Lee lived his dream in the bigs
Pittsburgh native David Lee grew up on baseball and eventually lived the dream that many young boys, teenagers and even grown men only chase.
The Langley High School graduate played five seasons in the major leagues for the Colorado Rockies (1999-2000), San Diego Padres (2001) and Cleveland Indians (2003-04).
The middle-late relief pitcher posted a 5-2 career record with a 4.37 ERA. He recorded 97 career strikeouts.
During his career, albeit a short one, he had the opportunity to play with Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson and under legendary manager Jim Leyland.
“I definitely got to meet some interesting characters,” he said during the recent Jeffrey Showalter Memorial Celebrity Golf Tournament. “It was fun.”
He recalled his days with Henderson as the base-stealing king was winding down his illustrious career with the Padres.
“Rickey was the best. I could talk for all day about him,” Lee admitted. “He was the most misunderstood person. He would say one thing and the media would make another thing out of it.”
Of all the memories he has of Henderson, Lee shared this special moment.
“There was a reporter out there (San Diego) that was telling Rickey that he (Rickey) didn’t know one of his teammates when he played with the New York Mets. It was John Olerud, whom Rickey had also played with in Toronto with the world series Blue Jays’ teams, and the guy said “Hey Rickey. I heard you forgot one of your players,” and Rickey replied, “I’ll tell you what. I played in the big leagues for 23 years. Tomorrow, I’m going to bring a million dollars in cash. I’ll name every guy that I played with in the major leagues.'”
Lee went on to say that “the next day, Rickey showed up with three security guards and the million dollars. The next thing you know, the reporter came in and didn’t know a player, and that was that. The reporter got banned.
“Rickey was a special person. He would do anything for anyone,” Lee added. “He was 42 years old and in phenomenal shape. He got his 3,000th career hit that season.”
That was also the final year of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn’s illustrious career.
“I’m still friends with Trevor Hoffman,” he noted. Hoffman ranks second all-time with 601 career saves, only trailing New York Yankees’ standout Mariano Riveria (608 and counting).
Lee couldn’t help but beam when talking about Leyland.
“He looked you right in the eye like I’m talking to you, and whatever he said, he meant it,” Lee recalled. “That’s all you can ask for. He was out there to win and do the best he could, and he’d tell you.”
One trip to the mound by Leyland really sticks with Lee.
“I had runners on first and second with one out and I got behind the batter 2-0. He came out to the mound and said, “Dave, you throw this two-seamer down the middle you’re going to get a double play.” The next pitch … double play.
“He was amazing, and still is in Detroit,” Lee continued. “It kind of surprises me because at the end of the 1999 season we were in Montreal and he said, “This is going to be the last time I manage.” He said it was taxing, and he didn’t want to do it in Colorado. He was done managing.
“The next year the (Chicago) White Sox offered him the job, but he declined it and they went on to win the World Series with Ozzie Guillen. Then, the next year he’s with the Tigers. So, if he’s capable of doing it (managing), he will. He definitely knows his stuff.
“He’s a Pittsburgh guy and he always took care of guys from Pittsburgh.”
Lee said that pitching for Cleveland was like a dream come true.
“That was the closest to pitching at home, with the exception of Pittsburgh, that I could’ve gotten,” he offered.
On pitching in Colorado?
“It was really something,” he said. “It (Coors Field) made you work, definitely. For the elevation, for every 100 feet, the ball will go another 25 feet. Not too many people realize that.”
Lee went on to say that he pitched in the Mile High City before the “famous” humidor came about.
“It wasn’t really the home runs that got you, but the little dinks because the outfield had to play so far back. It was a challenge. You had to go right at people.”
Lee’s stay in the majors was in the midst of the steroid era.
“I got to face Barry Bonds the year he hit 73 home runs. I think he was 1-for-8 against me,” Lee said with a slight grin that turned into a huge smile and laugh. “He didn’t hit a home run against me, but he did hit a ball about 10 feet off the ground that went 420 feet in San Francisco. If he would’ve gotten that up in the air, it would’ve ended up in the water (McCovey Cove).”
Lee proves that sometimes it’s not how good you are, but being in the right place at the right time is everything.
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org