When Staff Writer Steve Wulf was assigned to cover baseball this year he knew he would be spending a great deal of time on the road, but he didn't know the road would take him to such a far-off place as Veracruz, Mexico. However, that's where Wulf had to go for his profile of expatriate Pitcher George Brunet (page 24).
Wulf was a good choice for the baseball beat because he understands the full range of baseball experience, having progressed from star to flop to journeyman player by the time he was 11. "I made my Little League debut with the minor league Green Hornets of Brunswick, N.Y.," he says. "They stuck me in centerfield during a game we were losing by about 25-6. A kid hit a ball to the wall. I picked it up and made one of those looping rainbow throws home. It reached on the fly, much too late, but under the circumstances, it was probably our team's best fielding play of the game."
Wulf's arm so impressed his manager that in his next appearance he made his debut as a pitcher. "I left after two innings with the score tied 13-13," Wulf recalls. "The following year I moved up to the majors. It was the classic case of a player being brought up too soon, so I was able to play only a few games. But when I went back down the next year I got a reputation as a bad actor. It happened one day when a friend named Andy Lasky looked into the dugout and yelled, 'Hey, Wulf, put down my popcorn.' The manager never started me again. I was tagged for life at 11."
By Wulf's account, things eventually got somewhat better. He claims he was one of the greatest second basemen in the history of Camp Van Schoonhoven in Averill Park, N.Y. While attending Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. he starred at a dice game called Stat-O-Matic Baseball, which he played with his fraternity brothers. Among them was Richard Queen, who was a hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran until his recent release. In Wulf's senior year he tried to make the baseball team as a pitcher. "The school paper called me 'Sophomore Infielder Tommy Wolf,' " he says. "I figured journalism needed me more than baseball."
After graduation Wulf spent a year working for the Evening Sun in Norwich, N.Y., just 45 minutes from Cooperstown, where the picture above was taken. Among Wulf's assignments in Norwich was the People's Softball League, in which he also played. "We won a playoff game 16-0, and I went 1 for 8.1 quoted myself as saying, 'I, more than anyone else, am responsible for keeping the score down.' " After that, Wulf spent three years with the Fort Lauderdale News. He had an unforgettable experience there with Hall-of-Famer Hank Aaron. At least Wulf hasn't forgotten it. "He was about to break Babe Ruth's career home run record and there was a big media event in spring training. I finally got a minute alone with Hank and I asked him something I'd always wanted to know: How did he feel about being the first name listed in The Baseball Encyclopedia? He just looked at me and walked away."
Wulf's memories of the George Brunet story are much more pleasant. "The seafood in Veracruz was excellent, we had a great time and Photographer Manny Millan, who speaks Spanish well, became a local hero," Wulf says. "All in all, a great road trip."