When Steve Garvey first came to Albuquerque in 1969 as a fresh-faced 20-year-old in just his second year of professional ball, the city was quite a bit different then.
Now, more than a half-century later, the city and the youngster have grown up, although Garvey still looks like he can turn on a heater chucked on the inside part of the plate.
“So many fond memories,” Garvey said Friday of his time in the Duke City, “There are always people that come up and remember 1969 when I played in the Texas League with the Dukes. It was the old, old stadium’s first year. And I loved it as a hitter. Obviously, the ball flies. You remember places you’ve played by the city and the fans and how warmly they treat you and respond to you. That’s why it’s always great to come back.”
Garvey, a 10-time major league all-star, was back in Albuquerque at the behest of new New Mexico baseball coach Tod Brown as the guest speaker for the program’s First Pitch Banquet on Friday evening.
“This is a great Dodger town and this is my first one and I wanted one of the biggest Dodgers out there, and that’s Steve Garvey,” Brown said. “And I’m so gracious he had a chance to come.”
Garvey treated the town to an impressive season, playing first and third base while hitting a robust .373 with 14 homers and 85 RBI in just 336 at bats.
“And when they said the next year you’re going to Spokane, I said, ‘Does the ball travel in Spokane like it does in Albuquerque?'” Garvey recalled with a chuckle.
Garvey came out early to speak with the Lobos and marveled at the team’s gleaming turf field.
“The game is basically the same,” he noted. “But just to see a field like this, all synthetic, is phenomenal for college baseball to be able to cut down on maintenance and cost and give players more of an opportunity to train and practice and develop.”
Garvey, who finished his 19-year Major League career with the San Diego Padres, ended up with 272 homers, 1,308 RBI and a .294 batting average.
“We’re on a journey,” he said. “And when I talk to the players (Friday), I’ll talk about that. The journey that starts at a young age and you reach different plateaus, and steps and this is that step that you should want out of high school. And if you develop here, you should be professional. But you have to stay within your time. Learn how to manage yourself on and off the field and absorb the opportunities to learn and grow from that.”
While Garvey didn’t really expect any of the players to recognize him, the fact that he played in five World Series with the Dodgers and Padres gives him the street cred that would gain the attention of a diamond dog.
“When 60 million people watch you strike out, it’s very humbling,” he said. “And when 60 million people watch you hit a walk-off home run, it’s historical. You have to learn to keep all of these things in context, and I’ve done both. Fortunately, they remember the home run, but they forget who the guy struck out, but they remember who the pitcher was.”
Three of those World Series appearances were against the New York Yankees, including a memorable finish to the 1981 strike season. The Dodgers finished off the Yankees in six games for Garvey’s one World Series championship.
“Beating the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Game 6, 1981, if you couldn’t do it at home, Yankee Stadium was the ultimate,” he said. “Everybody ran out on the field, and we were on the pitcher’s mound. (Catcher) Steve Yeager picked up (pitcher) Steve Howe, spun around, hit me in the jaw, almost knocked me out. Fans are coming in, I see my hat, I grabbed it. I run off the field and I look back and I’m thinking, ‘If I had been knocked out cold on the mound at the highlight of my career in New York, I probably would have been left with my sanitary socks and maybe my underwear.’ It was a great moment.”
And that is something for the players to strive for at their own level, Garvey said.
“If it’s college level, high school, whatever it is,” he said. “That is the ultimate challenge and to be able to achieve it, it is a great lesson learned.”