"Hey, Vince, got a match?"
That's what passed for high wit in the bleachers at Baseball City this spring. Such taunts, some far nastier, are what Vince Coleman will be hearing wherever he goes this season. "I have to block out the jeers," he says. "I'm just happy to be playing in front of the good people of Missouri again."
The Royal media guide contains this gem of understatement under Coleman's 1993 recap: "Did not play after July 31 due to an incident in Los Angeles on July 24 involving a firecracker." What Coleman did was throw an M-100 out of a moving car in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, injuring three bystanders and irreparably harming his own image.
It was the dumbest thing Coleman has ever done. The second dumbest was signing a four-year contract with the New York Mets as a free agent following the '90 season. Never mind that Coleman was ever the accidental tourist during his stay in New York, whether he was injuring himself or inadvertently hitting Doc Gooden with a nine-iron in the Met clubhouse. His real mistake was failing to recognize that he is a player meant for artificial turf, on which he has hit .310 lifetime, and not grass, which turns him into a .255 batter. And in three years with the Mets he stole a total of 99 bases, which is slightly more than he averaged in six seasons in St. Louis.
In the off-season the Royals traded their big bust, Kevin McReynolds, back to the Mets for Coleman. In a sense K.C. is asking him, "Hey, Vince, got a match?" The Royals need Coleman to ignite an offense that was last in the league in runs scored. "I couldn't have picked a better place to go," says Coleman. "I think I can help the team, and Kansas City is the kind of city I want to play in for the rest of my career." That's very nice, Vince, but be forewarned that next year the Royals are installing natural grass in Kauffman Stadium.
Another player who is key to Kansas City's chances also engaged in a less-than-intelligent extracurricular activity. Rookie first baseman-designated hitter Bob Hamelin, who will try to pick up some of the slack left by George Brett's retirement, hurt his arm at an off-season arm-wrestling tournament in Las Vegas. "Talk about dumb," Hamelin says. "The only reason I accepted was because I wanted to go to Vegas."
He recovered from the arm injury fairly quickly, but he is still kicking himself for his foolishness after he had worked so hard the last several years to overcome a serious back problem and lose weight. Hamelin wears number 3 and bats lefthanded, and, says one Royal observer, "Not too long ago, he looked like Babe Ruth...in the Babe's last at bat with the Boston Braves." A slimmer Hamelin hit 29 homers with 84 RBIs at Triple A Omaha last year, and he should provide the Royals with some desperately needed power.
In fact, if the Royals had more punch on offense, they coulda been contenduhs. Kevin Appier and David Cone give them an impressive one-two in the rotation, and Tom Gordon has picked up a nice changeup to go with his sensational curveball. Other than those starters and the league's best closer. Jeff Montgomery, K.C.'s pitching is a little iffy, but every Royal hurler will benefit from the defense. Manager Hal McRae is right when he says, "Nobody can catch the ball like we can."
That doesn't mean, however, that the Royals can catch the White Sox.
Back on familiar turf, Coleman seeks to turn jeers to cheers.