I guess you’re probably wondering why my childhood idol and the only father figure I had growing up is sending out a Tweet to me asking for $812 dollars. I guess I could start this story two weeks ago when completely out of the blue, Jose Canseco liked one of my posts and followed my account. Really though, this story begins in late 1996 when as a 16 year-old kid, I wound up on juvenile probation.
I guess you could say from the age of 11, I began acting up. By the time I was 13, I was skipping school, and when I hit 14, began experimenting with drugs. All the while, I had a growing collection of baseball cards and an admiration for the former MVP and Mr. “40-40”, Jose Canseco. I would stay up to watch his games, would cut any newspaper clipping of his I could find, and yes … collected every card I could get my hands on.
As a single mother of two, my mother had her work cut out. Once placed on probation, my mother put her foot down and refused to let me hang out with any of my friends. One day, while driving to pay a bill with my mom, I spotted a Blockbuster Golf & Games, which featured an outdoor, open-air batting cage facility. To this day, it is the only one of its kind I’ve ever seen.
That Blockbuster became my second home. I spent every minute I could hitting in those cages. I worked my way up from 40 MPH to 60 MPH and by the end of 1996, I was a beast on the 80 MPH cage, which was rarely used except by the occasional Floridian ball player like Benito Santiago or Edgar Renteria. That final month of ’96, I even got a job at the batting cages, which meant unlimited free sessions for me.
One day in early 1997, I was waiting for the installation of the new 90 MPH cage when I noticed out of the corner of my eye a huge man hanging a paper next to the batting cage office. I went in for my first ever 90 MPH session and hit almost every single ball for a home run and as I walked out I thought to myself, “Man, I need to take this to the next level”. It was at that moment that I read a flyer that would change my life.
“Batting Lessons with Ozzie Canseco”. I gazed at it for a good minute. At the bottom were tabs so you could take the phone number but I didn’t want the world to know that one of the Canseco brothers was giving out lessons so I took the entire flyer home and called immediately. I left a message. A day went by, no response. The following day I called again but again no response. Was this a scam?
The next morning I was on the couch organizing my card collection when my phone rang. I looked at the caller I.D. and it read something I will never forget so long as I live, “J. Canseco”. My heart began to pound as I literally froze in fear and excitement. I must have answered on the 5th or 6th ring. What was said has been lost in memory as it’s now been 22 years but I remember a date, a time, and an address.
You have to understand, growing up in Weston, Florida meant hearing all sorts of tales about Jose Canseco, his fast life, and even his equally famous neighbor, Dan Marino. In 1997, Jose’s star was fading but he was still somewhat young, rich, and famous and his house was the stuff of legends. Today, it is still talked about and even became infamous thanks to a pool party Roger Clemens may or may not have attended.
When I drove up to 3025 Meadow Lane in my beat-up 1995 Ford Ranger I felt like I was driving up to Disney World for the first time. For starters, it was the biggest house I have ever seen. When I got out, Ozzie was waiting for me at one side of the house which he said had been turned into a state of the art baseball facility. It looked more like a full length basketball court with a pitching machine in the middle to me.
There was also a gym with more weight lifting equipment than any Gold’s Gym I’ve ever seen. As I walked by, Ozzie told me all the guys come here to work out and he specifically named Alex Rodriguez, who was a 20-year-old skinny kid around this time. A few years later, Jose and Alex had a really bad falling out with Jose even threatening Alex in the media due to ARod breaking the #1 Bro Code Rule.
As for Jose’s house, he sold it and moved out of Florida and eventually had what you’d classify as a fall from grace. He was blackballed from baseball, lost his money, his wife, and his fame. He wrote a book, became a joke and the most hated man in baseball and then suddenly, was vindicated. Some even go as far as to call him a hero. Unfortunately, Jose dealt with probably the worst 10 years of his life because of it.
The house now lives on in a fan site, believe it or not. Also, I was able to find photos of both the pool area where Roger Clemens likely soaked his bleached-blonde hair of 1998, the weight room where Jose and Alex probably got “juiced” in and of the “state of the art” baseball facility Ozzie Canseco told me about, which was really just a really nice and fancy indoor basketball court.
So what about that Tweet Jose sent out? Well, it took about two weeks for me to Tweet out to Jose after that grand day when my Twitter notifications told me he was a follower. What I did was Tweet out a photo of Ozzie’s business card with a story on how a line drive I hit crushed one of his wooden doors. Behind those doors? Probably a ton of basketball equipment Ozzie threw in there as I pulled up.
Not only did Jose remember me, but he also remembers the bill from having to repair said door. As a collector and a die-hard fan of Jose for nearly 30 years, I can’t describe the smile on my face when I saw the Tweet. I felt like a kid again, watching my hero crush a 500 foot home run into the upper deck of Skydome. It was a much-needed reminder as to why I’ve loved Canseco all these years.
As for my own baseball career, unfortunately, I hit a lot like Canseco but also played outfield just like him. Also, it didn’t help learning to play the field at 17. I never had the reflexes and timing for it so while I could hit 350 foot home runs, I also missed every single ball hit my way. I did manage to play two seasons of little league age 15-17 at age 18 and 19, respectively. Yes, I was a ringer like Jose on The Simpsons.
By 24, I was playing in a semi-pro league in the Yankees’ former spring training home next to former signed ball players and was following in my hero’s footsteps until a fateful day when I was showing off like Jose used to and tore my rotator cuff. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the insurance to get it repaired. As for the open-air batting cages that brought me THIS close to Jose, they shut down and were replaced by an IKEA.
Today, I am a 38-year-old man still chasing the now unrealistic dream of playing baseball again. Some days, I dream about those batting cages and me crushing 400 foot bombs straight to center field like my idol once did. Ironically, in 2009 I ran into Ozzie and later got to meet Jose in Cooper City, Florida just by luck. I stuttered and stammered through a couple of sentences to Ozzie but was too scared to pose with a picture of Jose.
Here’s hoping I get another chance with Jose in 2018.