Jeff Tackett lives in Los Angeles now, not Hollywood - an important distinction for a guy who managed to squeeze two cameo appearances in feature films into the four years he served as a backup catcher with the Orioles between 1991-94.
A trip back to Baltimore last weekend, a family vacation to help one of his sons scout out potential college choices, reminded Tackett how special his time as an Oriole was. Tackett took time out from visiting college campuses to visit with suiteholders at Camden Yards during an interleague game against the Cincinnati Reds. He signed autographs, posed for photographs and reminisced about his O’s career.
“Baltimore’s still small enough that (fans) know who the players are and appreciate what they did,” said Tackett, who batted .217 with seven homers and 42 RBIs as an Oriole. “I wasn’t an everyday player. I was a backup catcher and when I played, I just loved the game. I wanted to play and wanted to feel like a working class player who took pride in what I did.”
In that way, Tackett was similar to the fans who regularly packed Camden Yards during his time with the team. But Tackett, now 45, made a habit out of extending his reach into the community as one of the club’s most tireless workers outside the ballpark.
“I loved community work. Anytime I could do something to help somebody out, I tried to,” he said. “I did a ton of stuff for the community. ... I just love giving back. To me, it was important to let people know that, in the position I was in, I was no better than everybody else. They were just as important as I was. My life was pretty good and if I could make any difference in their life to make it better, that was great for me.”
As a player, Tackett’s role was to be ready any time workhorse starting catcher Chris Hoiles needed a break or went down with a minor injury. It wasn’t a glamorous job description, but one Tackett, a second-round selection in the 1984 amateur draft, embraced.
“You have to be ready to go, spur of the moment,” Tackett explained. “It didn’t matter if I went 3-for-3 that day with three home runs - I knew I wasn’t going to play the next game. My role was, as long as we won, I didn’t care what I did. That was my job. If we won, I knew I did a great job.”
Tackett carved a niche as a competent backup, but never hit much. Still, he is one of only 43 players in major league history to hit a home run in his final at-bat - a list that includes Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Mickey Cochrane. Tackett’s shot was a solo blast to right-center off the Twins’ Mike Trombley on Aug. 2, 1994.
“It’s a nice sendoff,” Tackett laughed. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know or look at it that way - hey, it was my last at-bat - until somebody, years after I’d retired, mentioned that I was one of x-number of players to have homered in their last at-bat. I didn’t think about it because I played in Triple-A (after leaving Baltimore). We were playing in Minnesota, I got a start, hit a home run there. We came here for a three-game series with Boston, played a game and then we had the strike (in 1994). I had no idea that would be the end. I played another few years in Triple-A , thinking I’d get back to the major leagues, but it never transpired.”
Tackett, who even pitched an inning in relief during his time in black and orange (a scoreless frame on Aug. 11, 1993 at Detroit), caught on with the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate in 1995 and spent two seasons there before closing his career out in 1997 with the Rangers’ top farm club in Oklahoma City. But he’ll forever be remembered in Baltimore for his cinematic work - playing himself in a pair of motion pictures, “Dave” and “Bob Roberts.” The former role featured him catching a ceremonial first pitch from the president of the United States, played by Kevin Kline; the latter was an uncredited role in a satire starring Tim Robbins.
“I hope I’m not as well known for the movie career as baseball, but I’ll take either one,” Tackett said. “To this day, I still receive residual checks from ‘Dave.’ It could be anywhere from $5 to $13 and I get one about every four months for anything that comes out on video or when it’s on TV. It’s hilarious.
“I had no idea what was going to transpire from that one because we were flying back from Oakland, we had a day off the next day and (general manager) Roland Hemond asked me, ‘Hey, we’re doing this new movie and would you mind coming out to Camden Yards around noon on your day off?’ I didn’t mind doing that. Ended up meeting Kevin Kline and Ving Rhames, did a couple of day takes here and then we did a live take before a game with the Tigers. It was a great experience, and I had a lot of fun. Now ‘Bob Roberts,’ to tell you the truth, I’m not exactly sure what parts of that one I’m in.”
After his playing days were over, Tackett ran an L.A.-based plumbing company, until it was swallowed up the the recent economic downturn. Now, he teaches baseball full-time - catching, hitting, fielding - to willing students.
“I have an absolute ball, trying to give back to the boys and girls and help them - if they want to have a career, like I did, or get to college on a scholarship,” he said. “I have a couple of guys who were drafted, I have a guy in the minor leagues with the Tigers. I just enjoy it.
“Being able to teach keeps me in shape and I have a lot of fun. I still feel connected to the game. I have four kids and three boys, but none of my boys play baseball. When people ask if I’m discouraged or hurt, I say they can do whatever they want to do and I still get my baseball fix from being able to hit with the boys and girls that I teach.”