Philadelphia Inquirer - April 8, 1980
For Wright, it’s fun again
By Frank Dolson, Sports Editor
Clearwater, Fla. – Somewhere else in the minor leagues there must be as fine a young man, as talented a young pitcher as Jim Wright trying to make it to the majors. When I meet him, I’ll let you know.
Somewhere else there must be a hard-throwing, can’t-miss prospect whose path to the big leagues has been blocked by obstacles the size of those Jim Wright has been trying to overcome for the last two years. But I can’t think of one offhand.
He’s a very special person, Jim Wright. To meet him is to like him. Ask the guys who were his teammates in the Phillies organization, from Pulaski to Spartanburg, from Reading to Oklahoma City. When the bone in his forearm snapped last spring while throwing a fast ball in a “B” game here, everybody who knew Jim Wright felt the pain.
That’s why the sight of this tall, nice-looking young man standing on the mound, handcuffing batters this spring has been so beautiful.
That’s why when he walked off the mound Sunday after six impressive innings with no pain in his right forearm and a big, happy smile on his face, you couldn’t help but smile, too.
‘It’s fun again’
It doesn’t really matter at this stage that Wright has to fly to Oklahoma City this morning for yet another round of minor-league pitching. What does matter is he’s healthy again… and for a healthy Jim Wright it’s only a matter of time before he throws his first big league pitch.
“It’s fun again just to get out there (on the mound),” he said, “fun to be warming up for a game without any pain.”
You could see it in his face, in his mood, in his actions the first day he pitched this spring.
“I’ve been waiting for this day,” he said. “Really, I’ve been hoping for it more than waiting for it. You don’t know for sure if you’re ever going to come back. I thought I would deep inside, but I still didn’t know. After I broke my arm I started getting second thoughts…”
Fortunately for Wright, the Phillies didn’t get second thoughts. So often we hear about minor-league players who are treated shabbily by the parent organization. Jim Wright represents the other side of the coin.
Grateful to Phils
“I feel really grateful,” he said. “I think a lot of other teams would have taken me off the roster, released me, whatever.”
Wright pitched a total of only 20 innings in ’78, none in ’79, yet the Phillies stated with him, encouraged him, helped him. And now, off what he’s shown this spring, there’s every reason to believe he isn’t very far away from helping them.
“I think when the time comes I’ll be ready for it,” he said. “I don’t know how it’s going to feel when I stand out there (on a big league mound) for the first time. I’m really going to have goose bumps in every pore, and I’m going to think of a lot of different people….”
Above all, when that long overdue day comes, Jim Wright will be thinking of his dad, who died four years ago.
“I just wish he could be here to see it,” Wright said. “He lived baseball. He knew I was going to play it ever since I was a little kid, when I was 8, 9, 10. He asked me what I was going to be then, and I said, ‘A big league ballplayer.’
Gave him confidence
“The last time I talked to him I was just coming out of Sparty (Class A Spartanburg) going to Double A. It was just two and a half weeks from spring training. I sat there and I talked to him all night. He said, ‘I know you’re going to make it.’ My dad always gave me confidence.”
A lot of things happened in the last couple of years that could have shattered Wright’s confidence. There was the growth on the bone that started his problems, the line drive that smashed his foot, the broken arm. But here he is. Once again the big leagues – Veterans Stadium – is within sight.
“My wife’s helped me a lot,” he said. “She’s stuck by my side. I’ve put her through a lot the last couple of years – being home all the time, being down, not wanting to do anything, go anywhere…”
All that’s behind him now. The hard-throwing, can’t-miss pitcher who blazed through the minor leagues, the tall, nice-looking young man who left a trail of victories and friends from Pulaski to Oklahoma City is back. Jim Wright is smiling again. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
Some memories, best left behind in Florida
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
Clearwater, Fla. – It’s amazing how every spring training looks a lot like every other spring training.
Every spring there is the obligatory Rookie Who Reminds You of Del Ennis.
Every spring there is the ceaseless struggle of the veteran who is clearly the 26th guy on a 25-Man Club.
Every spring there is a Ron Stone who turns from the next Mickey Mantle to the next Mike De La Hoz as soon as he crosses the Mason-Dixon Line.
But every spring, also, there are crazy little things that happen. Human things. Funny things. Things that don’t make headlines coast to coast.
For the people to whom spring training is a six-week way of life, however, they are the things that stick out. They are the things thast make each spring training unique from all others.
Here are some of those things from spring training 1980.
Paul Owens picked up his new car just before he headed south.
He and scout Hugh Alexander must have driven 900 miles before they noticed they were having trouble getting the air conditioner to work. This is the kind of problem you would be much more likely to notice when you hit Tampa than when you leave New Jersey.
Finally, Owens arrived in Clearwater, unpacked his stuff and dropped his car off at a local dealer to have them check the air conditioning.
The next day, the phone at Carpenter Complex rang, and Dallas Green answered.
“Give Mr. Owens this message,” the car dealer told Green. “We figured out why his air conditioner doesn’t work. Um, the car isn’t air-conditioned.”
One of the touching stories of the spring was the transition of Tim McCarver from player to rookie broadcaster.
It was hard enough for McCarver just figuring out what to say.
“I’ve only done four games,” McCarver signed one day. “And I think I’ve already said everything I know.”
But talking wasn’t even the toughest thing he had to learn. Here he has spent 21 years in the game, could block sliders in the first, could line curveballs up the alley, could describe the difference in rotation between one pitcher’s breaking ball and another’s.
But there was one thing, after all that time, that he still couldn’t do.
He sat in the press box in Bradenton one day, pencil in hand, scorecard in front of him. When somebody made an out, he confidently wrote in “6-3” or “8” or whatever it was he supposed to write.
But each time the game produced something as complex as, say, a single to right-center, he would suddenly start at his scorecard as if it were the French translation of “Crime and Punishment.”
At that point, writers, public relations men and other broadcasters immediately converged to help him. Unfortunately, there are 2 billion different ways to score. And no two people around McCarver handled any play the same, turning every hit, run or force-out into a clinic in chaos.
Finally, McCarver took the only rational course. He openly rooted for outs, just for the sake of avoiding another crisis.
“If they were all no-hitters,” he said, “I’d be in great shape.”
Spring-training baseball parks don’t bear much resemblance to those space-age stadiums up north.
There is no such thing in Florida as AstroTurf, upper decks or security for press boxes.
In Pompano last week, sportswriters heading for the press box were confronted by a group of rowdy 12=year-olds who demanded identification before they would let anybody by.
This was considered cute. At least it was until somebody attempted to leave in the sixth inning and discovered the little rascals actually had locked everybody in the box from the outside.
As 12 writers and the entire Phillies radio crew realized they had become America’s newest hostages, panicky expressions set in. Reports circulated that the perpetrators were young terrorists, demanding the return of Doyle Alexander for a long list of crimes against the Rangers.
Finally, with help from the State Department – and, oh yes, a park custodian – everyone was freed. Alexander, however, is reported seeking asylum in Fulton County, Ga.
The line drive had crashed off the side of his kneecap. And three hours later, Larry Christenson was lying on a trainer’s table in Jack Russell Stadium.
His leg was wrapped in some rubber device that shot ice-cold water at it at high pressure.
All around him the expressions were funereal.
Dallas Green spoke of the horrible fear of any pitcher that he is always standing 60 feet away from a bullet. Keith Moreland talked about the gruesome sound when it hit. Herm Starrette discussed how tough it is to get out of the way.
The one guy taking all this lightly was the guy you would least have expected to take it lightly – Christenson himself.
“I should have been an architect like I wanted to be,” he said.
NOTES: Still no deals for Rawley Eastwick, Doug Bird or Mike Anderson. But the Phillies did make one player move. They signed one of their legends from the past, Roger Freed, and assigned him to Oklahoma City. Freed, 33, will spot-start and pinch-hit, said farm director Howie Bedell. “We’ll keep him shard as a right-handed bat,” Bedell said. “And if Dallas decided he has a need for that type of help, he’d be prepared to come to Philadelphia.”… Freed last played for the Phillies in 1972. They once traded three players to get him, including Grant Jackson. He was released last week by St. Louis… Yesterday’s workout was rained out.