WINTER HAVEN, FLA. - For all those years he squatted, alone, behind home plate, Pat Borders now is surrounded.
To his right sits his eldest son Levi, 19 and on the other side, Luke, 18, at a corner table in the Outback Steak House.
The tempting smell of a blooming onion fills the air. In 1992, the GTA had Outback’s, a time when Canada celebrated its first World Series.
Twenty years ago at 12:51 Sunday morning, Oct. 25, Mike Timlin fielded an Otis Nixon bunt and fired to first to record his first save of the year as the Jays beat the Atlanta Braves at Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium.
Moments later, Borders was named the World Series MVP, leading the Jays with a .450 average, catching all 55 innings and blocking dozens of balls in the dirt.
It was a trait he learned from manager Dave Tremblay playing at class-A Kinston in 1986. Said Borders: “It was a co-op team, we had some guys, all they wanted to do is fight, Tremblay did an excellent job keeping the team together.” Jays coaches Joe Lonnett and John Sullivan influenced him, too.
Borders won a van for his MVP honours and gave it to his hometown YMCA.
The .450 average was second to only Deion Sanders. Borders knocked in only three runs, so voters recognized his glove work.
Since 1990 only two Series MVPs have driven in three runs or less: Derek Jeter (two) as the New York Yankees beat the New York Mets in five games in 2000 and Jermaine Dye (three) as the Chicago White Sox swept the Houston Astros in 2005.
Levi, a catcher, and Luke, a first baseman for the Winter Haven High School Blue Devils are three hours from first pitch against their rivals, the Lake Wales Highlanders, where their father attended. When asked to be the pitching coach at Winter Haven his kids became Blue Devils.
Borders is at his playing weight and now owns his second ever vehicle. He bought a new Bronco in 1980 and bought his second truck, a new 1996 Ford diesel, one he says he’ll drive to his grave. He’s never been extravagant.
After going 3-for-4 with five RBIs facing lefty Charlie Leibrandt in his debut game at Kansas City in 1988, he took his father to Denny’s for the Grand Slam breakfast.
He’s changed his drink of choice from Mountain Dew to Diet Mountain Dew.
Borders broke in at rookie-class Medicine Hat in 1982, spending parts of 17 seasons in the majors and retiring after the 2006 season at triple-A Las Vegas. He was a modern-day Crash Davis: 2,258 games, 7,999 plate appearances and thousands of bruises from flopping in the dirt.
In Bull Durham, Crash Davis found his true love only after he got out of the game. Borders returned home to wife Kathy and their brood of eight children.
Levi, born two months after his father won MVP honours, and Luke, play football as well. Both pay polite attention as the interview begins but eventually ask questions too.
Borders was handed the baseball-reference.com print-outs of the box score and play-by-play summaries from each World Series game and is asked for his memories ... memories is all Jays fans have these days.
He squints, hands the print-outs to Luke and says, “I don’t need glasses to read, but I can’t read print that small.”
Luke went through the 1992 Series, game by game, discussing his father’s at-bats and testing his father’s excellent memories.
Result: Braves 3, Jays 1
WP-Tom Glavine. LP-Jack Morris.
HR-Joe Carter, Damon Berryhill.
Borders at bats: 2nd: Singled to LF (2-2 pitch) facing Glavine.
5th: Grounded out to 1B (1-0).
8th: Singled to LF (2-2) off Glavine.
Braves’ stolen bases: Ron Gant, Otis Nixon
Memories: “I wanted to make sure I got a hit as quickly as possible. You don’t want an 0-fer in the first game. Glavine threw me a two-seamer, a 2-2 pitch away. Glavine never came in on us. He pitched every one, away, away, away. I think the second hit was a chopper up the middle.
“Jack would throw that split fingered pitch of his down in the dirt all night. Jack was Jack. He’d been to the Series before. He could deal with anything.
“Nixon could fly, speed wasn’t really Gant’s game.
“As a team after Game 1 we had a feel for the Series, we knew we weren’t going to get blown out.”
Braves lead series 1-0.
Result: Jays 5, Braves 4
WP-Duane Ward. LP-Jeff Reardon.
Borders at bats: 3rd: Grounded to 3B (1-2) against John Smoltz.
4th: Walked (3-2) by Smoltz, scored on David Cone single.
7th: Double to left (0-1) from Smoltz.
9th: Lined to right (0-0) off Reardon.
Braves’ stolen bases: Deion Sanders, David Justice, Jeff Blauser, Gant.
Memories: “Atlanta had those sunken dugouts. Derek Bell, Turner Ward and Ed Sprague weren’t in the starting lineup. So, they’d sit at the end of the dugout and said they were in the trenches. Derek used his bat as an imaginary gun at the Braves’ pitcher. They were all very vocal, supportive, having fun. Some of the stuff they were yelling was comical.
“I wore a blue wrist band. Derek gave me his No. 14 wrist band to wear. I had my own No. 10, but if Derek couldn’t get in, I was going to get his wrist band in the game. People thought Derek Bell talked fast. I could understand him — we’re both from Florida.
“Then the guys in the trenches came through ... Bell pinch hits and draws a walk ... Sprague hits the pinch-hit homer with one out. If Sprague rolls over on that pitch into a double play we come home down 2-0. We probably don’t win.
“Cone started and singled me home in the fourth. He was an NL guy, he could hit. His pitches would sweep side-to-side. He wasn’t in the dirt very much.
“Boomer Wells went scoreless 1 2/3 innings and Todd Stottlemyre put up a zero. Guys like Boomer, Sprague and I didn’t have any pressure. Morris and Cone, Joe Carter and Dave Winfield ... the pressure was on them, they were all supposed to deliver.”
Series tied 1-1.
Result: Jays 3, Braves 2
WP-Ward, LP-Steve Avery.
HR-Kelly Gruber, Carter.
Borders at bats: 3rd: Singled to LF (0-1) off Avery.
5th: Struck out (1-2) against Avery.
8th: Flied to deep centre (0-1) facing Avery.
Braves’ steals/attempts: Sanders, Nixon, stole bases, Brian Hunter thrown out attempting to steal in ninth.
Memories: “Avery was similar to Glavine, neither one would give in, they weren’t going to get beat with an inside pitch. I started off with a single, 0-1 pitch?
“After the game we had the feeling ‘hey we can do this, we can win this.’ Jack Morris had been there before, but for us young guys we’d never been this close.
“Juan Guzman started and he had that hard slider, which was always in the dirt. Guys would turn and say ‘was that a split?’ I’d always say yes, so they’d go back to the dugout, re-inforce it to other hitters. With most pitchers you set up on one corner or the other. When Guzman threw his fastball you’d set up down the middle. Nine out of 10 times he had no idea where his fastball would wind up, his ball moved that much.”
Jays lead 2-1.
Result: Jays 2, Braves 1
WP-Jimmy Key, LP-Glavine.
Borders at bats: 3rd: Homers (1-1) off Glavine for a 1-0 lead.
6th Grounded out (1-1) from Glavine.
8th: Flew out (2-2) from Glavine.
Braves’ stolen bases: Blauser, Nixon.
Memories: “First time up I hit a change up, middle down, either a 1-0 or a 1-1 count. I was sitting on a change. In Game 1 I hit a Glavine slider for a single. During the season pitchers would double up on guys: hit a slider first time up, you still may get a slider next time up. Yet in the post-season, the deeper and deeper you go, the greater the magnitude of the previous at-bat. I hit a slider, so I figured I could eliminate the slider.
“Of their guys I thought Lonnie Smith, Damon Berryhill and Nixon were all dialed in, but they had a couple of guys who started slowly and were greedy trying to do too much. We exploited that, expanded their strike zone.
“Key started and the fans gave him such an ovation when he left he tipped his hat. I was on the mound, but I saw the replay. Jimmy gave that little smirk of his, the one he makes when he pretends he’s a simpleton — which he’s anything but. Jimmy was a slider, split-fingered type guy, I didn’t have to block many pitches from him.”
Jays lead 3-1.
Result: Braves 7, Jays 2
HR-Justice, Lonnie Smith.
Borders at bats: 2nd: Doubles to LF (0-0) against Smoltz to score John Olerud, 1-0 lead.
6th: Grounds out (0-0) facing Smoltz.
9th: Grounds out (3-2) against Stanton.
Braves’s steals/attempts: Nixon stole two bases, Blauser thrown out.
Memories: “First time up I hit a double off a slider down the left field line. I eliminated looking for the slider next time up. Boys, Smoltz was a starter then, this was before he was relieving. Oh, you didn’t know he was a pitcher ... the announcer on ESPN, he was a great, great pitcher.
“We had to throw Lonnie a strike, think it was 3-1 or 2-0. Oh, OK, a 3-2, bases loaded, two out. Jack had to throw him a strike and Lonnie hit a slam to right.
“We wanted to win so badly but we wanted to win it for our fans. We had three chances to win one game. Now it was back to Atlanta, two chances to win one game.”
Jays lead 3-2.
Result: Jays 4, Braves 3 (11 innings)
Borders at bats: 2nd: Single to left (0-1) facing Avery.
4th: Double to left (2-1) off Avery, thrown out at the plate on White single.
6th: Popped up to 1B (3-2) against Pete Smith.
8th: Intentional walk (3-0) by Stanton
10th: Fly ball to LF (0-0) against Charlie Leibrandt.
Braves’ steals/attempts: Sanders steals two bases, Nixon thrown out at second.
Memories: “Avery was tougher for me than Glavine. He was unpredictable, but I had a single and a double the first two times up.
“Maldonado homered putting us up a run in fourth and that’s the way it went into the ninth. They’ve got two on, two out and Henke is facing Nixon. Otis was fast but he used a big ol’ bat, maybe a 35-36 ouncer with a big ol’ barrel. He was a like Ichiro Suzuki but less bat control. Henke gets ahead 0-2 ... we’re one strike away ... Henke who almost never gives up a run ... and Nixon singles to left. Tie game.
“Devon White and Robbie Alomar scored on Winfield’s double in the top of the 11th. Some guys said it was a routine ground ball if the Braves guard the lines. Whatever happened, it could not have happened to a more decent guy than Dave Winfield. I never heard him say a negative word. He was a fine, quality person with morals.
“In the bottom of the 11th we gave up a hit, then reached on an error and they pinch ran Smoltz for Berryhill at first. Why pinch run a pitcher? Because he was faster. They bunted the runners over and Key got Hunter to ground to first. Now it’s a one-run game, Smoltz is on third, Nixon is up again, same guy who tied it in the ninth and out comes Cito Gaston. I’m standing there and Cito asks Key what he thinks. Key was honest. He said he’d ‘never had much luck with Nixon.’
“On comes Timlin, a sinker ball pitcher which played into Nixon’s swing. I’m glad Nixon tried to bunt for a base hit. I hugged Carter first and got trapped underneath his elbow, then got out of there so I wouldn’t wind up on the bottom of the pile.
“They let the chains off us that night. We had a party at the Nikko Hotel. Some nights during the Series there was so much anticipating you couldn’t sleep.”
Jays win their first World Series.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BA
Borders 20 2 9 3 0 1 3 .450
Olerud 13 2 4 0 0 0 0 .308
Carter 22 2 6 2 0 2 3 .273
Sanders 15 4 8 2 0 0 1 .533
Nixon 27 3 8 1 0 0 1 .296
Blauser 24 2 6 0 0 0 0 .250
EIGHT IS ENOUGH
Kathy Borders was the woman in the middle.
The mother of the Borders brood split her time between the ball diamond where sons Levi and Luke were in the lineup as the Winter Haven Blue Devils dropped a 6-5 extra-inning affair to the Lake Wales Highlanders, and a softball diamond.
Levi had two hits and threw out two base runners drawing interest from the 10 scouts in the crowd. Luke was hitless but drew three walks.
Over at the softball diamond, her daughter Laurabeth hit a triple, single and knocked in two runs in a 10-6 loss to Lake Wales.
“Our family doesn’t call her Laurabeth, we call her Ya-Ya because when Luke was young that’s how he pronounced her name.
The Borders have eight children.
“These last two are a handful, if we had these two first, we may have stopped,” joked Kathy.
Kathy recalls the 1995 season when her husband was dealt from the Kansas City Royals to the Houston Astros.
“I had four children under five years of age, three in car seats,” Kathy said. “We landed in Houston and I had 21 hockey bags full of the kids’ clothes, books and toys. I had everything from spring training.
“Luckily my mother was with us, it took us two hours to get all the luggage and a cab ... well we needed two cabs. After that I learned to pack light.”
Pat/Kathy Borders’ lineup
1. Lindsay, 21, studying nursing
2. C Levi, 19
3. 1B-3B Luke, 18
4. SS Laurabeth 16
5. 2B Leah 13
6. SS-RHP Lance 11
7. 3B Lily six
8. ? Livia two