Tim “Rock” Raines was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, but “America’s pastime” isn’t the only sport that he loves.
“We lived on a golf course outside Orlando, but I never played,” Raines, 57, recalled earlier this year, as we drove to the Chicago Golf Show, where he was to make an appearance as part of a Hall-of-Fame Weekend promotion. “My sons [Tim Jr. and Andre] had been playing. I had the time, so I decided to give it a try.”
The fun-loving Raines, a left fielder who grew up in Sanford, Fla., played 23 major-league seasons, primarily with the Montreal Expos (1979-90, 2001), Chicago White Sox (1991-95) and New York Yankees (1996-98). He is regarded as being among the top leadoff men in history, thanks to his hitting and base-stealing prowess.
All of that meant nothing one day in 1994 during the players’ strike that ultimately scrapped the end of the season, when Raines picked up another stick-and-ball game.
“I went into the pro shop and bought a brand-new set of Big Bertha clubs,” Raines said. “I go out to the first tee and I top it. Ball went nowhere. I couldn’t believe it. I keep topping it. Couldn’t make contact. I was a good athlete – at least I thought I was,” he said, laughing.
Well, only if you define “good athlete” as someone who had a lifetime career batting average of .294, an OPS (combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage) of .810, hit 170 home runs and made seven consecutive National League All-Star teams, from 1981 to ’87.
Before he finished his first 18 holes, Raines was back in the pro shop.
“I went to the pro and said, ‘These clubs don’t work. I can’t hit ’em. Give me something else.’ So, he gives me some King Cobra clubs. Told me they’d help me get the ball up in the air. They weren’t any better. It was me. I didn’t know how to play golf.”
Bitten that day by the golf bug, Raines has been at it ever since. A switch-hitter during his baseball days, he plays golf right-handed.
At the golf show, he went on stage and took a lesson from prominent golf pro (and loyal Sox fan) Joe Bosco. Hitting into a net, Raines looked like a Hall of Fame slugger. When he took a rip, the crowd noticed, and the TrackMan figures were impressive, if a bit crooked.
That day, Raines said he never could have been successful hitting a baseball had he been thinking about his mechanics during an at-bat. Reacting instinctively was key, a principle that he believes applies to golf.
Today, Raines plays to a 15 handicap. Working as a roving minor-league instructor for the Toronto Blue Jays, he travels a lot but doesn’t bring the clubs. Unlike former pitchers such as Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, who pitched every fourth day and played golf often, Raines doesn’t have time to play on the road.
During baseball’s offseason, Raines resides in Goodyear, Ariz., with his second wife, Shannon Watson, a native of Arnprior, Ontario, and their 6-year-old twin girls, Amelie and Ava. To balance his parental duties with a need for more time on the course, Raines is introducing his girls to golf. So far, success has been limited.
“After a few holes, they kind of lose interest,” he said. “They do like to ride in the cart.”
As their father would attest, a love of the game has to start somewhere.
Barry Cronin, a former golf writer with the Chicago Sun-Times, is media director for the John Deere Classic and head of Cronin Communications. He lives in Park Ridge, Ill. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org