WAKEFIELD, Mass. -- The Wakefield first baseman grounded out, struck out, drew an intentional walk, scored a run, caught a pop-up about 40 feet behind first base and threw a base runner out at the plate to preserve a scoreless tie, cracked a joke or two, told a balk story and dispensed all the appropriate rah-rah baseball banter.
It was neither a great night nor a bad night. Bottom line: It was an OK night because it was Wakefield 6, Mustangs 2. The first baseman had done his part, and when he wins, he is, by definition, happy.
If the first baseman's mind occasionally wandered, if he caught himself thinking back to full houses in Fenway Park or Busch Stadium or even of World Series appearances, if at any point in the evening he was thinking about who he was instead of who he is, he kept this information to himself.
Just another baseball night in the life of John Tudor, amateur first baseman.
John Tudor is 37. A year ago, he was pitching in the Bigs, and he was getting them out. He was 12-4 with a 2.40 ERA for the Cardinals. But he was pitching in great pain, and he was not having any fun whatsoever. "I dreaded every start," he says. Viewing his physical situation as hopeless, he retired, leaving behind a 117-72 lifetime record. In the last 30 years, only Sandy Koufax (.655), Ron Guidry (.651) and Juan Marichal (.631) have had better winning percentages than John Tudor (.619).
Just because he can't pitch doesn't mean he can't play. Some people need spotlights. John Tudor doesn't. If he can't be a major-league pitcher, he can be very happy being an Intercity League first baseman. Playing ball with a bunch of young guys before fewer than 100 people on a high school field is no big deal when you don't have a pretentious bone in your body.
"I'm just trying to have fun," he explains. "And I'm trying to stay unnoticed."
Sorry, John. Everyone in the league knows who No. 14 is on the Wakefield team. You think when you came up to the plate that the adrenalin didn't start pumping overtime for Mustangs pitcher John Minotti?
"Absolutely," says Minotti. "I realize he was a pitcher and not a position player, but he's still a guy who's faced big-league
pitching. If I can strike him out, it would just give me an edge."
Tudor views his new baseball career as a form of unfinished business. When he performed for North Shore Community College, he was the team's leading pitcher and its leading batter. Then he arrived at Georgia Southern. "They wouldn't let me touch a bat," he explains.
Manager Les DeMarco usually bats him third. "But he dropped me down to sixth last week against a lefty," laughs Tudor. "That was all right with me. I've been trying to get out of that third spot."
What Tudor wants more than anything else is for the team to think of him as its fallible first baseman, not as its visiting baseball professor. But it is a little difficult for them to forget the fact that their new teammate once won 21 games and threw 10 shutouts (1985). Or that one reason he could afford to retire is that he's sitting on a pile of money.
But Intercity League veteran DeMarco says Tudor has successfully pulled off the low-key gambit. "John's been great to have on the team," DeMarco says. "It certainly means something to the younger players to have him here. John has plenty of expertise, and he hands it out. He's willing to come down early and help out with the pitchers, and he also helps me get ready for the game, which he doesn't have to do." Indeed, the meticulous Tudor wielded a mean rake around first base before the game.
DeMarco has seen many former professionals, and an occasional big-leaguer (he once managed former Oriole Dave Leonhard) come and go during his 30 years of Intercity League involvement, so he knows what makes the attempt succeed or fail. "In John's case," reflects DeMarco, "it's maturity. When you're young, you let little things bother you. The uniform doesn't fit, or some such thing. Nothing bothers John. He's out here to have fun, and to help us win."
"He just loves baseball," says second baseman Paul Funk. "I've got to give him a lot of credit. I don't know if I could do what he's doing, playing in this league after being in the majors. It really says something about him."
John Tudor does very little in life without proper thought, and that includes participation in the Intercity League. "I had been thinking for some time that when I was through playing in the majors I'd like to find a nice league and play first base for fun," says Tudor. "I had played in the Intercity League once before. I played for a Lynnfield team which doesn't exist anymore. I thought it would have the competition I was looking for."
"Dave Bettencourt, John's old high school catcher, called me and said John would be interested in playing for our team," explains DeMarco. "The catch was he would play first base but not pitch. I said we'd love to have him."
He isn't leading Wakefield (9-8-1) to the title. He's not feasting on the pitching. ("I couldn't tell you what I'm hitting.") He's not totally comfortable in the field. ("I've screwed up a lot.") With not a shred of ego or pretension, and with a successful pitching career emblazoned in the record books, he is simply a guy playing the game he loves and trying to get better.
"He's just enjoying the game for what it is," suggests Les DeMarco. As Mel Allen used to say, "How about that!"