Imagine you are about to begin suffering through another day-long training seminar deemed mandatory by your demented boss.
You settle yourself in with a bunch of people you don’t know who are as ticked about being there as you are, make small talk, and try to hurry the clock along in your head.
The facilitator, a woman in her 60s, who is being paid handsomely by your company to spend the day annoying you with facts you already know, opens the training with the energy of an 18-year-old crack fiend.
Sensing the lethargy of her crowd, she determines that the dreaded ice-breaker is in order.
Groans hide behind polite smiles when this news is uttered.
“Let’s go around the room and have each person tell us all one interesting thing about themselves,” she says with a smile that you determine to be sadistic joy.
You’re safe for a while because you settled on a table midway back from her podium. For the next 10 minutes you hear responses such as, “I have two kids,” “I make my own beer,” and “I was my high school tennis champion.”
Then it’s almost time for you to stand in the spotlight. You’ve searched for something to say that is interesting, but not totally bland like so many of the other responses, and settled on a unique story.
Then the guy next to you, a dude you have largely ignored until now, stands up and says, “My name is Jeff Wetherby and I once played baseball for the Atlanta Braves. I had one at-bat against Greg Maddux and hit a home run.”
Your story was also a baseball story. You once hit a fastball from a former first-round pick of the Cubs named Drew Hall (an Ashland, Kentucky native) off the right-center field fence in a 30-and-over fast-pitch league. You planned to leave out the unimportant details, such as the fact that the deepest part of the Ironton (Ohio) senior league field you were playing on was about 300 feet and that Drew was years past his prime. You planned to include portions of Drew Hall’s resume, which included strikeouts against Ken Griffey, Jr. and Ken Griffey, Sr., as well as Barry Bonds, Darryl Strawberry, Harold Baines, Bo Jackson, and Wade Boggs.
Suddenly, thanks to this previously unknown neighbor, your interesting tidbit really sucks. As you slowly rise, waves of bored, yet polite, smiles meet your gaze. The heat in your face alerts you to the fact that you do not have a back-up plan. Wetherby is staring at you with a look that says, “Top that!”
“I once sat next to a guy who homered off of Greg Maddux,” you say with a nod to the stranger, receiving your anticipated laugh from the crowd as you lick your internal wounds and drop your butt back into its chair.
Following the ice-breaker and 90 minutes of Crack Lady’s overly enthusiastic verbal barrage, you finally hear the words you’ve waited all morning to hear.
“Let’s take a 15 minute break.”
In the lobby, with a Dixie cup full of much needed Folgers in hand, you turn and notice Maddux-Story Dude a few paces away, smiling in your direction.
“So, you’re a baseball fan, huh?” he says, motioning for you to come closer.
And for the next few minutes, you hear one of the most fascinating stories you’ve ever heard in person … a story that made this day of incarceration worth the wasted productivity hours.
Jeff Wetherby played one season in Major League Baseball, 1989, and was mostly utilized as a pinch hitter and late-inning replacement. His batting average for that one season was .208 (10 hits in 48 at-bats). His bust will never grace the halls of Cooperstown.
But on September 2, 1989, he made the annals of interesting history when Braves manager Russ Nixon summoned him as a pinch hitter against the Cubs’ Greg Maddux (a former teammate of Drew Hall. He and Hall were both called up in 1986 and pitched on the same staff for three seasons).
Maddux was only four seasons into his career in ’89 and had yet to earn any of the four Cy Young awards that would eventually bear his name as the recipient, all of which he won consecutively (92-95 with the Braves). But at the time Wetherby faced him, he was beginning to make a name for himself.
During the ’88 season, Maddux posted an 18-8 record with a 3.18 ERA. In ’89, he was working toward his first 20-win season and first sub-3.00 ERA (Maddux finished ’89 with 19 wins and a 2.95 ERA).
He wasn’t yet known as Mad Dog or Professor, but his reputation as a master of hitter psychology was beginning to play into the heads of all National League batters. Who knew at the time that this soft-tosser with a penchant for pitch location would post the eighth-most wins in the history of the game (and the most of anyone born after 1900 without the last name Spahn)?
On that September day in ’89, Wetherby was without his crystal ball and had no idea he was facing a man who would one day be considered one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball.
A 2-1 pitch from Maddux met the barrel of Wetherby’s lumber and soared from home plate, losing itself in the stands. This was Wetherby’s first and only home run as a Major Leaguer. Watching the ball disappear into the stands, Wetherby floated around the bases by instinct.
That was Jeff Wetherby’s last hit as a Major League Baseball player.
Greg Maddux is a certain first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2014. Jeff Wetherby spends his days looking for the next Greg Maddux as a scout for the Detroit Tigers. As he travels, speaking to players and coaches in search of big league talent, Wetherby will always have this interesting story as an ice-breaker: He is the only Major League Baseball player to ever hit a home run against Greg Maddux the only time he faced him.
What an interesting story!
Speaking of interesting stories, I have another one for you. The seminar that opened this story was totally fabricated. Baseball teams don’t hire elderly women to teach their staff how to do a better job. They just fire the employees who don’t produce winners and hire somebody else.
Also, I’ve never met or even spoken to Jeff Wetherby, although I have made attempts. But I did stay at Baseball-reference.com last night, the greatest Major League Baseball research tool on the Web.
While there, I noticed Wetherby’s distinction and found it extremely interesting. From there, I indulged myself with some creative writing.
But my hit against Drew Hall is true.
Unfortunately, you won’t find my at-bats against Hall on the Baseball-reference.com site (which would include the three-pitch strikeout in my first at-bat). But please give me my moment. I had more hits off of him than Wade Boggs, Darren Daulton, Mike Scioscia, or anybody with the last name Griffey!
And the next time I have to give an interesting detail about myself as an ice-breaker in some boring training in the future, I’ll have two options: I can tell my Drew Hall story, or I can say, “I once wrote an article about a guy who hit a home run off of Greg Maddux the only time he faced him.”
Which story I tell will depend upon whether or not a guy named Wetherby is sitting at my table.