Sunday, March 04, 2007

Dodgers' White Sitting on a Fortune

Richard Drew, AP
Like Jed Clampett of the "Beverly Hillbillies," pitcher
Matt White discovered a fortune on his property.
He could become baseball's first billionaire after seven outings.

Pitcher Finds Out Land Is Loaded With Mica Rock

The New York Times

VERO BEACH, Fla. (March 2) - Sharing a clubhouse with luminaries like Jeff Kent , Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Schmidt is Matt White, the Dodgers ' reluctant rock star.

The 29-year-old White, who is not a five-time All Star like Kent, a former Olympian and first-round draft pick like Garciaparra or a one-time Cy Young award runner-up like Schmidt, could not have looked more uncomfortable being interviewed Friday if his uniform were made of burlap.

A left-handed pitcher with seven major league appearances in nine professional seasons, White’s claim to fame is a 50-acre parcel of land in Hampshire County in western Massachusetts that is rich in mica schist, a slatelike rock that is used for hearths, patio decks, steps and walls. How rich? A geologist who inspected the property last summer told White that he was sitting on roughly 24 million tons of mica rock worth an estimated $1.2 billion to $2.4 billion.

As more people have heard about his quarry, it has created a quandary for White, whose dream is to be the next Billy Wagner , not some real-life Jed Clampett in the interview rotation of "Access Hollywood."

"I'm here to play baseball," White said. "Everybody wanting to talk about the rocks and everything is beyond me." He added: "I keep telling guys, I just don't want it to be a distraction for anybody. We're here to field the best team for the Dodgers and to win a World Series. I'm here to be part of that team and contribute, not talk about rocks."

White, a nonroster invitee, is trying to crack a Dodgers pitching rotation that has a wealth of talent. Schmidt, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Randy Wolf are the top four starters, and there are a handful of other legitimate contenders for the No. 5 spot. The club has three potential setup men in Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Meloan and Brett Tomko and two possible closers in Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito.

"He has a dream of being a major league pitcher and he's doing everything possible to make it happen," Manager Grady Little said. He added, "He keeps trying to get better and get back to the major leagues. I'll tell you what, that's admirable."

In his Dodgers debut Friday afternoon against the Washington Nationals , White faced four batters in one-and-a-third innings of relief and did not give up a hit. The last batter, catcher Brian Schneider, struck out swinging on a wicked slider, a pitch that White worked on while playing winter ball in Venezuela.

White’s debut went better than Schmidt's, who had given up a walk and a double after four batters and allowed two hits and two walks in his two innings of work.

"It felt good to show everybody what I can do," said White, who made his major league debut in May 2003, allowing six runs in two-thirds of an inning of relief for the Boston Red Sox in a loss to the Yankees . He also appeared in three games with the Seattle Mariners that season and made one start with the Nationals in 2005 before spending the 2006 season with Philadelphia 's Class AAA team.

White bought the land in Hampshire County a few years ago from an aunt who was moving to a nursing home. He paid $50,000 for the property and discovered the mica stones while clearing land for a house he intended to build on it. His aunt died last year before the family had a ballpark idea of the property's true value.

It is expensive to excavate mica, which is why White is considering selling the land. His father, Jim, a former logger, is overseeing the operation. White secured a $100,000 loan to pay for the excavating equipment and the diesel fuel that the equipment drinks like water.

In the first year of mining, he said they did not make enough to pay off the debt. "There's expenses that go into the process, and that's what everybody doesn't understand," White said. He added, "Things have just been blown up so far out of proportion."

Much like a homeowner whose house has been appraised at seven figures but is not a millionaire, White has yet to reap any true financial rewards from his valuable property.

White the journeyman was so fearful of being perceived by his new teammates as some kind of genteel man that he asked Little if he could clarify his situation during a team meeting last month, shortly after the pitchers and the catchers had reported.

"I wanted to make sure they knew that I'm not a billionaire and that I'm here trying to outwork everyone around me because my dream is to be a major league pitcher," White said.

Little, who was managing the Red Sox when White got his first major league start, said he understood. "What happened to him is like someone winning the state lottery," Little said. "That's naturally going to overshadow a lot of things in his life from the past."

It was a telephone call from Little that led to White's signing a minor league contract with the Dodgers. "I didn't know exactly where to go and who to sign with," White said. "But I got the call from Grady, and he said he'd like to have me come into camp and compete for a job. That's all I can ask for, a fair opportunity."

The rock business is White's fallback plan. Baseball remains his passion.

"Trust me," he said, "I'm going to ride out baseball as long as I can. I want to make my career in this."

Copyright © 2007 The New York Times Company
2007-03-03 09:57:14

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