"One time our whole outfield was throwing up during a game," says Griffey. "Jay was doing it just because he thinks it's funny, but Kevin Mitchell saw him and got sick. Then I saw Jay, and I got sick. So there we are, all three of us, throwing up on the field."
It's 10 minutes past midnight, New Year's Day 1996. At the Buhner house plenty of guests are still enjoying a New Year's Eve party, but Jay has the vacuum cleaner out. It's never too early to tidy up. Of the many contradictions in the life of the nasty-looking nice guy, this could be the strangest: The man who throws up for fun and flips golf carts out of frustration is a neat freak. His locker at the Kingdome is as orderly as a museum exhibit. "It makes sense," says Valle. "He looks like Mr. Clean."
Buhner doesn't attach any great significance to his hair, or lack of same. In 1994 he concluded that he would be as bald as a frog in a few years, so he decided to beat Mother Nature to the punch. Buhner prefers the hairless look because it's neat and unusual—two of his favorite qualities. He doesn't follow the trends of other self-styled rebels in pro sports. "No earrings, no tattoos," he says proudly. "In the past I've always done something stupid with my hair, so I just shaved it all off. And now this is it forever. How can I change after what we went through?"
How can he change? His friends and family say Buhner will find a way. He always does. While he remains true to himself and to his Texas roots, he has evolved as a ballplayer and as a person. The simple, uninhibited free spirit from League City has grown into a simple, uninhibited star who enjoys the rewards of his life and takes on its responsibilities with equal passion.
"When I first met him, he was wearing Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots and Brush Poppers shirts—and if you don't know what they are, believe me, they're ugly," says Valle. "Now I look at him in his Armani suits, with his fine wines, and I say, 'Man, I knew you when you were a dumb cowboy.' But I went to a banquet with him in Seattle this fall, and I just sat back and watched the way he handled himself. It was amazing. He really knows how to deal with the fans and all the people, and he seems to enjoy it as much as they do. At the end of the night I pulled him aside and said, 'Jay, you've become a man.' "
Buhner says he will finish the two years on his contract and play two more seasons after that. He insists he will play in Seattle or not play at all. He and Leah want to buy 100 acres and raise horses and bring a little Texas to the shores of Puget Sound. Move over, Bill Gates. Bonehead is here to stay.
This is home now. This is where lightning struck through all that rain, where an unlikely bunch of ballplayers sent a magnificent jolt of energy through an entire region. This is where the dumb cowboy became a man. "I'd like to get into acting when I'm through playing," Buhner says. "I think I'd make a great bad guy."
The bad guy? The truth is, Jay Buhner has more experience playing the hero.