has stuck around this long is that he's lefthanded. "If I wasn't, I would have been done at 24," he reckons. "If you're a southpaw and can still flip the ball, there will always be a place for you."
For a while at least. One day in 1979, Moose Stubing, Comstock's manager on the California Angels' Double A El Paso club, called him into his office. Comstock recalls: "Moose said something like, 'This is the hardest thing I have to do.' The other nine times I was released were pretty standard: 'There's no room for you on the roster.' 'You're too old.' 'We're going with a youth movement.' It got to be so routine that my lips would move with the manager's."
But Comstock never took any of it personally. The only time he felt like quitting was in 1983, when he was playing for the Birmingham Barons. But he owed $185 on his Chevy station wagon, so he decided to give it another month. When one of the other pitchers got hurt, Comstock joined the starting rotation and won 10 straight. You know the rest of the story.
Comstock has been with Seattle since last July, and at week's end was 1-1 with a 1.72 ERA. He feels a special bond with the Mariners, a franchise that has never had a winning season. "Teams come into Seattle, wipe their feet and walk back out," he says. "We were made for each other."
In 1984, Comstock and two other teammates who had played for the Idaho Falls Angels in 1976 formed a sort of Last Man's Club. They bought a bottle of vintage champagne and agreed that it would go to the guy who stayed in baseball the longest. The other two—Ken Schrom and Mark Brouhard—are now out of the game. Yet Comstock still hasn't popped the cork. "I'll wait until I'm released for the final time," he says. "I'll go home, sit down alone and open the bottle."
Then he'll pour himself a glass and have a good laugh. "And, you know," he says, "I bet it'll taste just like chocolate milk."
To Comstock, chocolate milk tastes better than bubbly.