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Game Boy
Steve Rushin
February 17, 1992
Last October, 21-year-old Steve Avery of the Braves was America's favorite phenom. But now, back home in Michigan, he's just another kid on the block
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February 17, 1992

Game Boy

Last October, 21-year-old Steve Avery of the Braves was America's favorite phenom. But now, back home in Michigan, he's just another kid on the block

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"More like 70," says Ken.

Even if a Channel 2 mobile unit hadn't crashed the bash and beamed the festivities live throughout Detroit on the 11 o'clock news, Steve most likely would have learned of the covert blowout. There was other incriminating evidence. "We left the place too clean," says Ken, still cursing himself. "Neater than it was before."

Steve also started Game 3 of the World Series, a 12-inning, four-hour affair that the Braves won 5-4. Who will ever forget it? Not Chris Donahey, Steve's best friend, who has dropped by the Avery residence bearing a sackful of McDonald's. As if it happened yesterday, Donahey evokes the now familiar series of events that preceded second baseman Mark Lemke's game-winning single. "Steve got us tickets," Donahey remembers wistfully. "A group of us drove all night to Atlanta. We took two cars. I fell asleep in the 10th inning. I woke up right when the winning run scored."

So. That's the story of Games 3 and 6. If you're young enough, two of the most memorable contests in World Series history can be summed up in a pair of college-kid exclamations: "Paaar-dee!" and "Road trip!"

His life is an ascendant express elevator that has made few stops of late. By many accounts, it may one day burst through the ceiling, like the runaway Otis in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, raining plaster on the rest of us far below. "Bob Gibson," Pirate pitching coach Ray Miller likened Avery to last October. "Sandy Koufax. Take your pick."

Nine years ago Steve Avery was 5'2" and weighed 89 pounds, according to the back of the Little League baseball card that the 12-year-old had made at the time. (His current card lists him as 6'4", 180.) Five years ago, as a high school junior, he had a 28-inch waist, a 36-inch inseam and, for all he knew, a future in baseball that stretched for half an inch in front of him. A year later the boy had gained 20 pounds, and opposing batters were receiving standing ovations from their teammates anytime they fouled off one of his pitches.

"His senior year, in the eighth inning of a Connie Mack game, he struck out a kid with a 92-mile-an-hour fastball," says his father. Ken Sr., a former minor league pitcher, now athletic director for the three Taylor high schools. "That's probably the first time we thought, Jeez, this is really something special."

Steve was ready to pack his bags for Stanford, where he would be a senior today, when the Braves chose him third overall in the 1988 draft and offered him $211,000 just to sign his name. They also told him he would be in the bigs in a jiffy. And what is a kid supposed to say to that? He signed and bought a car.

Steve Avery, bound for the minor leagues, was every red-faced school kid on a yellow school bus whose mother would stand at the curb until her boy had faded from sight. "I remember standing here one day," says Connie, looking out her front window, "watching Steve back out of the driveway, when the phone rang." She answered the call in the kitchen. It was Steve, on his car phone, still in the driveway, asking Mom to please knock it off.

The threads of his neck remained squarely screwed into the grooves of his shoulders—for while he briefly left home, Steve Avery never left family. Assigned to rookie ball in Pulaski, Va., Avery lived there with an older couple named the Huffords, who treated him like a son. He and ex-teammate Turk Wendell, now in the Chicago Cub organization, talked themselves into four-wheel driving in the Appalachian Mountains at two o'clock one morning. They were forced to abandon Wendell's Jeep in a mud-filled, waist-high hole at four o'clock. Terrified, the two outdoorsmen carried baseball bats like hiking staffs through the thick night, and they arrived back home from their harrowing ordeal at 7 a.m., on foot, tracking mud all over the house.

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