Travis Lee, the Diamondbacks' slugging first baseman, was sitting
in the dugout at Bank One Ballpark, a.k.a. the BOB, recently,
going through the highlights of a season that could end with his
being named National League Rookie of the Year. "So far," said
Lee, "I can walk the dog, I can hop the fence, I can trapeze, I
can rock the baby, rock the baby cha-cha-cha, orbit launch and
rocket launch." He took a deep breath. "Plus, I can go around the
world about 10 times."
Through Aug. 29, Lee also had 20 homers and 59 RBIs and was
perhaps the most popular Phoenix attraction this side of the pool
in the BOB. But big numbers and wide popularity bring nothing
more than a polite nod and a shrug of Lee's sizable shoulders. To
get a rise out of him, start talking yo-yo.
Earlier this season, a little bored from too much free time
between games, Lee paid $30 for a Turbo Bumble Bee, a yo-yo he
had seen Drew Benes, Arizona righthander Andy Benes's
nine-year-old son, playing with in the clubhouse. Within days Lee
had purchased his second yo-yo, a Fireball. Then he bought
another Fireball. Then a classic wooden Duncan. Then a Stinger,
which has two real dead scorpions embedded in its clear sides.
When the Diamondbacks visited San Francisco in July, he went to
Fisherman's Wharf and paid $3 for a yo-yo that lights up. "I was
excited," he says. Two weeks later, it broke. "You get what you
Lee, a quiet sort, refuses to call his sudden yo-yo affinity an
addiction. More of a diversion, he says. Of late, that hasn't
been such a bad thing. Since returning three weeks ago from a
15-day stint on the disabled list to heal a groin strain, Lee, a
23-year-old from Olympia, Wash., had played more like Travis
Tritt than a guy selected No. 2 in the 1996 June draft, batting
.177 with one homer through Saturday. "It's one of the most
frustrating things I've ever gone through," he said last week.
"I'm completely healthy, and I feel like I'm swinging the bat
well. But for some reason, I can't hit the ball."
Until recently Lee, Rockies first baseman Todd Helton (.318, 21
homers, 85 RBIs) and Cubs righthander Kerry Wood (12-6, 3.36 ERA,
223 strikeouts) were neck, neck and neck in the rookie of the
year race. However, if Lee's average dips much further (in a span
of 16 games, it fell from .288 to .265), he could fall behind
even Montreal first baseman Brad Fullmer (.286, 40 doubles, 62
RBIs). "You can't perform like I have lately and win many
awards," Lee says.
Not true. Lee is a shoo-in for Diamondback with Most Marriage
Requests. Fans love him. Women scream his name. Kids--including
his teammates'--hound him.
None of the madness would have happened had Lee and his agent,
Jeff Moorad, not taken advantage of the system. Two years ago,
when he was selected out of San Diego State by the Twins,
Lee--along with three other draftees--benefited from an obscure
rule that makes first-round picks free agents if they are not
tendered contract offers within 15 days of being drafted. After
Minnesota failed to meet the deadline, the expansion
Diamondbacks, still a year and a half from playing their first
game, snared him with a $10 million signing bonus.
With millions in the bank, Lee can afford the good stuff.
"There's this one model," he says, drooling just a bit. "It's
called the Silver Bullet, and it's about $90. That's a lot of
money for a yo-yo, but I think I have to buy it." --J.P.
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT WACHTER [Travis Lee performing "rock the baby" move with yo-yo]