Ever meet one of your favorite celebrities (sports star, actor, politician) and come away with a sour taste in your mouth? The exact opposite happened to me last week.
My day job, which I won't be quitting any time soon until Mike pays us correspondents more, is behind the scenes at a radio station in Orlando, Florida. Friday morning, the radio station for which I work had David Eckstein of the St. Louis Cardinals on the air. I came away very impressed with the man.
Eck was on the air promoting his new book, "Have Heart", which he describes on his website (davideckstein.com) as "a pep talk on life". You may ask, what qualifications does this dude have to give any of us a pep talk on life? Well, let's begin...
Eckstein won a state baseball championship at Seminole High School in Sanford, Florida, and made the all-state team twice. He got to the College World Series with the University of Florida, as a walk-on, no less. He was the first two-time academic All-American in Gator history.
You already know what he's done in the post-season at the major league level. Eck is one a select few who've won a World Series with teams in both leagues, the Angels in '02 and the Cards last year. In '02, he was the last winner of the Babe Ruth Award, which was discontinued, as it more or less overlapped with the World Series MVP award.
Eckstein was also named to the Jewish All-American team, despite the fact that he's a practicing Roman Catholic. That's okay; James Caan is an honorary member of the Italian-American Association, even though he's a self-described "Jew from Brooklyn". Those guys must have been watching too many Coppola movies.
Bottom line: Eckstein has won everywhere he's been, and that's pep talk enough for me. On top of all the baseball stuff, though, his book mentions a lot of the life lessons his parents instilled in him and his brothers and sisters. Quaint, old-fashioned stuff like "never give up", "always give 100 percent", and "no complaining". Can you think of a few MLB clubhouses that should have a copy of this book bolted to each locker with a steel chain? I can.
His family has also had its share of personal misfortunes; three of David's siblings are living with transplanted kidneys, and his dad is facing kidney dialysis as well. Those quaint, old-fashioned family rules certainly get put to the test daily with obstacles like that to overcome.
Eckstein also strikes me as a man who's totally grounded in what's important and what's not, and who doesn't take his and his wife's celebrity, too seriously. I remember reading in '02 that his father Whitey, who's a city commissioner in Sanford, missed seeing him in the playoffs and World Series. See, there was a Sanford planning commission meeting. Work comes first.
Not that dad wasn't interested in baseball. Far from it. Among the rules in the Eckstein household, right between "no drugs' and "no foul language", is this one: "No pop-ups".
"When you pop it up, that means you've done something incorrect," Whitey says. "Wade Boggs went a whole year with only three pop-ups."
Pictured (l-r): Johnny Gunnz, TV's Ashley Drane,
David Eckstein, and NostraDennis
It pains me to say it, but Eck was a genuinely nice guy before, and during, his time on the air with our morning show. I got to talk with him and his wife, TV actress Ashley Drane, for a good 20 minutes. The mayor of Orlando was in the studio at the time, and like all politicians, he ran long. Eck reminded me, physically and facially, of Lenny Dykstra. Wikipedia tells us his batting stance is similar to Nails' as well. Ironically, when I met Dykstra at a New York radio station in the winter of '86, well...let's just say he was either having a bad day that day, or he has a bad day every day. The people you root for aren't always the people with whom you'd share an adult beverage.
Eckstein did agree to convey all us Mets' fans best wishes to Yadier F. Molina. We all know what the F stands for. He mentioned that the first time he'd ever heard that particular middle name was when a friend who was a Red Sox fan mentioned Bucky F$@%ing Dent. He told me that particular moniker was one that most major leaguers would love to hear their opponents' fans use.
Interesting note: Eck's deal with St. Louis expires at the end of 2007. I asked if he'd mind playing in New York when his contract was up. He didn't say yes or no, but just chuckled and said we had a pretty good shortstop already. True.
I didn't have the nerve to ask if he'd consider sliding over to second base. I should've. Much love to Jose Valentin, AHern, and anyone else who happens to man second base for the Mets this year. But I can't help imagining an infield (and a lineup) with Wright, Reyes, and Eckstein in it some day in 2008 or beyond. We could do a whole lot worse.