- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In September, Paciorek accepted Houston's offer of $45,000, an enormous amount of money for the son of a Plymouth factory worker. From that bonus, $15,000 went to help his family; at the insistence of his father the Colt .45s also included a scholarship fund to someday pay for John's college education. The 18-year-old Paciorek spent $2,000 on a powder-blue Malibu convertible, which he drove that fall, full of expectation, to the instructional league at Apache Junction, Ariz.
There, he roomed with Rusty Staub, who would go on to have a formidable 23-year career with Houston, the Expos, Tigers and Mets. Paciorek had an obsessive morning workout routine that he accompanied with claps and counting. This so annoyed Staub that one night when he arrived home around 9:15 to find Paciorek sound asleep, he grabbed a bat and began swinging it over the bed. The whooshing sound awoke Paciorek. "What the hell are you doing?" he cried.
"As long as you keep working out in the morning and clapping when I'm sleeping, I'm going to do this," said Staub. "Get the hell out of the bedroom!" cried Paciorek.
If Staub found his roommate's idiosyncracies annoying, he nonetheless marveled at his talent. "You can never understand how good an athlete he was," says Staub. "He had it all, everything."
Paciorek agreed, which made it all the more devastating when, due to a surplus of bonus babies on Houston's major league roster, he was sent to Modesto of the Class C California League the following spring so he could get playing time. "I always had that cocky feeling that I belonged in the big leagues," he says. "Like I was supposed to be there, like it was part of my life."
Paciorek put even more energy into his already maniacal workouts. "I wasn't going to be satisfied until I was the best I could be," he says. He did handstands with neck rolls so he could make his neck as strong as Mickey Mantle's. He wore a metal vest and ankle weights when he ran. And he made a game of trying to beat the third baseman to the dugout from his position in rightfield. "Gotcha," he'd say as he sped past. "They'd tell me not to do that anymore because I was embarrassing them," he says.
That summer Paciorek injured his right shoulder while throwing. Unable to work out, he took to stretching by hanging from the dugout roof. He did chin-ups to keep in shape. Soon his back began to hurt as well, and when the minor league season ended in September, Paciorek went to Houston to have it checked out. The doctors told him his back pain was from a pinched sciatic nerve caused by an abnormality he'd had since birth. They said the condition would benefit from rest—something that was not in the game plan of a future major leaguer.
While Paciorek was recuperating in Houston, though, a member of the Colt .45s' front office approached him and asked if he could play the next day in the team's season finale, an afternoon game at Colt Park against the Mets. Paciorek, who had not been part of the September call-up of minor leaguers but was highly regarded in the organization, had begun to feel better and quickly accepted. On Sept. 27 Houston had sent out an all-rookie lineup to give fans a glimpse of what it hoped were brighter days ahead. Two days later Paciorek was one of eight rookies to take the field against the Mets, including future All-Stars Staub and Jimmy Wynn and a second baseman destined for Cooperstown named Joe Morgan.
Although it was 82° that day and Paciorek hadn't played in weeks, he vowed to himself that he would play as if he felt perfect. In the top of the second he made what he remembers as two running catches in right centerfield. He came to the plate for the first time in the bottom of that inning, drawing a walk in front of a two-run triple that put Houston ahead 2--0.
In the bottom of the fourth Paciorek came up with the bases loaded and the Mets leading 4--2. He singled between third base and shortstop to tie the game. He later scored on a sacrifice fly.