Monday, November 01, 1999

A man of hits, not words

Quiet Bichette lets actions do the talking

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dante Bichette
        Dante Bichette is no Greg Vaughn, at least from a personality perspective.

        While the Reds will lose Vaughn's formidable, vocal presence in the clubhouse — one credited with helping turn the young 1999 Reds into playoff contenders — they'll gain a quieter professional in Bichette.

        “He's a quiet guy, really. I don't think he'll be like Greg Vaughn in the clubhouse,” said Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee, a friend of Bichette's who helped convince the 35-year-old outfielder to come to Cincinnati.

        “I don't think we need to put that on Dante's shoulders. Barry (Larkin) has always been there as a leader, and Sean Casey, he's a young guy but he's a leader. We don't need Dante to be vocal.”

        And while Vaughn's popularity surged as the Reds played their way into the playoff race last summer, Bichette comes with a reputation as the most popular player in Colorado Rockies' history and one of the most well-respected athletes in Denver, a town ruled by the football Broncos.

        Bichette, who came up to the majors with Anaheim and later played in Milwaukee, is the only player to be on the Colorado roster every day in the team's seven-year history.

        “No matter what happens, the bulk of my career will have been played in Colorado,” Bichette said. “My first three years there will probably be as fun a time as you could have. The community gave me everything they could have. Hopefully we parted even.”

        It was fun on the field, for a while, as the Rockies went from expansion team to the playoffs in two years and Bichette emerged as one of baseball's better hitters. But that soured the last few seasons as the Rockies fell into disrepair — Bichette actually asked the Rockies to explore trade possibilities this winter — but he remained active in the Denver community.

        The main thrust of his charitiable activity is a base ball school he and his wife, Marianna, opened in Denver in 1996. After Bichette signed a big-money contract, they sold their 8,800-square foot house in Florida to finance the project. The proceeds helped build a suite for cardiac patients at Denver's Children's Hospital.

        “My wife put it best,” Bichette told the Rocky Mountain News in 1996. “She said, "God's put us in a situation where we can be a positive influence in a community, and we need to take advantage of that.' ”

        That owes to Bichette's strong Christian faith, which helped him bond with Taubensee, also a devoted Christian. Their wives are friends, and they live near each other in Orlando in the offseason. Bichette's other baseball friends include former Rockies Walt Weiss and Joe Girardi, also Christians. “It's a big part of his life,” Casey said of Bichette's faith.

        Bichette's reputation has taken a few knocks along the way, however.

        A 1995 Sports Illustrated story on athletes and domestic violence revealed that in 1992, Bichette struck a pregnant Marianna, then his 19-year-old girlfriend. There have been no records of domestic violence since, and both Bichette and Marianna responded to the furor with a mix of regret over the incident and a strong statement of their love.

        “It was a one-time thing,” Bichette said at the time. “She's not a battered wife. I just don't feel like I belonged in that story even though it did happen, I did touch her in anger. But it wasn't a vicious thing. ... It was something that happened years ago. And although it was very wrong, we joke about it now.”

        By accounts, Bichette has grown up a lot since that incident. In 1996, during a Rockies trip to Los Angeles, he noticed a man verbally threatening a woman on the street, stopped the team bus and intervened until the man went away.

        Bichette and Marianna have two sons, Danny and Bo, and he says family is a huge part of his life. He's glad he'll be training in Sarasota, Fla., now instead of Arizona so he can see his kids during spring training.

        Bichette has a wide array of other outside interests. He owns three restaurants in Denver, all in the same building downtown. He loves playing foosball — he played in the world championships — video games and ping-pong. He once asked his wife to give him toy cars for their anniversary.

        But being a father has made him more mature. Recently, he has been seen in the clubhouse reading books on spiritually and fatherhood. He often mentions the Bible as the basis for his growth.

        “I think there's just a part of him that he's always trying to find some more peace, some comfort,” Rockies hitting coach Clint Hurdle told the Rocky Mountain News in the spring of 1999.

        Said Bichette last spring: “Any time you take care of your priorities, which family's got to be first, it relaxes your mind.”

Sunday's stories
Reds get Bichette to replace Vaughn
Vaughn unfazed after learning he won't return

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Nine area teams make playoffs
Playoff pairings: Divisions I and II
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Playoff pairings: Divisions V and VI
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Hawkins out 7-10 days with knee injury
Keeler comes home, comes home first

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