I’m sometimes asked who has been my favorite player to cover. That’s a tough one to answer, because there have been so many over the years (24 years) that have been a pleasure — far more than the jerks. And I’m not talking about the joy of watching them perform, which is an entirely different matter. I’m talking about players who were especially cooperative, engaging, funny, smart and/or informative — the things that mean something to those of us who making a living reporting on baseball.
And that could just as easily be the 25th player on the team as the superstar. In fact, it’s much more likely to be the 25th player, because the superstars invariably are so besieged by attention — media and otherwise — that they eventually put up a wall. It’s a necessary defense mechanism, and sometimes you can, over time, break down a portion of that wall as you earn a player’s trust. In San Francisco, covering Barry Bonds, I felt I might have chiseled away a tiny corner. But the team’s most visible player is almost never the “go to” guy when the media needs a quote or an anecdote.
Beyond that, however, some players are just fun to shoot the breeze with. We spend hours in the clubhouse — especially on the road, when the home team takes batting practice first — and you find yourself with a lot of down time. Having a few players that you enjoy BS’ing with certainly makes the time pass faster — and building relationships is the foundation to good coverage.
I bring this up because of the news over the weekend that Eddie Guardado, now with the Texas Rangers, announced he will retire after this season, his 17th in the major leagues. I don’t think that I can name a single favorite player to cover, but I can say this: There was no one I enjoyed covering more than Eddie Guardado.
He wasn’t the greatest pitcher the Mariners have ever had, but he wasn’t bad, saving 59 games in two-plus seasons. And he was always available, whether he blew a save or not, always “accountable,” to use a buzz word of the day. But beyond that, I always got the sense that Guadardo was, at heart, a very decent person — down to earth, warm, friendly, and keenly aware how lucky he was to be making millions of dollars for throwing a baseball.
I think I had a closer connection to Guardado because his first year with the Mariners, I went to his hometown of Stockton, Calif., to do a story on his rough upbringing. It’s one of the favorite stories I’ve ever done. I hung out with his dad, his brother, his best friend, and they showed me where he grew up. Trust me, it was pretty bleak, and the stories of friends of theirs that had been killed in gang or drug incidents were pretty sobering. I admired Guardado for staying straight and overcoming his background — with the help of a great family. I saw the sparkling new home that Eddie bought his father when he signed his first pay check, and I saw his father — an immigrant from Mexico who lived most of his life in poverty — choke up as he told me how much that meant to him.
I know some people think of Guardado as an overgrown kid because he liked to pull clubhouse pranks and throw pies in people’s faces. That’s certainly an aspect of his persona. No one, and I mean no one, enjoyed the fraternal wackiness and the adolescent humor of a clubhouse more than Guardado. But I found there to be more depth to his personality than that. He treated “the little people” in the clubhouse well, and he just seemed to get it, that it was just as easy to be nice than a jerk. Frankly, I don’t think Guardado handled it very well when he was demoted as closer in 2006, replaced by J.J. Putz. I think he held a grudge against manager Mike Hargrove that was unreasonable, given the circumstances. But no one’s perfect. At least he was up-front about it.
Anyway, Everyday Eddie was one of my all-time favorites, and I wish him well in his post-baseball life. I’m going to make a prediction that Guardado won’t be out of the game long. I can see him returning in some capacity — coaching or broadcasting. I look forward to crossing paths again.