Earlier today, former New York City subway spokesperson John Rocker caused a minor fuss by walking off the set of ESPN's "Cold Pizza" after being informed he would be asked about his famous comments about "queers with AIDS" and not liking foreigners.
But that wasn't his first appearance in New York today. At 7 a.m., Rocker was in Bryant Park, promoting his new reality show, "Pros Vs. Joes," by pitching to winners of an ESPN Radio contest in a batting cage.
Oh, and us: He pitched to us too. Seriously. We batted off John Rocker this morning. We have the full report of just another strange day in the life of John Rocker, after the jump.
We arrived at 6:30 a.m., which, after a night of drinking every time the Oscars showed Jamie Foxx right after a reference to "Crash," was a sore mistake. We mulled around and met up with the beleaguered press contact for SpikeTV, who had invited us to the event. He was one of the few people there, but, then again, it was 6:30 in the morning.
In what was anything but a surprise, Rocker is huge. He also has a ponytail, which we suppose was inevitable. Some "hey, who's ready to PAR-TAAYY!" dope with a microphone asked Rocker what he thought of the contest winners he was about to pitch to. Rocker responded, "More like contest wieners." Honestly, it's so nice to have Rocker back around.
Just to be mean, SpikeTV hired "cheerleaders" to jump around, bother commuters and hand out Cracker Jacks. We spoke with one while we were both sneaking a cigarette. The conversation:
Us: Jesus, it's freezing out here.
"Cheerleader": You have no fucking idea.
As we waited for Rocker to finish stretching, we looked around for other "reporters." We found two: One was a reporter from The New York Post who looked extremely nervous about the possibility of batting against Rocker. The other: Asian reporter Tricia Takanawa.
Bored and freezing, we began talking to Christopher Becerril, a contestant on the show (a "Joe," if you will). He said that he had lived in New York City for 13 years and "dabbled in skeleton." We tiptoed away before finding out if he meant the Olympic sledding event, or something more weird and sinister.
At last, we were on. Strangely, SpikeTV had hired an actual umpire for the event, even though each "competitor" was only allowed three pitches. We don't know much about the culture of umpiring, but this has to be considered just above umpiring blog softball on the Umpiring Chain Of Gigs.
Unfortunately, before we finally started, Takanawa had to cut some strange promo with Rocker which involved — and thankfully, we have photographic proof here — her sitting on his back while doing pushups. And that got us to thinking about Rocker, and how little headway he has made.
We are a country that loves redemption. It really shouldn't have been that hard for Rocker to rehabilitate his image after that disastrous interview in 1999; it was, after all, only an interview. And it's not that he hasn't been trying. He has hired a full-time PR person — whom, after talking with her, clearly seems to care about Rocker personally as well as professionally; she has the disposition of a perpetually disappointed but still fiercely protective mom — he has taken every opportunity to be fan-friendly during his minor-league stints and even posed in a NYPD hat. Yet he seems destined to be classified as a racist moron with more than a few screws loose in the eyes of the sporting world. He pops up every once in a while, and we all gleefully whack him back down.
Mind you, as the "Cold Pizza" stunt today shows, he doesn't do himself many favors. But why do we save so much vitriol for Rocker? Even if he's is merely an idiot, he's certainly a harmless idiot. He's an out-of-work ballplayer who said something extremely stupid seven years ago and will forever pay the price for it. It's as if we collectively use Rocker as the extreme prism through which we view our own discomfort with the real issues of race, ethnicity and homophobia in sports, and in the world. We might have our own prejudices, unspoken or not, our own concerns, our own views of inequity ... but hey, at least we're not as bad as that guy! Demonizing Rocker makes us feel better; he has become the canvas on which we project all our negativity. He's the dumb hick; not us, not ever.
Which is why no matter what Rocker does, no matter how hard his publicist tries, no matter how many reporters he lets ride his back while he does push-ups ... he'll always be doomed. We need him to be doomed. It makes us feel better.
But enough of matters of a semi-serious nature: It was time to hit. (Excuse our puffiness, by the way; it was extremely cold.) After the Post reporter — who had looked much, much worse than we had during warmups — hit one out of three pitches, we were motioned to enter the cage.
We stared out at Rocker. He really was quite huge. And you know what? We were intimidated. It would be a lie to say otherwise. We didn't need a reminder of just how touched athletes are by the gods in their abilities, just how superior they are to us in every physical aspect ... but we had a feeling we were about to get one anyway. We just hoped it wasn't a reminder right at our head.
But no! We were undaunted! Professional athlete or no, Rocker was not about to deny us our opportunity to relive high school athletic glories. Sure, we spend all day on a couch typing, but that's just how it happened to turn out. Today, today, we would remind the world of how opportunity slipped through our fingers, how close we came to athletic glory. We don't just write here, we don't just observe here, we don't just criticize; we do things!
Three pitches later, we were done. He throws really hard. We mean, like, really hard.