The next season Stone demonstrated that the only way he would get to Cooperstown was by bus. He went 0 for 3 on Opening Day. By the end of the week he was strictly a platoon player. By the end of the month he was back in the minors. The Can't-Miss Kid had gone stone cold. "He was picked off a couple of times," says Owens, "and the next thing you knew, he was afraid to move off first base."
Stone fingers John Felske, the martinet who had replaced Owens as manager. "He told me not to run, took my game away," says Stone. "Stealing bases gives me confidence. When I steal, it's like I'm getting a base hit. I'm accomplishing something. I don't enjoy just standing still. I feel incomplete, like I'm a failure, like I can't do anything for the team. Felske never gave me a chance to get my stride back, to settle in. If Paul Owens had stayed my manager, I'd probably be a superstar by now."
Owens had left Stone alone. "Certain players you don't fool with, and Stonie was one of them," Owens says. "I think he played so well for me because all I wanted him to do was be himself. My advice to Stonie was, 'You see the ball, you hit it, and you run." And he said, 'That makes sense.' But when they started messing with him in '85, he started thinking. And he wound up getting so confused, he forgot how he used to play. I knew that was going to happen. It was inevitable."
After that, Stone spent more time in the minors than the majors. "My career made a 40-degree turn," he says. He got traded to Baltimore in '88, just in time to be a key player in the Orioles' fabled 0-21 start. Stone had a 1-32 start of his own. He killed a big rally in one game by getting thrown out going from first to third on a grounder. He was the goat of loss number nine, losing a ball in the lights and unsuccessfully trying to field it with his chest. And he contributed to loss number 19 by getting doubled off second on a line drive in the ninth inning, after the O's had put the tying run on base. It was his fourth baserunning blunder of the barely begun season.
Stone's last brush with notoriety came a year and a half ago in Boston. The Red Sox had called him up from Pawtucket—where he had landed after being released by Baltimore and picked up and sold by Texas—in September to pinch-run down the stretch. But in the ninth inning of a big game against Toronto at Fenway in the last week of the season, the Sox ran out of players, and Stone, who hadn't batted in nearly a month, was allowed to hit. He drove in the game-winning run. "I'm on cloud 10," he said, Stonily.
He didn't stay cloudborne long. "I thought that hit was gonna open the door for me, but nothing happened," he says. "I hit .281 at Pawtucket last year and never got promoted. Somebody told me I was too old. I've been hearing that since I was 27." Now, at 31, he's trying to start over again. "All I'm asking for is a fair shot," he says. "A shot is all I want."
Stone lounges, restless and uneasy, at a batting cage. A chilly wind blows trash across the empty infield. "One thing about myself I really admire is, I've been through a lot, and I was strong enough to hang in there," he says. "Don't get me wrong—I still love this game with a passion. I'm just disappointed about the way my career has gone. When you think about it, there's not much difference between Vince Coleman and me. Yet I'm a minor leaguer and he's a somebody."
Dust rises effortlessly into the hazy, milk-white afternoon.
"I thought I was gonna be a somebody too."