The best make sure you never see it coming. They sit back, ducking and dodging, biding their time while every one else thinks the champ is scrambling.
All of the sudden you drop your left hand, he slides to the right. Next thing you know, you’re watching him get his hand raised by the referee.
I thought Quintin Berry was in the driver’s seat for the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending). I thought the time span was set. I thought I was in control of this whole thing. How wrong I was.
This was Chris Bootcheck’s award from the outset.
Once the Watch List whittled down to a manageable number, the plan was to really look at who these people were. I needed a James Mungro Memorial Award winner off the field as much as on it. I was going to drag this thing out, slowly eliminating the competitors, one-by-one.
I wasn’t expecting one Google search for Chris Bootcheck to deliver the knockout blow to each and every one of his competitors. The more pages I clicked on, the more it became obvious.
Chris Bootcheck is your first annual James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (we really need a sponsor next season) winner.
And it’s not even close.
Bootcheck speaks to me. Although he’s a 11 years older than me and I had never heard of him before this month, I love him like a son.
Maybe it’s because in the last five years he’s lived the career I assume I would’ve had if pursuing baseball relentlessly and had fifteen times more baseball talent was my thing.
At the ripe old age of 33, he’s still chasing the dream as a non-roster invitee to the Tigers’ Spring Training.
After starring at Auburn he was selected by Anaheim in the 1st round(!) of the 2000 amatuer draft. Three years later he made his Major League Debut.
But the turning point came on nice May afternoon in 2006.
John Lackey said something to the Athletics’ Jason Kendall during an at bat. Kendall charged the mound, engaging in some fisticuffs with Lackey. Bootcheck had to do his duty. As the benches cleared, Bootcheck and his fellow relievers opened the bullpen gates and ran onto the field to engage in the timeless tradition of relief pitchers standing around while two guys fight each other.
But Bootcheck didn’t make it that far. Somewhere along the way, his hamstring gave out. He was placed on the DL and missed most of the season.
Things regressed from there, to the point that he agreed to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After a season of getting the Pirate stink, he went to the Far East to cleanse himself.
The Yokohama Bay Stars of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan wanted him to be their closer.
Is Hollywood listening? I’m about to give them minutes 45 to 1:15 of the Bootcheck movie.
But Bootcheck squandered the opportunity due to an intense love for egg rolls and an addiction to Sumo Wrestling. (OK, I made the last part up, but he didn’t get the closer role.) At age 31, he was a Japanese Minor Leaguer. Welcome to the Shonan Searex.
(Five dollars to anybody that can tell me what a Searex is.)
Despite his stellar 2.18 ERA, Bootcheck couldn’t sell enough tickets to get the Searex out of their 200M hole and save the franchise. In a confusing twist, the Searex became Yokohama Bay Stars (yes, the exact same name as their big league club).
Bootcheck, understandably upset with the name change, left Japan and vowed never to return.* Fortunately, Tampa Bay gave him a chance with a minor league deal. They had no idea the AAA International League wasn’t ready to Bootcheck Up. He had 58 IP, 3.57 ERA, 48 K, 19 BB for the Durham Bulls.
*(This may or may not be factually accurate)
Scouts took notice. International Scouts. Soon Tampa Bay released his contract and he triumphantly returned to Asia, playing for the Lotte Giants in Korea. According to a Lotte writer, Bootcheck was “as advertised.” He single-handedly took the Giants from fifth to second place and into the post season.
While there, he started a delightful twitter account. It took him a month to figure out how to turn caps lock off and his number-for-words abbreviations are straight out of the teenage girl playbook. “I GUESS A KBO CHAMPIONSHIP 4A BIRTHDAY GIFT WOULD B ASKING 2 MUCH!! WE HAD R CHANCE”
However, it was clear Bootcheck was at odds with team officials as the team’s championship drought was extended to 19 seasons. Bootcheck but was unceremoniously pulled after just 3.1 innings in Game 4, despite giving up just two hits and no runs. He then pitched in Game 5, but didn’t have anything left as the Giants lost the deciding game.
Management further compounded their mistakes by letting Triple Crown Winner Lee Dae-Ho walk after the season. Bootcheck had enough and walked out. He said all the right things. He wanted to return to Lotte. Management told him he was not returning to Lotte.
Let’s be honest: no one tells Chris Bootcheck what to do. After Dae-Ho went it was obvious the Giants weren’t what they used to be. Bootcheck left.
He walked into the Detroit offices and demanded a contract. Now he’s pitched six innings, given up five hits, no runs, no earned runs and has walked just one while striking out four.
He can pitch.
Bootcheck’s twitter handle is @RHPBOOTCHECK. No first name, no number, just a position and last name, no different from what you would see on a box score. There may never be a more apt description of him. That’s why he’s your James Mungro Memorial Award Winner.