When he left New Hartford for the minor leagues, Van Slyke did so like John Wayne on Laserdisc. "I walked very loose and very cocky," he says. "Making the front page of the Utica Observer-Dispatch, in big letters that say VAN SLYKE BLUE-CHIP CHOICE, you get to feeling pretty good about yourself real quickly."
He kept vampire's hours at Class A Gastonia, N.C. He slept from Last call! to Play ball! Van Slyke knew he would soon be in the Show. Why not have some fun in the green room?
There was a party at his apartment after almost every game. Van Slyke had a black roommate who was dating a white woman. This did not sit well with at least one inbred bonehead, who crashed the bash one night and drunkenly held a handgun on Van Slyke when the offending roomie couldn't be produced. A dozen Hillerich & Bradsby-wielding Gastonia Cardinals finally persuaded the gentleman to leave, but not before Van Slyke became convinced that the gunman was going to dust him. The thought did not bother Van Slyke, a fact that now bothers Van Slyke.
"I laughed about it at the time," he recalls. "You know, Man, that guy was craayzee. If the same thing happened to me today, I'd have to change my pants. The first thing that would come to mind today are my wife and my kids. If I had been shot and killed then, my parents would have been upset, and that's about it. I don't know that my teammates would have missed me. I was not the nicest person to be around back then."
"He was a little more full of himself then," says Lauri. "He has more of a servant's attitude now. He had a temper then. He doesn't have a temper now." Van Slyke changed his life, changed his diapers, grew up. He picked up a Bible and found God to be more benevolent than He had seemed to an eight-year-old sitting at a school desk with a red tongue hanging from his neck like a millstone.
By the time he arrived at Double A Arkansas in 1982, Van Slyke had left the self-destructive behavior to others. In Little Rock a bloodied wino named Hook-slide worked the crowd at the ballpark, executing hook slides on the concrete walkway for beers. Chants of Hook-slide! Hook-slide! Hook-slide! still echo down the complex corridors of Van Slyke's brain. "It's kind of sad." Van Slyke notes, "that all I remember from one year in Little Rock is a drunk hook-sliding on concrete for beers."
Two weeks after he married Lauri, in 1983, Van Slyke was called up to St. Louis from Triple A Louisville. A variety of things went wrong in his four seasons in St. Louis, but suffice it to say that expectations of Van Slyke were absurdly high, and he was often made to play out of position. In other words the Cardinals put Van Slyke at third base and expected him to be Brooks Robinson.
"And I did play like Brooks," Van Slyke once said, in perhaps his finest moment as a wit. "Mel Brooks."
"Talk about Andy?" whines LaValliere when asked to speak of the man with whom he was traded for catcher Tony Pena on April Fool's Day of 1987. "I won't talk about Andy. I'm sick of talking about Andy. I'm sick of Andy!"
Andy is, of course, at a locker six feet away, and upon hearing this, he puts Spanky in a headlock. After releasing Spanky's noggin from the crook of his arm like a walnut from a nutcracker, Van Slyke admonishes LaValliere's inquisitor. "This is the one guy you can't talk to," he says. "This is the one guy I don't want around when I run for political office. Did he inhale? Not only did Van Slyke inhale, he also...."