May 4, 2008 – Randall Simon Talks May 4, 2008Posted by atlanticleaguenews in Uncategorized.
Simon Says — Randall’s Back: I know what you’re thinking.
So let’s get it out of the way now so it isn’t on your mind the whole time…yes, Randall Simon hit the Italian sausage in 2003 when he was with the Pirates.
Yes, he’s that guy.
But there’s a lot more to the Newark Bears first baseman than one silly incident.
Simon brings extensive Major League experience to the Bears roster, having participated in 537 contests over the course of eight seasons for the Braves, Tigers, Pirates, Cubs, Devil Rays and Phillies.
But he very nearly took a different career path, as Simon was once a highly touted soccer player back home in Curacao.
“That’s my favorite sport ever,” said Simon, a wide smile growing across his face when the topic was brought up.
“That’s the first sport I ever played. I’ve played soccer since I was eight years old, then I played baseball after that.”
Simon said he would have thought about playing soccer professionally instead of baseball, but it just didn’t seem to be an option at the time
“We didn’t have any scouts back in Curacao,” Simon said.
“We had to go all the way to Holland to play. Everybody knows that soccer is big in Europe. So we had to go all the way there, and I couldn’t at the time. So I think that’s the reason why I didn’t go play soccer.”
With a soccer career out of the question, a simple birthday gift changed the course of Simon’s life forever.
“My mom gave me my glove for my 11th birthday so I could go and play baseball instead,” he said.
“She’s in heaven looking at me, she passed away four years ago. But I thank her for giving me that glove so I could go and play.”
Simon, a proud fan of Barcelona, actually credits his boyhood love for improving his baseball skills
“I think soccer is something that helped me a lot in my career, especially with defense,” he said.
“Defense is all about footwork, and when you have good footwork, it keeps you in balance and your hands can become better. That’s something that’s always helped me out in my career, that I’ve got good defense.”
Simon has a career fielding percentage of .992 at the big league level, something that might surprise some people considering he’s traditionally been known as a power hitter and nothing more.
Signed at age 17 by the Atlanta Braves, it took Simon nearly six seasons to reach the Major League level.
By the time he got there, opportunities for regular playing time were few and far between.
“They had a lot of good players in front of me, like Fred McGriff and Andres Galarraga,” Simon said.
“But that’s something that always helped me to become a better player. When you have those guys (in front of you), you always have to stay focused and stay ready, regardless of if you’re playing or not and you’re just waiting for the opportunity. That taught me that if you want to move forward, and you want to become a better player, that when you work hard, it’s going to pay off.”
It was when Simon joined the Tigers in 2001 where his career started taking off. After getting called up to the big leagues midway through the season, Simon hit well enough to cement his name in the Detroit lineup on an everyday basis for 2002.
It was the first time he was an everyday player at the big league level. He hit .301 with 19 home runs and 82 RBI, and was subsequently named the team MVP.
“2001 and 2002, what a great time I had,” Simon said.
“We had a great group of guys; Dmitri Young, Robert Fick, those guys were really great guys. That was a really big part of my career, people started knowing me after that year.”
And then 2003 happened. Splitting the season between the Pirates and Cubs, he hit .276 with 16 home runs and 72 RBI.
But nobody will remember the numbers. They’ll only remember the indelible image of Simon, leaning over the dugout railing, tapping a girl in a sausage suit with his bat.
If it seems innocent enough, it was. But a lot of people didn’t see it that way.
Suffice it to say, he never thought it would have turned out the way it ultimately did.
“I never in my life have tried to hurt anybody,” Simon said.
“It was something that really hurt me and my family. I never in my life had been arrested. I always promised to God that I was never going to have anyone put handcuffs on me. But God gave me the strength to put that behind me and move on. It was key for me to let that go and focus on baseball and not let that hurt my team.”
What people do know is that Simon unintentionally struck Mandy Block, who was wearing the sausage costume at the time, with his bat. What they don’t know is that Simon paid for the then 19-year-old and her family to take a vacation in his native Curacao for a whole week.
“I really thank her for the way she handled it. If it wasn’t for her, it would have been a lot bigger with no need,” Simon admitted.
Maybe if people knew the aftermath, that the 32-year-old went out of his way to make things right not because he had to, but because he wanted to, perhaps they wouldn’t make the comments they do.
But to this day, Simon hears the remarks and taunts the fans make. He deals with the same stupid questions that the same reporters — this one included — ask him day in and day out. But for all the grief that he has endured over the past five years for one simple incident, his opinion of the people who pay to see him play has never changed.
“The fans, they’re the ones that bring you up, they’re the ones that motivate you,” Simon said.
“In an empty stadium, it’s going to be tough for anyone to perform. So having the fans coming to see you every day and cheering for you, there’s nothing better than that. I always appreciate all the fans for everything they have done for me. For them to want my autograph and things like that, it’s priceless.”
Surely, life couldn’t have been easy for him after the incident. Simon was forced to pay a ridiculous fine of $432, was briefly charged with battery afterwards, and endured public humiliation for something that was nothing more than a playful gesture gone wrong.
But he’s carried on.
Primarily, he’s played in the Mexican League since the end of the 2004 season. He last played in the big leagues in 2006, collecting only 21 at-bats in 23 games with the Philadelphia Phillies that year.
Simon split last season between Tijuana and Veracruz of the Mexican League, and was thinking about a return there in 2008 before talking things over with his agent.
“My agent, Jacob (Noble), started making some calls, and we talked about Mexico. But he said the best opportunities were over here,” Simon said.
“Whatever happens, I’m closer to get back into the game than I would be in Mexico. So I considered it a lot, and that’s the reason I ended up over here.”
Simon got in touch with Newark’s assistant GM Jim Cerny, and the two sides agreed to terms early in the off-season.
“I thank Jim for believing in me and bringing me over here, and having the confidence in me so can help the team to win,” Simon said.
With so many Atlantic League players missing the start of the season due to delays in getting their work visas, Simon got his paperwork completed very early, and was able to join the Bears in time for the start of the season.
Before joining Newark, he didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect out of the Atlantic League.
“I didn’t know much about this league,” Simon said.
“But, Doug Jennings, he told me a lot about how this league is and helped me keep my mind focused on what I need to do. There are a lot of guys who have been in the game and have experience. I’m having a good time here, we have a great group of guys.”
To prepare for the season, Simon concentrated more on getting himself focused mentally than any other aspect of his game.
“I think the key of everything is setting up your mind right,” he said.
“For me to get back in the game, I have to keep working hard and keep believing in myself. I need to show that I’m healthy, I can still play the game, and that I can play at the Major League level.”
Despite being two years removed from his last big league action, Simon certainly doesn’t think a return is out of the question.
“I’m still playing, and I’m still motivated. I know I can make it again,” he said.
“I’ve got God with me, and that’s all I need for me to get back to the Major Leagues where I belong.”
So there you have it. He could have been a professional soccer player, has over 200 home runs to his name, and is on the long road back to the big leagues.
But instead of focusing on all the things he’s done on the field or on his personality, people know Randall Simon for that one off-field issue.
But just because you likely do remember him for the sausage incident, doesn’t mean you should remember him that way. At least not the way he sees it.
“I want to be remembered as a good guy in baseball,” Simon said.
“I always have been a good guy. I always cared about my teammates, and I always backed my teammates up. So I think that’s the way I want people to remember me…as a team player, as someone who’s always happy, and someone who respects everybody.”
All he asks for is a little respect in return. – Mike Ashmore