The Rookie

After five decades in the bush leagues, Wayne Hattaway talks his way to The Show.

"Wayne has his quirks about him,"Stelmaszek allows. "Our place is right downtown, so Wayne can come and go as he pleases, and he walks to the ballpark. I'm not a morning person, but he's up at the crack of dawn, and by the time I'm up five minutes he's filled me in on the box scores, the weather report, what the terrorists are up to, and what the stock market's doing. He's also a neat freak, which is nice. If I go to Chicago I'll come back and the floors have been scrubbed, the carpet's vacuumed, and the bathroom's been cleaned. Neither of us is around much, and though we watch the cooking channel all the time, we never cook.

"There's nobody else like him. He's really just an honest-to-goodness good person." "

 

Craig Lassig

Baseball is historically a sport of characters, and many of the most legendary don't figure in the game's records or encyclopedias. The clubhouse guys, the groundskeepers, the front office functionaries--these are the behind-the-scenes people who do the grunt work through the course of careers that often span decades. They are keepers of the secrets, repositories of the game's rich anecdotal history. There aren't a lot of people who manage to hang around baseball for 51 years; Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell is retiring this year after 55 years in the booth. Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer is in his sixth decade in professional baseball. Both those guys have a record of achievement; they have written books and received their accolades. And then there are the Wayne Hattaways, unknown to all but a handful of baseball fans, whose exploits bridge generations of players, coaches, and managers.

"People in this game appreciate a guy like Wayne," Blyleven said. "They see the dedication he has for this organization and the love he has for baseball. Guys like that are important to have around. I think baseball's what keeps Wayne going. If he didn't have baseball we might not have Wayne around for very long."

Twins utility man Denny Hocking agrees. "Wayne's an important guy in this clubhouse," he says. "He's a legend to the guys in this room, as well as the wives and the kids. Everybody loves Wayne. It definitely wouldn't be the same without him."

If in fact this is Hattaway's last hurrah, he's enjoying the Twins run and looking forward to at least one more victory party down the road.

"This has been a lot of fun, because, you know, this is a tough business," he said, "You're always bouncing around, it's hard to keep track of where you are, and it's hard to make a home somewhere. But that's just the way it is. That's baseball. These kids today don't even know how much the game has changed and how good they have it. If they saw our field conditions in the minor leagues back in the old days they'd never believe that anybody could have played on those fields, let alone made it to the major leagues."

If pressed he will admit that he misses some of the old characters, the guys like Blyleven and Puckett, who would play the game the right way between the white lines and then come right off the field and light up the clubhouse. And guys like Calvin Griffith and George Brophy, whom Hattaway calls "the best bosses a guy could ask for.

"You know, Calvin used to come around when we were down in the instructional league and he'd park his car and walk right across the field to take us to dinner at a waffle house," Hattaway remembers. "Who'd believe that a millionaire would eat at a waffle house?"

Despite all the changes, despite the fact that, as he says, "there's not as much loosey-goosey stuff going on as there used to be," the clubhouse is still Hattaway's domain, and in the clubhouse everybody is just another hotshot who could stand to have some of the air let out of him. That hasn't changed in 51 years, and big league clubhouse or no big league clubhouse, Hattaway is still the man for the job.

"You know how people will say, 'Why don't you get a real life?' Well, I ain't ever had a real life. People are always asking me why I don't retire, but I know as soon as I get out of the game I'll be gone in a year or two. What the hell else am I going to do? It's like Mr. Griffith always told me, 'Wayne, the day you stop hanging around at the ballpark every day you'll be a goner.' That was true for Calvin, and I'm pretty sure I'll be doing this until they bury me."

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