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Where Are They Now? Jeff King

Thursday, June 12, 2003

By Rich Emert

Jeff King was one of the quietest Pirates of the early 1990s but was a solid third baseman with a loud bat.

Jeff King

In 1993, he drove in 98 runs while hitting just nine home runs. In '96, King had 111 RBIs and smacked a team-high 30 home runs. He was the Pirates' first-round draft choice in '86 and managed a couple of firsts when he played for the Pirates. In '95, he hit two home runs in the same inning to be the first Pirates player since 1894 to accomplish that feat. He also became the fifth player in major-league history to be caught stealing twice in the same inning in 1992. King, who finished his career with a .256 batting average, 154 home runs and 709 RBIs, was traded to Kansas City along with Jay Bell for third baseman Joe Randa and pitchers Jeff Granger, Jeff Martin and Jeff Wallace in December '96. King retired from baseball in May '99. Always an avid outdoorsman, King, 39, lives on a cattle ranch in western Montana, about 50 miles from Dillon, Mont., with his wife Laura and sons Jeff, 12, and Cody, 11.

Q: Why a cattle ranch?

A: It was just a lifestyle I always thought I'd enjoy. We bought the ranch four years ago, but lived about an hour and a half away. We started building a small house at the ranch for when we were down there and then we just decided it would be easier to live here instead of driving back and forth, so we expanded the house.

Q: How many head of cattle?

A: About 400, and that keeps you busy most of the time. I've discovered that when you live on a ranch there's always something you can be doing.

Q: Is Dillon the closest town?

A: There's a little town 15 minutes away, but it's not more than a couple of stores and some houses. Dillon is the closet town of any size.

Q: Did you know much about running a ranch when you bought it?

A: I was pretty much a novice, but I've learned. On a ranch, there are different seasons. For example March, April and May is calving season, and you're pretty busy then. Right now, we're into doctoring season where you have to go out and check on the calves and make sure they're OK. You get a little bit of a break in July, and then you have haying season, where you go out and harvest hay so you can feed the cattle in the winter. And along the way there are fences to fix and things like that.

Q: Do you go out on horseback to work?

A: I ride some, but we use four-wheel vehicles for a lot of the things we do. I'm certainly no cowboy, although we do have some guys around who have grown up working on a ranch and are true cowboys.

Q: Why did you quit baseball?

A: My heart just wasn't in the game anymore. I always told myself I'd retire if it reached that point.

Q: How hard was it being the Pirates' No. 1 draft choice?

A: It was tough because of my personality. I was never one who was comfortable being in the spotlight, and when you're the top pick, a lot of people are watching you.

Q: You played in the College World Series for Arkansas. What was that experience like?

A: That was so long ago I don't remember that much about it. Playing college baseball was a great experience and getting to the World Series was a thrill. But I don't remember much past that.

Q: What do you remember most about playing for the Pirates?

A: I say winning the [National League Eastern Division] title in '90 was the biggest thrill, simply because that was the first time we did it. I also liked playing in Pittsburgh. It was a place that suited my family well and myself.

Q: Was their something you took pride in doing while in the major leagues?

A: I wasn't a very good fielder when I first came up. In high school, I didn't have to worry about defense. In college, I had to concern myself with it more, but still not a great deal. But in the majors it's all about pitching and defense. I worked hard to make myself a better fielder, and I think my first year in Kansas City I led the league in putouts and assists with very few errors at first base. I thought that maybe I'd get a Gold Glove, but it went to Rafael Palmeiro. But I'm proud of the fact I worked hard to make myself a better player.

Q: You seemed to be a good RBI guy. Is there a trick to driving in a lot of run?

A: I was lucky to have Andy Van Slyke and Jay Bell hitting ahead of me. They gave me a lot of chances because they were on base a lot. I just tried to hit the ball hard.

Q: Was there a pitcher who you seemed to hit well?

A: I always hit well against Rich Aguilera, who was with the Mets when I first came up. I got my first hit off him and might have hit my first home run off him. Then, when I went to Kansas City, he was with the Twins, so I went against him some more.

Q: Was there a pitcher who always gave you trouble?

A: Yeah, just about all of them.

Q: Do you still follow the Pirates?

A: We've got a [satellite] dish, and I would say that I follow baseball more than I do one team. I'll watch ESPN to see what's going on, but we don't get a newspaper.

Q: Do your boys play ball?

A: They'd like to, but there isn't a team where we are. I'll throw it around and play catch with them, but that's about it. My oldest son just got a new fly rod the other day and we're going to go do some fishing.

Q: Montana is supposed to be great for fishing. Is it?

A: We're not that far from the Big Hole River, which is pretty good, although there have been some problems with all the people who have started to come up here to fish. You go out there and you'll see 100 boats go flying past. But there are some places that a lot of people don't know about that the fishing is pretty good.

Have an idea for a Where are they now? E-mail it to emert196@attbi.com.

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