Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant
Original Release: Led Zeppelin III
Definitive Version: BBC Sessions, 1997
When Debbie and I went to Florida for spring training in 1998, most of our activities were in Fort Myers. Two teams—the Red Sox and Twins—trained there, and Debbie’s cousin lived there (providing us with free room and board).
We roadtripped one day—to nearby Port Charlotte, where the Texas Rangers trained. Port Charlotte was less than an hour away, but it might as well have been in the Everglades. Perhaps we missed the garden spot, but the only thing around the ballpark appeared to be swamp. There was nothing there.
But we weren’t going to Port Charlotte for the shopping but the baseball, and the park was fine. I don’t remember whom the Rangers played or even who won, although I think it was the Rangers. What I’ll never forget, though, is that I heard the greatest put-down of a heckler I ever heard.
We had box seats down the first-base line, maybe two rows from the field, and we could hear everything. Of course, you could have been in the left-field bleachers (if the park had any) and still heard this obnoxious toolhead, or OT for short, who sat to our left, one row behind us.
OT was a transplanted New Yorker and a Yankee fan, so that should tell you everything you need to know about the willingness with which he shared his opinions. Everytime a ball went into the stands, he’d holler “GIVE IT TO A KID!” lest anyone even THINK of keeping the ball for himself.
Actually, OT wasn’t too bad until the fourth inning, when John Wetteland came into the game. In no uncertain terms, OT let everyone in the ballpark—including the players—know how much he disliked Wetteland. Apparently, Wetteland had stiffed him on an autograph request when Wetteland was a Yankee, and OT wasn’t the forgiving type. He let Wetteland have it every pitch.
OT didn’t curse, but the whole park, including, most certainly, Wetteland, could hear every word. Wettleland pitched his inning, gave up a run, much to OT’s delight, and disappeared into the dugout.
In Port Charlotte, the clubhouse was down the right-field line. Players coming out of the game went into the dugout for a half-inning. At the next break in the action, they hiked to the clubhouse. This path would take the players right past us … and of course, past OT.
The next half-inning, Wetteland came strolling by. Like I said, OT was a New Yorker, so he couldn’t leave well enough alone, and he began to berate Wetteland again, helpfully explaining his little-boy slight (from two or so years ago). My favorite part was how he packed on the condescension by calling him “Mr. Wetteland” even though he was closer to being Wetteland’s father’s age. Wettleland walked over to the fence. The following dialog was verbatim:
OT: “MR. WETTLELAND, YOU’RE A BAD ROLE MODEL …”
Wetteland: (softly) “Do you have kids?”
OT: “YES …”
Wetteland (softly with a wan smile): “I feel sorry for them.”
With that Wetteland walked away, and the crowd hooted and applauded.
And it WORKED. OT didn’t say another word the rest of the game—not a single peep—and left long before it was over. Meanwhile, Wetteland signed autographs for the next two innings. You’d like to think OT learned a lesson in keeping his big yapper shut, but my guess is he was back to being his old obnoxious self the next day.
Anyway, at the end of the game, as the Rangers came off the field, I moved down behind the Rangers dugout and called out to manager Johnny Oates.
I’ll talk more about this later, but Johnny Oates was the only major league ballplayer I knew personally. I hadn’t seen him since Baltimore in 1991, and I called out my name and that I knew him in Columbus.
He smiled and came right over. “Oh, I saw that darned Reds cap in the stands,” he said with a smile. He asked how I was doing, and I had him sign my Rangers ball, which he signed, “To Will, Best Wishes, Johnny Oates.”
It was the highlight of my spring-training trip—Debbie was impressed that the manager of the Texas Rangers actually knew who I was—and to this day, I keep that ball in a place of honor on my Baseball Shelves.
Johnny Oates—MR. OATES, with no condescension whatsoever—was the man.