Bruce Bochy drew a knife on me early Friday morning. We were alone in his office when he whipped out the shiv, he and I staring at the naked blade.
So much led up to that fateful moment of danger that could have changed both our lives.
I had made an appointment to meet Bochy at 8:30 a.m. But when I entered Scottsdale Stadium at street level and jogged down the stairs to the clubhouse and peeked in Bochy's office, I saw him in there with assistant general manager Bobby Evans and bench coach Ron Wotus, and it was clear this wasn't my time. So I sat on the steps to wait.
I couldn't help noticing players, young players, players I didn't know, walking past me into the office, walking in one at a time. A coach would escort the player to the door, pat him on the shoulder. The player would enter the office. The door would close. A few minutes later, the player emerged with a grim look on his face, and walked away.
It dawned on me I was witnessing the before and after of players getting sent down to the minors. Everyone considers spring training a time of rebirth — the green grass, the chirping birds and all that lyricism. Ask the eight guys who walked past me, eight guys with thumping hearts and dashed hopes.
They were, I found out later, pitchers Fabio Castillo, Edward Concepcion, Justin Fitzgerald, Jose Valdez and Josh Osich, infielder Joe Panik, and catcher Andrew Susac, all sent to the minor-league camp, and infielder Angel Villalona to San Jose.
After the business was over, Bochy called out to me. I entered and saw him in his chair in his tiny office, apparently relaxed.
"Did all that upset you?" I asked.
"No!" he said, his voice loud like a declaration. "Nah, not these cuts. These are inevitable. The guys know they're going back down to the minor leagues. It's the right thing to do. They need to get ready for their season. The last ones, some of them bother you quite a bit. It can come down to the 25th, 26th guy and it determines who's on the club or not."
He paused. "I've been there," he said. "So, I know what these players go through."
"You have been cut?" I asked.
"I was sent down. I was the 25th guy a couple of years. I remember in '83, '84, both years Dick Williams sent me down. In '84, I actually got a place in San Diego, my wife and I. I thought I was on the club. I had a great spring. They made a trade the day before opening day, acquired Graig Nettles. He wasn't a catcher but we had three catchers, so they sent me down to make room for him. I was a little perturbed. I told Dick that."
"You told him?"
"Oh yeah." Bochy's voice was forceful now, reliving the moment. "I was back up in six weeks, but still it's hard to take when you think you're on the club opening day. I mean, you understand trades and things, but I couldn't understand why I was the catcher to go."
"Was it hard to face your wife?"
"No, it wasn't hard facing her. She's been through the ups and downs of my career. She was more upset for me. The good thing about being sent down then I went to Las Vegas. That wasn't the worst place to be."