Fantastic Feting Follows the Free-Agent Fan
When last we spoke to Michael Volpe, the 44-year-old Virginian who abandoned his long allegiance to the San Francisco Giants and declared himself a free-agent baseball fan (SCORECARD, Dec. 30), he was mulling a handful of major league offers. Now Volpe, who dumped the Giants after they traded his favorite player, third baseman Matt Williams, to the Cleveland Indians on Nov. 13, is rubbing elbows with celebrities. In recent weeks he has pitched to New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine; gone on a private tour of Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and then dined with Phillies manager Terry Francona, general manager Lee Thomas and several players; gotten an offer to appear on a trading card; and received a letter from Bud Selig telling him how "fascinating" the acting commissioner finds Volpe's correspondence with big league clubs.
Volpe has been so sought after by baseball people, fellow fans and one script-strapped film company that he has set up an E-mail address specific to his life as a free-agent fan. Twenty major league clubs have contacted Volpe, as have six minor league franchises and even the investor group that hopes to secure an expansion team in Virginia. ("True, we have no team, but...," the group's letter said.)
"Now I know how a free agent feels," says Volpe. Many clubs have been wooing him with gifts. The Los Angeles Dodgers, for instance, sent wool caps and sport bags, the attempt at bribery accompanied by a note from publicity director Derrick Hall saying, 'This is in no way bribery." Volpe, who donates most of the trinkets he receives to a Catholic school near his house in Falls Church, swears he "can't be bought off," not even by the Florida Marlins, who put him up at a resort hotel in Miami for three days so he could hang with general manager Dave Dombrowski at the team's Fanfest.
Volpe plans to choose a team by the end of spring training and is rating his suitors on the sincerity of their love for him, how they treat fans in general and the strength of their team. The last criterion favors the New York Yankees, the defending World Series champions, who have offered to let Volpe throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a game if he'll please, please pick them.