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9 Jeff Bagwell

YOU STOP the film in the summer of 1975. You find the
seven-year-old kid in the family living room in Killingworth, Conn.
He is sprawled on the floor in front of the television set. The set
is turned to Channel 6, and the action is live, direct from Fenway
Park, which is just a two-hour drive up the interstate. The Boston
Red Sox are on their way to an American League pennant.
''Who's your favorite player?'' you ask.
''Carl Yastrzemski,'' the kid replies.
''Why is that?''
''I don't know,'' the kid says. ''I just like him.''
You look at Yastrzemski and maybe you get a better idea. He is 5
ft. 11 in., weighs 175 pounds. Not the biggest player, not the
fastest player, he still is headed straight to the Hall of Fame. How
does a man his size hit a baseball so far? He was the American League
MVP and Triple Crown winner in 1967, a year . before the kid was
born, and is still so good. He is the average man who has become a
superstar, the ordinary guy who has worked harder, played harder,
made himself into what he has become. Why wouldn't an average-sized
kid fall in love with an average-sized superstar?
''You'd like to be him?'' you ask.
''Oh, yeah,'' Jeff Bagwell replies.
You stop the film in the summer of 1990. The kid is now 22. If his
grammar- school daydreams were blueprints, then the house is now at
least half completed. He is the property of the Boston Red Sox,
playing for their Double A farm club in New Britain, Conn., and
climbing the slippery rungs of the organizational ladder quite well.
He is leading the Eastern League in hitting at .333 and playing third
base and. . . .
''Wait a minute,'' you say. ''You don't look very happy.''
''I've just been traded,'' the kid says.
''To Houston.''
He has called his grandmother and told her the news. She cried.
She is a Red Sox fan. He feels like crying himself. How can he ever
be what he wanted to be? He says this is the worst moment of his
You stop the film in the summer of 1994, on Aug. 12, when all
baseball film is stopped because the strike has begun. Jeff Bagwell
is now a 26-year-old All-Star first baseman for the Houston Astros.
Since the numbers for the season will be frozen forever, he finishes
as the major league leader in RBIs, with 116, and second in the
National League in both average (.368) and homers (39). He has come
as close to winning the Triple Crown as anyone since, well, since a
guy named Yaz won it in 1967 in Boston. Bagwell will soon be named
the National League's Most Valuable Player.
''Have you ever met your hero?'' you ask.
''I saw him early this month at a card collectors' show,'' the MVP
replies. ''It was weird. It's like he was a god, and even though I'm
a ballplayer too now, I was still in awe. We had a good talk. He
talked about the Triple Crown. He told me that nobody knows how tough
it is to win. He didn't have to tell me. I already know.''
You look at Bagwell's ordinary size -- six feet tall, 195 pounds.
How does a man his size hit a baseball so far? You look at his
extraordinary work habits. You look at the numbers for his fledgling,
four-year major league career: a .309 batting average, 92 home runs
and 382 runs batted in. His worst moment in New Britain has led to
many best moments here. You look at his future -- which the Astros
have secured for themselves by signing him to a four-year, $27.5
million contract -- and you ask, Is there any better future in all of
You wonder how many kids are stretched out on how many floors
wanting to become this average-looking guy they see on their
television screens, wanting to grow up to play the game just like
Jeff Bagwell.