When you’re peering over the center-field fence at Dodger Stadium, home plate is so very, very far away that Jose Canseco, digging into the batter’s box, looks human.
His swing tells you different. In batting practice before Saturday’s World Series opener, Canseco drove two balls deep, deep into the left-field bleachers, the balls almost plunking down on the metal roof and bouncing out of the stadium.
“I’ve been here four years and I’ve never seen anyone hit a ball that far,” said stadium usher Dave Green. “Mike Marshall can hit the front row of the blue seats (halfway up the bleachers), but Canseco’s must have been 10 rows up. Nobody hits ‘em up there.”
Nice exhibition, but what can Jose do when the heat’s on, when his team is down, 2-0, and he comes to the plate with the bases loaded, 2 outs, in the second inning?
What he can do is crunch a 1-and-0 slider from Tim Belcher on a frozen line, like a 2-iron shot, directly over the center-field fence.
The ball caromed off an NBC camera and rolled between the two huge flagpoles.
Oakland’s Bashers had the lead, 4-2.
Nobody shrinks a man-sized ballpark like Jose Canseco. He’s 24 years old, 6 feet 3 inches and 210 pounds, and he can lay every inch and pound into a pitch. When he matures and fills out, this kid is going to be some kinda hitter.
His grand-slam screamer turned out to be the runner-up in the evening’s Most Incredible Home Run contest. The grand prize went to Kirk Gibson, who hit a 2-run job over right fielder Canseco’s head in the bottom of the ninth, also with 2 out.
Gibson’s stroke turned the Bashers into the Bashees.
“That’s why power hitters are so well-paid,” Canseco said as he worked on a burrito in the postgame clubhouse. “They can put the game away for you. People say power hitters are overpaid, overrated. That’s bull. That’s the man you want up there, that’s the man who makes the big bucks.”
Canseco wasn’t surprised when Gibson connected, even though Gibson seemed as steady at the plate as a rookie sailor walking the deck during his first storm.
“The problem about Gibson,” Canseco said, “is he adapts well. He can have one bad swing, he corrects quickly. I like him a lot. I’ve talked to him. He’s very positive, very enthusiastic. He’s a lot like me, he’s got power, speed, a strong arm.
“When the money’s out there and the marbles are on the table, he’s the man you want out there. It (the pitch) was a slider that caught the plate. He’s an aggressive hitter just like I am, he’s not going to take a ball in the strike zone.
“I knew it was gone. I took one step and just watched.
“I know what he can do. In ’86 I saw him hit 2 home runs off Joaquin Andujar in Oakland, both into the top deck, just incredible. I gotta respect anyone who can hit 2 balls 500 feet. I have to. On top of that, he can run. Amazing.”
Canseco’s blast was amazing, too. It was one of the lowest, hardest homers you’ll see, clearing the fence like a comet, by about 3 feet.
Did Canseco know it would carry the fence?
“Did you see how hard I hit it?” Canseco replied, incredulously. “I hit it extremely hard.”
As hard as he can hit a ball?
“Probably not, but hard enough,” he said.
This one was for Jose’s father.
“My dad was here today,” Canseco said. “Of all the power hitters we’ve got in Oakland, I’m the only one who’s never hit a grand slam. My father’s always telling me, ‘When you gonna hit one? When you gonna hit one?’ ‘Sure, Dad, I’ll hit one tonight.’
“When I hit it, the first thing that went through my mind was, ‘Grand slam, national TV, my father’s here to see it, I’m covered.’ ”
Canseco is such an amazing hitter, a .300 hitter with one of the great power swings in history, that some think of him as The Natural.
Others, such as the baseball reporter who went on national TV and accused Canseco of training on steroids, see him as an unnatural.
When he took his position in right field after the grand slam, the subject of steroids was raised by hecklers in the right-field stands.
“They were yelling, ‘Steroids,’ and ‘Just say no,’ ” Canseco said with a smile. “Maybe tomorrow they’ll think of something original.”
The stadium security guard who picked up the grand-slam ball was ushered into the clubhouse and presented the ball to Canseco.
“I’m gonna give this to my dad so he’ll shut up,” Canseco said.
If it doesn’t sound like Jose was upset over the jarring turn of events that turned his glorious blast into a game footnote and put his team down, 1-0, in the Series, that’s because he wasn’t.
“I don’t think anyone here’s devastated,” Canseco said. “We have to lose a game here and there. We’re not a mechanical team that’s gonna win every single game.”
And you get the feeling that if Jose Canseco has to lose a big ballgame, he’d prefer doing so in a fashion he deeply understands and respects.
Beaten by the bash, Jose would sleep peacefully.