Rod Beck was once one of the most intimidating relief pitchers in baseball. Part of it was because he could throw a baseball hard, but part of it was because he looked like the meanest guy in the entire south.
I never was much of a fan, until I read the story of his 2003 comeback. He was pitching in the minor leagues hoping someone would need him, living in an RV parked outside the stadium, hanging out with the fans afterward.
That’s class.Search for a picture of Rod Beck and you’ll probably think the word “class” would be the last thing you’d associate with him, but the shoe fits. He didn’t necessarily look the part, but in his down-to-earth way, he modeled it well.
And he did make it back to the majors that year, signing with the San Diego Padres in early June and he had one last great summer, saving 20 games and compiling a sparkling 1.78 ERA while filling in for the Padres’ injured closer, Trevor Hoffman. But then it was over. The next year, he briefly left the Padres to spend two months in a rehab center getting treatment for drug addiction, and after he returned, he struggled through 24 games acting as one of Hoffman’s setup men. The Padres released him in August, and he retired at age 36.
In this day and age of athletes wearing as much bling as possible, driving fancy cars, and otherwise glorifying themselves, it’s nice to remember a player who would walk out to the parking lot at the end of the game, turn on the light, open up the fridge, and talk baseball with whoever wanted to drop in. He knew he had to make a living just like everyone else standing there, and that pretty much everyone there would love to make a living throwing baseballs if they could, and he just happened to have what it takes to do that.
Beck’s cause of death is unknown, but the story of his career ought to be made into a movie. The story of a guy on top of his game, getting hurt, working his way back, spending time in the minors living in the parking lot and hanging out with the fans outside his RV, and then making it back for one last glorious summer, relying on an 86-mile-an-hour fastball and (mostly) heart and guts.
Sounds like a fantastic story to me, except nobody would believe it.
I hope it isn’t forgotten in two months.