Had it been NewYork or Chicago, that would have been one thing. But last June, when theRochester Red Wings' manager told Glenn Williams to board the next plane forPhoenix, the command hung in the air like a bad curveball. "I was like,Phoenix is in our league?" Williams recalls. Then he made the connection:He was being summoned from Triple A by the Minnesota Twins in time for theirseries against the Arizona Diamondbacks. An Australian, Williams was signed bythe Braves in 1993, and since then, like Johnny Cash, he'd been everywhere,man: Danville, Eugene, Macon, Dunedin, Syracuse. Now, a few weeks before his28th birthday, he'd finally made the Show and his weekly salary of $1,800improved tenfold. "It was the moment," he says, "that every minorleaguer is always dreaming about."
Uniformly,Williams's managers and teammates describe him as a "great guy," atireless worker, a genial personality, an asset to the organization. To them,his call-up confirmed that faith is rewarded, that Providence is more than thetown next to Pawtucket. But in reality, sports are often strikingly bereft ofkarma. For as often as we hear about "Cinderella stories" and"deserving champions," an even break is hard to come by. Michelle Kwanpulls a muscle on the eve of her last Winter Olympics. The Colts lose a playoffgame weeks after the son of their beloved coach commits suicide. Karl Maloneand John Stockton never win an NBA ring, while Dennis Rodman owns five. Insports, bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to BarryBonds.
In camp with theTwins this spring, Williams is again competing against that cosmic law. Oh,things started off well enough for him last summer. He can recall his first bigleague at bat with stunning precision. Walking to the plate in the sixth inningto pinch-hit, Williams gave himself a pep talk: "You finally got theopportunity; you can't be nervous or scared." On the first pitch he slappeda fastball off the hand of the pitcher, Shawn Estes. Motoring to first base, hethought, If I'd always run this fast, I'd have been in the majors way beforenow.
He made it safelyand (cue music) suddenly could do no wrong. A week into his call-up, Williamswas starting at third base. When his parents and his wife, Laila, flew to watchhim play against the Dodgers--7,500 miles away; L.A. was the closest team toSydney on the Twins' schedule--he had two hits. A .242 career hitter in theminors, he would look up at the stadium scoreboards and giggle when he saw hisaverage was .450. It was all so dizzying that Laila started making a scrapbookfilled with box scores for Glenn to read on the flight home after the season.He could digest it all then.
March 6, 2006
In Williams's 40that bat, he smote a single that brought his average to .425 and extended hishitting streak to all 13 games he'd played. Then, taking a lead off first base,he dived back to avoid being picked off, landed awkwardly and dislocated hisright shoulder. As he left the game he stifled his tears, sufficientlyself-aware to realize that his Excellent Big League Adventure might just haveended. He was sent to Fort Myers to rehab, then had surgery and ended theseason back in Rochester. If he were ever feeling crushed, he never let itshow. "Know the good part about rehabbing in the rookie league?" hesays. "I got to be sort of a big brother to the young guys."
On Feb. 15,Williams left Australia for the Twins' camp in Fort Myers. He whiled awaychunks of the 24-hour odyssey reading his journal. His shoulder is healed. Hisconfidence is surging. But he's a nonroster invitee, and he knows that his lastbig league at bat may have been his final big league at bat. "If that's it,hey, I would've loved to have played more, but I got 40 at bats and had so muchfun," Williams says. "Why be bitter, you know? I'll just try my bestand leave the rest to fate."
Fate? Sorry.Unfortunately, in sports the fates can write some pretty nasty scripts.Otherwise, on his return trip to Australia, Williams's scrapbook would be sothick, he'd have to check it at the gate.
THE EARLY days of spring training are a time to loosenstiff muscles, reconnect with teammates and, if you're Jeff Bagwell, try toignore the fact that your bosses would rather you weren't around. The firstbaseman's standoff with the Astros--they have an insurance policy that will pay$15.6 million of Bagwell's $17 million salary if he's not healthy enough toplay--took an awkward turn when the franchise leader in home runs and RBIsarrived in camp last Friday, hell-bent on proving he belongs in the lineup thisseason. "I felt like it was a little bit of a trial camp," saidBagwell, 37, who played only 39 games last year because of a shoulder injury."I felt like I almost had to try and prove something." He does: Doctorswho examined him last month told Houston his shoulder was still damaged and heshouldn't be expected to throw or hit like he once did. Bagwell doesn't havelong to prove otherwise. "I can't just go away," he said. "I'mgoing to need a couple of weeks ... and then make a decision from there."--S.C.