FORT MYERS, Fla. – Kash Beauchamp thought he’d won the lottery in 1982.
The manager of the Bangor Lumberjacks the last two seasons had just reported to the Toronto Blue Jays for his first day of spring training as a rookie draft pick fresh out of college. He was given his room assignment, got settled in, and waited for his new roommate, and waited, and waited. And waited.
Suppertime came and went. The clock struck midnight and still no sign of a roommate. Beauchamp finally went to bed thinking he had the room all to himself.
No such luck. What must have seemed like a bad dream in the wee hours of the morning was actually the arrival of one David Wells.
“He shows up at 3 a.m. and we had an 8 a.m. practice,” Beauchamp recalled. “He’s listening to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on a boom box and eating Cap’n Crunch out of the box. I lasted two days and then I got a new roommate.”
Twenty-three years later, Wells smiles at the memory.
“I was fresh out of high school and still had the Cap’n Crunch on my mind,” Wells said with a chuckle.
Beauchamp got a new roomie and Wells had the room all to himself. Everyone was happy, right?
“Well, no. I had to pay for the room all at once and I wasn’t making [anything],” Wells said. “I was making $600 a month at the time. That’s all right. He was a [wimp].”
“No, Kash was a thing of beauty and he took his job seriously,” Wells added. “The guy was a hundred percent gamer. He got pissed off and he used to beat his head against the wall or a light fixture, whatever it was. I wish you guys could have seen it. It was unbelievable.”
That says a lot, coming from a freewheeling, hell-raising, devil-may-care guy like Wells, who is a magnet for reporters in the locker room because he’s outspoken and could care less what people think of him.
“I am what I am. My thing is if you don’t like who the [hell] I am, that’s your problem,” Wells said after his most recent spring start Wednesday. “If you can’t get along with me, you can’t get along with anybody. I don’t go out of my way to try and be friends with somebody, so if you click, you click. If you don’t, you don’t.”
Three weeks into the 2005 Grapefruit League (spring training) season, the colorful Wells and his new employer, the traditionally stodgy Boston Red Sox, seem to be clicking – as foreign a concept as that was even a few months ago.
“I had no idea what they were like. This was the last place I wanted to go, but so far, so good,” the 41-year-old lefthanded pitcher said. “Coming in here, it’s like I’ve been here 20 years with the way guys are. They’re loosey-goosey, having fun, and you don’t see that in a whole lot of clubhouses. It’s all good.”
This kind of reaction from a longtime fan of Babe Ruth and the Yankees? A guy who thrives on an outlaw image says this about a team that was infamous years ago for its “25 cabs for 25 players” fractured clubhouse atmosphere?
“I had no idea what these guys were like. I saw what they were like on film and there were a lot of [jerks],” Wells said with his trademark brutal honesty. “Then all of a sudden you see them in the clubhouse and they’re unbelievable. When they go out there, it’s all business, and they forget about business as soon as the game’s over and that’s what’s unbelievable about this team. I like it. I think that’s how it should be.”
“I’m having a lot of fun and laughing a lot more than I’ve ever laughed before,” he added. “I mean, you walk in and see a bunch of guys and every one of them are characters.”
Chief among them are first baseman-designated hitter Kevin Millar.
“I really don’t have to do much here because nine times out of 10, it’s Millar. I found that out real quick,” Wells said with a nod and a mock glare. “If you steal the spotlight from him, he’s going to come and get in yours, so that’s awesome. He loves it and I like seeing that because he keeps not just one guy but everybody loose.
“Guys like me and Kevin, it’s one breed – that basically you don’t care what you say.”
Still, there is a code among the players when it comes to teasing and joking around. Knowing what’s fair game and what’s not is the key.
“If you don’t really know somebody’s personality and say something wrong, it can flare up real quick,” Wells explained. “Leave my family and friends out of it and I don’t have a problem with it. You can say anything you want about me and it’s not going to hurt my feelings.”
Millar is more than happy to have a fellow free spirit join what he calls a roster full of “idiots.”
“I just think he’s a winner,” said Millar, known as the team’s chief prankster, joker, and class clown. “This team pulls for each other and has fun with each other but at 7:05 plays the game hard and plays the game right. I think that’s what’s misleading about us. We have fun, but we play the game right, and I think Dave Wells obviously fits in great.”
Newly anointed Red Sox captain and catcher Jason Varitek, whose locker is between Wells’ and Curt Schilling’s, agrees.
“He’s full of energy and that’s probably the reason he’s still playing. He enjoys the competition and what this game brings and that’s great to see,” Varitek said. “He’s already accomplished it in his life, but he still wants it. He still goes out there and fights for it.”
Despite his age, Wells has continued to be a staff workhorse for teams like the New York Yankees and San Diego in recent years, pitching no fewer than 195 innings in any of the previous three seasons and averaging a whopping 177.8 innings pitched per year in his 17 major league seasons.
“I’ve got to go out there and do what I’ve been doing for 18 years and just be consistent,” Wells said. “I need to give them innings and give them a chance to stay in it late in the games.”
Don’t let Wells’ 6-foot-3, 248-pound frame fool you. He may look like he’s more comfortable riding a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy than throwing pitches off a mound, but the bearish ballplayer eats innings, throws strikes, and gives up walks like a pit bull gives up a favorite bone.
“He’ll give us innings,” Millar said. “He’s not going to trick anybody. He throws strikes, and that’s what Dave Wells brings to the table day in and day out.”
Last year, Wells started 31 games for the third straight season and went 12-8 with a 3.73 earned run average. He notched 101 strikeouts and gave up 20 walks in 195 2/3 innings for the Padres. He threw 213 innings for New York in 2003, went 15-7, and had the same number of walks and strikeouts.
“He’s a lefty with some power. That’s something Boston hasn’t seen in a long, long time,” Varitek said.
So is a second straight world championship. Maybe a 41-year-old former Yankee can help the Red Sox duplicate an 89-year-old feat.