The sun is hot on top of a hill in San Diego and the house is white, so white that it looks perfect. A late-model 1990s sedan stops in the middle of the quiet street in the old neighborhood lined with Spanish-style super-casas, mid-century modern showpieces and other glittering fortresses of privilege.
The men in the sedan, who are probably in their 40s, are not close enough to the house to see the sculpted tufts of grass or the doormat marked by the letter P, but they gaze with curiosity through the open garage door and get a good look at the folks who have just exited the family Range Rover. The father is a tall, athletic-looking guy with sunglasses resting atop his brown hair. His wife is a pretty, fit blonde. The two little girls and one little boy who are rustling about look more like their mother -- light hair and blue eyes. They're smiling and laughing and waiting for the next bit of fun in a busy day. The mom ushers them into the house for snacks while the dad lingers.
"Hey," the guy riding shotgun calls out. "Can I ask you something?"
Nine years ago, the man who's about to answer this question was famous. He was a phenom, towering above baseball from the 10-inch-high Major League pitcher's mound. Already a Cy Young Award contender at 23 years of age, and -- paramount to his devotees, the beleaguered Chicago Cubs fan base that had not experienced a World Series championship since 1908 and a World Series appearance since 1945 -- a limitless, blazing 6-foot-5, 230-pound manifestation of rekindled hope aflame.