"Brett, you're the hardest working guy I've ever had," Roof said. "The way you take care of yourself is second to none. But at this time the organization has decided to go in a different direction.... "
Roof's subsequent words floated and dissolved into the air like puffs of smoke. It was your standard-issue release. "Like Bull Durham and all those classic things," Roberts says. "Knowing how I felt at the time, and years later there's Dan Naulty on TV apologizing.... It's bitter."
Like a flower, a boyhood dream, for all its vibrancy as it grows, is an ugly thing when it dies. The four Miracles all played for the Salt Lake Buzz in 1997: Naulty, who was on a brief injury rehab assignment, Roberts, Linebarger and Legault. All of them would be finished with organized baseball within a year—except Naulty, the one who juiced. "It's cheating," says Roberts, who bristles at the steroid users who made it. "It sticks in my craw because I know how hard I worked. Was I going to be a guy with a five- to 10-year career? Probably not. But I know I could have been there."
Linebarger was released by the Twins at the end of spring training in 1998. Rantz gave him the choice of taking his release or being stashed on the Triple A disabled list, even though he wasn't hurt. He detected the lack of confidence in him and took the release. But five minutes later, after consulting with a coach who recommended the DL option, Linebarger walked back into Rantz's office and said, "Is that still on the table?"
"Sorry, the secretary already put in the paperwork."
He got the message. Linebarger hooked on with the Cubs organization, pitched poorly in Double A and retired.
Legault, who reported to Twins camp in 1998 after putting up a 7.52 ERA with the Buzz in 1997, was released within days of Linebarger. Legault remembers his first camp, in 1993, when he looked around and saw about 75 pitchers—all the minor leaguers begin together—and instantly understood that spring training is a fierce survival game. Players jockey for roster spots as instructors wearing sunglasses cruise the ball fields in golf carts, leaving nervous prospects to guess whom they're watching. Naulty trumped the system by juicing every winter and standing out in the spring because of his peak physical condition and velocity. Others weren't as lucky. The ones identified quickly as nonprospects sometimes were asked in the middle of a workout to leave the field and meet with a Twins official in an office, where he would be handed his release.
It was a day-to-day existence for Legault in 1998. Every day he made it to the morning stretch was a good day. And then one morning, before he could get dressed, Terry Ryan, the Minnesota general manager, called him into his office. Just like that, the dream was over.
Legault walked out to his '88 Grand Am. A few teammates followed him to the parking lot to say goodbye. They fought back tears. Legault, with his upstate New York accent and goofy sense of humor, was especially popular. Naulty once called him the funniest guy he ever played with. Legault drove to his hotel, packed up his stuff and headed north.
It takes 24 hours to drive from Fort Myers to Watervliet. Legault did it straight through except for a brief break at a truck stop to take a nap. "The whole time I was like, Wow, it's over," he said. "You're numb. Since you're a kid, that's what you think about—playing baseball. And then ... it's over. You're crushed."