Skip to main content
Original Issue

Back to School Memories

Before they were major leaguers, they were kids in the hall

MANY MAJOR LEAGUERS recall school as a place where important life skills were learned. "In seventh grade I threw a stink bomb in the bathroom," says Rockies reliever Brian Fuentes. "I went to Our Lady of Mercy [in Merced, Calif.], and the next day someone sprayed ketchup all over the bathroom. Someone snitched me out that I threw the stink bomb, and I had to go in the bathroom and clean all the ketchup off the walls. I was gagging."... In middle school (in Fort Cobb, Okla.) Angels outfielder Reggie Willits learned that snitching was something he could not abide. "A kid tattled on me, for chewing gum or something, and it made me mad so I went and hit him right in the middle of class. My dad let me have it for that. That was probably the worst trouble I ever got into."... Could there be a correlation between athletic ability and bad conduct in school? "I was a troublemaker in elementary school, says Yankees outfielder Shelley Duncan (below), who attended public grade school in Tucson with his younger brother Chris, a Cardinals outfielder. "Once, they let us bring a friend to class, so I brought Chris. We loaded our backpacks with water guns, and whenever the teacher had his back turned, we would shoot him in the back of the head. He kept trying to figure out who it was, but nobody told."... Royals reliever Jimmy Gobble, raised on the Tennessee-Virginia border, alleges that he had a rough go in his early grades. "I got whipped with a paddle a lot. My teacher hated me, or I was just mean. I was a rascal, mean as heck. The whipping was like a once-a-week deal."

A FORMAL EDUCATION is something no one can take away from you, though all sorts of people can give you one. "My junior high science teacher [in Scottsdale, Ariz.] was a huge Seinfeld fan," recalls Kansas City starter Brian Bannister, the son of former big league pitcher Floyd Bannister. "He knew the episodes inside and out, and he'd put Seinfeld trivia on his tests because he wanted you to watch the show. If you knew the trivia you'd get extra credit."... A's outfielder Travis Buck also got a course in pop culture. "In fifth grade [in Richland, Wash.] my teacher was Mr. Castleberry. We started school at about 8:30, and he would get there at about 7. I would ride my bike to school and get there at 7:30 to talk sports with him and listen to Simon & Garfunkel. I'd go to school when it was still dark out. He was a guy I looked up to, so I wanted to listen to that kind of music."... Sometimes, of course, the students teach the teachers. "In fifth grade a questionnaire went around asking what you want to do for a living," recalls Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who grew up in Sunnyvale, Calif. "I wrote that I wanted to be a football player, and the teacher, Mr. Walker, gave me back my paper and told me to put something realistic." Amazingly, two decades later, Mr. Walker showed up at one of Tulowitzki's games in San Francisco with that very questionnaire. "He had me sign it," Tulowitzki says. "He said it taught him that if a kid wants to do something, to not ruin his dreams but to tell him to go for it."

FUTURE BALLPLAYERS also figured out that athletic skills can help a kid fit in. "I switched schools before third grade," White Sox outfielder Jerry Owens recalls. "The first day [in Newhall, Calif.] I didn't know anyone. We were playing basketball at recess. I made a half-court shot, and everyone started calling me Mr. Make-it. That was how I got accepted by the group."... Rangers shortstop Michael Young (below, 10) has hoops memories that date to Cypress Elementary in Covina, Calif.: "I dunked on someone in sixth grade. The hoops weren't 10 feet, they were, like, 9 1/2. And I had some bootleg pumps. You had to pump them up with a bicycle pump. Me and my bootleg pumps took off on this kid with both feet and stuffed it in his face. Did the hang-on-the-rim thing, the scream, the whole nine yards. It was awesome."... Schoolyard games were equally memorable for Dodgers catcher Russell Martin. "I broke a tooth playing tag in fifth grade in France, where I went to school for two years," he says. "I fell right on my face and broke my tooth. I had to get it glued back together, and I have had to have it redone two or three times since. But I have never really minded. I would rather break my tooth than get tagged."... Of course, one thing everyone learns early is that being an athlete can make life easier. "My school revolved around football," recalls Reds slugger Adam Dunn, who went to New Caney High, outside Houston, and was a star quarterback. "Our principal was the former coach and athletic director. Here was my Friday: I'd show up, he'd take me to breakfast. I'd hang out in his office. Then I had athletic period. And then I'd go home."

"My second-grade teacher [in Tustin, Calif.], Mrs. Yoshioka, liked hockey. If you were bad, she had a penalty box."
—Mets outfielder SHAWN GREEN