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They're Loved, They're Cherished, They're Cursed, They're Shattered : B A T S

September 01, 1985|TOM FRIEND | Times Staff Writer

Reporter: "I'm doing a story on bats."

Kurt Bevacqua: "Bats? The kind that fly around?"

Reporter: "No, the kind you swing."

Bevacqua: "Oh." And these bats drive batters batty. Because when a hitter swings and misses, he must blame it on someone or something.

"Was it me?" he asks himself. "No."

"Was it the pitcher?" he asks himself. "Maybe, maybe not."

"Was it my bat?," he asks himself. "Of course. It had to be my bat."

And so the bat is the scapegoat. When all else fails, blame the bat. When you're in a slump, change the bat. When you make an out, throw the bat.

But when you're on a roll? Forget the bat. You're on a roll.

"Oh, it's never my fault when I make an out," conceded Tim Flannery, Padre second baseman. "It's the bat's fault. Anyway, that way I don't get down on myself."

See?

It's important to find a bat you like. Some hitters are so insecure, they cannot approach the plate without their favorite one, and if they must swing with just any bat, they lack the confidence they need to make proper contact.

How to find a favorite bat? You could make one into your favorite by putting cork or rubber balls in it. Only that's illegal. Bevacqua, a Padre pinch-hitter, says he's a legal kind of guy, so he hones his bat, smoothing the surface to make it hard and, thus, harder to crack.

Sometimes, though, a favorite bat is merely found. Just before last year's World Series, Bevacqua ordered several bats from Adirondack, a bat manufacturing company. As it turned out, Bevacqua hit a game-winning World Series home run with one of his new bats, and it became his favorite, naturally.

All winter, he stored that bat in his closet.

In spring training, he refused to use it, saving it, instead, for the regular season.

In his first six at-bats, all pinch-hit attempts, he collected base hits.

One day, though, his favorite bat broke.

"I've gone downhill since then," he said.

In a mad effort to re-create his World Series bat, he called the company.

Bevacqua: "Where was the guy who made it? I'll pay him to make me another just like it."

Unfortunately, their regular batmaker had been on vacation before the World Series last year, and some unknown replacement had made Bevacqua's favorite bat. Where was he? Bevacqua gave up finding out.

Jerry Royster was in the Dodger organization during the 1973 season, a wonderful year in his life because he loved his bats. At the time, he was playing Triple-A ball in Albuquerque, hitting just over .300 and fighting for the Pacific Coast League batting crown.

Not that he's overly superstitious, but Royster, each day, would leave his bats with three sisters--little girls named Deana, Laurie and Cheryl. They would take the bats home with them, clean them and bring them back the following day with a four-leaf clover.

Royster won the crown.

Sensing a good thing, Royster kept in touch with the girls, and they continued to send him four-leaf clovers, since they had access to a clover patch in their front yard. It became tradition that Royster would call them every year on opening day, when they would grant him with good luck.

This season, Royster, now with the Padres, was up in San Francisco on Opening Day when he realized he hadn't made his annual call. Two of the girls were in college now, so his only option was to call Deana, the youngest, who was a senior in high school.

He telephoned the high school.

"Hi, this is Jerry Royster. I'm a baseball player for San Diego. I need to talk to Deana Kline. It's important."

Said Royster later: "It caused a stir."

Fortunately, the girl's mother had alerted the school that Royster might be calling, and Deana was paged, whereupon she granted him his good luck.

To this day, the girls still send him four-leaf clovers, and Royster is hitting in the .270s, his best season in years.

"One (of the girls) came with her parents and visited me in San Diego," Royster said. "And we hadn't won in a while. But I got a pinch-hit to win the game. Sure, it maybe was a coincidence, but . . . They stayed at our house, didn't come to the next two or three games, and we lost. The next time we brought them, though, I hit a home run off a right-hander, and I don't even play against right-handers.

"I will never start a season without talking to them."

One given is that you never let a pitcher borrow your favorite bat, for pitchers are amateur hitters and might break it.

"You'd shoot pitchers if they picked up your bat," said Deacon Jones, the Padre batting coach. "You'd actually shoot them. That (hitting) is our livelihood. I've seen guys get in arguments and fights over that."

Back in July, Bruce Bochy, a reserve catcher for the Padres, had found a favorite bat. In 10 at-bats, he'd had six hits, including two homers, one of which was a game-winner. On July 8 in Chicago, however, pitcher Tim Stoddard was getting a rare at-bat. Desperately seeking a bat, he saw three of Bochy's, one of which was clean, seemingly brand new.

Since hitters usually don't use new bats, Stoddard figured it would be fine to borrow it.

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