The Legend Of Jack Cust (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday July 31, 2007 10:15AM; Updated: Tuesday July 31, 2007 10:22AM
Coming off the bench, Jack Cust has big potential too. If he gets 300 at bats, he could hit 25 home runs.
Bob Geren was managing Oakland's Class A Modesto team in 1999 when he first saw Cust, then in the Diamondbacks' system. After games, minor league managers often file reports on players they face, and Geren recalls writing of Cust, "Great strike zone discipline and great power. A perfect Oakland A's hitter."
The A's always had their eye on Cust: Beane had been trying to acquire him since 2002, after Arizona shipped him to Colorado, but a proposed deal with the Rockies fell through. In '04, after his failed tour with the Orioles, Beane snagged Cust after he became a free agent. But suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, Cust spent the year with Triple A Sacramento, and he signed with the Padres the following winter. Then in May, just a few hours after Mike Piazza injured his right shoulder, Beane, on the hunt for a new DH, sent Padres G.M. Kevin Towers an e-mail asking him what it would take to get Cust. A day later Cust was on his way to the A's for cash considerations.
Shortly after Cust joined the A's on May 3, Geren took him aside and said, "We know what you can do. Just be who you are." Cust has never read Michael Lewis's Moneyball, but he had heard enough about the 2003 best seller to know that it depicted Beane's taste in players: He likes the ones who get on base. "I don't know what OPS is -- I just know it's a good stat for me," Cust says. "It kind of gave me hope that I'd get a chance somewhere down the road." Oakland management has gone out of its way to reassure Cust that he's in the lineup to stay. After a bad game Beane will often swing by Cust's locker and joke, "Uh oh, another 0-for-4 night, better watch out, we're going to send you down!" Since Piazza's return on July 20, Cust had appeared in eight of 10 games through Sunday and was hitting .252. "He's going to play," says Geren. "Period."
The A's won't tinker with Cust's hitting approach either. He learned it from Jack Sr., a CPA who played baseball at Seton Hall and has given batting lessons for 17 years, instructing his three boys, Jack Jr., Kevin (drafted in the 11th round by the Atlanta Braves in 2000) and Michael (picked in the 35th by the St. Louis Cardinals in '01). Jack Sr. believes in patience at the plate and waiting for the perfect pitch. When Jack Jr. was 11, his father converted a 15-by-60-foot beauty parlor under his office in Flemington, N.J., into a batting cage. Soon after Junior was drafted in 1997, Senior opened the Jack Cust Baseball Academy at a former machine warehouse, at which Kevin and Michael, both out of baseball, now work.
During the All-Star break four weeks ago, the legend returned home. He dropped by Jerry's Place and had the usual -- egg-white omelet with cheddar cheese and bacon. He worked out at the baseball academy, then talked to the summer campers there as he signed hats, gloves and T-shirts. A hanging TV set in a corner of the facility showed a loop of the legend's greatest moments from the last three months. Jack hitting his first major league home run since 2003! Jack getting interviewed by ESPN! "It's been a thrill," says Jack Sr., of his son's breakthrough season. "But what's surprised me the most is his perseverance. I have tremendous respect for his discipline to stick this out. He knew he had it in him."
He always did. Cust was five years old and sitting behind first base at Yankee Stadium when he first told his father that he wanted to be a professional ballplayer. "As long as I can remember my goal was to be a big league player -- to make it in the big leagues," says the legend. "I keep saying that this, right now, is my last chance at it. But really, it's my first."
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