Robin Ventura sat on his hotel bed in Port St. Lucie, Florida, at the New York Mets spring training in 2000, when he received the season-altering phone call.
This was an unusual baseball call.
It wasn’t manager Bobby Valentine on the line chewing him out, nor was it a teammate asking for fielding advice. It was country music star Garth Brooks.
“He calls me and he goes, ‘I want to play spring training with the Mets,’” Ventura said. “And I’m like, ‘Well, I can’t make that decision but it would be great.’
“So I called (Mets public relations manager) Jay Horwitz and Garth came.”
Brooks met Ventura during their college days at Oklahoma State. Both were athletes, Brooks in track and field and Ventura in baseball, and this was the first time they reconnected in a while. What started as a publicity stunt for Brooks to promote the Touch ‘Em All Foundation, ended up as a major key to the Mets’ pennant win that year. After a few games with the team, Brooks invited the team to a party at his house, a move that drastically improved team chemistry.
“We ended up going to the World Series that year and (Brooks) solidified our team a little bit,” Ventura said. “We had a barbecue at Garth’s house and it was players, family and it was great.
“I had to cook the whole thing, but other than that, it was fun. There’s a lot of guys that remember how that meshed the whole team together.”
Brooks’ off field contributions were the only thing that benefited the Mets. To put it bluntly, he should probably stick to singing rather than swinging. Brooks went 0-for-17 in his time with New York and was scared of the critical situations they put him in.
“What I loved about the Mets was they would stick you in freaking bad situations,” Brooks said. “I mean like, ‘Holy s---, please don’t even call my name type situations.’”
While he’s used to selling out stadiums and being the center of attention, Brooks was surprised at how different baseball’s challenges were. Making contact with the baseball wasn’t impossible for him, but he said the biggest hurdle was “hitting it where those guys weren’t.”
Even the mundane tasks at a Major League Baseball game were an adjustment for Brooks.
“Everything that came up was a challenge,” Brooks said. “It was a challenge to even put your uniform on right because they have certain rules. Endless respect for professional athletes.”
Mets success aside, this experience brought the college friends back together. Poking fun at Brooks, Ventura said if the roles were reversed and he had to perform a concert, he would do about as well as Brooks did on the baseball diamond.
“No, no, no no, no, no,” Ventura said. “I don’t even sing in the shower. That’s how bad my voice is.”