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It's Red Sox vs. YankeeZZZzzzzz: Rivalry's Buzz Takes a Beating
38Pitches: 'Umm, no.' | Wilbur: Space Shot | Yankee Swap
Video: Big Papi Explains Reason for Hitting Woes
Chasing Steinbrenner is the story of two
journeys through baseball's most warped division. It chronicles the 2003
season of both the Red Sox and Blue Jays, and the people who run them. A
few of the chapters regarding the Red Sox include the Contreras/Millar
off-season, following Theo during opening day, and the inner-workings of
a trading deadline deal.
published by Brasseys, will be available in late April.
Change your thoughts and you change your world. -- Norman Vincent Peale.
They sat at the table blinded by their
The Millars could have very easily been
distracted by their surroundings -- the room at the ritzy W Hotel in the
heart of New York City and the three-piece-suit executives who filled
out the fancy swivel chairs. If they took themselves out of their own
skin for a moment, and gazed upon the afternoon meeting, then it would
have been as believable as an Oliver Stone cinematic conspiracy theory.
But even with all the unfamiliarity, the
Millars' focus could not be swayed. Kevin Millar did not want to go to
Japan, plain and simple.
Just the mere notion that Millar, a
31-year-old who somehow humanly hyphenated the phrase "out-going," was
being courted by any team outside the innocuous world of the independent
leagues he had left behind 10 years before was baffling. It wasn't as if
the right-handed, pull-hitter hadn't entrenched himself in the world of
the majors. There was no arguing that he had become a very good major
league player. It was just that Kevin had always been the chaser, not
the subject of the chase.
The Dragons however, didn't care where
Millar had come from. All they cared about was where he was going --
especially if it was anywhere but the Land of the Rising Sun.
The Chunichi representatives sat ominously
across the table from Kevin, his wife, Jeana, his father, Chuck, and his
agents, Sam and Seth Levinson. The group of Dragons' officials came from
Japan to reiterate the terms of the agreement Millar had originally
agreed to on January 8: He would earn $6.2 million to play for the
Japanese Central League team for the next two seasons.
For Millar, a player who had begun his
professional career making $320 every two weeks, the deal with Japan had
been a jackpot. The season before, his fourth in the majors, Kevin
hauled in $900,000 for hitting .306 and 16 home runs. But now he was
begging out of getting his career deal, spending more than $10,000 for
his wife and dad to join him in trying to seal his residence in the
Nothing ever came easy for Kevin, and this
was no different, except this time the fight had potentially
life-altering ramifications. The meeting was the kind of moment Chuck
had trained his son for. The family had a buzzword for peak performance
in times of extraordinary pressure -- "It!"
"It!" was a state of mind. Remembering to
prepare, work hard and be ready for anything before finally letting the
moment transpire under the influence of nothing more than relaxation.
"It!" was about allowing your instincts to take over.
Chuck had learned the power of "It!" in the
most unusual of venues -- the bowling alleys of Southern California. His
mother, Greta, had been a bowling instructor in the 1950's and had
taught her son well enough so that he could finally use the sport for
his financial gain. He always worried that his love of sports would
yield him helpless in the professional world, but thanks to his mom's
lessons and the pro bowling circuit called the Potbean League, for one
year Chuck had his outlet.
They called it "bowling for hamburgers," but
so many times it was a lot more. Winning a match could mean anything
from $20 to $500. Chuck made more in his job as a lab technician, but
the lessons learned in going up against the likes of Dave Hawthorne and
Manny Manchester were priceless. In a nutshell, the message was that if
you try too hard to knock down that '10 pin' it's usually not going to
happen. Just throw the ball and don't give a shit. This was remembering
Now, with these strangers from a strange
land putting the heat on, Kevin was being reminded of the family's
mantra. "It!" was tattooed on his arm, and it was being ingrained in his
Midway through the group's second meeting,
it was Chuck who almost allowed his son's preparation and
pre-get-together focus to slide into oblivion.
Kevin's dad initially appeared to be on his
game, telling the Chunichi folks that with the impending military action
in Iraq he wanted his entire family to be stateside. Chuck still had two
sons in elementary school and didn't want them worrying about their big
brother's safety overseas.
Team Chunichi said no problem, the team
would put the kids up in one of the area's best schools and hire a
security detail to protect them. And if that wasn't enough, the Dragons
offered Chuck $1 million and a house. That's when the kicking started.
Kevin saw the look on his dad's face, and
didn't like what he saw. The son started booting his father under the
table, leading the pair to take an impromptu bathroom break. Once in the
rest room the Millars just broke into laughter. Chuck was a lab
technician who would commonly work two shifts a day, but was on the
verge of turning his back on $1 million and a free house. It was all too
If there weren't going to be laughs, there
would be tears -- some tears of frustration, but more tears of joy. The
kid who didn't even hit cleanup for his youth baseball team was now
telling his dad to politely dismiss more 0's on one check than either
had thought they would see in a lifetime.
The Millars had come a long way, with a
hotel bathroom suddenly serving as the journey's most memorable
"It just proves how good Millar is, and all
this makes good headlines." -- Dragons' president Junnosuke Nishikawa.
J.L. was sent to Beaumont by the Dragons to
basically not let Millar out of sight or mind. The intensity exuding
from the Japanese team was wearing off on their representative in the
United States. J.L. was everywhere, and so was his desperation. There
were suggestions that he might commit suicide if he couldn't bring Kevin
back to Nagoya. The man from Chunichi even asked the Millars for bank
account numbers, Kevin's or his dad's, to put chunks of Chunichi money
into (again, Chuck was tempted). Understanding the Japanese's
end-of-the-world approach wasn't easily accomplished.
The pressure, and the presence of J.L., was
getting unbearable for Millar. On top of his future;s uncertainties, he
had also heard the rumors that the Japanese mafia might be involved.
Then there was the time he returned from a workout to find 67 messages
on his answering machine. "Why me?" he thought. Millar didn"t have
anything against anybody. He just wanted to play in Boston, not Nagoya.
Hadn"t Japanese outfielder Norihiro Nakamura done the same thing when he
had agreed to a contract with the New York Mets a month earlier, only to
back out at the last moment? The whole thing was out of hand. Millar had
to get away.
So while J.L. was joined by more Chunichi
reps in Beaumont, Levinson continued to grease whatever wheels he could,
and Major League Baseball tried to figure out what to do, Millar headed
to the land of all waiver claims in limbo -- Las Vegas.
Finally, Kevin could go back to being Kevin
--carefree without fretting how he was going to fit into a lineup behind
some guy named Kazuyoshi Tatsunami. Thanks to a high-roller friend, a
lawyer whom Millar had met through his Harley-Davidson motorcycle
dealings, he hopped aboard a Lear jet and wasted away the hours until
decision day by stacking his buddy's chips (and there were a lot of
them). And after the casino came an impromptu trip to South Dakota,
where the posse decided to do a little pheasant hunting.
"Dad," Millar said to Chuck though his cell
phone, "you're not going to believe this, but right now I'm riding down
a dirt road in South Dakota with a million dollars of cash on my lap!"
Life was good again for the Beaumont Basher.
Back in Boston, there was no getting away.
There wasn't much of anything the Red Sox could do since Major League
Baseball had told them to stay back in the shadows while an agreement
was mediated with Chunichi. And whatever Epstein did know from MLB, it
wasn't for public consumption in and around the Sox offices.
And, thus, the "Millar-O-Meter" was born.
Epstein would enter the office, the
subsequent "How's it going?" would come from somewhere inside baseball
operations and the general manager would inform the masses using an
adjusted form of RPM's. When it came to cracking this case, nothing was
The ordeal continued. Millar had gone to
Vegas, taken his family to New York for the face-to-face with the
Chunichi people, taken some time in California and finally returned to
Beaumont to continue the waiting. The only certainty was that every
morning was going to be full of questions and the closest answers could
only be found by riding around on his Harley.
Finally, in the waning hours of Valentine's
Day, Millar heard from the unfamiliar voice of Epstein. "You're a Boston
Red Sox," his new boss said. Five hours later Kevin had loaded up his
stuff and Jeana into his black Cadillac Escalade, put in a healthy pinch
of Copenhagen chewing tobacco and driven straight through to the Red
Sox's minor league complex on Edison Avenue in Fort Myers. The driving
time was 16 hours, but it was well worth it after enduring the five-week
sentence in the mitts of Chunichi.
One of the first people Millar saw upon
venturing out onto the expansive fields where Boston began spring
training was Epstein. They had never met, and had talked just a couple
of times, but that didn't mean a hug wasn't in store. "I'm the invisible
player, you're the invisible general manager and now we're together,"
said the exhausted but elated Beaumont Basher. It was, as Millar later
said, like they had known each other their whole lives.
The wildest off-season a 29-year-old general
manager had ever experienced was officially over with.
Nobody thought that trying to win a World
Series was going to be easy.
Exclusive to Boston Dirt Dogs