The only man to win three Cy Young Awards in a row has to play catch on Rancho Mirage Street in front of his house because his backyard is too small. Occasionally he traipses across a neighbor's lawn and reaches into the shrubbery to fetch an errant toss from Jamie Crow, one of his golfing buddies. You imagine the homeowner harrumphing, "It's that Maddux boy again. That rascal's going to bust a window one of these days."
If you needed only one reason to hate the eight-month baseball strike, you couldn't find one more powerful than being deprived of the pleasure of watching Maddux work his craft so magnificently on the mound. Every fifth day that the strike cut out of the end of last season and the beginning of this one, another start was lost from the prime of a master's career.
One afternoon in late February, a time when in any other year he would have been in spring training at the Braves' camp in West Palm Beach, Fla., Maddux instead was in his kitchen, searching for the last Diet Coke in the fridge. It was long gone, so he raided the baby's apple juice supply. "Sure, I wish we were playing," he said. "But, Dude, you saw what I did today. Come on. Get up and do my arm exercises, go out and play golf, play with my kid, crank up the barbecue, maybe watch a movie. I'll play golf five or six times a week in the mornings, and Kath will do her thing in the afternoons.
"So do I miss baseball? I miss spring training. That's fun. I miss hanging with the guys. I don't miss being all stressed out, watching hours of tape, breaking down hitters, making one mistake and hearing 50,000 people groan, 'Ohhhhh.' No, I don't miss that."
He had a golf game the next morning and the morning after that, which would be the eighth straight day he would have played.
"Pitching and golf are a lot alike," he said. "In golf, if you do everything mechanically correct, you're going to hit a good shot. Same way with pitching. You may choose to throw the wrong pitch or swing the wrong club sometimes. But if your choice is right and your execution is mechanically correct, you're going to be successful. Yeah, golf and pitching are so alike, it's scary."
Maddux is in his cart speeding down the 16th fairway of the TPC course after crushing a monster drive. He is even for the round. "Dude, I'd love to finish under, but there's no way I can, "he says.
"Seventeen. I never play that hole well. Never."
On the 536-yard par-5 16th he slams his second shot pin high, though he misses the huge green to the right and leaves himself a long chip-and-run shot. He hits his next shot with the touch of a lumberjack. The ball is screaming across the green, headed for Reno, perhaps, when suddenly it smacks flush against his partner's ball. Maddux's ball stops four feet from the hole. Maddux drops the putt to go one under.