Catching a Grunt Off Guard

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Last week I wrote about meeting Frank White at a young age of 12 and this week I will share another chance encounter with a professional baseball player. This time we have to fast-forward from 12 year old me to 21 year old me. A lot had happened in those eight years, junior high, high school and half of college. The Royals went from being the kings of baseball to lowly Midwest jesters.

In 1995, I was working through college at a local car dealership washing cars and anything else a grunt would be required to do. If the next man up on the totem pole told me to jump on one leg and rap Ice Ice Baby then that’s what I did.

I had all kinds of odd duties, from vacuuming cars and mopping the shop floors to gassing up cars and fetching donuts for the sales staff, I was the go to grunt. This particular dealership specialized in higher end vehicles and occasionally we would see local athletes’ cars roll in for service. Most of the time the star athlete wasn’t present. What I came to understand is that sports stars don’t like or have the time to deal with oil changes and other preventive maintenance. They always had a brother, sister, wife or personal assistant take care of such mundane tasks. Sure I would hear stories from service advisors or sale staff about Dan Saleaumua, Kimble Anders and Kevin Appier buying a new car but I never had the chance to meet them. There wasn’t any reason too. I was a grunt.

Winter snowstorms were the worst for a grunt worker. It was to cold outside to wash cars so the boss man always had odd jobs around the shop for us to do. Washing walls, cleaning shop fans and removing snow from hundreds of vehicles were some of the highlights.

On one particular winter morning, the Kansas City metro, was blanketed with about eight fluffy inches of snow and I was in the shop doing some crap cleaning job when my boss yelled at me, “Go to the far lot and get this car cleaned up. The owner is waiting.” It was well known that when a car owner is waiting you better move your ass. I snatched the keys from my boss’s grimy hands and raced outside. Fifteen degrees, wind howling and lots of snow. The car was covered from top to bottom. I spent the next ten minutes cursing the weather, the car and the car owner for picking up his car on a day like today.

Finally, I had everything cleaned up and started to drive it to the service area pickup center. Still cursing under my frozen breath, I pulled the car up, put it in park, got out, and discovered I was face to face with the car owner. Mike Macfarlane.

In 1995 Mike had played with the Boston Red Sox after the Royals failed to sign him in a free agency year. Why they couldn’t or wouldn’t sign him is beyond me. The two years prior Mac put up some really good numbers for a catcher. In 1993 he hit 20 home runs, batted .273 with an OBP of .360. .360! Can you imagine how great it would be if Salvador Perez had an OBP of .360! The next year in 1994, he hit 14 home runs, batted .255 with an OBP of .359. Sure the homers and the average dipped a bit but how do you let a guy like this walk? So who was the Royals starting catcher in 1995? Good question. The answer is Brent Mayne. Enough said.

So there I was standing in front of Mac, one of my favorite Royals, and my bad attitude melted away like Frosty in the summertime. I was very star struck and I nervously put out my hand and said, “Your Mike Macfarlane.” Mike looked as stunned as I did. He almost looked surprised to be recognized. Which could have been the case since he wasn’t a huge name like a George Brett or Bret Saberhagen. Or he could’ve just been shocked by my frozen grunt appearance. I guess I’ll never know. To say the least Mike was very gracious and replied, “Yes, I am Mike Macfarlane.”

“My brother and I are big fans, you’re one heck of a catcher. Wish you still played for KC.” I stuttered has we shook hands.

“Thanks.” Mike replied has he started to get into his vehicle.

As I stood there in stupid awe, I noticed a bit of snow still on the driver side headlight. I rushed to brush it off and Mike told me not to worry it wasn’t a big deal. And with that he drove off.

Two weeks later he resigned with Royals for the 1996 season. All because of his clean almost snow free car. I’m sure of it.




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Author: Jason Ulitschan

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