He is more fun than a barrel of Mookies. In fact, Andy Van Slyke may be the most entertaining player in baseball. If he can't make you smile, you might consider humor implants. The Pittsburgh Pirate centerfielder was once asked if there was anyone in the world with whom he would trade places for a day. "My wife," he said. "So I could see how wonderful it is to live with me."
"You know what? I wish he could trade places with me," Lauri Van Slyke says of her husband. "I wish Andy could experience how much fun it is to live with him."
If you can't have fun with Andy Van Slyke, well, Dr. Kevorkian has an opening next Tuesday. Fun? Van Slyke sees life's dribble glass as half full. That kind of attitude comes in handy when your back is so stiff that you can't tie your shoes, and your wife suspects that your career might be over, and your eight-year-old informs you that your three-year-old has drowned. "After all that happened this spring," says Van Slyke with typical Van Slyke logic, "I thought this was going to be the most enjoyable season of my career."
"That's Andy," says Lauri. "That's his optimism."
Naturally, this has been the most enjoyable of Van Slyke's 10 major league seasons. And why wouldn't it be? The way Van Slyke has it figured, he has already extended life to extra frames. When a drunken hillbilly holds a gun to your chest and, for some reason or another, decides not to ice you, let's just say you have a sense of reprieve. When your youngest boy is found unconscious at the bottom of a hot tub and survives, you begin to think that every day thereafter is served up in a gravy boat.
So Van Slyke treasures a stolen moment in August at the Dodger Stadium batting cage with the guy who played Squiggy on Laverne & Shirley. "Yeah," confirms Van Slyke wearily. "I know Squiggy." Never mind how. When you're Andy Van Slyke, you just...know Squiggy.
And later in the evening, when Van Slyke finds himself 0 for 3 against Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser, he remains anchored in the batter's box as a six-hop pitch comes rolling toward his ankle. When you have stared death in the face and death has gotten the facial tic, you are willing to take one for the team, especially when the pitch couldn't bruise fruit.
"Aw, did that hurt?" Hershiser screams as Van Slyke is awarded first base.
"Do that again," Van Slyke replies, "and I'll kill you!" And he appears prepared to do so—as soon as he stops laughing. Van Slyke should be credited with a stolen base for this one. "That pitch never hit the city speed limit," he says later.