Thursday, March 5, 2015

(A very special post!) My classmate the All-Star

This is a post I've been meaning to write since I first decided to start my own blog, but here we are nearly two years later and I'm just finally doing it. (Much of this was drafted [drunk late one night, alone in a darkened room] a few months ago, btw.)

But yep, I went to school with a kid who turned out to be a MLB all-star. And it wasn't just a passing moment, but we were actually in school together from 1st grade all the way through community college!

There have been 7 graduates from my high school to play in the major leagues (Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, California representing!) I've managed to obtain at least a couple cards from them all. I'm tipping my cap to each of them in this recurring Guys From Granite series. We're counting them down in ascending order by career games played, working our way to the most successful GHHS Eagle. This is part 6 of 7.

Marcus Giles

I'm the kid whose pumpkin is wearing a cowboy hat and big, bushy mustache. Marcus is the kid in vertical stripes. See that ribbon on my pumpkin's hat? I won something! You probably can't tell, but I'm wearing a Padres shirt. But Marcus would be the one to actually become a Padre. Meanwhile, I went on to work at the vertical stripe factory. How ironic!
My earliest memories of Marcus Giles are of a popular, athletic kid. We went to elementary school together (Meridian Elementary in El Cajon, CA), though I don't remember spending much time with him until 4th grade, when we were both in in Ms. Bassett's class, then 5th grade in Mr. Pedrazzi's class. Mr. Pedrazzi was probably the best teacher I ever had in my life, and I'd wager that Marcus would tell you the same. He was just a genuinely great guy who always saw the best in everyone. Everyday in his class made you feel like you won a contest. And, in fact, he did run several contests. I remember one contest where I won a golden (gold plated) bottle opener from Peru. I also remember when Marcus won a slingshot. It was a pretty bad-ass slingshot. Mr. Pedrazzi was sure to stress to Marcus to be careful and not hurt anybody/thing with it. Man, I was jealous of that slingshot! I'm sure that wouldn't fly in today's cultural climate: giving a kid a legit slingshot. But Mr. Pedrazzi respected his students and they rose to the occasion. I remember a "storytime" book he read us which was way above a 4th grader's typical fare.. about a guy who gets lost on a hike or something, and gets hunted by some other guy. I still remember the graphic details of the protagonist's tongue splitting from dehydration, as he barely drug himself from the desert back to civilization. Gross! But so cool that our teacher would read us that story! He knew it was a bit above us, but he challenged us to rise to the occasion. And I for one will always thank him for that.

I can't remember if Mr. Pedrazzi's class was included, but there was a program at my elementary school called "It's Funner To Be A Runner", which was just a little added physical fitness aspect to the curriculum that had the kids in those classes run a few laps every week. This was back before the "America's kids are too fat" epidemic really hit, and I think it helped all of us in the school be in decent shape for the rest of our lives. Did it help Marcus become a major league ballplayer? Maybe!

8th Grade (1992). Funny enough, I'm still Facebook friends with the two guys on the bottom.
In junior high (Montgomery Middle School), I don't really have a lot of memories of Marcus. Can't remember having any classes with him or hearing much about him. He kinda flew under the radar for those three years, I guess.

In high school, however, he definitely couldn't be missed. He was hot shit, no denying. Not only did he tear it up on the baseball team, but he was the star running back on the football team. Definitely one of the coolest kids at school. My high school yearbooks are just littered with photos of Marcus.

Typewriters?! What is this, the 60s?! Something cool I just now noticed about this picture is his shirt. His older brother Brian played for the Kinston Indians (Class Adv A) in 1991; obviously he gave the shirt to Marcus. Awwwww.
I don't remember having much H.S. classes with Marcus. In fact, I think the only one was a P.E. class, probably sophomore or junior year. Of course he was a super athlete back then, usually found in the weight room after school. He was never a towering guy, but always packed a lot of power into his modest stature. For a few weeks in P.E. I was on a 3-man basketball team with Marcus and a pudgy, nerdy kid. We were actually a pretty formidable team. The nerdy kid could actually handle himself ok on the court. Basically the nerdy guy would inbound to me, I would pass to Marcus, and Marcus would score. It was a winning combination! We really tore it up in P.E. class that year. A year later, the nerdy kid would die when he fell asleep driving home from a school band trip to Disneyland. It was really sad. He was a good guy.

Anyways, I was pretty much a dork in school. Not cool enough to be a popular kid, but not smart enough to hang out with the nerds. Not a headbanger, not a pothead.. just a normal, average dork. My one saving grace with popularity was I was a standout on the track team. It was enough to get me a few extra headnods in the halls, though not enough to get me laid or anything. But yeah, I was able to make friends with a lot of jocks who also ran track. Some of the big defensive guys on the football team also threw shotput in the offseason, for example. Marcus didn't run track (I think track season was during the same time as baseball), but the school's second-string running (Wade) back did. Wade was a decent guy, but every once in a while would prove to be kind of a dick.

Not to brag, but for a couple years there, I was the track team's star sprinter. Since I was the fastest kid in school, eventually the football coach called me into his office and persuaded me to try out for the football team. I lasted maybe 2 practices. It was too much work for me. And while I could run, I couldn't catch a football for shit. Plus I topped out at 5'8", 145 lbs, so I would be crushed if I actually tried to run the ball in a real high school football game. But whatever, it was a good experience at least giving it a shot. I remember once in sprints, when I was out of shape and not used to running in cleats, Wade beat me and was so goddamn proud of himself, bragging to anyone who would listen that he beat Gavin in a race. Even in defeat, it was humbling that the backup RB was to ecstatic to have bested me. In all our time together on the track team, I don't think he ever even came close. So I was ok with giving him that.

But enough of me being cocky about my past glory days on the high school track team.. back to Marcus Giles! His brother Brian Giles was a few years older than us, but he was actually around Granite Hills are that time too, but I'll save taking about Brian till the next Guys From Granite post (Spoiler alert: He's #1 on the countdown!)

These past couple pics are both from my freshman yearbook (1993). I didn't even bother venturing into my other 3 HS yearbooks. Tons of pics of him throughout them.
But yeah, Marcus was very popular in high school. He was definitely a typical jock, though. Granite's previous running back, Jay Johnson (whom I had known from the track team my freshman year) was a really bright, friendly guy. Marcus on the other hand, was more of your typical party-guy, skate-by-academically type jock. Not to say he was a dick, but just a typical jock. Nothing wrong with that. While he was always cool with me, I have an acquaintance who claims Marcus bullied him back in elementary school. I guess he was the type to sometimes tease less-cool kids a little, but he was never too over the top about it.

After graduation, we both ended up at local Grossmont Community College. In my case, I was too lazy and afraid of "real college", so I took the easy way out after high school. In Marcus' case, I guess his grades weren't good enough to get into a 4-year college, even with his baseball and football success (I would have assumed he'd get some good scholarship offers).

But he was just in junior college for maybe a year before he signed with the Braves. He was way down in the 53rd round of the 1996 amateur draft. That seems crazy to me, but I guess his size detracted some scouts.

The local East County San Diego newspaper, The Californian, would publish stats of local minor leaguers on Sundays. Jim Tatum was one guy in particular I would remember following, from nearby Santee, CA, He always seemed to be tearing it up in the minors, but was sub-Mendoza in his limited time in The Show.

And I'd remember following Marcus' success in the minors thanks to that section in the paper. He'd be cranking .350 consistently with good power and speed but for whatever reason not advance up the ladder very quickly and it was just crazy to me. I guess maybe he needed work on his fielding or something?

Finally he got called up in April 2001, and had a couple decent years splitting his time between Atlanta and AAA. In 2003 he had his break-out season and made the All-Star team. It was so surreal for me watching the national telecast of the lineup introductions and see my old classmate tipping his cap to a roaring stadium. "I know that guy! I went to school with him! My locker in the locker room was just a few lockers down from him!" Crazy.

He had a couple more quality years for the Braves, then leveled off a bit in 2006. Before the 2007 season, the Padres signed him as a free agent. What a glorious moment that was! Local hero come home. Teaming up with his big brother Brian, San Diego would be unstoppable with the hometown Giles Brothers powering their lineup! It was like something out of a storybook. It was his time to shine!

But his homecoming would not go as well as he or us other San Diegans had dreamt. Marcus sputtered to a .229 average with just 4 home runs on the year and was released promptly after the season. In the following years he would sign minor league deals with the Rockies, Dodgers, and Phillies.. but not make it through spring training with any of them, eventually retiring.

I'm not sure what Marcus has been up to since, but I wish him the best. Married with kids and still living in El Cajon, last I heard. It's super cool that a kid I went to school with played baseball in the major leagues just like Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, or whoever else you want to name. So cool! While his career only lasted 7 years, at least he had a pretty impressive peak, making the All-Star team and twice getting MVP votes. His 2 career post-season home runs must've been exhilarating experiences, I'm sure. When I got back into card collecting in 2012 after a hiatus of nearly two decades, one of my first buys was a 50-card eBay lot of Marcus Giles cards. I'm probably nearing 100 different cards at the point. Since this post is already very long, I'll save showing off that PC for another day.

I've heard some baseball fans suggest that he was likely a juicer, and his drop-off might be correlated to getting clean once baseball started cracking down, but I couldn't say. I can just tell you that he was always a torque-pact little weight room rat since he was a kid. But of course, back in the late 90s/early 00s, it seems like everybody was doing it, so it wouldn't shock me if I learned Marcus took a trip on the PED train. Some suggest he was just really lucky in his peak years.

Makes me wish I would have done more with my life, honestly. Maybe had I spent more time in the weight room, or on the field taking grounders, or in the batting cage working on my swing.. maybe I'd have been right there with him. But instead I'd just some nobody to collects cards of a guy I went to school with. Kind of a bummer when you look at it that way. But no, I've got a pretty good life, all things considered. And collecting his baseball cards is a neat way of paying tribute to our collective past.

So that's my story of going to school with a guy who ended up playing big league baseball.

Cheers, Marcus! You're a heck of an athlete and it was very cool watching your career.
As a post-script (nothing to do with baseball/cards, but this is a pretty long post, so really, who's even still reading at this point?), I'd now like to list off some of the girls I had a crush on in school. I'd like to point out, should they ever stumble on this post, perhaps over-weight and through a messy divorce or two, that all these years later, I'm happily married (to my first and only wife), living in a nice house, with a dog, job, car, and no debt, and a healthy BMI. While I may have been somewhat of a loser in school, and definitely not the most successful guy in the world today, I ended up pretty ok.
Steph@nie Eulette (sp?) - 4th grade.. my first real crush. She teased me a bit, but I think she liked me, kinda.
Tiff@ny Stores - 5th grade.. man, she was so pretty! Smart, too. She ended up going to a different middle school, though just before elementary school ended, she told my best friend that she liked me, but by then it was too late. I kicked myself for a long time over that one. Had MySpace or Facebook been invented back then, who knows. But as the case was, she was gone forever.
C@rina Rider - 6th grade.. yowza.. you know what I mean? Developed early.
Becky J0slin - freshman year.. man, she was great. Always dated older (motorcycle-riding) guys, though, and frequently came to school in casts that caused people to raise an eyebrow. Where the dudes beating her? Hope not. She was into sports and played hard, so probably just sports injuries.
Jennifer C@meron - sophomore year.. Check that last name? She was actually the cousin of Kirk Cameron (Growing Pains) and Candace Cameron (Full House), but I just liked her because she was pretty and seemed nice. I came close to asking her to prom, but pussied out. Out of my league for sure.
J@cquita Street- junior year.. this was a really cute "bad girl" I had a crush on.. Then a decade later, I found her on MySpace and hit on her a little and we actually went on a date! It was perhaps the most surreal experience of my life. We weren't at all compatible and the date was pretty much a disaster, but still! Crazy!
J@ckie Thompson - senior year.. she was really cool and creative. She had a Porno For Pyros logo on her backpack and I thought that was just the most bad-ass thing ever.
Sara (forgot her last name) Green? - community college.. oh man. Should have at least tried asking her out. Seemed really cool.
J0y Stuber - SDSU.. geez, she was just the cutest! So tiny and sweet! I don't think we would have much in common or anything, but I kicked myself for a while for not at least asking her to a movie or something.

Man, I was too shy. Oh well. My high school girl friend was pretty cool. But man, has she gotten fat! I just had to laugh when she found me on MySpace years later, seemingly trying to rekindle something between us. Yeah, maybe if you hadn't broken up with me back then you wouldn't have wound up as an abused morbidly-obese single mom of 2 kids scraping to make ends meet by cutting hair. And then there was the pseudo-girlfriend I was obsessed with for a year after college (another over-weight single mom alcoholic). It wasn't until I started things up with my now-wife till that girl was like "yeah, maybe this could work." Suck it! You had yo' chance. And what was that other girl's name? Heidi, I think. That was short but intense. Came close to "running off together" but cooler heads prevailed.
Whatever. There have been other girls I've liked, but those are the ones I was really hung up on for a time. Everything happens for a reason and I ended up with the right woman for me. Happily ever after, the end.

So that's gonna wrap up this Wonder Years trip down memory lane (slash getting some pent up "I'm married now, bitches!" angst out of my system that's been brewing for 20-something years). I'm sorry for coming off as a bitter jerk here. (I've had a few drinks.) I truly wish all these women well wherever they are today.

Um, so.. did you go to school with anybody famous? Any notable baseball players? What girls did you have a crush on? LOL

Guys From Granite countdown
8. Preface (minor leaguers)
7. Mike Reinbach
6. John Barnes
5. Chris Jones
4. Tom Fordham
3. Shane Spencer
2. Marcus Giles
1. (coming soon)


  1. This is awesome! Marcus may have been an All Star, but look what you've done with #WalletCard.

    1. True. If only I could have made millions of dollars off the idea! Maybe "#WalletCard" t-shirts? Official Wallet Card wallets? lol

  2. This is an awesome story. I can't imagine what it must feel like to have been classmates with a somebody.

  3. That's a great story. Did you ever try to talk to him at a game to see if he remembered you?

    1. Nah, haven't seen him in person since high school.

  4. Any of those girls in your hidden text sitting behind Giles in the typewriter pic, by any chance? :)

    No pro athletes have gone to my high school, only famous people were Debbie Gibson (before me, met her once and she was nice) and Lindsay Lohan (after me).

  5. Terry and Tommy Bowden went to my high school. Probably the most famous alum is Don Knotts. Barney Fife!!!

    Great post by the way. Love this series.

  6. Great stuff! I went to a fairly large high school, but I think the most famous person to come out of there was a local cable TV personality. We had a couple of guys who played A-ball, and that's it. You'd think there would be SOMEBODY famous.

    It's funny, I saw the photo of Marcus at the typewriter, and my first reaction was "Why the hell is he wearing a Kinston Indians t-shirt?" I forgot about his older brother.

  7. Awesome post...glad you linked it in your recap post because I missed it the first time.

    I especially related to the "wasn't a dick but my friend said he bullied him" part because I went to High School with Lance Zawadzki (he was like a year older) who is still hanging around the minors today. I only remember running into him once or twice and sometimes seeing him play, but a buddy of mine claims there was a day where Lance was an absolute dick to him and I was also there. I can't remember it for the life of me...but it did dissuade me from picking up any Zawadzki cards (even though his autos are a dime a dozen at this point!). Guess if I want to collect a high school alum it'll have to be Ron Darling...or comedian Mike Birbiglia if he ever gets any cards in a set!

  8. This has to be one of the coolest posts ever! Sad to hear that he may have bullied a kid at some point... but outside of that, it sounds like he was a pretty cool guy. And to think... you were actually his teammate on the court! Super cool. Thanks for sharing!