When you sell extruded plastic profiles and film, you don't think too much about the curveballs life can throw your way. That is, of course, unless you are a guy like Terry Taylor, who knows a curve from a high fast one, and PVC profiles from pipe.
Taylor, 26, of Channelview, Texas, was released from the Oakland A's training camp March 21, where he had a three-week chance to live out his dream of playing major league baseball as one of the players brought in to supplant the striking major league ball players.
Now, he will probably return to his job in outside sales at Tex-Trude Inc., a Houston extruder that manufactures bottom seals, profile and PVC film.
``If I had known in August when this strike began that I would have this opportunity, I would have done much more to get in shape,'' Taylor said in a telephone interview from his Phoenix hotel room.
The stint with the A's was actually Tay-lor's second trip to the plate in Major League Baseball, and the first was much more disastrous to his ego.
``In 1989 I was a junior at Texas A&M, and I signed a contract with the California Angels, and left school like a lot of guys do. Both the team and I thought I had potential to be a big leaguer, and I played in the minors until 1992.''
Taylor, who can play either second or third base, reached the AA level in the Angels' minor league system before the politics and economics of baseball became one of those troublesome curveballs in life.
``It got to the point where the team had a lot more money sunk in a couple other minor league players at my position,'' Taylor said. ``I got released by the Angels and it was a real blow. I had to sit down and re-evaluate my life.''
That re-evaluation led Taylor to return to Texas A&M, where he earned his degree in economics, and then land a job with Tex-Trude.
``I thought baseball was over for me,'' he said. ``Not too many guys go back and finish their degrees, and I was happy. I had no desire to play ball, even in the local company leagues.''
Then came the Aug. 11 strike of Major League Baseball players, and the defiant scramble of teams to fill their rosters with players, no matter what skill level, for the coming season.
``I got a call from a friend I had played with in the minors, who was now a scout for the A's,'' Taylor said. ``This was March 1, and spring training had already started. I knew I was completely out of baseball shape, but it seemed like it was a good chance to earn some money and play again.''
Taylor went to his boss at Tex-Trude, Charles Nettles, and told him about the opportunity.
``Charlie was terrific,'' Taylor said. ``He gave me a one-month leave of absence and his blessing. He told me to go and give it a try again.''
Taylor had no illusions about the situation. He knew that if the strike was settled and the regular players returned, the replacements would be gone in a heartbeat. Even if the regular players did not return, the competition would be tough.
In addition, during spring training, the teams paid room and board, plus $80 per day for expenses. Only if he made the team would he earn relatively good money - $115,000 for the season, plus per diem expenses.
``The upside was that you had the chance to experience something that not a lot of people ever experience,'' he said. ``The downside was that you were away from your family and pretty much in the dark as to how you stood in the competition for the jobs.''
Taylor found soon that his lack of conditioning was a strike against him in camp.
``I basically worked into shape while I was here,'' he said. ``That meant that my throwing arm got real sore, and I couldn't throw very well in a couple of games.''
Taylor started in three pre-season games with the A's, going 0-9 at the plate, but not doing too badly in the field, considering his sore arm.
``I don't know about the other teams, but the A's have put together a pretty good team. Most of the guys are guys I know from the minors, and I'd say the level of play is about at the AA level overall,'' Taylor said. ``If I had known in August this was going to go this far, I would have gotten in shape more.''
On March 21, A's manager Tony LaRussa called Taylor to the office. He knew what was coming. One of those Roger Clemens fastballs, high and inside. He was ready to face the chin music.
``Tony said he could see from my performance that I could play the game, but that the season was starting in a week and he had to go with the best guys,'' Taylor said. ``He was real respectful of all the guys, and the whole coaching staff understood what this meant to these guys.''
With no regrets and no illusions, Taylor said he would wait a few days to see if there was interest in him from any other teams, and then go back to Tex-Trude, content that he had given baseball his best shot, and eager to take a few more swings at the stable job in plastics.
``This time [getting cut] was much easier than the first time,'' he said. ``The first time I thought I had a great future in baseball, and it was a shock getting released. This time I knew it wouldn't last, and that I have my degree and a good job to return to.''