To Him, Reruns as Big as Runs : Dodgers: Mitch Webster never misses his favorite show and he hasn’t missed much in key spots for new team.
What the thousands of fans who are usually on their feet and screaming when Mitch Webster bats do not know is that he does not see them. He does not hear them.
In his mind, he is not on the field. He is not at Dodger Stadium. He is not even in Los Angeles.
He is in Mayberry.
“Greatest place in the world,” said Webster, the Dodgers’ small-town, big-play outfielder. “Just thinking about that place relaxes me.”
Before almost every Dodger home game, Webster travels to Mayberry through “The Andy Griffith Show.” It appears on TBS at 3:35 weekday afternoons.
Webster sets his watch, and his bat, by it.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” he said. “I get to the park early, go in there and watch Andy and Barney and all the guys, and I’m ready to go. It’s got good stories and good endings.”
It figures that Webster appreciates good endings. With nine games remaining in the regular season, he is quietly devising one:
A relatively unknown player from Larned, Kan. (Pop. 4,500), joins baseball’s glamour team in midseason and becomes a hero in a town that is home to one of his biggest heroes, Don Knotts.
“So I’ve done a couple of things here--what about all the other guys in this clubhouse who have gotten lots and lots of hits?” asked Webster, 32, who joined the team in a July 3 trade that sent Jose Gonzalez to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Webster likes boasting about as much as he likes the average speed on Los Angeles streets and freeways--"You’ve got to go about 900 m.p.h. to keep from getting run over,” he said.
But when he returns to Kansas this winter and attends one of those Larned chili suppers, like the one last year where they gave him the key to the city, he will surely be asked about some of these things:
--His pinch single in the eighth inning last Saturday against the Atlanta Braves that tied the game, 1-1, before the Dodgers won it in the ninth, 2-1.
--His walk in the bottom of the 12th inning with the Dodgers trailing the Cincinnati Reds by one run on Sept. 16, when he eventually scored the winning run in a 6-5 comeback victory.
--His surprise ninth-inning pinch bunt on Aug. 26 against the Chicago Cubs that fueled a ninth-ining comeback from a 3-0 deficit to a 4-3 Dodger victory.
--His ninth-inning home run against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 23 that tied the game, and his bases-loaded single in the 10th inning that won it. This marked the first time the 1991 Dodgers had come back when trailing in the ninth inning.
Since joining the Dodgers, Webster is hitting .312 in 64 at-bats, with a home run and 10 runs batted in.
“What an outstanding deal we made to get him,” Manager Tom Lasorda said. “To come off the bench cold in the late innings of a big game, it takes a special kind of person to do that.”
The Dodger bosses also admire Webster’s quiet work ethic and his rather loud competitiveness.
Webster has calmed considerably, but once in the minor leagues he was so angry he threw a handful of rocks into the stands and hit a fan. He accidentally hit another fan with a bat he had thrown through a fence.
Since joining the Dodgers, though, the only damage he has caused was to a locker that didn’t even belong to him.
After making an out against the Houston Astros earlier this summer on Hollywood Stars Night, he ran into an auxiliary clubhouse and started swinging a bat.
“It was only when I hit a locker that I saw the name above the locker--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,” Webster said. “Oh well. He was done playing, anyway.”
Webster, who didn’t begin a season in the major leagues until he spent seven years in the minors, considers himself anything but extraordinary.
“When I get up to the plate, I just think experience and repetitiveness take over,” said Webster, who is in his seventh major league season. “I mean, I’ve been seeing a lot of fastballs coming at me for a lot of years.”
He adopts this same unassuming attitude off the field. On one of his first visits to Los Angeles as a member of the Montreal Expos, he spent the day driving through Beverly Hills looking for “Jed Clampett’s house.”
On trips during the season, he often rents a car and visits local gun clubs and archery shops in outlying areas. Once there, he spends his early afternoons swapping tall tales with men who have no idea he is a baseball player.
His permanent home is in Great Bend, Kan., 20 miles from Larned. He spends his winters hunting with a bow and arrow, often while sitting in a tree.
Many players will visit warm-weather sites during the off-season for workouts, but Webster rents an airplane hangar in Great Bend and takes batting practice there.
“Most genuine guy I’ve met, doesn’t seem to be affected much by the lights or the stardom,” said Billy Joe Wilhite, a childhood friend from Larned. “During the winter, we’ll go out golfing in long johns and stocking caps. He holds clinics for anybody who wants them. He’ll speak to anybody.”
Webster’s home phone number is even listed. He shrugs when somebody asks why.
“That’s one of the reasons I go home, because I’m nobody special there,” he said. “Everything is slow. It’s nice.”