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San Diego Sportscene

This Old-Timer Has Plenty of Roar Left

June 07, 1986|Dave Distel

It will be Old-Timers' Day at the stadium Sunday, an occasion to wax nostalgic and take one more look at the players we used to see in black-and-white film clips.

These will be players who have traded their bats for canes and carry pictures of their grandchildren in their wallets. It is the only day of the year when bottles of Grecian Formula outnumber blow-dryers in the clubhouse.

Ahoy, gents, man the rocking chairs.

These guys are so old the Angels won't even give them tryouts. Right, Dick?

I decided I'd pay a visit to one of these relics Friday morning. I drove to an address in Encinitas, expecting to find a senior citizens' center or maybe a lawn bowling tournament.

Instead, it was a rather modern office complex, surrounded by eucalyptus and ivy and late-model automobiles. Everything was neat and clean in Yuppinitas.

I was ushered to an office, wondering if I would encounter a fellow looking like a cross between Casey Stengel and Connie Mack. I wondered if I would have to shake hands and then lie: "Gee, you're looking good."

Of course, I knew better than that.

I was visiting John D'Acquisto, known more informally and affectionately hereabouts as Johnny D.

Seeing Johnny D on a list of old-timers is as startling as walking into a saloon and seeing the little girl who lived next door carrying a tray of drinks. You say, time cannot have passed so quickly.

In Johnny D's case, time really hasn't passed that quickly. In fact, not that much time has passed since he was a phenom at St. Augustine High, striking out two batters an inning and throwing no-hitters as frequently as most prep stars managed shutouts.

This old-timer is 34 years old, maybe going on 30.

John D'Acquisto, the old-timer, looked at least 15 minutes older than Johnny D, the pitcher. That's all.

Indeed, this man was the personification of the successful businessman. He looked as if Steve Garvey had dressed him, or at least chosen his wardrobe.

Very little in the office of D'Acquisto Financial provided a clue to the fact that the man behind the desk pitched parts of 10 seasons in the major leagues. One baseball sat on a stand near the middle of the desk, and a wristwatch was wrapped around it. That was it for baseball souvenirs.

There was nothing ostentatious about this office. A computer printer clattered in the corner with the details of a proposed financial transaction while Johnny D cradled a telephone against his ear at the desk. With all of the gadgetry of the commercial age cluttered around him, D'Acquisto scribbled notes on his desk pad with a fountain pen, of all instruments.

His game these days is investment banking, and that presents an interesting contrast in philosophy with a baseball pitcher. Johnny D used to make his living trying to keep numbers small, but now he likes them as large as he can make them. Give him a number with seven or eight or even nine digits to the left of the decimal point and his face lights up as if he has struck out the side.

"It was not an easy situation when I started out in this business," he said. "I thought minor league baseball was tough, and here I was going head-to-head with people who'd been doing this for 30 years. I got a good taste of the downside. It was like hell, but perseverance has made hell into limbo and limbo into an honest living. I've made it to the big leagues, but I took bumps and beatings and lost a lot of money in the interim."

The veterans will snooker the rookies in life as in baseball, and a couple of shaky veterans hit him with weighted bats at about the time he was getting settled into his new career.

"A couple of sharks from L.A. took advantage of me," he said. "I'd been so protected in baseball that I trusted people, and I suffered dearly because I trusted those guys."

They have disappeared. D'Acquisto has no idea where. And so he has tried to put away the memory and battle back.

Battling back is part of his nature. He learned that in baseball.

Johnny D was one of the brightest of the bright in the San Francisco Giant organization in 1975, when he went out with nerve damage and eight bone chips in his right elbow. That was especially inconvenient because he was a right-hander.

Dr. Frank Jobe surveyed the damage and asked: "Do you have a job?"

This query shocked D'Acquisto into the realization that baseball was not going to be forever. It motivated him into a study of the business of banking, a study that ultimately led to his current undertaking.

However, he was not finished with baseball in 1975.

He battled back and had the good fortune of enjoying his best year in 1978. It happened to be with the Padres, giving him exposure and notoriety in the city of his birth. He was supposed to be the "setup man" for Rollie Fingers, but he was throwing so well that he had 10 saves, 4 victories and a 2.13 earned-run average.

"My fastball wouldn't quit," he said, "and my curveball wouldn't quit. I went three months at one time without giving up an earned run."

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