See the guy walking through the Indian Casino. He appears to be on a quest for an American Dream, the one that dictates that one may live happily ever after via a game of chance or two. Or three.
The man marching with a purpose by all the bells and whistles fits right in with the other gamblers. Attired in a black polo shirt, matching shorts and black Nike sneakers (no socks showing) few would guess that a couple hours earlier, he was one of the better golfers on the Sevillano Links. Even fewer would have any inclination that this gent was the last hombre to win 27 games in a major league season. That feat occurred a mere 20 years ago and earned the gambler a Cy Young trophy when he played for the Oakland A's.
This is one of those where are they now articles. Where was Bob Welch at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, November, Fifth? He was on the 14th tee box at Sevillano Links just south of beautiful downtown Corning, California getting ready to crush the mucous out of a Titleist golf ball.
If Welch is not on a golf course, he can be found fishing or coaching pitchers (he was the pitching coach for the 2001 World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks). Don't bother looking for him when he's hunting as the camouflage wardrobe renders him invisible.
The two time All Star has a truck loaded with implements of destruction designed to capture game animals and edible fish. This is a man who will never go hungry.
The event that attracted the former Athletic/Dodger and his fellow golfers to the outer reaches of California was the inaugural Shoot For The Future Celebrity Pro Am golf and hunting exhibition. The golf and shoot events were adjacent to the Rolling Hills Casino. Welch, who turned 54 two days earlier, was grouped with four others including an A's Nation blogger.
How many golf tourneys allow you to fire a shotgun at clay pigeons before teeing off in the middle of the links? We shot skeet near the 16th tee box.
During the cruise around the course, there were moments when Welch got excited upon hearing roosters of birds give away their locations in the surrounding bushes. A flock of turkeys attracted Bob to a small cliff near the ninth fairway. His excitement was such that I thought he'd break into a sprint at any moment and come back with a gobbler under each arm.
Welch had bird calling devices in his pockets that he used to break the silence on the course during lulls in the action.
Welch also regaled the others in his fivesome with tales and observations about the industry that gave him fame and fortune. Example: Welch was unhappy with the A's decision to allow Curt Young to depart for greener monsters.
At one point Welch sank a putt and then proceeded to chat with former Dodger teammate Dusty Baker on his phone.
Former A's Greg Cadaret, the event chairman, and Wayne Gross were also present. Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti would have been there had the Giants not played in the World Series.
The balls Bob launched from his tee flew long and on target.
The tourney was a shotgun/best ball format. Welch's team came in last despite finishing a few strokes under par. The winning group scored 18 under par thanks to about 4000 mulligans that were priced at five for twenty dollars.
Later the golfers enjoyed a fine buffet in a casino ballroom that featured a raffle and auction and stacks of cheesecake.
At the conclusion of a 17-year career Welch posted a 211-146 record with 1969 strikeouts. He would have been the starter of game three of the 1989 World Series if only the Teutonic Plates under the Bay hadn't rocked the casbah. When play resumed, A's manager Tony LaRussa had game one and two pitchers, Dave Stewart and Mike Moore, start the final two contests.
With the banquet formalities out of the way, Welch and I talked about one of our favorite subjects, the Oakland Athletics. With the first question, I asked Welch how he found out about the three-team trade with the Mets and Dodgers that brought him to Oakland.
Bob Welch: It was one morning my wife and I, she was going to Vail to go skiing and I was driving with my friends from Southern California to Fresno for the California Bowl. Eastern Michigan, where I went to college, was playing San Jose State and we beat your college by the way (I graduated from SJSU). Your team was the best one out here until we played you, and Eastern Michigan kicked your ass.
Charley Thompson: I lost money that day.
Bob Welch: Well I didn't.
We were in route coming up here and I left at about five to meet my buddies who I went to college with and who all played football. We're driving from Riverside to Fresno and we drove up there and played 18 holes of golf. We went back to check into the hotel in Fresno and my good buddy Pat Rogers, Sugar Bear, said, "I don't know. You tell him." He was talking to Carol his wife.
He said, "Bob, you've been traded to Oakland."
I said, "Cool." I knew I was going somewhere. (Dodger GM) Fred Clair had left a message and tried to call me after I left and after Mary Ellen, my wife at the time, had left to go skiing. So I didn't know until about five o'clock that day.
But then I went to the California Bowl the next day and Streeter who was the media director for Eastern Michigan sold me out and told all the reporters I was there. The next thing you know I got everybody jamming me up down there at the football game. It was fine. So that was the day I got traded, whatever day that was. (December 11, 1987)
Charley Thompson: What made you think you were going to get traded?
Bob Welch: We had talked to a couple of teams about a deal prior to if I was traded, not really talk to them, but there were a couple of situations.
(Welch had in his contract about seven teams that he could not be dealt to).
Charley Thompson: Do you think of yourself more as a Dodger or an Athletic?
Bob Welch: I don't know. I don't really think either one to tell you the truth. If I'm in Oakland, I mean they are both great places and I think of some of the great teams we had there but I don't think of it one way or the other to tell you the truth.
Charley Thompson: After playing for the big crowds in LA accompanied by the fan adulation down there did you notice the difference when you came up to play for Oakland?
Bob Welch: Well there weren't as many at the park all the time but as soon as I talked to Dave Stewart after I got traded, he said, "Welch, you've never been dumped or swapped before, just know we're going to have a great team." So boom. I was done. Fine.
Charley Thompson: Who became your good friends on the A's?
Bob Welch: Most of the time your good friends are the guys who don't play for as a starting pitcher they are on the bench with me. I watch 127 games a year if I make every game I play. I'm talking to people who don't play. On the bench you know.
Charley Thompson: So who did you enjoy being around when you were on the bench?
Bob Welch: Oh God. I like them all. Mike Aldrete was there. The extra catchers were there. Dave Parker. All great friends because I had great teammates. Dave Stewart. Dennis Eckersly. Rich Honeycut. Pitchers are a given. Extra guys: Mike Gallego.
We had great teammates. The only reason I was mentioned as being any good is because of my teammates.
Charley Thompson: You had some great guys backing you up with the world championship and the three pennants in a row.
Bob Welch: We had the chance to be a team mentioned more often in history but we came up short so now we're just another team. We had the chance to be something really special and we were because it ain't easy going to the World Series three times in a row. I don't care how good your team is but to win them three in a row like they did in Oakland before, they're mentioned before we are. We had a chance to be right there with them.
Charley Thompson: When you saw the Giants and Rangers in the Series what kind of memories did that conjure up for you?
Bob Welch: Number one: Ronnie Washington was my teammate in 1978 in Albuquerque, Triple-A. I was coaching first base because (manager) Del Crandell made the starting pitcher coach first base the day after he started because he didn't want him sitting on the bench or whatever. We didn't like it but we still did it.
I remember yelling at Ronnie to beat out an infield hit and he blew out his ACL on his way to first base. It was snowing in Utah at Salt Lake City; I'll never forget that it was early in the season. He went on the back burner and started all over and it took him another three or four years to get back up to the big leagues. I was rooting for him very hard.
At the end there I did find myself in the series before rooting for the f**king San Francisco Giants (laughs). Which is pretty weird. I told Dusty Baker the other day, "Bake, I never rooted for the Giants in my life."
Charley Thompson: That's rich.
Bob Welch: I rooted for Dusty when he was in the World Series and I rooted for Scioscia too because he was on the other side but never the Giants but I actually found myself pulling for the Giants not knowing other than I hope Ronnie and those guys do well but watching the game and seeing how those guys were competing, they were playing some good ball man.
Charley Thompson: Are there any current A's whom you like?
Bob Welch: Oh I like all the A's. Current A's, the one guy I like the most is Jeff Larish.
Charley Thompson: I think they just sent him to Sacto. (Larish filed for free agency).
Bob Welch: Well I don't like the A's as much now. (laughs). No, no he was just there for a little bit and he was at Arizona State when I was there and Travis Buck was too, I coached him at Arizona State. And Dustin Pedroia, he's not bad. Andre Eithier, he's not bad either. They were all over there and I happened to run into them. Brooks Conrad had as tough a game against anybody I've seen in my life and I felt for him. He's the third baseman for the Atlanta Braves and he was playing second and the ball went between the wickets in that game.
Charley Thompson: It's lucky he wasn't playing for Charlie Finley or he would have been fired. So the last major league job you had was with the D Backs?
Bob Welch: In the major leagues, yes. In 2005 I coached Ogden for the Dodgers, rookie ball. I got turned on to fishing then and I haven't had time to coach because I have not stopped fishing. I go to a lot of places around Arizona with my son who got drafted by the Oakland A's last year out of high school.
Charley Thompson: Did he sign?
Bob Welch: No he did not. He went to a junior college and now he's in his first year at the University of Hawaii. Riley Welch. He's a pitcher. And my son Dylan lives in Breckenridge, Colorado in a little winter chalet up there doing the skiing thing and he's going to school up there. And my daughter is 14 in Arizona.
That's the toughest thing about my divorce is I like to wake up in the same house as my daughter but she's with her mom now and I'm in Seal Beach and I'm looking to see what direction I go in next year. I think it's going to be coaching in Palmer, Alaska because that's where my son is playing summer baseball. Unless something works out with another team which would be a rookie ball situation.
Charley Thompson: By the time you got to the A's you were pretty well established. You got your routine down. Was Dave Duncan able to do much to help you improve more?
Bob Welch: Oh yeah, Dave Duncan opened up a whole new planet for me. And so did sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman (who worked for the A's in the Eighties). It's a mental game that we never f**ked with at all. Not that much. Dave Duncan helped me so much. The one thing that I tell people today is one thing and that's keep f**king pitching. Our stuff does not matter because whatever it is, we have to keep pitching. Whether you treat it great or treat it poorly it's your fault. So whatever it is, it is. You just gotta pitch.
Charley Thompson: Was Duncan more about getting in your head or technique?
Bob Welch: Dunc was whatever he thought I needed. Which is a great coach. If I didn't need nothin' he would give me nothin'. And If I needed something, he's going to give it to me.
Charley Thompson: Who's the highest paid pitching coach today? Duncan?
Bob Welch: S**t, I've never even looked. I know our buddy who just left Oakland wasn't up there in that area. He was somewhere towards the bottom. I don't actually know the number but Curt Young is going to give you a hard days work whether he's first on the money list or 40th.
Charley Thompson: And you weren't happy when you found out Curt Young was moving on?
Bob Welch: I was happy for him, but I didn't know what was going to happen with him when he left.
End of interview
One of the golfers came along and broke up our conversation with a question about tourney prizes. And our thought process evaporated into the central valley sky like a frog's burp. Welch soon made his way to the poker machines for more kicks and giggles. Then it was time to retire for the night so he could rest up for the hunting part of the weekend. Welch should have stayed up all night so the little birdies, real and otherwise, would have a fighting chance.