But Van Slyke, traded once by the St. Louis Cardinals, will not allow himself to feel completely secure in Pittsburgh. He and Lauri kept their home in Chesterfield, Mo., for that reason. They weren't going to move with every trade, so they never left St. Louis. "We'll see," says Van Slyke. "I could be unprotected in the expansion draft. I could be a Rocky next year. Oh, God, please don't let me be a Rocky. I'd rather be a Marlin. There are certain implications about your mental state when your nickname is Rocky." Each time he says Rocky, Van Slyke does a voice like Popeye the Sailor's.
He is speaking between spoonfuls of oatmeal, not spinach, in the lobby restaurant of the Sheraton Grande in downtown Los Angeles. At no point does Van Slyke go to the kitchen to get coffee in his underwear. Instead, he gets it in a coffee cup. Of course, he has already had his morning pick-me-up. "There is nothing like a good equestrian event on ESPN at eight o'clock to really get my blood circulating," he explains.
Van Slyke can talk. When he was in the second grade at St. John's in New Hartford, N.Y., the nuns made him wear a scarlet cardboard tongue the size of a skateboard on a string around his neck after he was caught talking in class.
"I think people think that I enjoy attention," he says. "I don't. But whether players like it or not, we have an obligation to talk to the media. And I think any time you have an obligation, you should not only meet it but enjoy it. Some players try to separate themselves from the press. Maybe because they don't want anyone to know who they are or what they're like. But I don't think those players enjoy the full circumference of this job."
"Andy isn't quite as talkative at home as he is with the press," says Lauri. "He has enjoyed interviews from Day One. I think anybody playing at his level has to have a little showmanship in him."
Talk? The breakfast check doesn't come until three hours after ordering, even though Van Slyke's back is so sore that he had to be seated in a high-backed booth. One of his complaints about movies today is that "nobody talks in them. Movies used to have dialogue." In fact, Van Slyke has married his passions for talk and movies in the basement of his home, where he has assembled his own theater: Laserdisc player, 70-inch screen and—most important—eight speakers with subwoofers. "SurroundSound," Van Slyke says proudly. When the fighter jets come screaming down the runway in Top Gun, Lauri feels herself levitated on the third floor of the house.
When not 1) talking or 2) taking in a talkie in the basement, Van Slyke enjoys nothing so much as 3) talk radio. "I like listening to Rush Limbaugh," he says. "Right wing? He's not very far right of left, that's how far right he is. Rush Limbaugh is so far right, he's come all the way around again."
Few observations are more Van Slyke-like than that one. Van Slyke looks at life the way most of us look at abstract paintings, with his head always cocked to one side or the other. "Most of us look at an object and see the same thing," says Pirate third base coach Rich Donnelly. "Andy looks at that same object and sees something completely different."
Van Slyke is dyslexic; printed words and numbers sometimes appear scrambled to him. This probably has nothing to do with the fact that he throws right, bats left, writes right, eats left and, until this season, hit only to right and seldom against lefties. He is batting 62 points above his lifetime average, in part because he no longer pulls every ball. "There is something out there called left-field," Pirate hitting instructor Milt May informed Van Slyke this spring. "Use it." Van Slyke has, and he is hitting .316 against lefthanders, 98 points higher than his career average against southpaws.
On the other hand, so to speak, Van Slyke has a knack of making instant sense of things that appear as a hopeless jumble to the rest of us. For example: Van Slyke is a self-described Weather Channel groupie who gave the forecast on Pittsburgh's Channel 2 news the night before the Pirates clinched the National League East title last September. Never mind why; when you're Andy Van Slyke, you just have a thing for barometric pressure. Home viewers saw Van Slyke holding an umbrella and standing before a national weather map—though, as anyone who has toured a television studio knows, he was really standing before a blank blue screen on which the weather map was superimposed. This naturally discombobulated our guest meteorologist, who was pointing west while reading temperatures in the East, and pointing east while describing low-pressure systems in the West. So get this: "Next time I do the weather," he says, "I'll only give the forecast for Portland. Whichever way I point, there's going to be a Portland, right?"