Friday, July 28, 2006

Mad connections

Do you have one of those friends who seems to have so many connections that you can't possibly imagine knowing that many people?

I do. I don't know that I'd call him a friend, but more like an acquaintance. He's a baseball guy, but saying that feels extremely limiting. It's like buying a keg of beer and proclaiming you've got a drink. And his connections are with, well, baseball folks.

His name is David Vincent. Back in the pre-Nationals days, he was the scorekeeper for the High-A Potomac Cannons. He's a damn good scorekeeper at that, good enough that he became the primary guy when the Nationals landed in town. (He and another guy - who I would call a friend - alternate between Washington and Potomac nowadays.)

He was a longtime member of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. Perhaps you've heard of him or read some of his work; he is baseball's home run guru. And I mean guru. He's frequently cited by ESPN analyst Jayson Stark (like in this article from May; scroll down to "Useless Cylicality Info," three-quarters of the way down the page). When Scott Rolen was dealt from Philly to St. Louis, Dave called Jayson Stark - a former Philadelphia Inquirer baseball columnist - to get the scoop.

On the laptop he brings to the ballpark every day, there's a home-run database. I asked him once if he knew who was the oldest player to hit his first home run. I was doing a feature on a Phillies catcher who finally broke into the big leagues at age 33. I thought, if he hits a homer, he might be the oldest player ever to get his first. (A few clicks, and he found out the answer was no. Strangely, the answer to the question is Yankees pitcher Randy Johnson, who homered in 2003 at the age of 41.)

His story was intriguing enough that early last season, he told us there was going to be a little story on him in Parade magazine. I waited and waited to see the story, and it finally appeared a few weeks after he mentioned it. I asked him why it got delayed, and he said when the Parade editors found out about his database, they decided it was worth more than the short story they were planning; so he got a two-page spread instead. (The story, in the Aug. 21, 2005 edition, can be found at Parade's website.)

But this entry is supposed to be more about his connections, which are pretty amazing.

One afternoon, while whiling away time on the field waiting for the first pitch of a Nationals-Braves contest, I was chatting away with him.

"Listen," he said, "I gotta run. I have a present here for Don Sutton that I think he's going to like."

Don Sutton is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Well, then. Far be it from me to hold him up from greeting a Hall of Famer.

Furthermore, one generally doesn't present a gift to someone that he or she doesn't know. And one doesn't know whether said gift will be appreciated or not - unless one knows the other fairly well.

This occured to me at Thursday's Nats-Giants game. While heading out of press dining after a pre-game snack, I saw Dave chatting with Giants announcer Jon Miller (if you don't know him, he also does ESPN's Sunday night games) like you or I would chat with our neighborhood bartender.

Jon Miller's not in the Hall of Fame, but he probably should be.

It also says a lot about Dave's character that he'll still stop and chat with us, even though we're among the lowest on the food chain in the Nationals' press box. He knows us, of course, and he hasn't forgotten us.

Perhaps that's the coolest thing about him.

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