Nothing corny about Blake’s Dodgers stint
I was telling Manny Ramirez the other day I was going to do a nice story on the Dodgers’ best mid-season acquisition a year ago, Manny laughing because he knew I was talking about Casey Blake.
In so many ways, as Manny would agree, there’s no argument.
But it’s such a difficult column to compose, almost nothing negative to say about Blake, so obviously I don’t know where to begin.
He looks like the double for the Most Interesting Man in the World, but he’s from Iowa, the world one big cornfield as far as he’s concerned.
That’s right, he’s a hick, “a wild night in L.A. so far,” he says, “the drive home after the game,” Blake making the hay-wagon jump from Indianola, Iowa, to Hollywood, released by three teams along the way, but batting cleanup now for the team with the best record in baseball.
“If you give me a minute I can tell you how many stoplights are in Indianola,” he says, while staring off into the distance and counting out loud, “one, two, three, four, five, six.
“Every one of them is always green,” he says, while also proud to boast they have a Wal-Mart and a movie theater, the Paramount.
I’m having a little trouble reading my notes, but from what I recall, he said something about “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” either being his favorite movie, or just arriving for the first time at the Paramount.
IT ALMOST goes without writing for this Iowan, who was considered one of the state’s best high school athletes because the state doesn’t have many, that he made the baseball pilgrimage to the Field of Dreams.
Now he’s living out his own at age 35 with a three-year deal for $17 million.
He’s arrived, all right, now tell him.
“Every year I have to convince myself I’m good enough to play at this level,” he says, the Blue Jays putting him on waivers, the Twins putting him on waivers, the Orioles dumping him and the Indians trading him.
Hired and fired, as often as he has been, it’s hard to believe now Manager Joe Torre is holding up Blake as the model professional, as if nothing shakes the bearded pioneer.
“It’s tough to take when someone is telling you you’re not good enough,” Blake says in describing the baseball journey that hasn’t always been so good. “My dad was there big for me, though. I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for him.”
Faced with the uncertainty that comes with seemingly being unwanted, dear old dad knew how to motivate son to prove them all wrong. He offered him a chance to start selling insurance with him.
“He said there are a lot of people out there who would love to be in my position,” says Blake, his insurance-selling career ending before ever getting started.
When he came to the Dodgers last July, he says, he was still scuffling with his confidence. “I had to grasp the idea that a team would want me. It took me a while to come to grips with that.”
Shell-shocked might be the best way to describe the look on Blake’s face when he arrived, calling himself “Joe Nobody,” as far as the fans were concerned, the same fans, he knew, looking for him to be their savior.
“Then I walk into this clubhouse -- I’ve never seen a more divided clubhouse,” he says, Manny arriving two days later, and Blake the happiest guy in the room.
“Manny doesn’t care who likes whom or any of that stuff, he just sits down with everyone and talks,” Blake says. “And he’s used to all the attention, so for me it was great, I just settled into the background.”
Maybe so, but he didn’t go unnoticed, Blake the yin to Manny’s yang, and “whether Casey did well or didn’t do well,” says Manager Joe Torre, “the only thing the young kids on this team knew about Casey, he was going to come to work the next day.”
The Dodgers weren’t sure Blake would come back this season, worried the L.A. experience might’ve been too much for the hick, but he says, “they wanted me last year and I liked that.”
Torre batted him eighth to start the season, surprised when a reporter wanted to know if he had discussed it with Blake, never for a second thinking it necessary.
“He knows the business; he’s a throwback,” Torre says, calling it “wonderful,” that Blake thinks he must prove himself all the time, knowing how most young players now feel a sense of entitlement.
Torre has Blake hitting fourth now, no explanation necessary, his 11 home runs and 48 RBIs and .298 batting average, enough said.
A few weeks ago they gave everyone in Dodger Stadium a Casey Blake Bobblehead, 30 people from Indianola making the covered wagon trip west to be here for their favorite son.
The Blue Jays, Twins, Orioles and Indians thought they could do better without him, but here he’s being honored with a bobblehead before Manny -- wondering now if Manny will be pictured swinging a syringe when his doll is released at the end of July.
Blake’s bobblehead included his beard, the beard hated so by his wife, three daughters and 3-month-old son who makes faces at dad every time he gets a hug.
“I don’t like to shave,” he explains, later learning the real reason, the beard grown to cover a Jay Leno chin. “It’s also camouflage for when I go duck hunting, so I don’t have a shiny face and scare off the ducks.”
Here I am, finally writing a nice, upbeat column with nary a negative word, only to learn it’s about a guy who is a killer. Six dead ducks a day, or four the limit if gunning down mallards, the green-headed drakes the most ideal.
“I like the mallards,” says Blake, who has a funny way of showing it. “You ought to come to Iowa and we’ll shoot some together.”
I’m telling you, I’ve got to stop being nice to people.