PEORIA, Ariz. — Cristian Guzman could not stop itching. This went on for four days, until he found himself on the shoulder of a Minnesota freeway, outside of his car, scratching at his underwear like a man with the worst case of chicken pox in human history. The next day Guzman queried clubhouse attendants about the shampoo and soap they used in the team shower.
His Minnesota Twins teammates had heard enough. They started laughing, cackling, crying, falling on the ground. And right then, Guzman knew.
Mariners closer Eddie Guardado had struck again.
"He used to take people's cars and hide them down the street," says Matt Lawton, Guardado's friend and teammate in Minnesota and now Seattle. "He put peanut butter in people's shoes, hot sauce in their jocks.
"He's got some classics. He's the best I've ever seen. He'll stay up late at night, plotting things to do."
The David Ortiz story: "He goes, 'Where's my shorts?' I go, 'Look in the freezer. They're nice and folded —and hard as a rock. 'So his focus was on the shorts. Well, I lined the inside of his jeans with peanut butter. He didn't even notice. Peanut butter all up on him. I was crying, man. The reaction of the people, that's where you get your humor."
His eyes dance while he tells these stories, slapping his knee at every punch line, laughing like they happened yesterday. This is The Best of Eddie Guardado, one of the elite practical jokesters to ever step foot on a baseball field, providing 11 years of punch lines.
Guardado burned Jose Lopez's shoes the other day, just because he found them to be "the ugliest shoes I've ever seen in my life." Just like he burned Adrian Beltre's during slumps last season.
"I've burned a few shoes in my day," Guardado says. "There are so many, I forget whose I've burned. Alcohol and a lighter, bro. That's all it takes. They call me 'The Arsonist.' "
That's Eddie Guardado for you. He's usually the first Mariner in the clubhouse, a veteran who's not afraid to yell and scream or toss a pie filled with shaving cream, depending on what's necessary.
Guardado has no favorite targets. Everyone in the clubhouse represents fair game, and he estimates he's pulled jokes on "seven, eight, maybe 10" of his current teammates. Not even his dad is safe — Guardado prank-calls him saying he's with the FBI and hides a rubber snake in his bed during visits to Seattle.
Some jokes are rituals, traditions that have been around baseball forever. Guardado makes sure they stay that way. Like making the rookies "dress up" every season.
Last year, Guardado picked up outfits from a costume store. Greg Dobbs got a woman's police uniform with tights, Mike Morse a dragon suit and Lopez a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader outfit. The bus driver stopped three blocks from the ballpark in San Francisco, so the rookies could walk the rest of the way.
Other jokes are more spontaneous. So don't fall asleep on the team plane, or Guardado might pour a can of soda down your throat, like he did to a Twins radio broadcaster, who "acted like he was drowning, man. He started thrashing, just 7-Up going everywhere."
"I like to have fun and play jokes on people and have people play jokes on me," Guardado says. "That's what it's all about. But that's what creates chemistry. And that's what we need."
The screw story: "I walk in one day before the game and all my stuff in my locker was bolted down. I mean, bolted down. My glove. My spikes. My shower shoes. My toothbrush. Everything. Terry Steinbach, Bob Tewksbury, Paul Molitor, they were crying. It took me until about 15 or 20 minutes before the game to unscrew all of it."
Guardado knows his pranks make him an obvious target for revenge. He points there, to the back-and-forth, to baseball's big fraternity, as the starting point for chemistry.
Growing up (sort of) in the Twins organization, Guardado watched guys like Molitor, like Kirby Puckett, like Dave Winfield. Believe it or not, Guardado said little, sat back and observed.
These are Hall of Fame players, Guardado says, guys with work ethics obvious to everyone around them, but also guys who didn't take themselves too seriously. He remembers how Puckett had a nickname for everybody in the clubhouse, how he did the little things that lightened the mood.
Guardado wanted to be just like them. And now, in so many ways, he is.
"He keeps things light," says Raul Ibanez, another Seattle clubhouse leader. "But let's not forget, he's one of the elite closers in baseball. He doesn't throw quite as hard as all those other guys, but he gets it done on guts. There's nobody else I would rather have in a save situation than Eddie Guardado."
He pauses. Enough with the serious talk.
"I don't want to make too big a deal, because I want him to get somebody next year, but his three-man lift is the best ever. You laugh for a half hour. You know it's coming, but it's so funny, because nobody can sell the three-man lift like him."
The three-man lift story (from this spring training): "The whole day before, I told Kenji Johjima I had done it before, lifted three men off the ground at the same time. I told him we were going to win a bunch of bets, had guys in the clubhouse 'bet' against me. We went outside. Everybody knew what was coming — except Johjima. I wore a weight-lifting belt, then moved out of the way.They hit him with everything — mustard, orange juice, soda, syrup. Man, I never laughed so hard in my life. That was the best three-man lift I ever did."
There's a process involved in pulling off a practical joke that's been around forever, and it's one Guardado takes all too seriously. Selling the joke takes preparation. In this case, Guardado needed to make Johjima believe he could lift three men off the ground, then nudge him into taking ownership.
He was like, "You can do it! You can do it! I believe in you!" Guardado says.
It also takes detail, making sure teammates know what's coming but don't let on. Making sure they cast doubt, saying things like, "Oh, yeah, he's done it. But he's got a bad knee and a bad shoulder." And it also takes scouting. In this case, making sure Johjima had no clue.
"Then unleash that punch line and deliver," Guardado says.
These are the stories Guardado says he will remember 20 years from now, stories that will stick longer in his memory than All-Star Game and postseason appearances. He wants to come back into clubhouses, talk to former teammates, reminisce.
"You always want to be remembered as a good person," Guardado says. "And a funny one."
Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or firstname.lastname@example.org