Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2003-09-18 18:34
by Alex Belth

I know I'm a couple of days late on this, but Pat Jordan had a piece on flamethrowers in The New York Times magazine last Sunday. I don't think the article was one of his best---it felt slight---but it is still worth reading. I was, however, taken with Jordan's portrait of Houton's Billy Wagner. While interviewing the diminutive southpaw in the Astros locker room, Wagner's two young boys sat in a nearby chair watching TV:

Wagner is obviously a caring father -- as he talked to me his eyes kept flitting toward his sons -- in the way of men who experienced difficult, disruptive childhoods. His parents married young in a small Virginia town. They fought a lot and shuffled off their son to live with various relatives. Wagner lived with his grandfather, who used to whip him with a switch, and then his aunt and uncle. No matter where he lived, however, he lived in poverty (food stamps were not unknown) and anger. He remembers as a boy standing outside the home of his aunt and uncle, picking up a baseball and firing it at the house in anger.

''It was the only way I could express myself,'' he said. ''I used to rage and explode; now I channel it to aggressiveness on the mound.''

Despite his success, he said, he's still insecure about it. ''There's no way I should throw a baseball 100 m.p.h.,'' he said. ''I'm small. I see guys 6-foot-8 throwing 88. There's nothing I did to get it. Maybe throw a football a lot. I have the short, quick arm motion of a quarterback. Some say it's in my legs, or my wrist. But I don't know why.''

Jordan has always been able to find the tremendous vunerability in the athletes he writes so well about. That's probably due to his own experience as a bonus baby prospect, who never made the major leagues. It's certainly why I find him to be one of the best baseball writers going.

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