PHOENIX — There was steam rising from the pool in the hotel courtyard as the cool desert night yielded to morning. There was cigarette smoke issuing from Kurt Bevacqua, who had just finished a plate of eggs, hash browns and cinnamon toast.
Wearing a Padre warmup top that revealed a broad expanse of chest hair, Bevacqua was in--for him--a deeply contemplative state as he gazed out at the pool through wire-rimmed dark glasses.
Spring training is traditionally a time for renewal and hope and optimism. A time when the young, the middle-aged and even the elderly can pretend to be boys again. But here was Bevacqua, one of the game's irrepressible, blithe spirits, the guy who once dismissed Tom Lasorda as "that fat little Italian," conducting a serious interview, as if he had no respect for his own reputation or the mood of the season.
Bevacqua, 37, has been a professional baseball player since 1967, a major leaguer since 1971 and an employee of half a dozen franchises. He may have done a serious interview before, but it has long since been forgotten.
Bevacqua is taking voice and acting lessons with a thought to following the path taken by Bob Uecker and Joe Garagiola, but the evidence suggests he doesn't need the acting lessons. He could save his money for other causes. He came across as entirely sincere, with no sign of a put-on, during an hour-long conversation.
What emerged was a hard-edged plea for respect.
He thinks of himself as a factory worker who has battled for 18 years to keep a job. "My attitude is, I don't owe baseball a thing," Bevacqua said. "I'm like a guy working on an automobile assembly line, the guy who is always subject to getting laid off.
"I've put all my guts and perseverance into this game, and it has tried repeatedly to get rid of me. I'm not like some big executive or ballplayer earning $1.5 million a year. I'm the little guy who always has to fight to support his family. Guys like me, who have to work hard just to stay around, we owe the company nothing. "
Padre Manager Dick Williams was dead serious when he employed Bevacqua as his designated hitter in the 1984 World Series. The three-run homer that won Game 2 served as vindication--for both men.
Laugh with me. Even laugh at me, Bevacqua seemed to be saying now. But give me my due as a ballplayer, too.
"It used to be they'd take a photo of me next to Steve Garvey with my hat on backward," Bevacqua said. "Or they would write about me putting a snake in someone's shoe . . . or inviting Willie Stargell and Dave Parker to a dinner party and sending them to the address of a vacant warehouse in New Jersey."
Bevacqua paused dramatically.
"But now you read that I can play this game a little," he said, alluding to the publicity generated by his home run, which accounted for the Padres' only victory in the Series. "Hey, I've always been proud of my ability. Just being on a roster is achieved by few. I don't feel lucky. You don't last as long as I have by being lucky."
Or by being zany, either. Bevacqua has endured in spite of that.
Fortunately, he can see himself as others do--as an ageless kid with a bent for the wisecrack and the practical joke who once won a bet by walking alone through the streets of Harlem late at night.
He took exception, however, to the suggestion that he's a playboy. Out of concern for his newly established domestic tranquility, he must draw the line somewhere.
Bevacqua's name crept into the headlines for the wrong reasons last summer. He was accused of breaking into an apartment and accosting his estranged wife and a male friend. The charges later were dismissed. Padre President Ballard Smith rose to Bevacqua's defense, for which the player is dutifully grateful.
Bevacqua spent much of the off-season traveling with his wife, Carrie, and working to reconstruct their marriage. He believes the effort has succeeded.
Last summer, however, was a nightmare for him. The problems with the marriage spilled over, unavoidably, into baseball.
"I don't know how many months it lasted, but I didn't care about anything for a while," Bevacqua said. "I thought I cared about coming through when I was at the plate, but I had so much on my mind, it didn't seem to matter what happened.
"When you've got problems away from the job, you can't perform, especially if a big part of your ability is mental. If I'm not all there head-wise, I'm in serious trouble."
Head-wise, Bevacqua is ready for his best year.
"Let's face it, I've always been a candidate for comeback player of the year," he said, taking a shot at his credentials, which include a .235 lifetime average, 24 homers and 250 runs batted in.