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An Oral History of Nick Punto Sliding Headfirst into First Base

Nick Punto has slid into first base and into our hearts. The pretend story, from the people who know him.

Brad White

LOU PUNTO (Nick Punto's father): I used to play ball myself, got drafted by Boston, so it didn't surprise me that Nick got into baseball. He loved to play in the dirt.

BOB CLANTON (manager, North Mission Viejo Skylarks Little League team): this kid shows up one day on a tricked-out Huffy, skids into the bleachers at full speed, pops up right away and says "Let's play, c'mon now, let's go!" Kid probably had a concussion, but he was already chattering. And his uniform was already filthy. That's my first memory of Nick Punto.

JEFF ALVIN (teammate, North Mission Viejo Skylarks): Nick was clearly the best player on the team and probably the whole area. We all kinda figured he had the best chance out of all of us to get to the big leagues one day. The only flaw in his game, was, well, he never ran through the bag at first. I mean, never.

CLANTON: he was our best player, by a country mile. But whenever he put a ball in play and the throw went to first, he slid. Headfirst, every time. He'd just yell "GET MONEY" and slide.

ALVIN: every time. If he was safe, "GET PAID!"

CLANTON: we'd pull him aside and say, "Nick, you gotta run through the bag. Sliding slows you down and you're gonna hurt yourself one of these days." He'd just say, "Yeah, coach, got it, c'mon let's gooooo!" Then he'd do it again anyway.

SHERM PETTERSON (manager, Gulf Coast League Phillies, 1998): Punto shows up the first day in this tricked-out Corolla, does donuts in the parking lot until he T-bones a dumpster. Both of ‘em start on fire and people start calling 911, but Nick, he kicks out the passenger side window, does a barrel roll out of it, and says "Let's play! Let's play! Woooo!" Damnedest thing I ever saw.

LES MANFRED (Punto's first roommate with GCL Phillies): he was always chattering. Always. He maybe slept three, four hours a night at most, and even then, he'd be talking in his sleep. "Let's turn it, c'mon now," over and over. Then he'd get up, slam a Red Bull, shower, get his uniform on and start sliding. In the room, in the hallway, didn't matter.

PETTERSON: he was a dream to manage. First one there, last one to leave, always busted his ass. Except, the one thing is, he never got the hang of just running through the bag at first. Always slid headfirst.

MANFRED: coaches would just scream, "PUNTO, RUN THROUGH THE BAG! RUN THROUGH IT!" Never worked. Not ever.

PETTERSON: that little bastard just would dust himself off, clap his hands, nod his head at us when we bitched him out about it, and do the same thing over again. The Phillies money guys, they thought we were trying to pull some kind of scam when they saw how much money we were spending on laundry detergent and new uniforms. One of ‘em even flew down to see what was up. He watched one game and was like, "Jesus, that guy."

LARRY BOWA (manager, Philadelphia Phillies, 2001): Punto was one of our September call-ups, and the higher-ups were like, "You're gonna love having this kid, but there's this one thing: he's always sliding into first base. He can't help himself."

DOUG GLANVILLE (Phillies centerfielder, 2001): this new kid shows up at the stadium in a tricked-out Bronco, does a power slide into his parking spot and the truck lands right on its roof, between the two parked cars, without hitting either one! Punto kicks out the back window, shouts, "HOT DIGGITY, LET'S DO THIS GUYS! LET'S GOOOOO!" and slides right into the clubhouse. Thought I was hallucinating.

BOWA: yeah, we worked with him in spring training the next couple years to get him to stop doing that (stuff). He was enthusiastic and receptive to it, but it just never stuck. I remember this one bunt he laid down, and you could tell when he was hustling up the line that he was fighting the urge (to slide). He got about two steps from the bag and I guess he just couldn't help himself. Bellyflopped right on the bag, got him right in the groin.

GLANVILLE: you could tell he was in pain, he just kept going "Ohhhhhh, it hurts real bad get money. Oh man this hurrrrts get paid."

RON GARDENHIRE (manager, Minnesota Twins): when we got Nicky, I knew that we had something special. Never seen anyone get after it like that my whole life. Guy would just go out there and pick it...sorry, I get emotional a bit talking about Nicky. Still miss him. Pro's pro.

COREY KOSKIE (former third baseman, Minnesota Twins): Punto shows up at the Dome on this tricked-out Harley, and I swear to God the entire thing is on fire, him included, like that Ghost Rider movie. He skids to a halt, jumps off the bike, rolls around on the grass to put out the fire, brushes himself off, and says, "Woo! Tokyo Drift! Alright, boys, let's go, let's go, let's go! Play to win, guys!"

SCOTT ULLGER (coach, Minnesota Twins): first time he slid headfirst into the bag, I thought about saying something. But, really, is it a coach's place to say something about that? I don't know.

TONY LA RUSSA (former manager, St. Louis Cardinals): Punto is running around after we won the title with his shirt all torn up, bare-chested, and starts sliding headfirst into everything. Other players, horses, cases of champagne, Ken Rosenthal. I think that's just a part of who he is. A great, scrappy professional who'll always answer the bell for you. He just loves sliding. Headfirst.