Royce Clayton's corner man, Gary Pettis. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Over the last 25 years, I have had the opportunity to meet plenty of White Sox players. I have met these guys at fan club luncheons, SoxFest, out and about in the city or on White Sox road trips. I've met Matt Thornton and Sergio Santos at Miller's Pub, A.J. Pierzynski and Brian Anderson at Angels and Kings, Tim Raines and Craig Grebeck at The Old Barn but none of the stories compare to when my friends and I took a road trip to Milwaukee in 2001 to see the White Sox face the Brewers.
There was some funky scheduling that led up to that series. The first game took place on a Sunday. My friends and I took the 90 mile drive up on Saturday evening to party and hit up the Sunday day game. We bounced around a few bars on Water Street finally settling on one that had an outside beer garden and two levels with pool tables upstairs.
My guys and I settled in nicely, drinking a lot and shooting pool when to our surprise a large contingent of White Sox players made their way up the stairs. I was 21 at the time. This was pretty much the greatest thing to happen to me up to that point. Jon Garland, Alan Embree, Keith Foulke, James Baldwin, Coach Gary Pettis and Royce Clayton were now in the house.
Garland and Baldwin immediately challenged me and my buddy to a game of pool. The deal was we would pay them 20 bucks if we lost and we would get 200 if we won. None of us were in the right state of mind at the time because we played basically the whole game and realized that the 8 ball had already been knocked in. Nobody knew who knocked it in. So instead of the cash, we just did shots.
That is where things got interesting. Before Adam Dunn was a huge disappointment, there was Royce Clayton. Clayton was a defense first shortstop brought in because Jose Valentin had made 36 errors the year before. Kenny, in one of his first moves, decided Jose would be best suited for center field and third base and traded for the sure handed Clayton to play every day at short. (This was a flawed theory because although Valentin committed double the errors in 2000, he had much better zone ratings and a DWAR over a win higher than Clayton, but I digress.)
Clayton also was absolutely terrible with the bat to start out the year. He hit .125 in April and .104 in May, which led him into the doghouse of many of the fans of the defending AL Central Champions. He started to turn things around in June when he hit .263 for the month. In mid July, he really was starting to hit well and came up with a lot of timely hits.
I felt the need to give him a compliment. Unfortunately due to my drunken state, it started out with "when we first got you...you f**king sucked"! Upon hearing this, Clayton jumped in my face and started yelling that he plays the game to feed his family and not for the f**king fans. He was pretty heated. Gary Pettis got in between us and pulled Royce away. My buddies were sure that it was going to come to blows. I went back up to him and told him that before he got pissed, I was going to say "now I'd rather have you up in the clutch than most people". We ended up doing one of those handshake/hug type deals.
The rest of the evening was spent getting terribly wasted, watching Keith Foulke put the moves on my friends girlfriend, and mistakingly calling Alan Embree the wrong name, which he wasn't all too happy about.
My group and the Sox both stayed until close. I said bye to Clayton on the street as he was buying a hot dog from a street vendor. He asked if I wanted a dog. I said yes and walked back to our hotel eating a hot dog that was bought by Royce Clayton.
Clayton ended up getting his season average over .200 just after the Brewers series, and really raked the rest of the year ending up with a .263 batting average for the season. My buddies still credit me for turning his season around.
What players or celebrities have you encountered? Was it a good or bad experience?