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Archive for Thursday, January 7, 1999

BRETT LEAVES LASTING IMPRESSION

January 7, 1999

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As an 8-year-old thrilled to be attending his first Kansas City baseball game in 1977, I soon realized how popular Royals third baseman George Brett was.

I and my fellow Little Leaguers sat in the left-field bleachers and arrived early enough to watch batting practice. Before the game, fans dropped baseballs, shirts and any other item with enough room for an autograph to players hanging out on the warning track.

I wasn't close enough to the railing to get an autograph but I could hear fans hollering for players. A throng of women, obviously attending their first game, started asking, "Is that George, is that George?" I had never seen Brett in person but was pretty sure the player they were asking about wasn't Brett.

Moments later, the player turned his back and the jersey read ... No. 8 LaCock.

Pete LaCock? How could Brett be confused with Pete LaCock?

That memory was rekindled when I nearly collided with LaCock at Tuesday's press conference to announce Brett's election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I know it was him because he had a name tag.

By the way, he still doesn't look anything like Brett.

Brett was the player for my generation. Just when I was becoming interested in baseball, Brett was becoming a superstar. You had to bat third for your Little League team because that's where Brett was in the lineup. Wear batting gloves? Never, because Brett didn't.

I'll always remember Brett for coming to my high school after the Royals' 1985 World Series championship as part of the team's caravan. Brett was joined by manager Dick Howser that year when they came to Washburn Rural in Topeka.

I'll remember my cousin's poster, the one with Brett and Graig Nettles from the hated Yankees brawling at third base. Both were wearing Spot-Bilt cleats and on top of the poster was the phrase, "At least they agree on one thing."

Brett was the Kansas City Royals. His former teammates in attendance at the press conference took pride in being linked with the first Royal to be elected into the Hall.

"I'm very thankful I had a chance to be a part of all this," said former KC pitcher Marty Pattin, who played with Brett from 1974-80. "To me George epitomizes the game the way it should be. He's meant so much to every Royal who has played the game. He's been our all-time leader. I'm thankful I was able to watch him as a youngster."

Pattin, who lives in the Lecompton area, teaches half a day at South and Southwest junior highs. Pattin remembers Brett's fondness for the sons of the players.

"The thing I admire about him the most is he is a devoted family man," Pattin said. "He took my boys (Jon and Jeff) out when they were young. Not many guys can say they had George Brett as a baby sitter."

Brett's competitiveness was a theme at Tuesday's press conference.

Brett relished his chase for the 1990 batting title -- the third of his career -- after batting .250 at midseason.

"It was the first time in my career that people started counting me out and saying I was over the hill and should retire," Brett said.

Brett also recalled a discussion with former Royal owner Avron Fogelman. He believed a talk in 1984 from Fogelman rejuvenated him.

"I told him if it wasn't for that pep talk it probably wouldn't have happened," Brett said. "(In '84) he told me, `George you're making more money on this team than any damn player we've got. You spend half the year on the DL. I want you to come to spring training the next year in the best shape of your life.'

"I hired a trainer, worked my ass off and had the best year of my life in 1985 and we won the World Series."

In his final season in 1993, Brett led the Royals with 19 homers and would have been welcomed back.

"I could have played one more year, but if I would have played one more year I would have played for the money," Brett said. "I don't think baseball deserves that. I knew my skills were declining. I wasn't enjoying the game as much and I figured it was time to bid farewell. That's why I left."

-- Steve Rottinghaus' phone number is 832-7152. His e-mail address is srottinghaus@ljworld.com

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