By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
"These kids need to be taught what's right, and what's wrong. They need to be disciplined. It's the foundation of their character, the formation of their will." @rule:
@body:Chris Speier knows will. He shaped his baseball career--and navigated a quick path to the majors--by repeatedly making breaks for himself. A Dodgers fan while growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, Speier signed with the Giants after a year of college ball. Assigned to a team in the lower minors and told to report late to spring training in Casa Grande with the rest of the bus-leaguers, Speier showed up in February, anyway, bags in hand. "I went to check in and the guy says, 'You're not supposed to be here for another ten days,'" Speier says. "And I said, 'Well, I'm not going home.'"
Given a uniform and a bunk, Speier got a better look than he would have had he followed orders. He spent his first season of pro ball at a higher level of the minors than the Giants had projected for him. Speier made his Class AA league's all-star team that summer, and halfway expected to get called up to the Giants when the big club expanded its roster for the end of the season. When he didn't get an invitation, Speier called San Francisco and asked if he could work out with the team anyway, before games. The Giants agreed--since the kid lived in the area, anyway--and Speier got a foot in the clubhouse door. "I was almost positive by the end of that season that I was going to be invited to the big club in spring training as a nonroster player," he says. "Well, I wasn't. I was really unhappy. So I called them and said, 'I've had an opportunity to see the shortstop situation for the Giants, and if you invite me to camp as a nonroster player, I'll make that club next year.'"
Which he was clearly destined to do. "I was very, very cocky," he says. @rule:
@body:Chris Speier did more for himself that first spring training than bluff his way onto the team. "I was 19, 20 years old, and had done a lot of things," he says. "I had the opportunity to travel around the country. I was making more money at that time than my father had ever made. I was kind of living a fantasy, a dream world that boys growing up would want. "Things were going very well for me on the outside. But there was something missing. I could very seldom ever put my finger on what it was.
"Until I met my wife. Until I saw the spiritual element that was the most important thing in her life. I just saw a peace she had that I never had achieved." Aleta Pagnini had worked as a flight attendant for TWA, and was employed in one of the Van Buren motels that many ball clubs used for spring headquarters in the early 1970s. Speier met her there, near the end of the preseason, then left to travel the country with the Giants. "We kind of led a crazy courtship, over the telephone and through letters," he says. "We very seldom ever saw each other."
Speier converted to Catholicism to marry Aleta after his second season, studying the faith and visiting with priests as he traveled with the Giants. Giants coach Joey Amalfitano (now a base coach with the Dodgers) helped answer some of Speier's questions, and acted as his sponsor during the conversion. Raised as a Protestant, Speier attended Sunday school as a kid, but had never spent much time pondering spirituality. Later he learned that one of his closest childhood friends, a Catholic, had been praying for years for Chris to convert. "So I had some influences unbeknownst to me, on the spiritual side, that were sort of pushing me in that direction, I guess," he says. "As I was educated and filled with what Catholicism was about, I realized I wanted this to be the central portion of my life. It was a filling of a void. "That's basically the story."
@body:Meanwhile, Speier's baseball career was exploding. After only a year in the minors, he became a sensation for the Giants, starting for their 1971 National League West championship team. He hit 15 home runs and knocked in 71 runs during his second season, led NL shortstops in fielding percentage (.982) in 1975 and made the All-Star team three straight years.
"He was the best 3-2 hitter I've ever seen," says Bob Stevens, who covered the Giants for the San Francisco Chronicle from 1958 to 1980, and who now works as the team's official scorer. "He literally made true the clich‚ that you can play at 110 percent." Off the field, Speier applied the same intensity to his new faith. He quickly became involved in the emerging pro-life movement, speaking at high schools in the off-season and organizing a small group of fellow players into an anti-abortion advocacy group. "What I basically did was I went into every National League clubhouse and took ten minutes and explained what was happening, about all the babies that were being killed," says Speier, who used statistics and fetal photographs to "show the reality of abortion" to the players. "It was done briefly, but I really tried to hit home," he says. "It was a little scary, going into the clubhouses and stuff . . . but the principle kind of overrode any kind of inhibition I had."
Despite such outreach efforts, Speier never got the reputation as a clubhouse preacher, according to Bay Area sportswriter Stevens. "I never was evangelical," says Speier, "but I think everybody understood how I felt."