Brady Anderson is carving a small block of time out of his packed training schedule to demonstrate the true purpose of the athletic life, which is not about money or women or fame or even fun.
It's about beating you.
The field of play — in this case — is a pingpong table in the middle of the Orioles' spring clubhouse at the Ed Smith Stadium Complex, where the team is preparing — with Anderson's help — for the 2012 baseball season. But it could just as well be a tennis court or a flag football field or the running track.
Brady was "Winning!" long before Charlie Sheen ever came out of a druggy haze to consider the concept.
The reason this is so important is because he has found someone — and that would be me — who made the mistake of talking some smack about once being a nationally ranked table tennis player, and nothing makes Anderson happier than trying to beat people at their own games.
Perhaps that's why one of the great Orioles stars of the 1990s is back in baseball after all these years, bearing the long yet nondescript front office title of Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and spending every day of training camp trying to whip the undermanned Orioles into peak physical condition.
He has become the training guru to some, a baseball philosopher to others and a very large, well-cut shoulder to cry on for a couple of promising young players who were once lost and now hope they have been found.
"I didn't plan on this, really," Anderson says. "I don't really know how it happened. Players just started coming to me after I stopped playing."
This is no ceremonial job, grudgingly handed over by the team owner to a popular former player to appease the fans, though it is no coincidence that Anderson has maintained a friendly relationship with Peter Angelos and his two sons since he was in uniform. Clearly, he also excels at the games people play on the corporate level.
"Brady wants to learn how to be an executive," said Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette, the guy Anderson has been hired to specially assist. "He's got great experience as a player. Now he wants to learn as much as he can about the entire baseball operation."
Is this the next Orioles GM?
Could this just be Phase I of some evil plan concocted by Anderson and bosom buddy Cal Ripken to buy the Orioles and take their close personal relationship from the locker room to the board room? Inquiring minds have probably already considered that possibility, but Anderson isn't trying to conquer the baseball world.
Right now, he just wants to explore another part of it.
"I love what I'm doing right now," he said. "It's exactly what I want to be doing, because Peter Angelos allowed me to do it and sent me out to do it and [manager] Buck Showalter embraced it. How close I became to Buck — immediately we worked so well together — allowed my duties to expand and me to do what I'm doing."
There is no master plan. That's the thing about Brady. He has always lived very much in the moment, and this latest incarnation — which is as undefined as his title — is still in its very early stages.
He returned to the Orioles to be a commenter for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network a couple of years ago and gradually evolved into this hybrid coach/personal trainer — an informal (and initially unsalaried) role that had some people in the organization scratching their heads.
Some outside observers were convinced that he was the latest poster boy for all that is wrong with the Orioles' fractured hierarchy.
What was this guy doing? Taking early batting practice with the active players? Joining in the outfield drills? Really?
There were whispers that he was the owner's boy and had the run of the place, and don't think Anderson didn't hear them. The one thing he is not is unperceptive.
"That's the part of it that you have to understand is that Buck invited me to spring training last year,'' Anderson said. "He reached out to me. … Peter, of course, couldn't have been happier about that, but had Buck not welcomed the idea, it wouldn't have happened. It's not even debatable."
If Showalter has any reservations about Anderson's expanded presence in his clubhouse and in the front office, he hasn't let on … and he's not the kind of manager to keep quiet about that sort of thing.
"The one thing when the organization gave him a title, they asked me and the only thing I said was 'I just hope it doesn't affect his relationship with the players, because sometimes when you give a guy a title they might be not as forthcoming,' " Showalter said. "But that doesn't seem to affect it at all. They seem to know that Brady is a very good ear about having played, and it's an asset that we're trying to take advantage of. The players appreciate him because he cares. Brady loves the Orioles. He just wants us to do well."
Whether former vice president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail was totally on board is debatable, but Duquette took over last November and immediately bonded with Anderson. He seems more than willing to mentor him and give him some special assignments that take him outside the physical realm of Major League Baseball, perhaps even groom him for the kind of responsibilities that might — someday — make him a legitimate GM candidate.
It would not be unprecedented. Angelos plucked the late Mike Flanagan out of the television broadcast booth to serve in a co-general manager capacity with veteran baseball executive Jim Beattie. Flanagan had close relationship with Angelos at the time, just as Anderson does now, but Anderson ponders that possibility and all but dismisses it. Really, there is no master plan.
"A lot of people have this mapped-out plan for their life, and I was never like that," Anderson says. "When I was in high school, I wasn't thinking about being a big leaguer. ... So I don't even know if [a traditional front office job] is the next progression. What I'm doing, I love so much, I can imagine doing it for a long time."
Ripken, who has known Anderson for 25 years and described him during his Hall of Fame induction speech as "simply my best friend," doesn't doubt that Anderson could do anything he sets his mind to, but he also believes that Brady is much more rooted in the present than you might think.
"I was really impressed with how much work he's done with hitters and the success he's had, so I could project him as certainly a hitting coach," Ripken said recently. "I don't know if he has any aspirations to manage or do something beyond that, but I think he really is enjoying having the opportunity to utilize his baseball skills."
Let's get physical
Anderson has returned to baseball on a mission. He wants to help the Orioles pull themselves out of a 14-year funk, and he thinks one of the ways to do that is to make the players bigger, stronger and faster.
He prowls the team's new high-tech weight room, schooling individual players on proper lifting technique and developing strength plans for anyone interested.
No one is required to work with him and many of the veteran players have their own programs, but he has had a big impact on some of the younger players, particularly pitcher Brian Matusz and left-fielder Nolan Reimold. Both turned to Anderson after suffering serious reversals in their playing careers, and both say that the support he gave them was unconditional and went way beyond just improving their physical ability to play baseball at the highest level.
Reimold was handed Anderson's phone number by teammate Lou Montanez while he was wallowing in a slump at Triple-A Norfolk in 2010. He sat on it for more than a week while his performance continued to decline, then picked up his phone and called a guy he had never met.
"I hit rock bottom," Reimold said. "I called him and said, 'Can you come help me?' "
Anderson dropped everything he was doing and flew to Norfolk, which is a lot farther from his North Hollywood home than just the time and distance. He stayed several days and returned later to follow up. And the thing that Reimold marvels at the most is that he did it all at his own expense.
"He spent thousands on me, and he didn't even know me," Reimold said. "Not once does he ever ask for anything. He wants to do it. He wants to help."
For the first eight months or so, Anderson worked on what Duquette calls an "ad hoc basis" and didn't get paid by the Orioles or the players. He feels his playing career — which featured an unusually broad spectrum of success and failure — has put him in a unique position to identify with the players he trains and counsels.
"I experienced quite a bit in my life and my big-league career," he said. "I know what it's like to struggle and I know what its like to not be able to sleep when you're not performing on the field. And I know how it feels to be playing well."
Hitting 50 (home runs, not years)
If your antennae just went up, you're probably not alone. Anderson, who played right in the middle of baseball's infamous steroid era, has never apologized for his obsession with better training through science.
He was the target of steroid suspicion after he jumped from 16 home runs in 1995 to 50 in '96 and never hit more than 24 after that, but he'll look you right in the eye and tell you that he has a logical non-anabolic explanation for all of it.
The '96 season was a banner offensive season for the Orioles in which five players hit 25 home runs or more, and — anyway — since there was no steroid testing in baseball until after he retired in 2002, he thinks his post-'96 drop in home runs actually proves that he wasn't doing anything illegal that year.
"Dude," he once said, "do you think I didn't like hitting 50 home runs?"
He liked it so much, in fact, that he refused an appendectomy and risked a life-threatening case of peritonitis late in the summer of 1996 to avoid missing a month of the season and the opportunity to be the Orioles' one-and-only 50-homer guy.
The trouble with the era is that everyone will forever remain under suspicion, and Anderson, by virtue of his one hugely anomalous 50-homer season, will never be able to convince everyone that he did it on the up and up.
So he doesn't try. He has never categorically denied anything, because there is no point in it. By the time the Mitchell Report came out and the BALCO investigation was complete, baseball fans had reached the point where they just assumed everybody in baseball who could hit a ball 400 feet was doing something tawdry.
Anderson never made a secret of pushing the envelope nutritionally. He was a proponent of the popular supplement Creatine long before it was a household word, but he also has been known to lecture wannabe body builders around the ballpark on the dangers of other over-the-counter supplements. The guy really does believe that his body is a temple.
It's also important to note that he was never named in any investigation, and he — like Ripken — was never known as a guy who believed in short cuts. Some players say they work out for hours a day. Anderson is 48 and he can be seen lifting in the Orioles new Florida training facility every evening, long after the players are gone.
Beverly Hills 90210
Keep in mind that Anderson wasn't just hugely popular in the '90s because of how he mashed a baseball and palled around with Ripken. Brady was the guy who brought long sideburns back to Baltimore, at least for a while. He was "Beverly Hills, 90210" when the television pilot was still being shopped. He was dancing with the stars before it was a primetime cliche.
Anderson has lived the celebrity life on both coasts. During his playing career, he dated models and tooled around Baltimore with actress Ashley Judd. He was linked to South African tennis star Amanda Coetzer and got schooled on the court by the likes of Pete Sampras and Baltimore's Pam Shriver.
He was running in such rarefied circles that — even after his playing career was over — his face occasionally popped up on TMZ on the periphery of some paparazzi dust-up.
Which brings us to another great contradiction. Anderson is not all that comfortable with public attention. He doesn't hide the fact that he is in the midst of an eight-year relationship with aspiring actress Katie Boskovich (the beautiful French reporter in "The A-Team"), but he never brags about his conquests and seldom talks in detail about his high-profile relationships.
In that respect, he's a little bit old-fashioned, and he bristles at the way today's athletes and celebrities have become obsessed with the pursuit of social media fame.
"I fight for my privacy," he said. "I'm not suggesting the least bit that I was some Brad Pitt-type figure that couldn't come out of his house. I didn't seek it out. ... It's different now. They tweet about themselves. They want to be seen in places. It's all marketing and there's a ton of money involved in it, but there's a certain part of your life — my life, anyway — I wanted private."
The family guy
Here's something that you probably never imagined Brady Anderson doing. The guy who was "The Bachelor" before there was a show called "The Bachelor" has whipped out his smart phone to show off pictures of his 8-year-old daughter, Brianna, who clearly is the love of his life.
"That's the worst part of my job, by the way," he says. "That's the part where I thought I would never work [full-time] in baseball, because I have joint custody of my daughter and that was the biggest battle and it still bothers me. Right now, I want to be with my daughter."
Anderson lives within a mile of his little girl in Los Angeles. She's the reason that he has kept baseball at arm's length since his playing career ended, but she's also the reason that he has returned to baseball with a new sense of purpose.
"My career was already over when she was born and she had never seen me work,'' he says. "I want her to know that her dad has to go to off and work."
Where this new job will take him remains to be seen, but the one thing you never want to do with Brady Anderson is underestimate him. He's the 10th-round draft choice who shocked the world by hitting 50 homers in a season and helped the Orioles to their only two playoff appearances in the last 28 years.
Now, he is back hoping to play a small part — and maybe someday a large one — in the rejuvenation of a once-great franchise that has fallen on very hard times.
Sun reporter Chris Korman contributed to this article.
twitter.com/schmuckstopsCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun