How to define perfection? 50 years later, John Paciorek has a principled approach

 (Photo: http://www.kemmetmueller.com)


How John Paciorek’s entire baseball career can be described on one autographed baseball. (Photo: www.kemmetmueller.com)

John Paciorek’s definition of a perfect day:

Get up at about 3 a.m. at his San Gabriel home, do some metaphysical reading to prepare his mind, fire off some emails, pour a cup of coffee, run out to teach a group of elementary school kids all about physical education, come home for lunch, then go back out to coach or referee a football game.

Hopefully somewhere in there he sees his wife, Karen, who also works at the school.

In other words, that was what happened Friday.

Fifty years ago, perfection could have been measured in a much different way.

colts-john-paciorek-wirephotoThe Houston Colt .45s called the 18-year-old Paciorek up from their Class C-league team in Modesto for the last game of the regular season on Sept. 29, 1963, against the New York Mets. Houston was already 33 games behind the first-place Dodgers; the Mets, last in the West, were 48 games back.

By the time it was over, Paciorek, hitting seventh and playing right field, went 3-for-3 with three singles, walked twice, scored four times and drove in three runs in a 13-4 win before less than 4,000 spectators. He also handled two plays in the field flawlessly.

Then, by perfect illogical fate, he never played in an MLB game again.

A lifetime batting average of 1.000 isn’t bad, right?It’s in all the record books.

paciorekgrassbackIt depends on how you respond when life throws you a curveball.

“I’d have to say I’ve had it pretty good; I’m very happy,” the 68-year-old said from his home not far from the private Clairbourn School where he’s been the phys ed teacher for the last 37 years.

“Although, to be honest, I’m finding more and more it’s more difficult to get a point across to kids today. They don’t seem to appreciate as much what an adult tries to teach them. I know when I was a kid, I thought I knew everything, and I really didn’t. If I only knew then what I know now, you know?”

260982d1342181520-gambo-t_wil1-photopack-john-paciorek-001_display_imageIf Paciorek just knew then how things were going to break, that could have taken the lessons he learned from the journey out of it.

A chronic back condition got the best of him the next spring, and he couldn’t play even though he was invited to the Astros’ training  with young players such as Joe Morgan, Jimmy Wynn and Rusty Staub, who was Paciorek’s roommate.

Paciorek finally had to have back surgery. He tried and tried, but could never get up to the big-league level again, finally giving up at age 24, going to the University of Houston to get a phys ed degree.

The Guinness Book of World Records notes in their 1990 edition that Paciorek was a “one-day wonder.”

552217_4147194440703_1301863164_aA 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated where editors find out “Where Are They Now?” compared Paciorek’s day to Moonlight Graham. He’s the outfielder who played just a half-inning in the field for the 1905 New York Giants, without getting an at bat, then moving on in his career to become a doctor. Graham was the character portrayed by Bert Lancaster in the Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams.”

To us, this all sounds way too much like the Larry Yount story – which also occurred in Houston, eight years later.

On Sept. 15, 1971, the Taft High grad was called in from the Astros bullpen to pitch against Atlanta at the Astrodome. While warming up, his elbow stiffened. He had to come out before even facing one batter. But the MLB record book still credits him for making an appearance. He didn’t make the Astros out of spring training in ’72, was traded to Milwaukee in ’74, was briefly in spring training with his younger brother, future Hall of Famer Robin Yount, then retired after eight minor league seasons in 1976, getting into real estate development.

booksJohn Paciorek ’s thirst for learning as much as he can about baseball has led to a writing a book last year, “The Principle of Baseball: And All There Is To Know About Hitting,” as well as compiling essays for his new blog.

He often gets autograph requests, and happily signs photos and baseballs – maybe more than his younger brother Tom, who played 18 seasons in the big leagues, some with the Dodgers. Another younger brother, Jim, played a half season in Milwaukee.

“Maybe people thought I was the better player than Tom, but what made us different was – I was great at hitting 500-foot foul home runs,” said John. “He’d take an outside pitch and go to right field with it – everything without the fanfare. Not too many could appreciate the way he did things.”

tom paciorek (8)(As long as we’re talking about anniversaries: It was 40 years ago on Sept. 29, 1973, where 23-year-old Tom Paciorek had probably the best day to date in his big-league career: Hitting third in the Dodgers’ lineup and starting in center field on the final day of the season, he had a two-run homer in the third inning against the Padres’ Clay Kirby in a 3-2 win).

John Paciorek’s baseball legacy lives on with his son Mack, is into his third year as the varsity baseball coach at nearby San Marino High, after trying to make a career in pro ball. Two other sons, John Paul and Pete, and played in college or the minor leagues.

John Paciorek had five children with his first wife, Linda, who died of breast cancer in 1987. John married Karen two years later, brought in her two children, and together they had another – eight kids in all.

Admitting he doesn’t  quite remember much about that one game he played in outside of seeing the box score that someone once sent him, Paciorek embraces the trivia question part of his past with a good laugh.

Research shows that of the 18,000 who reached the major-league level since 1876, nearly 1,000 played in just one game. Of that, about 80 have had either a 1-for-1 or 2-for-2 day at the plate.

Paciorek is the only one with a 3-for-3 performance – he’s got the record for most times on base, runs scored, hits without an out, batting average and on-base percentage.

Some career.

“Gosh, when I close my eyes, I can still see myself playing football in high school,” said the Detroit native. “It’s amazing how time flies. Even for a school teacher.”

No regrets. No resentment.

“At that point in my life, I was so immature anyway,” he said. “Anything could have happened, but I had that opportunity to learn a lot more. “

Remember, he says – without that back condition, he might have been sent off to fight in Vietnam with many of his contemporaries. Although Paciorek grew up admiring Al Kaline, he has much more appreciation for someone like Roy Gleason, who became the only active player to go to Vietnam at that time and leave his career with the Dodgers.

“I still love baseball so much,” Paciorek said. “You can tell when people say they love the game, but really they play for the money. That’s who I was – someone who really loved it, hustled all the time. If I was playing right field and we were in the third base dugout, my goal was to beat the third baseman in after the last out of each inning.

“Maybe people thought of me as kind of a flake. I did some stupid things, stuff really counterproductive to keeping myself in shape. That’s because I wouldn’t settle for less.

“Those people who knew me back then thought I was always going to be a big-leaguer. They ask, ‘Aren’t you disappointed?’ I hardly ever thing about it.”

Instead, he fantasizes about getting a call from the Angels or Dodgers asking him to be a hitting consultant, fixing Josh Hamilton or Matt Kemp, tapping into his knowledge and appreciation for what it takes to play the game with the proper technique.

“Too many people think it’s a natural thing to play the game,” he said. “To some, it does come natural. But ability is easy to lose if you don’t understand the principles.”

Naturally, that’s just the perfectionist coming out in Paciorek.

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