'Shooter' Beck lived as hard as he played
Christmas parties always brought out the best in Rod Beck. They epitomized him, really. There were games, karaoke, plenty of booze and a mix of people who came because they loved the guy everyone called "Shooter." Here he was, an All-Star closer making millions of dollars. And when they asked what to bring, his guests were told to bring a toy. Beck and his wife, Stacey, wanted to make sure Toys for Tots had plenty of gifts for the children.It sounded like a Hallmark card, but it was true. Beck was nothing if not genuine. He was a normal guy who usually called everyone "dude," who instead of asking a clubhouse attendant to pick up his used, dirty towels, would ask him to go share a smoke. "His image was not something he was," says Tim Wakefield, Beck's teammate from 1999-2001 in Boston. "He had a huge heart, and was so humble. He was so full of life." Rodney Roy Beck, a name that even sounds like a cocktail, was usually with a Coors Light and a KOOL cigarette, and "he wasn't no pop hitter," said Dusty Baker. "That's what they'd call you back in the day, pop hitter."
|Amy Nelson's feature on Rod Beck is scheduled to appear on "Outside the Lines" this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. ET on ESPN.|
When he arrived in San Francisco as a rookie in 1991, with Baker as the hitting coach, Beck needed no introduction to the old school. He was it.
Stacey came from New York City, or so she would tell anyone who asked, until Rodney -- that's what everyone who knew him called him -- kept reminding her that she really hailed from Van Nuys, Calif., just like him, even though she left New York at age 9.They met when they were both 15 and sophomores at Ulysses S. Grant High School. They first became friends, but right away Stacey was drawn to Rodney's soft, endearing side. He also seemed more mature than most, able to enjoy sappy movies with her. And he always seemed to care about people. "He had dreams and aspirations and a sense of where he was going," she says. "And you know, that's attractive." Drafted out of high school by the A's, Beck married Stacey by age 20 and was toiling in the minors. At one point, Stacey asked him if he wanted to go get a real job. "I love you," Rod told her, "but all 28 teams are going to have to tell me that I'm not good enough before I quit doing this, so you can come with me or not."
Whenever cocaine entered Beck's life, it didn't take hold right away.But by the end of 2003, Stacey spotted the signs: staying up late, sleeping in, complaining of a constant cold, and becoming more distant emotionally. A friend told her it was coke, and that's when Stacey confronted her husband of 15 years. He admitted to using and said he wouldn't do it anymore. He had it under control, he claimed. It would never happen again. "I just couldn't believe it," she says, "so I did what many other people do -- you beg and plead and ask them to stop." For Stacey, it was exhausting being a watchdog, wondering what he was doing every time he was in an adjacent room for too long, or when his trip to the grocery story took an extra 30 minutes. Addiction was slowly taking away the father of their two daughters and the man who was her soulmate. By Christmas 2003, Stacey realized his addiction was now "bigger than we are, and something needs to be done."
Years earlier, as a young minor leaguer with the Giants, Scott Linebrink met Beck for the first time when he walked into the spring training clubhouse and found Beck puffing away. Now it was 2003, and they teammates with the Padres, after Linebrink was claimed off waivers from the Astros. He was new and so was Beck, whom general manager Kevin Towers had picked up from Triple-A Iowa when closer Trevor Hoffman went down with an injury.
Beck's fastball had been topping out in the mid-80s in Des Moines, but he had already made national news earlier that spring when reporter Wayne Drehs wrote a story on ESPN.com chronicling Beck's unique living arrangements.Beck was 34 and a year removed from Tommy John surgery when he drove from Phoenix to Des Moines by himself and parked his RV camper next to his workplace, behind the right-field fence. And when the light was on, that meant anyone could stop by for a beer. When the light was off, the Iowa closer was sleeping in preparation for the next day's game.
Beck kept two framed jerseys in his living room. One was a Beck Cubs jersey. The other was Hoffman's.On the back of Hoffman's jersey was an inscription to his friend:
- Shooter, We all know we're lucky to be able to play this game. But it's the game that's lucky to have players like you who play it hard and play it right.
All the best,
Both Kayla and Kelsey share characteristics of their famous father. Kayla is intuitive and soft-spoken. She and her dad could spend an afternoon shopping; it was one of their favorite things to do together. She also loved riding ATVs with her dad, and unlike Kelsey, she felt at home when she was in a major league ballpark watching a game."He was just like a little kid," says Kayla, now 14. Kelsey, 13, never liked watching the games but is now the only girl on her Little League team. She's the right fielder, and when frozen in time by photograph, her throwing motion is eerily reminiscent of her father's. "He never missed a single baseball game of mine," says Kelsey. After their dad moved out, his house just a few miles away, the girls had learned his addiction was a disease, one requiring treatment and empathy, not exile and shame.
It stole a son, it stole a father -- the girls, they don't have their dad. It stole my best friend.
Whatever perceptions one has of drugs, addicts, and addiction, the Becks want people to know it's a disease. They hope that its victims can be viewed with respect, not scorn. They want people to know that there's help; there are children's programs, counselors, research and education available to help people overcome it."The reason we're telling this story is so that other people will seek out the information," Stacey says, "seek out the people who can help them. My daughter asked me to tell this story so that daddy doesn't die in vain without helping someone else." Rod lost his battle with the disease, and that took away a person they all tried to save, someone who was worth fighting for. "It stole a son, it stole a father -- the girls, they don't have their dad," Stacey says, crying. "It stole my best friend."
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.