About a year and a half ago, while I was sitting in a doctor's office with a tube in my ear, trying to figure out why I always almost black out in the second loop of the Shock Wave roller-coaster at Six Flags, the specialist began telling me how how he lives in the same North Arlington neighborhood as a bunch of the Texas Rangers.
He recalled the day during a bowl game party when an infielder who had come over was a little tipsy and fell, gashing his wrist. The doc hadn't done stitches since Elvis was skinny, but, geez, the guys reckoned, they couldn't let a Rangers doctor know he'd hurt himself drinking, even if he wasn't plowed.
Wound closed. End of story.
Such is the life in a pro athlete's neighborhood. You get to borrow cooking oil and coffee creamer and an egg from some of the best-known folks in America. Just like they were any neighbor with a $4.99 welcome mat from MJDesigns.
But they are not like any other neighbors--because chances are, if the jock had it custom-built, you are now living next to one really big-assed house. And you can thank a sports agent that your $450,000 dream home now looks like an unskirted double-wide next to that thing next door.
No one can tell us just how many athletes live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but there are plenty. Some returned after growing up here. A number of baseball players settled in Arlington after their playing years; others got their starter homes in a little brick baseball covey out by Wet'n Wild and have since moved to the custom-built pastures of Colleyville and Flower Mound.
Rafael Palmiero and his wife, for example, were working on their place in Colleyville during the strike. Pete Incaviglia is out there too, and has even opened a Colleyville restaurant. Former Maverick Derek Harper, now with the Knicks, has a large and pretty, but unostentatious, place way out north of the Dallas Galleria.
Arlington real estate agent Jamie Adams, who handles a lot of deals for ballplayers, marketed good friend Julio Franco's colossal north Arlington property--the one with the basketball court, weight room and the rottweiler spit outside the back window--by advertising: "Julio's going to Japan. House for sale."
Pastoral hamlets such as Roanoke and Keller have become enclaves of country-boy jocks with a hankerin' for mini-ranches--including Troy Aikman and Terry Bradshaw. Randy White is in Prosper. Bill Bates and Walt Garrison ranch out toward McKinney.
Now DeSoto, once a country town, is attracting name athletes seeking wide-open spaces for their huge houses. Several grew up here and first became famous at area high schools.
The most gargantuan of the new houses is that of Oakland Raiders receiver Tim Brown, a Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame who attended Dallas' Woodrow Wilson High School and has returned to the area. Brown is building something on Pleasant Run Road that rivals, in size, the home of any athlete anywhere.
It's in an early stage of construction, and if you pass by, you can't miss it. It's the castle with dozens of tall windows wrapped in enough plywood to cover Texas Stadium--and a long, long wing that juts out to the north and suggests a cold fusion reactor. In fact, it is a bowling alley taking shape. "I think Tim has two lanes," says DeSoto city building inspector David Jackson, who gets a look-see at all the structures going up in his town.
Word about the house has spread quickly in DeSoto. Everyone from the Dairy Queen to the Winn Dixie knows Tim won't have to go to the Triangle Bowl down on Hampton anymore. And heck, maybe he'll invite 'em over for a few frames.
Brown's house is empty, though Aeroflot could be using it for cargo jet storage. It's got 15,100 square feet of living area--19,000 total, if you include the bowling area and the racquetball court.
In the evening, you see cars pull way onto the lot, just behind the "No Trespassing" sign protecting the dwelling-to-be, and people looking, just looking, at that big house in the small town, says Jackson, that has made a priority out of attracting "development which will have a positive rather than a negative psychological impact on the city."
The nearest neighbors to Brown's palace, which boasts a Gothic facade and a two-story covered drive-through portal, won't be bothered by the sounds of flying pins. The bowling-alley house sits on a 295-by-720-foot lot that puts them far away.
Nonetheless, DeSoto building inspector Jackson says his town already has one to rival it. "Well, we may have [a home] more unique than Tim's, but it belongs to a televangelist who lives out here. It has a pool going from the master suite to the outside."
(For bedroom-access baptisms, we assume.)
In papers filed with the city of DeSoto, Tim's house-in-progress is valued at $1.8 million.
"This is a nice city," said Jackson, trying to explain the phenomenon. "Our tax rate is comparable to others in the area. Our real estate is probably actually cheaper. My guess would be that other places are filling up. We don't have a lot of undesirable properties here. You won't see a lot of apartment complexes, and the ones we have are well-hidden."
Down from Tim Brown's Country Castle Bowling Lanes, DeSoto star-tour buses can also find Spud Webb's Miniature-By-Comparison Golf & Games Center. Measuring just 8,589 square feet, the potato-monikered NBA star's home could fit inside Tim's. But don't feel bad for 5' 7" Spud, a legend for his achievements in a big man's game.
The Sacramento Kings guard, a South Oak Cliff graduate, has a basketball and tennis court on one side of his double lot.
Plus his castle overlooks the Thorntree Country Club golf course, meaning Spud can leave his $750,000 residence after breakfast for a quick round with Michael Jordan.
Beverly and Chris Jaramillo are Spud Webb's closest neighbors on the three-home street that backs up to the Thorntree Country Club. She and her husband frequently barbecue in the evening and catch glimpses of Spud on the course with his buddies. "My husband said there was a Heisman winner out there with him on the golf course one day," recalls Bev. "The other day it was Mark Aguirre he was playing golf with.
"I don't know sports. I just like having him here because he has a nice house and takes care of his yard."
Spud's home is a split-level, liquid-paper-white modern with glass brick, two chimneys and, Bev knows, a bunch of TV screens in the living area because she can see them from her bedroom window. Inspector Jackson reports Spud's home is "tastefully modern" inside, "with lots of black, not carpets, but like black marble countertops and star balustrades."
The Jaramillos say hello to their neighbor now and then, but Bev is kinda wanting to get invited to one of Spud's parties. John the bartender at the Thorntree Country Club always goes, darn it, and she just wants to see the inside of that house. "He has lots of parties," said Bev. "They're always very well-behaved--no real loud music--but huge parties. And you see really nice cars, but you also see just regular old cars because he seems to have a variety of friends."
Spud's backyard is, literally, the golf course. Sometimes he'll be out there talking with the neighbor kids. But it is common to see him driving a group of inner-city Dallas kids out to the place for a game of hoops.
Other than that, Spud doesn't erect his four collapsible hydraulic basketball hoops much. But he does get out on the multi-purpose court to play tennis.
And all in all, he's a pretty nice neighbor. But needless to say, living next to Spud ain't like living next to the guy who mows your mom's lawn. "One Sunday morning we got up and there were these wild girls in bikinis dancing in the front yard," Bev says. "They were shooting an MTV video or something."
Boy, famous neighbors sure can liven up a neighborhood.
But famous or not, big houses or not, star athletes are subject to the same kind of neighborhood problems as anyone else.
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For one thing, everyone who lives nearby knows their business, as in any neighborhood. And they're not immune to neighborhood eccentrics--like the lady by my folks who keeps used food in the garage in case there's a war.
"Hey," said Derek Harper one evening, calling to me off the Mavs' court. "Sorry I didn't call you back the other day. But we had a guy in the neighborhood go nuts."
"We had a guy go nuts," Harper explained. "Shooting everywhere. The police had us leave out the back door. The whole neighborhood had to leave. We had the [Thanksgiving] turkey in the oven and everything. We had to go to a hotel because some nut was loose."
Take heart, Derek. Next time it happens, there'll be room for everyone to hide over at Tim's place.