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Ivan DeJesus

March 29, 2008
   
I was twice ordered to bunt in what turned out to be the final game of my baseball career. I was 14 and on a terrible Babe Ruth team that got worse as the season wore on. But we eventually found a team even worse than us, probably the same ragged collection of hippie teens that my brother almost no-hit the year before. We got a good lead early, yet when I came to bat our coach gave me the sign from the third base coach’s box to lay down a bunt. In retrospect I think he was trying to let me know that my opinion of myself as a baseball player, which I’d formed while doing pretty well in Little League, was outdated. I was a scrub now, a bench guy. I wasn’t as happy to throw away my at-bat as Ivan DeJesus appears to be, but I followed orders and laid down a good bunt. The coach never acknowledged it. By my next time up we were really pounding them. Everyone had gotten into the fun but me. I looked up the third base line to the coach and he touched his belt again, the bunt sign. I couldn’t figure out if he was an idiot or if he was punishing me. Either way, I was through with baseball. I lashed a double, probably my only solid hit since Little League. As I stood on second base I didn’t look at the coach. My body tingled from making good contact. The first true love of my life had ended.

                                                        *    *    *

(Love versus Hate update: Ivan DeJesus’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

12 comments

  1. 1.  If I had power over the universe for a day, I’d allow such love to be ended only after the age of 18.

    I had two things that were a little unusual in high school. I had a deep voice and a great outfield arm. An incompetent boob of a coach who would later call me a “faggot” in front of my brother wore out my arm something fierce trying to make me what I wasn’t–a pitcher. I swear, this guy would make Tom Lasorda look like Florence Nightengale in the way he handled pitchers.

    As a teacher, I sometimes violate a simple rule by using the real power I have in the classroom–I’m fairly good sized, have a deep voice–to exorcize my petty irritations at the expense of my students. By confessing this, some might see me as someone who should be out of the classroom but I would argue that my awareness of this is what makes such incidents so uncommon and more easily remedied. It’s the awareness of such mistakes that makes us human. Those who feel such mistakes should never be made don’t want human beings teaching their students and as a parent, I understand that but it ain’t happening.

    I think Josh’s coach was blinded by something. I know my coach was blinded. It’s probably the nicest thing either of us could say about them.


  2. 2.  I was a pretty good player through high school, but I was buried on the bench on what amounted to I didn’t have a dad who was out their buying equipment or funding the program.
    Later after high school, I played for my old little league coach on his JC team for one year when he gave me a call on the phone and told me “that kind of bullshit won’t happen on this team.”
    It’s amazing what some jackass who is given charge of a little league or high school team can do when given the power.
    I always appreciate Dom Gaudiosa who played one year of back up catcher on the Chicago Cubs for that phone call. I also appreciate the fact that once in little league when I thought I was a hot shot pitcher and was show boating in practice by throwing batting practice like it was a game, he stepped up to the plate and drilled every pitch I had to any field.


  3. 3.  I played in a church league when I was twelve, my only experience in “organized” baseball. My first couple of practices went well, so I was the starting second baseman and leadoff hitter for the first game. In my first at bat, I doubled and stole third. In my second, I walked and stole second and third (it should be noted that all these steals happened because the catcher dropped the pitch).

    While I was standing at third base that second time, my coach whispered to me to take off for home the next time the catcher dropped the ball. Sure enough, he did and I slid in just below the tag. As I lay there in all my dusty glory, the ump leaned over and said, “Go back and tell your coach you’re not allowed to steal home in this league.”

    I probably failed to hide my disappointment as I relayed the news, and later dropped a throw on a steal attempt by the other team. Next game, I played center field and batted…..twelfth (church league, as mentioned). If playing baseball is a love affair, I fell for the girl just as her family climbed into the van and moved to the next county.


  4. 4.  Josh, your story causes me to recall my last “real” organized game like it was yesterday.
    I haven’t thought of this for years. Bittersweet, bittersweet, I knew that it would be my last game with the coach, who I grew to love and respect.
    Is there anything better than sharing competetive experiences, than with someone who believes in you whole heartedly, no matter the outcome?
    Little did I know, that would also turn out to be my last “game”.
    We players were twelve and thirteen years old. He was coaching to help his son have a good experience, as he was probably one of the least athletic players in the league.
    He didn’t play his son as a favorite, his son didn’t start.
    The coach said that he had played a liitle pro ball, getting up to the “C” league.
    We practiced on a school yard diamond.
    The first practice, he took off his first baseman’s mitt and threw it down in the dust and said “This will be our home plate at practice for the rest of the season.”
    “This is the glove that I used in the last game that I played.”
    Well, I was incredulous, I picked the glove up from the dirt, dusted it off and handed it back to him and said something like,”How can you do that to your glove? It’s a great glove! There’s nothing wrong with it! We’re going to wreck it!”
    He dropped the glove back to the dust and told us all, “I don’t need this glove anymore, you guys do. This will make a fine home plate for our practices. It might even bring us a little luck.” He then lit a cigarette, blew out some smoke, and told us to go play catch and get loose.
    I was the catcher. It used to kill me everytime a kid would come in to score and stomp on that glove. A couple of the guys seemed to take a special delight in this.
    At the end of each practice, I would help gather up the stuff and dust the glove off and hand it to him, it wasn’t very long before the glove was flat as a pancake and didn’t really look like much of a glove anymore.
    I loved to play, we all did. I didn’t have the reputation as being much of a hitter in this league, coming into the season. At our practices, he got me to try a few simple things with the stance and the bat. Our first game I went four for five and got on with an error the fifth time and we won the game. Everybody was so excited so about it. After the game he asked me, “So how does it feel?” “Great”, I said. He looked at me and told me, “You can do this all the time, if you want to.” I ended up being the top hitter in the league that year. He even had a buddy that he said was a scout come out to watch me play.
    Man, that guy sure made that season fun for me.
    He gave me a gift. Sweet memories that live on.
    You do great work Josh.


  5. 5.  I’m loving these stories.


  6. 6.  I did a big disservice to my former little league coach by spelling his name wrong. Dom Gaudioso and not Dom Gaudiosa. Sorry Dom.


  7. 7.  You made the right move swinging away in that situation. The coach was acting like a complete tool.


  8. 8.  From time to time, I think about the last game I played organized baseball and definitely think of it as bittersweet.

    It was sunny day late in the summer of 1990 and I was pitching for my hometown American Legion team in Upstate New York. As I was warming up I could tell my arm wasn’t throwing with the same velocity it was used to. (I would later determine that I had what is now termed “dead arm” issue.) It’s not like I was a flamethrower or anything, but I had enough success to attract close to 100 colleges (mostly non-scholarship athletic programs: DIII’s, IVY league, etc.) interested in my pitching abilities. I was pretty scrawny at that time, maybe 5′ 10″ and 150 lbs if I was lucky. I did, however, have pinpoint control and absolutely hated to walk guys. (I actually had more hit-batsman than IBB’s that season). Anyhow, in this last game I got lit up by the opposing team giving up 5 earned runs in less than two innings and was removed for another reliever. It was the shortest outing of my scholastic pitching career.

    Having watched Barry Bonds (ASU), Pete Incaviglia (OSU), and Roger Clemens (UT) on ESPN, I dreamed of playing at a D1 program and in the College World Series. As such, I shied away from smaller college programs that were offering a chance to compete on the next level. I tried out as a walk-on at Michigan State but never got the chance to redeem myself. I never thought that would be my last game.


  9. 9.  8 : Thanks for sharing that great story.


  10. 10.  Unlike some of the other posters, I was never very good at baseball. I always loved the game more than any other sports, some of which I played passably well, but was never able to excel at it.
    I played one year in Little League and was relegated to right field most of the time. The coach called me in to pitch once even though I had never expressed any interest in it and my first pitch passed behind the batter and bounced off the backstop.
    What I really wanted to tell of was my coach in junior high school, my father. He coached all the major boys sports teams at the school: soccer, basketball & baseball. Though not a starter in soccer and basketball, I was a second stringer on both teams and played quite a bit. He definitely did not show any favoritism towards me.
    As proof, I offer the fact that he cut me from the baseball team! His own son! At the conclusion of try-outs, he sat down with each of the boys that didn’t make the squad, told them why they were cut and offered tips on improving their play if they hoped to make a team in the future. He had quite a few tips for me, especially concerning batting and not being afraid of curve balls.
    I’d like to add that he did allow a couple of us to be managers, wear the uniform, coach first or third during games and practice with the team. In one of the last games of the seventh grade season, a game in which we were getting blown out, he actually played us managers. I got to play right field (of course) in the bottom of the fifth and came up to bat in the top of the sixth. Wouldn’t you know it, the pitcher’s first offering was inside. Thinking that this was a curve and determined not to bail out in my one at-bat, I waited until the last minute before turning and getting plunked in the back. Knocked the wind right out of me.
    That was my last “play” in organized baseball. I’ll never forget it and I have always tried to follow my pop’s example of unbiased talent evaluation in my own coaching career. (I don’t coach baseball, just youth league soccer.)


  11. Ivan DeJesus was part of one of the worst trades in Phillies history or Best trades in Cubs history depending on your point of view.

    Ivan DeJesus for Larry Bowa and RYNE SANDBERG as a throw in.

    Your post about your last game in your baseball career reminds me of my last year in little league. I was fairly lucky that most of my coaches had been pretty mellow guys who were very even-tempered. Not so for my last year.

    I was in 8th grade and we had these two Football Jocks who were about 17 or 18 years old and about 6 foot and 220 lbs. at the time. Whoever had the logic of putting 17-18 year kids in charge of 13-14 year old kids was a complet idiot.

    I played shortstop and our practices were basically the two big guys taking turns hitting ground balls as hard as they could and if you missed the ball or if the ball actually hit you in the leg, the two guys would yell at us and call us pussies.

    Our team sucked, the coaches sucked, sometimes they wouldn’t show up, and half the kids were juvenille delinquents.

    My last game the pitcher threw one at my chest, I dove out of the way and hit my tailbone rather hard on the ground. One of the coaches was yelling, I grounded out
    and basically said “F” this game and went home after the game and never came back to finish the season.

    It’s funny I was still really into following baseball but I never played it again. I never played high school baseball. Then I played Men’s Softball (Fast/slow/high arc) for the next 15 years, playing sometimes in 3 leagues at a time, probably in some kind of subconscious need to make up for not playing in high school.

    It’s funny the role chance and luck plays in your life. Who knows, if I had played on a better team with a good coach I might have played in high school and wouldn’t have to spend the next 15 years trying to go back in time.


  12. Almost two years to the day since the Ivan DeJesus / last game played entry had a reply… so I figure what the hell.

    First on DeJesus… he will always have a special place in my heart as a harbinger of dwindling innocent ignorance. I always pronounced his last name incorrectly, like Jesus the Christian son of God… And not the proper Greek deity way “Hey, Zeus!”. In 1983 or 84, when I was nine or ten years old, we finally got cable television. Rainy days in summer became filled with the almost completely foreign National League… Braves games on WTBS and Cubs games on WGN… and with them, the announcers who pronounced Ivan’s last name the correct way. “That’s stupid”, I’m sure I thought to myself at the time… arrogantly sticking to one’s guns the way only a nine year old can do… and looking back, I still like my pronunciation better.

    As far as my baseball career… as an elementary school kid I suffered from “well meaning father fucks up your life by being your shitty coach” syndrome. This lead me to wash out from baseball after my sixth grade summer. My dad still beats himself up over this to this day, while dishing out backhanded compliments at the same time… “You could have been so much better in high school… I blame myself”. Thanks Pops. Dickhead. (Seriously, I love my dad… and his backhanded compliments are oblivious and completely free of malice… I never have the guts to call them out when he tells the story). Either way, I had a job at the time as a paperboy… saved up a bought my first computer (a Commodore 64!) and had happily morphed into a computer dork.

    Of course, by the time high school rolled around… being a computer dork suddenly looked a lot less appealing. My only hope for anything approaching broad social acceptance was sports, seeing I was missing the requisite good looks for non-athletically drawn popular acceptance. I decided, after roughly three years of not playing, to try out for the freshman team. I squeaked onto the team, mainly by virtue of being the only guy who volunteered for backup catcher that could actually make the throw to second base. My only athletic ability that approached being above average was my throwing arm… I spent countless hours as a kid throwing hardballs against a cinderblock wall in my condo complex.

    I worked and worked and improved enough to become a platoon guy for half a season on the varsity team during my junior year. I’m not sure how high school baseball works today, but at that time, we had a three man pitching rotation and all our pitchers played some other position when not on the mound. My job was as the defensive plug-in for our shortstop and third baseman on days they pitched. (I usually played second base, with the regular second baseman sliding over to SS or 3B respectively).

    I had reached the pinnacle for a gangly and not terribly coordinated kid. I had my varsity letter… and just in time as well… With college looming the following fall, I needed to save money and by this time, had a decent after school job. Baseball wasn’t going to work into my senior year plans, I could not afford to miss work due to games and practice. Then… a few weeks later… my name doesn’t get called at the spring sports banquet. WTF? Well, turns out I missed out on qualifying for my varsity letter. Although never getting a clear understanding of the exact criteria, apparently underclassmen had to start a certain amount of games or reach a certain at-bat threshold to qualify… and I just missed both criteria.

    The following spring, I decide I’m not going out for the team. Social acceptance never came along anyways, despite prodigiously wearing my varsity team warmup jacket to school for the entire season. (Eighty one degrees in early May? Fuck you weather! The warmup jacket is still on!). Anyways, I tell the coach that I need to work and don’t have time to practice/play, he asks me to return, says he’ll work around my schedule. The three previous seasons I had played every position except pitcher and centerfield, never good enough at the plate to earn a regular job… But always good enough with the glove to get shifted around for playing time. Coach was banking on having me to plug around his defense, or so he said. I give in and agreed to play. But apparently things changed once the season started. If I had to leave practice early, I didn’t get to play that week. Well, I had to leave practice early almost every practice… so I never played. I never became the platoon guy that year… I was 98.9% bench warmer… only one pity start in right field in order to qualify for my varsity letter (came to find out that seniors had much looser requirements than underclassmen, understandable to ensure the “Rudy” types could easily get their letters as seniors). I sat in right field until it was my turn at the plate, only to be told I was being lifted for a pinch hitter. After being begged to return, I wasn’t even allowed to bat in that lone start. Think I logged two hits in a grand total of nine at-bats in a few stints as a defensive replacement. Total waste of a spring. Didn’t play baseball, even softball, for quite a few years after that.

    Felt somewhat cathartic to type all this… with the exception of the few times here and there that my dad brought this up over the last 20 years… I rarely think or vent about my last year of baseball… Thank goodness for cardboard gods and it’s seemingly no-character-limit response section!



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