2004 NEWS

2004 News > 7/13/04

GLAVINE CHERISHES HIS HOCKEY ROOTS

By Randy Shultz, NHL.com

Tom Glavine, one of the National League's pitchers at the 2004 All-Star Game, certainly had a tough decision to make back in 1984.

An outstanding high school athlete, Glavine had played both baseball and hockey for Billerica in Massachusetts. The Concord native was a four-time league All-Star and All-Conference honoree in baseball and was named to All-Star and All-Conference teams three times in hockey.

June, 1984 turned out to be a month of decision for Glavine. Within days of each other, he was first drafted by the Atlanta Braves. The Los Angeles Kings followed by taking him in the NHL Entry Draft. There were even a number of colleges trying to recruit him.

History indicates that Glavine made the right decision by choosing the Braves. The left-handed pitcher has had a great major-league career pitching first for the Braves and more recently for the New York Mets, where he earned an All-Star berth this season based on his 7-7 record and 2.66 earned-run average.

Glavine admits that he wasn't sure that he did the right thing.

"It was a tough decision to make, that's for sure," Glavine recalled. "When I was picking colleges, most wanted me to give up one of the two sports. So I finally ended up weighing the issues.

"Baseball created the opportunity for me to play right away. Although I would be starting out in the minor leagues, I knew that it wouldn't take that long for me to reach the major leagues.

"Hockey, on the other hand, didn't offer me that. I would have been going on to college first before making the Kings. And there was no guarantee that I would make the Kings. After all, I was a fourth-round selection.

"Then there was the longevity of a career in baseball versus one in hockey. Baseball came out ahead in that one. Finally, there was the simple fact that I was a left-handed pitcher. There aren't too many left-handed pitchers, or at least good ones, in the majors today or even at that time. I felt being left-handed gave me the edge in making the majors sooner than had I been right-handed.

"What it came down to in the end was taking a chance with baseball and giving up a college scholarship. Being a second-round pick in the baseball draft, I received a pretty good bonus. I made my decision and I went with baseball.

"Actually, the decision was quite easy in the end."

And one that has turned out to be the right one for Glavine. He began his pro career in 1984 with Bradenton, a rookie team in the Florida State League. The left-hander fanned 34 batters in just 32 innings.

Glavine's rapid rise through the Braves' farm system culminated in his major-league debut on Aug. 17, 1987 in Houston versus the Astros. He had started the 1987 campaign with the Braves AAA franchise in Richmond of the International League and was promoted to Atlanta on Aug. 14.

Glavine posted his first big league win on Aug. 22 of that year in Pittsburgh against the Pirates, tossing seven and one-third innings and allowing three runs on seven hits in a 10-3 Atlanta victory. It has been smooth sailing since.

Glavine is a two-time Cy Young Award winner (1991 and 1998), a seven-time All-Star (1991-93, 1996-98, 2004), was named World Series MVP in 1995, helped lead the Braves to five National League Championships (1991-92, 1995-96, 1999), and was named The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year (1991).

Was his swift ascent to the top of the National League pitching ranks that easy? Could he have done that well in professional hockey?

"Hockey is a tougher game to play," Glavine said. "Hockey is the reason I became a pitcher. As a pitcher you are involved in the middle of all the action.

"I was a center in hockey and being a center, you are usually involved in every play that is going on during your shift on the ice. So becoming a pitcher was a natural thing, but I think I got my answer as to if I could have played pro hockey or not in 1991.

"That was the year I got to work out with the Boston Bruins, my team as a kid growing up in Massachusetts. I got to work out with guys like Cam Neely, Adam Oates and Ray Bourque. Those guys were all big and fast. They were all so good. It also gave me a new appreciation for the game that is played today in the NHL. It made me second guess myself about my earlier decision, but only for a second or two.

"When I came out of high school, I was only 5-11 and maybe 170-pounds. That's not really big enough to play in the NHL, at least not by today's standards, and expect to survive."

As Glavine indicated, he now has a deeper appreciation than ever before for the game of hockey.

"There is so much gracefulness that goes on in the game that I think people miss," Glavine said. "It is so fast-paced, yet, it's a very graceful sport.

"It's more than just a bunch of guys out there banging into each other and trying to put the puck into the net. Sometimes people don't see how smooth and graceful some of those skaters can be.

"It is a great sport to watch and I love watching it as much as possible, either on TV or in-person."

Glavine still follows the game as well.

"I still follow the Bruins," he said. "That was the team I followed as a kid growing up, but I also try and keep up with what the Kings are doing. After all, they were the team that drafted me and wanted to take a chance on me. And I have gone to Thrashers games as well. And now that I'm in New York, I try and catch a Rangers game if possible."

Not bad for a guy who was a big fan of the great Bobby Orr, yet instead of wearing Orr's No. 4, he wore the jersey of the famed No. 7, Phil Esposito. That could be why he chose the number 47 as a pitcher in the big leagues.

The ace of the Mets' pitching staff still enjoys a skate around the rink when given the opportunity.

"When I get the chance to put on skates or rollerblades, I do it," said Glavine, who purchased season tickets for the Thrashers games while with the Braves. "I still believe the game is growing more in popularity.

"I try and get as many guys on the team as possible to watch hockey and to educate them on the game. It's not easy with some of them, but I give it my best shot.

"I have no regrets about my professional decision. I know I made the right one for myself. But I'll always love the game of hockey. It's in my blood."