Saturday, January 26, 2013

UNC BASEBALL IN 80'S: NICKNAME U


The baseball program at UNC in the early 80's was like the Bronx Zoo South. It was crazy, fun,
and always entertaining. The team played hard, winning three consecutive ACC titles, and laughed
even harder. Every day was like "Animal House" and "Comedy Central" combined. We were the
"idiots" long before Kevin Millar, Johnny Damon, and Manny Ramirez made it fashionable in Boston.

The clubhouse wasn't for the faint of heart, though. No matter what class you were in or how well
you performed on the field, you were open to teasing and  serious  abuse. It just came with the territory
back then.

I often joke with a  former teammate that if some of the stuff from back then, happened in today's
quick-trigger lawsuit and politically correct world, there would  be arrests, payouts, and penalties
from the NCAA. It went far beyond a PG-rating.

We were definitely a cast of characters loaded with talent, but also filled with an array of personalities
 from the strong to sophisticated, serious to the downright comical. And anyone who came through 
the doors of the program, usually left with a nickname that stuck with them forever.

Everybody had a nickname, even the father of our coach, Mike Roberts. A 70-something man
who  bore a striking resemblance to those California raisin caricatures, Mr. Roberts was "The
Bark Man".  Every time he talked, he sounded like a dog in heat with a muzzle on. Arrrr, arrrr,
arrrr, arrrr. "The Bark Man" name fit him to a T.


There wasn't a formal system for tagging people with nicknames the way they did in "Animal
House." There wasn't a "Flounder" or an "Otter" and nobody asked why a certain nickname was
chosen. It was just because, and it always stuck

Paul Will was a heavy-set first baseman from Newark, Delaware. Everything about him was big.
His legs, his gut, his head, and appetite, were extra large.When he went though the line at the
training table, he supersized everything long before McDonald's made it part of its menu. He'd
fill a  Vince  Wilfork-sized bowl with a  million fries. So he became "Paul Will Bowl-of-Fries", which
got shortened to bola fries, or just fries.


A few players had multiple nicknames. Doug Torborg, a lefty pitcher out of New Jersey, looked
like he was almost made of plastic. His hair was perfect and he spent a lot of time in the mirror
making sure he was all buttoned up. He became "Mr. Make Believe", which was shortened to
just "Make". Torborg got tagged quickly during orientation week when we played baseball all
day and drank all night. He woke up one morning with a hangover and complained that his "head
was spinning". So, of course, he became known as "bed spins." Not Doug, not Torborg, but
"bed spins."

Jon O'Leary, a barrel-chested outfielder who was one of the best batting practice hitters in the
history of college baseball, got stuck with a few nicknames he wasn't too enamoured with.
O'Leary minored in baseball at UNC but majored in eating. If it wasn't nailed down, Johnny O
ate it.


He was known as "Snackbar McPortals" or "Johnny Canteen". Whenever we approached a
Shoney's restaurant on a road trip, Mike Jedziniak, would yell out"There he goes" as O'Leary made
a bee line to the  front of the bus to make sure he was first in the buffet line. There wasn't much
left for anyone else after Johnny Canteen was finished loading up his plate. O'Leary once
complained to Jedziniak about his nickname and Jedz responded, "Too bad, that's what we're
calling you."

Chris Mench was usually the master of the monikers, tagging anybody in his path with creative and
often unflattering nicknames. Mench was known as "The Big Cheese". His head was the size of
pony keg. If you tapped it,  suds would probably come flowing out. But the size of his head,
had nothing to do with his nickname. He called himself the "Big Cheese", and I'll just leave it at
that. Most of the nicknames the "Big Cheese" gave out were X-rated, which unfortunately, means
I can't put them in print.


My favorite nickname of all time was "Yard Bird". This was given to Mitch McCleney, a
second-baseman who spent at least six, possibly seven years with the program. Somebody
thought he  looked like a yard bird, so McCleney became known simply as, "Yard Bird."

Al Taylor, a popular teammate from Natick, Mass. had a plethora of nicknames. He was
"Grinch", "Slate", and "Sack Exchange." Bill Robinson, a tall, lanky pitcher from New Jersey
was the "black momba" long before Kobe Bryant showed up on the scene. Robinson was also
known as "Snake", "Bridge" and "Q-tip" after the tiny head that rested atop his broad shoulders.


Walt Weiss, the new manager of the Colorado Rockies, also had a very small dome. His head
was so tiny and shaped like a peanut that he had to tape the adjustable strap on his hat to keep
it on. Weiss became known as "The Peanut Man."

Jeff Hubbard, a talented third baseman, who was a cross between Tom Sellick and the Marlboro
man, only knew four people on the team. They included B.J. Surhoff, Walt Weiss, Jedziniak, and
Nora, the smoking-hot team trainer. Funny thing, Hubbard never had a problem remembering her
name. Everybody else was, "Yo", "Dude", and "Hey".

During one game, Hubbard, who drove around campus in a Porsche 911, was trying to get the
attention of a freshman pitcher he never even noticed before. He turned to Weiss at shortstop and
asked, "What's this guy's name?" Weiss didn't know either so Hubbard, known as "Marv" after
the Oakland Raiders fullback, yelled out, "Hey, Butch". And a new nickname was born. Ken
Turner became forever known as "Butch." Not sure if anybody ever even knew his real name. He
was just "Butch."

There were other classic nicknames like, "Minnow man", "Mushroom," "Lid", "Hawks", "Jar head", "Thermometer", "Black Bird", "Newborn," and "Crow." There are many others, but Father Time
has sapped a bit of my memory and I've forgotten more than a few of the classic other ones that
existed.

Look around major league baseball, and you'll notice that great nicknames have pretty much
become extinct. Oh, sure, there is A-Rod, A-Gone, and A-Hole, but those took no effort and
lack creativity.

Great ones were part of UNC program during the 1980's and it sure made for some rip-roaring
 funny times.

3 comments:

  1. Animal House...sounds familiar. Was there lots of guitar playing during games?

    ReplyDelete
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