Professional Baseball, a Gladiator’s Existence

Published in Lake Chelan Mirror 2013

When Steve Kline was drafted into the major leagues he was one of the last people to find out. Years later he sits in the Chelan High School dugout as the Head Coach of the baseball team, remembering his time in the pros.

Kline was playing baseball in Wenatchee, after spending four years in the minor league, when a white shiny Cadillac pulled up with the well-known recruiter Eddie Taylor sitting in the back with his typewriter. On the way to meet with Kline, Taylor had been writing up the contract for Kline to play for the New York Yankees. A dream come true for Kline.

Born and raised in Chelan, Kline was known as a star athlete. By the time he graduated from high school in 1966, he was averaging 24 points a game in basketball and finished his third season pitching varsity baseball with seven no hitters, and 12 shutouts.

The success Kline found as a 6-foot-3, 185-pound Chelan High School athlete led him to multiple dinners after practice with scouts, and eventually scholarships to play basketball and baseball for Washington State University. Attending WSU as a student and athlete became true for Kline, but when it came time to play baseball as a ‘Coug’ he started his career in the minor leagues.

“I would go to school and then fly out and play,” Kline said. “Initially it was Johnson City, Tennessee, and then I went to Fort Lauderdale and then I went to Greensborough in North Carolina.”

The first two years Kline played in the minors he attended WSU. His third year he went into the National Guard but was still able to play ball. The fourth and final year in the minors, Kline attended a university in Miami.

Fast-forward to now, Kline, sitting in the dugout, laughs as he remembers the games. A single fan in the crowd with a nearly silent clap here and there. He remembers the time as one with a lot of soul searching.

“It got down to, ‘what do I want to do?’ I was a good student but baseball was always what I wanted to do,” Kline said. “I talked to my dad and he said, ‘go out there and give it your best and if things don’t work out in two years you figure it out. Give yourself a time frame.’ I gave myself four years and managed to go single A, double A, triple A, and then finally the Yankees.”

Once Kline had made a six-year commitment to the National Guard, he played professional baseball and worked with the Guard. On game days, Kline was stationed in Watertown, New York, so the National Guard would drop him off by helicopter to pitch at the Yankee Stadium and be airlifted back to base after the game.

Kline’s first professional game was in Washington D.C. at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. It wasn’t an easy game. As Kline was warming up to pitch his legs were shaking and his mind racing. Over and over in his head, Kline reminded himself playing in the majors is what he had been wanting to do all his life so what was there to be afraid of.

Stepping on the mound, Kline first faced off against Dick McAuliffe who hit a ground ball to the second baseman. Everything after that first pitch is a blur to Kline. The Yankees lost that game 2-1 after the 6-foot-8 Frank Howard hit the ball 410 feet to center field for a home run.

“Just because they call you up to the pros doesn’t mean you get to stay. You have to win,” Kline said. It’s a gladiator’s existence and it took me awhile to figure that out. I was facing guys on bubble gum cards.”

After spending four years with the Yankees, Kline was moved to the Cleveland Indians for two years and then to a short half season with the Atlanta Braves. Kline laughs as he remembers his experience with Atlanta. He said he played with the team back when it was owned by the “Turner Circus,” referring to the time Ted Turner owned the team.

Turner took the team out on his large boat, the “Tenacious”. While on the boat Turner asked Kline what he thought about the upcoming season and the team’s chance of running up the league. Kline responded with an answer Turner didn’t like.

“By the time we got back I had tickets to go home on my stool,” Kline said. “He didn’t like my answer and he kicked me off the team.”

Later in the year, Kline was back at his home in Bakersfield watching Atlanta play the L.A. Dodgers, and the Braves were getting creamed. Atlanta was down 10 to nothing when the phone rang in Kline’s home. The general manager for Atlanta was on the phone offering Kline to come back.

After playing for the Braves for the second time, Kline needed to have surgery and rehabbed with a minor league team in Rochester, New York. While back in the minor league, it was time for Kline to do some more soul searching. He eventually came to the conclusion to retire from baseball and start a life with his family.

Kline spent 30 years in the Portland area working as a lumber broker. Four years ago Kline and his wife moved to Chelan. He lives in the same home where he grew up and continues to live and love baseball by coaching the high school team.

Pitching in the major league was a dream that came true for Kline. Now he is able to relive the moments by talking about old times with the players and passing on traditions.

“Baseball is a team sport played by individuals with nowhere to hide,” Kline said. “It’s always a dream to want to play in the big leagues and once you do it’s just the beginning. You have to prove yourself every day.”