"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Top of the World, Ma

I’ve been reading Charles Pierce’s collection of sports stories, Sports Guy. I think Pierce is a terrific writer, with a fierce, half-crazed intelligence, that sets him apart from his peers. He’s especially good on basketball, but here’s a story that might be of some interest around these parts…direct from the SI Vault, a piece about two sports moms, including Brien Taylor’s ma:

Brien grew up long and lean, and the neighbors were amazed by how he could throw a stone and knock a bat out of midair. Soon, he was pitching for East Carteret, the school his mother had helped integrate, and his fastball was being clocked at 97 miles per hour. Scouts began to come to North River. By his senior year, Brien Taylor was 9-2 with an ERA of 0.92, and the feeling was that he would be picked first in the major league draft by the Yankees. The Taylors were all Yankee fans, as were many others in Beaufort, a fluke of fan demography caused first by an atmospheric glitch that allowed the old-timers to hear radio broadcasts of ball games from New York and second by the fact that Babe Ruth used to come down to Beaufort to hunt birds. His picture hangs in a number of the old hunting shacks that are still occupied deep in the scrub woods up behind the town. It was a very big thing to have Brien Taylor drafted by the Yankees last June.

The Taylors knew that Brien was going to need advice in dealing with his new employers, so they enlisted the aid of a Los Angeles-based attorney named Scott Boras. It was Boras who had wrung the Van Poppel contract out of Oakland, largely by threatening to have the pitcher go to college, which would have cost the A’s their rights to him. Boras instructed Bettie about the intricacies of the sports business, and he found a bright and apt student. “By the time the Yankees came down here,” Boras says, “she was ready with all the questions.”

New York first offered Brien $300,000, then $650,000. The family thought it over, consulted with Boras and turned the deals down flat. Baseball, which was once again trying to rein in salaries, was agog. Bettie was adamant. She knew what Van Poppel had gotten, and she knew what was fair. If the Yankees didn’t want to give Brien what was fair, then he would go pitch at Louisburg College, near Raleigh. The Yankees fumed. Newsday’s Tom Verducci, expressing an attitude widely held in baseball, ridiculed the notion of Brien as a student. This got Bettie even angrier. People seemed to assume that the threat of college was less credible coming from a poor black kid like Brien than from a suburban white kid like Van Poppel. She called on those same reserves that had gotten her through the doors at East Carteret on that first day of school.

“When somebody tells me I can’t do something,” she says, “it makes me want to do it all the more. Push me against the wall, and you’ve got a battle on your hands. O.K., so I looked like the bad guy, but I wasn’t going to do what they wanted just so I wouldn’t look like the bad guy.”

“Flowers” was the first cassette I owned as a kid. The first two tapes my mom ever bought for me were “Let it Bleed” and “Are You Experienced?” A good start, eh?

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One comment

1 Simone   ~  Feb 7, 2009 10:50 am

I'm sure there will be comment on the blog soon, but I just heard the news about Alex testing positive for steroids in 2003 on CNN. What a mess. Spring Training is going to be a circus and more. Here is the url: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/baseball/mlb/02/07/alex-rodriguez-steroids/index.html?eref=T1

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