Today I began retracing my steps with “T-Bone” (Tom Giordano) by flying from Islip McArthur Airport to Orlando Fl. on Southwest airlines. That was the airline we used, for the 20 to 25 flights each year we made, to cover the American League East teams and various minor league cities over the course of a season, working as scouts for the Atlanta Braves. I figured we took a little over 150 to 175 flights in 7 years. Included in those travels was visits to NY, Tampa, Baltimore, Arizona, Latin America, Georgia and even Europe, where we were to be part of the Italian Baseball Softball Federation’s Annual convention. You never knew where Tom would need to see a player. It would be like, “Billy, change of plans, book a flight to Minnesota, we need to see Corey Kluber pitch tomorrow night.” Today it was to be to Orlando which was my first flight with him.
My good friend, Joe Ferrara, graciously offered to pick me up at the airport and drive me around for my stay. I was now in T-Bone’s seat on the right and I joked that I could be morphing into T-Bone as I attended to my work while Joe drove me from place to place. Joe would drive Tom in Florida when I was not available over the past few years and had taken the middle name of “Rib-Eye” to go along with Tom’s T-Bone. One thing about Tom and who he allowed into his baseball world, was that he was extremely picky about who he felt comfortable with and who he trusted. I saw guys last anywhere from a week to 20 minutes. Joe became one of his favorites. Tom liked to make fun of Joe’s Boston accent and was excited about the fact that he loved Italian food, but, most importantly, Tom recognized that Joe knew his baseball.
As we passed familiar places T-bone and I frequented, I would tell Joe a story or two about something that was said or another thing that may have happened at a restaurant or a place we had been to. Some were funny, some were not so funny, and others, let’s just say were interesting and colorful. T-bone and I covered a lot of ground going from place to place but the best of times were when we were on the way to a ballpark and that was just about every day.
From the preparation for game day at a hotel, then breakfast or lunch, to the ride to the game. It was not only talking baseball but everything and anything. Tom and I had a unique relationship. We talked baseball, politics, food and people. Not always agreeing on things, yet respectful of each other’s ideas on a subject. He would challenge me with questions he already knew the answer to and explain in detail how I was wrong about something and yet admit I was right sometimes. The word sometimes is accurate.
At the ballpark everything became magnified. I was transformed from an ordinary person, to a baseball man. Watching the players, looking for something different in a swing and seeing if it was repeated later in the game. Does a pitcher use a certain pitch in the same count on a lefty and what does he do in the same count to a righty hitter? Why is that right fielder so close to the line and on and on it would go. We would sometimes look at each other and try to decide if we just saw a slider, cutter or a ball that had inadvertently slipped out of a pitchers hand.
Every second in the ballpark was exhilarating for me. The other scouts, reporters, former players and ballpark staff coming by to talk or having dinner in the press lounge with many of them was always a treat. Amazing stories and non-stop baseball talk.
Then it would be time to pack it all in and head back to a hotel or airport and talk about what we just saw. Trying to make sense of it all and then having to put in writing, in short form, a report that would be sent to the front office. When a deal was made by the GM on something we had sent in earlier in the season, the sense of, hey, I had a part in that was incredible. Being a part of all of that every day was both challenging and exciting. It became my drug of choice and I couldn’t get enough of it.
To be continued…………