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Kurt Bevacqua (Continued)

March 28, 2007

Prayer for Expansion, Part 2

Kurt Bevacqua seems in this 1977 Seattle Mariners card as if he has been wandering around with mounting confusion on the same blurry, ethereal plain seen in the background of Pete Broberg’s 1977 Seattle Mariners card.

It makes me wonder about the birth of the Seattle Mariners, who had yet to play a game at the time the two cards came out. Maybe the beginning of that franchise was not a series of bargain-bin purchases and expansion draft signings but instead a kind of ambiguous baseball afterlife. Maybe what we’re seeing in the 1977 cards of Kurt Bevacqua and Pete Broberg are not fake Elysian Fields created by the rushed doctoring job of a Topps artist, but instead some kind of miraculous photograph of the netherworld where baseball journeymen go when they pass beyond the veil separating the Big Leagues from the Great Beyond.

The statistics on the backs of both Kurt Bevacqua’s and Pete Broberg’s cards seem to support this idea. In the 1976 season, both of them struggled for playing time on a last-place Milwaukee Brewers club. Broberg went 1 and 7 with a 4.99 ERA, and Bevacqua hit .143 in 7—yes, 7—at bats. Both were in their late 20s, no longer able to be identified as prospects. As he rode the pine and watched his teammates rack up 95 losses, it must have at some point occurred to Bevacqua (if not to Broberg, who, judging from the photo in his ’77 card, seems capable of blithely ignoring any and all negative portents) that he may not be long for the world he’d come to know. I imagine Kurt Bevacqua thinking to himself, If I can’t cut it in Milwaukee, where the hell else can I possibly go? I imagine a feeling of doom beginning to infiltrate the ever-wider spaces between at bats. I imagine a hazy feeling beginning to prevail, things that once seemed inarguably solid starting to become incorporeal.

“What pitch he get you with, Bevacqua?”

I imagine a teammate asking this. Bevacqua has just gotten a rare at-bat, and it has ended in a strikeout.

“My bat,” Bevacqua replies in a near-whisper, but he swallows the rest of his thought. He understands it’s too strange:

My bat is turning to fog.

“Your bat,” says the teammate. “What about your bat?”

But before Bevacqua can answer, the world he has known dissolves altogether. No more teammates, no more dugout, no more fans, no more game.

He is wandering around the blurry, ethereal expanse captured in this card.

It looks a little like the lifeless, bulldozed plain of a landfill. It also looks a little like a dormant spring training complex stripped of its baseball accessories. No batting cages, no pitching machines, no stands, no bases.

No players. There’s no one else around.

Kurt Bevacqua gradually becomes aware as he wanders that he is still wearing a baseball uniform, but it’s not the same one he’d been wearing before, and in fact is unlike any uniform he has ever worn or even seen. There is an M on his cap, just as there had been on his last cap, but it clearly does not stand for Milwaukee. In fact, the M seems to be in the shape of a pitchfork, an alarming realization considering the connotations of pitchfork iconography in afterlife scenarios.

“Oh no,” Bevacqua mutters aloud.

But the physical conditions don’t seem particularly infernal. He’d rather not be alone, and he’d rather everything not be kind of blurry, but he’s not being burned alive, or flayed, or mangled. In fact, the climate is preternaturally mild, as if the blue above his head is not the sky but the painted ceiling of a brand new air-conditioned dome.

“Could be worse, I guess,” Bevacqua murmurs, and he even relaxes a little and entertains the hope that the blurriness of the landscape is merely the world of his wildest dreams slowly coming into focus. Maybe it’s like one of those newfangled Polaroid instant camera pictures, he thinks. Blurry at first but then as you look at it everything slowly, magically appears.

But at the moment he thinks this, a figure emerges from the murky horizon, walking toward Bevacqua. He’s another man in a baseball uniform. As this figure draws nearer, Bevacqua understands that he is wearing a uniform similar but not identical to his own. Then he realizes that he recognizes the man in the uniform. His heart sinks. No way this is paradise. Bevacqua’s expression becomes like the one seen in his 1977 card: Confusion feeding into something verging on anger.

“Broberg,” he says, pained. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Hey, man, I know you,” Pete Broberg coos with lidded-eyed calm. His face is the placid mask seen in his 1977 card. “You’re, uh, hm. Yeah. Ha! I definitely know you.”

“Where the hell are we?” Bevacqua says, exasperated. What a friggin’ idiot, he thinks.

“Don’t worry about it, friend,” Broberg purrs. “I mean, relax, you know? You’ll live longer.”

Bevacqua fights back an urge to punch his former Brewer teammate in his unflappably contented Ivy League face. Live longer? This seems a potentially ridiculous thing to say in the current circumstances.

“I don’t know,” says the angry-faced Bevacqua, “I don’t like this bullshit. I mean, our uniforms. They don’t even match.”

Broberg gazes at Bevacqua, then lazily looks down at his uniform, comparing. Broberg’s uniform has a lighter shade of blue, and his neckline lacks the gold piping seen in Bevacqua’s. Broberg removes his own cap and sees that the outer prongs on the M on his cap seem to splay out more than the straight prongs on Bevacqua’s cap. Broberg shrugs.

“Details, my friend, mere details,” he says. He puts his cap back on his head. He yawns.

Bevacqua, already sick of being around the guy he figures he might have to spend eternity with, glares out at the mushy horizon.

“I think we’re in a horseshit operation,” he grumbles.

But as he says this another figure appears off in the distance. Then another. Soon a couple dozen figures are meandering half-dazed from every direction toward Broberg and Bevacqua, all wearing slightly different uniforms, everyone with a uniquely crooked pitchfork M on their head, everyone in white with lighter and darker shades of blue. Bevacqua recognizes some as fellow marginals. Others he doesn’t know. Nobody says anything.

Then, like the distant crashing of waves or the wide lonesome susurrus of wind through trees, there is the sound of cheering, far off. The baseball players don’t have any idea that the cheers are emanating from opening day at a place called the Kingdome. But they all understand they should move toward the sound.

And so they do, together, a new kind of team.

18 comments

  1. 1.  Wonderful as always. I, of course, will never look the same at Kurt Bevacqua ever again (if I ever look at him again). I rooted for those awful Seattle teams for years. I had to laugh as I was a Cactus League game last week (not vacation, just where I live) and in the final three innings I saw Erubiel Durazo, Lou Merloni, and a 40 year old Manny Alexander giving it another shot. I thought of you, Josh, and how you would write about them. Elysian fields and dreams of glory indeed…. Or perhaps that was the bevy of 6 dollar beers and 93 degree heat. Had a blast, of course.


  2. 2.  Oh my god, that had me in tears! That was literally the funniest thing I’ve ever read on the Toaster.

    That card is an instant flashback to the good old Topps ’77 set, the first year I started collecting baseball cards. I still have a complete set of them (plus dupes) in shoeboxes in my closet (hopefully they weren’t among the casualties when a pipe burst last year and soaked the wall behind the closet with hot water — didn’t lose many, just enough to hurt because I had kept them for so long).

    Those first Seattle and Toronto sets really confused my 9-year old brain — where were all the cool action shots, like on the other teams? Why did the hats look so funny?

    This is great fun. Keep it coming.


  3. 3.  I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here, but I suspect the photos for the 1977 Mariners were shot in a suburban Phoenix Olan Mills studio. But it is kind of interesting to picture the expansion Mariners as a Bangsian fantasy; an afterlife that is neither heaven nor hell; a Hades for AAAA players.


  4. 4.  This blog is fantastic, by the way. I also started collecting, and watching baseball really, in 1977. Funny thing is, I had no idea that Toronto and Seattle were new teams, nor did their weird cards or uniforms tip it off for me. I just knew they weren’t good.


  5. 5.  Ennui Willie Keeler said: “I suspect the photos for the 1977 Mariners were shot in a suburban Phoenix Olan Mills studio”

    Very interesting. I feel a strong urge to learn more about these studios.

    But not so strong that it’s going to distract me from spending the rest of the evening ruminating on Lou Merloni. Looouuuuuuu!!!


  6. 6.  The Mayor of Framingham!


  7. 7.  Ah, lovely. “Lost” meets “Field of Dreams.” En route to the distant sound of cheering, our band of marginals comes across another, this one led by Darrell Chaney, who informs Bevacqua and Broberg that if their parties ever want to reach the source of those cheers, they’ll have to cross the Mendoza line.


  8. 8.  Great stuff, keep it coming. I’ve got those cards and they will never be the same.


  9. 9.  Is it just me, or does Bevacqua look like Jon (Napoleon Dynamite/Blades of Glory) Heder in that card’s pic? Gosh!

    Nicely done, as always.


  10. 10.  “wide lonesome susurrus”

    First use I’ve seen of “susurrus” in regular English in about fifteen years.

    Mr. Wilker, I re-read this, and laughed just as much at every key point. Thanks again.


  11. 11.  This is one of the first things I read on Cardboard Gods, and it hooked me. And now, as I make my way through from the beginning, I realize even more what a fantastic piece of writing this is.


  12. 12.  Kurt Bevacqua, in addition to his famous card where he blew the largest bubble, had a guest spot on “King of the Hill” as himself, he being a ringer on a company softball team. I find it fascinatingly strange they’d have Kurt Bevacqua, of all people, on the show.


  13. Damn, that was wildly histerical. Great stuff. I remember those cards vividly. According to Tommy Lasorda . . . “Kurt f@#^%’n Bevacqua couldn’t hit water if he fell out out of a f*%$@’n boat. . . . I’ll kick his ass any day of the week!”


  14. You losers don’t know s–t about anything;……….and if any of you see that Fat Little Italian, tell him to kiss my Italian Ass. Kurt B.


  15. I hope that really is Mr. Bevacqua. Great stuff as usual Josh! Am I the only one who remembers Bevacqua’s great play in the 1984 World Series though? And just for the record he could beat the sh*t out of Lasorda with one hand tied behind his back. ;-)


  16. When I think of Kurt Bevacqua I automatically think Joe Garagiola Bazooka Bubble Gum Blowing Champ!!


  17. I first heard of Kurt Bevacqua in 1999 or 2000 when ESPN did a parody of their SportsCentury series featuring him…classic, but sadly my search for a video was unsuccessful.


  18. That was a great re- read.Last time I read it was in the book a few years ago.I was a Canadian kid obsessed with the Blue Jays and collected 1977 OPC cards.The logos were confusing and even more confusing was all those guys in the Topps set that never even played a game for them.I also remember Luis Gomez playing for them and cringing at the thought he might try to steal a base.I have Jeff Byrd’s autograph…why would I save an auto of someone who was 2-13 and then disappeared forever?And why do Americans get 792 cards and we get only 264?And why the hell doesn’t Kurt Bevacqua have more of a sense of humour?Of course he could kick Tommy Lasorda’s ass!I should freakin hope so.Great stuff Josh.



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