Tony Clark, who hit 251 big-league home runs during a 15-year career but probably is better known as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was bending his 6-foot-8-inch frame into the shape of a lamppost so he could speak into the microphone.
Clark was introducing ballplayers past and present who had gathered at Bear’s Best on the edge of town Thursday to raise money for the charitable Major League Baseball Players Trust. Dozens of ballplayers, attracted by the bright lights of Las Vegas, were on hand. But with a brisk wind whipping the flagsticks and the sky the color of old road uniforms, this was not a good day to play golf.
Barry Bonds, one of the greatest ballplayers of all time, was introduced, and Bonds’ head looked of normal size. Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Ozzie Smith took bows. And when diminutive Tony Womack heard his name called, Ozzie the Wizard made him stand on a chair so the other ballplayers could see him.
Tony Clark introduced most of the players by their nicknames, if they had one. Bobby Bonilla made a big, loud entrance. The other ballplayers seemed delighted that Bobby Bo would be playing golf.
When Mike Dunn was introduced, it was apparent he had grown a relief pitcher’s beard since the last time the Cubs played the Marlins.
Dunn was born and raised in the New Mexico quadrant of the Four Corners, which probably explains why he likes to hunt elk. He played his senior year of high school baseball at Cimarron-Memorial, so more scouts might see him. He was the second of six College of Southern Coyotes to make the major leagues. In 2011, the CSN jersey numbers worn by Bryce Harper, Mike Dunn and former coach Tim Chambers were retired on Opening Day.
This was after Harper signed with the Nationals for $9.9 million and a $6.25 million bonus, and Dunn signed with the Yankees for a bag of peanuts.
Harper was the first player selected in the 2010 draft. Dunn was the 999th player selected in 2004. He had been a first baseman. The Yankees turned him into a pitcher. The Yankees did Mike Dunn a huge favor.
Dunn has spent eight seasons in the majors, including the past six with the Marlins, where he appeared in a Miami pitching record 371 games. In December, the left-hander agreed to a three-year, $19 million deal with the Colorado Rockies.
It’s not Bryce Harper money. It won’t be anywhere close to Kris Bryant money, when his fellow Las Vegan renegotiates with the Cubs down the road. It’s fantastic money for a 31-year-old guy who was a 33rd-round draft pick before he learned how to pitch.
“Definitely proud,” Dunn said before Thursday’s shotgun start. “Continuing to work hard. When you’re younger, it’s hard to get to the big leagues, but when you get there, that’s the easy part. The hard part is sticking around. You’re trying to compete against these younger guys and they’ve got a lot more energy and you’ve got to stick with ’em.”
It helps if you possess a four-seam fastball that travels 95 mph, and a hard slider that makes a lot of guys who were drafted in the higher rounds swing and miss.
As a setup man, Mike Dunn hasn’t generated a lot of play-of-the-day highlights. But every guy remembers his big league debut — especially when one breaks in wearing Yankee pinstripes, or at least Yankee traveling grays. On Sept. 4, 2009, during a night game at Rogers Centre in Toronto, a call was made to the bullpen. They wanted the rookie left-hander to pitch the bottom of the seventh.
“I believe his name was Rod Barajas, a catcher,” Dunn said of the first batter he faced. “(Jorge) Posada gave me fastball inside. My first pitch, I was going to throw it as hard as I can, right down the middle of the plate. I threw it; he fouled it off. It was like OK, I can pitch.
“And then (Posada) called fastball inside again, and to this day, I feel like it was one of the best pitches I’ve made in my career. Johnny Damon caught it in left field before I could turn around, that’s how hard (Barajas) hit it. I got the out, but I thought, omigod, I’ve got to be better than that?
“I threw 10 straight balls after that.”
But then Dunn got better.
When Bobby Bonilla walked into Bear’s Best clubhouse Thursday with bombast and bluster, Mike Dunn was standing in the back of the room, with 434 big league games under his belt and a new three-year contract in his pocket. He was laughing with the other ballplayers.