John Wetteland throws hard. He has always thrown hard. Once, in Class A ball, he even threw a chapel leader clear out of the clubhouse. A rebellious spirit moved Wetteland that day as he hurled the preacher high and outside. Now the Holy Spirit moves him. In his 27 kaleidoscopic years, Wetteland has continually reinvented himself—hellion, flake, Christian. There has been just one constant: No matter which snapshots of his life you choose, they are all backlit with the same white-hot glow. "The thing you have to understand about John," says Darrin Fletcher, his friend and a catcher on the Montreal Expos, "is everything about him is extreme."
Wetteland has consistently staked out his turf at the outer limits. No one cranks the music louder or tosses down as many double espressos or stands farther right politically or throws a fastball, a slider and a curve with more conviction. Wetteland's stuff overwhelms—"Best of any reliever in baseball," says his manager, Felipe Alou—but no more than Wetteland's zeal.
In other times—other lives, it seems—no one raised more hell or played at being a bigger goof than Wetteland. Now no one strives harder to be a devout Christian. No one. "The Holy Bible is the sword of the Spirit, God's word," he says. And like God's children, Wetteland's Good Books come in all shapes and colors. He owns at least six Bibles. Maybe seven. There's one in his locker in the Expo clubhouse. one in his car, another in his bedroom and one in his living room. Other Bibles are stashed here and there because Wetteland always wants the Word close at hand.
One day last spring in training camp, Wetteland was asked for his alltime, if-you-were-stranded-on-a-desert-island passage. He grabbed one of the Bibles from the top of his locker—a pocket-sized version in grainy black leather with JOHN KARL WLITELAND embossed in silver on the front. "This is my dagger," he said and (lipped quickly to Romans 5:1-5:
...And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
, perseverance, character, hope. Some bio. Stick that on the back of a baseball card.
The Grateful Dead were performing their improvisational percussion riff during Drums and Space, and his heart was roaring and his head was pounding and the sweat was pouring and he couldn't speak! The teenage Wetteland had been smoking grass, munching magic mushrooms and drinking beer. The freak in front of him had thoughtfully offered him a tab of LSD. Wetteland had tried to tear it in half—some now, some later—but his lingers weren't working too well, so he had popped the whole blotter in his mouth. And now Drums and Space and the world around him were rushing downward in one sinister whirl. His younger sister, Kristen, dragged him out of the arena and into a park across the street, talking him back to earth.
"I had OD'd," Wetteland says. "When I was about 16 or 17, there were two times when I nearly killed myself."
The other time, a friend wrapped his car around a telephone pole at 2:30 one boozy morning; like the other fools, Wetteland, who had been riding shotgun, walked away from the wreck. This was his Year of Living Stupidly, and Wetteland was working without a net. One night he curled up and slept on the white line of the road outside his house in rural Sebastopol, 90 minutes north of San Francisco. In the morning, when vibrations from a passing car woke him, he got up and walked back into the house. Sometimes middle of the road is as extreme as it gets.