Cheetah-chasing Bates is having wild time since Reds recalled him

October 19, 1990|By Bill Plaschke | Bill Plaschke,Los Angeles Times

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA — OAKLAND, Calif. -- Among other firsts, Billy Bates may be the first man to score the winning run in a World Series game within a month after winning a footrace with a cheetah.

In the tradition of a Marge Schott-owned enterprise, this is a true story.

Bates is the 5-foot-7 rookie who scored on Joe Oliver's single in the 10th inning Wednesday night to give the Cincinnati Reds a 5-4 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

Besides helping the Reds take a two-games-to-none lead in the Series, Bates also hopes he dispelled the notion that all he can do is outrun animals.

"That cheetah thing . . . ," he said yesterday, shaking his head.

It occurred in the final month of the regular season, which is the only month Bates played for the Reds after being recalled from Triple-A Nashville. The Cincinnati Zoo staged a promotion in which it wanted to prove that a cheetah was faster than a human, even if the human was given a five-second start.

Schott, the Reds' owner, agreed to hold an exhibition at Riverfront Stadium.

"They asked me to do it, and I said, 'What the heck?' " Bates said. "So I got stuck."

He didn't think much about it until he realized this 100-yard -- would be against an unleashed cheetah.

"They just let him out of the cage on the field, and I am looking at it, like, hmmm," Bates said. "I hoped he was safe."

Immediately after the start, Bates worried even more. His hat fell off, and the cheetah, instead of running after her toy, began chasing his hat. Trainers quickly coerced the cheetah back into his lane, but Bates, with obviously a bit more incentive, had already won the race.

"I didn't know it was supposed to chase hats," Bates said.

Bates, a substitute schoolteacher in Houston during the offseason, said he hopes eventually to outrun the notion that the little man cannot play major-league baseball.

"It's not how big you are, it's what's in here that counts," he said, pointing to his chest.

That is certainly not what former teammates have thought, as Bates has spent his six mostly minor-league seasons enduring ridicule for his size.

When he attended his first spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers, they designated a tricycle as his rental car. And they would throw a cap on the ground and talk to it like it was him.

"I hear things all the time, and sometimes I'll say something about it," Bates said. "But most of all, I just roll with it. You have to just roll with it."

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