The surest place to find Eckersley's parents is at the Coliseum. Dennis has his father's face, but he also has his mother's smile and the twinkle in her eye. "We are very proud of Dennis," says Wally, "especially about the way he turned his life around." Says Bernice, "When he was a kid, he was the same way he is now—sweet and considerate. He grew up and became himself again."
The Eck recently signed a two-year contract with the A's for $7.5 million, with the club holding an option for the third year at $4 million. It's a nice deal, but had Eckersley waited and gone the free-agent route at the end of this season, he might have become baseball's ironmaster. "I know I could have made a lot more iron on the market," he says, "but why would I want to leave? I'm grateful to the A's for what they've given me, I love pitching in Oakland, and besides. I still can't believe I'm making all this money." If there were a baseball Diogenes in search of that one grateful player, well, here he is.
He has a sweet contract, a happy home life and those outrageous stats. If the Eck keeps this up—and stays scared at the same time—he's liable to win his first Cy Young Award this year, maybe even the MVP. Another few years and he'll have 350 saves and 200 wins, undeniable Coopers-town credentials. But Eckersley doesn't even want to think about that. He says his biggest thrill this year wasn't on the field. "It happened in San Diego during the All-Star break," he says. "We were leaving a restaurant, and this man comes running out after me. I figured he wanted an autograph, but all he wanted to do was shake my hand. He told me that he had been sober for a year now, and that I had been his inspiration. Isn't that something?"
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