Because how can you not love a baseball player named "Bubba"?
Red Menace at RR mentioned that I should check out Sam Walker's book, Fantasyland. Sure enough, the chapter called "Get Somebody Loose!" has a section about Bubba.
Fantasyland, as you might guess from the title, is about fantasy baseball. In particular, it's about a sports journalist who tries to use his connections to put together the killer fantasy team:
After scrolling past all the arms for hire, I reach the list of available outfielders, which, in addition to its alarming brevity, reads like a list of cabin assignments at a camp for fat kids.
Lopez, of Kansas City, is quickly eliminated. Though he hit a home run on Opening Day, he's all but certainly headed to the minors. The next name, Toronto's Pond, is a mystery to me. All I know is that he put up some decent power numbers in winter ball. The third candidate, Crosby of the Yankees, is the most familiar, only because I'd been reading about him in the New York papers. After six long years in the minors, Bubba caught the attention of Yankees manager Joe Torre by hitting .357 at spring training and covering center field like a water spider. He'd been the last guy to make the team. Trouble was, Bubba hadn't played yet, and when a couple of injured teammates returned he was likely to be dropped.
The next day, forty hours after Dmitri Young broke his leg and one day before the first weekly FAAB deadline, I'm standing next to Bubba Crosby in the Yankees locker room. The first thing you notice about Crosby, other than the fact that there's not a grain of dirt on his uniform, is that he looks like somebody's lost kid brother. He might well be 5'-11" as the program states, but only in spikes.
Now that he's made the major-league team, Crosby tells me, he's trying to shorten his swing to focus on making contact and getting base hits.
He's determined to make things happen by taking walks, stealing bases, and scoring runs, rather than crushing the baseball into powder. If anything, he's given up on the idea of hitting a home run, which is exactly what we need until Young comes back. "I'm not gonna make any money in deep center field," he says.
The next day, with exactly one hour left to submit my free-agent bids, I still can't decide. Sig has no meaningful data on these subjects. Nando likes Crosby because of his torrid spring, but I'm leaning toward Simon Pond, only because he seems at least physically capable of hitting home runs.
To break the stalemate, I pick up the phone and call Joe Housey, a former pitcher who's now working as a scout for the Chicago Cubs. Built like a lumberjack with a gruff sense of humor, he's the kind of guy who slaps you on the back and nearly knocks you over. I know that he covers Florida, where he'd surely seen both Pond and Crosby at spring training. When I reach him, he's on the golf course.
"Not now," he says, "I'm on the tee."
"Okay, go ahead."
"What do you think of Simon Pond?"
"What about Bubba Crosby?"
Hanging up, I type an e-mail to Commissioner Liebowitz and bid $1 of my $100 budget for Bubba Crosby. Minutes later, Crosby is a member of the Streetwalkers. Mine was the only bid.
About two hours later on Friday evening, the White Sox are thumping the Yankees in the Bronx. In the ninth inning, with the outcome all but certain, manager Joe Torre sends our man Bubba Crosby out for his first swing as a Yankee. With teammate Hideki Matsui on second base, Crosby shuffles to the plate, looking as if he'd just finished breathing into a paper bag. With one ball and two strikes, he uncoils his bat and belts a fly ball to right field that, to the surprise of everybody on earth, clears the fence.
Home run, Bubba.
He's not the first Yankee to homer on his first trip to the plate, but he's got to be the most unlikely. Circling the bases, Crosby runs so fast he nearly slams into Matsui's back. "I was just trying to calm myself down," he tells reporters after the game. "Being a rookie and playing in New York, my heart was racing." SportsCenter features a highlight of Bubba's blast, followed by a graphic comparing his relatively paltry $301,000 salary to the millions earned by teammates Jeter, Giambi, and Rodriguez.
As a reward for Crosby's Friday miracle, Torre puts him in the lineup on Sunday. It's his first start in pinstripes, and when he jogs out to center field the bleacher bums begin chanting his name. Inspired, Crosby makes a pair of spectacular catches, hurling himself against the outfield wall with abandon.
After grounding out on his first trip to the plate, Crosby comes to bat in the fourth inning with two runners on. He takes two balls from Chicago's Danny Wright and then, with a swing that nearly topples him, drives a ball through the damp April air that bounces off the facade of the upper deck in right field. Right before my eyes, the unwanted free-agent outfielder I picked up for one lousy FAAB dollar is taking a curtain call at Yankee Stadium.
The next morning, I buy all the papers. The Times puts the story on the front of the sports section. The Bergen County Record calls Bubba an "instant sensation," and a New York Post headline shouts: "Hubba Bubba!" Gary Sheffield calls Bubba a "throwback." White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen describes him as "the new Babe Ruth in town," and Torre raves like a proud papa. "It seemed like every other inning I was tipping my cap," Crosby said. "This day's pretty much tattooed in my mind."
Crosby is the toast of Tout Wars, too. Hollywood Matt Berry praises my pickup in his nightly blog, and Lawr Michaels gives me props in a column on CREATIVESPORTS. "Keep up the good work!" says Rick Fogel. More important, Crosby's three-run home run vaults me up two places in the standings to seventh.
I'm quite aware Crosby isn't going to hit a home run in every game, let alone as many as a healthy Dmitri Young. There's still a chance he'll be back in the minors by the end of the month. But he's already given me something more important than a statistical boost: a new infusion of confidence. I'm going to be good at this game, because I know people.
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