Story time with Bobby V: Brian Downing

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Kevin Youkilis is batting leadoff today, which raised a few eyebrows as Youk isn’t the model leadoff hitter, his high OBP aside.

Valentine explained that he just wanted to make sure Youkilis gets enough at-bats before coming out. But using an unconventional leadoff hitter isn’t beyond Valentine.

When he managed Texas in 1991, Valentine used 40-year-old designated hitter Brian Downing as his leadoff hitter in 89 games. He had a .376 OBP in those games and scored 65 runs.

“Downing is the best leadoff hitter I ever had,” Valentine said.

How the Rangers got Downing is the more interesting story. Let’s let Valentine tell it:

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“He had decided to retire. We were in Port Charlotte, right up the road. He was on a motorcycle with a group of people. They were going from L.A. to at least Vegas. (Third baseman) Steve Buechele was eating in this little Italian restaurant across from me and he had mentioned during the winter that his sister had moved next door to Brian Downing.

“I was siting having dinner and I went over to him and I said ‘Do you think your sister can get a hold of Brian Downing?’ From a pay phone — this was 19 whatever year it was — from a pay phone outside of little Luigi’s restaurant in Port Charlotte, he called his sister who walked next door with him on the phone to ask Brian’s wife to get a hold of him.

“She got a hold of him from some truck stop somewhere where he was calling in for the night. Said that I wanted to talk to him. I talked to him the next morning. He flew in, I believe the next day, Tom (Grieve, the GM) signed him in the morning, he played in the ‘B’ game and got hit by the first pitch from some wild rookie league pitcher and broke his hand.

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“Played the next day and started Opening Day and I think he hit a homer against Roger (Clemens). And it was about five days before that he broke his hand. Wow.”

Valentine is mostly right. But Downing did not homer until the second game and it was off Paul Kilgus. He did homer off Clemens on May 18.

Still, good story.