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Oscar Zamora

April 8, 2008
 

A few days ago my wife and I were talking about what to do with the ashes when one of us keels over.

“You don’t have to do anything with mine,” she said.

“What are you talking about?”

“I don’t want to be sitting around in some stupid urn.”

“What? No, they have to be sprinkled on something.”

“Sprinkled?” She laughed at the word. We were both laughing, actually. Sprinkled. The word seemed better suited to a sunny tableau involving laughing children and a Good Humor truck.

“Just burn them,” she said.

“You can’t burn ashes.” We started laughing some more. What a hilarious topic!

“I don’t know. I don’t care,” she said. “Who needs it?”

We went back and forth for a while. I finally harangued her into agreeing that I’d take her to Amsterdam and throw her at the door of the place that used to be the club where she danced through her adolescent and young adult years. I’ll keep my own specific requests to myself, but if all goes according to plan my extinction will result in my widow being led away in handcuffs by the Fenway Park police.

*** 

Oscar Zamora toiled in the minor leagues for nine seasons before making the major leagues at the age of 29. He was decent his first season in the big leagues, quite a bit worse the following season, worse still the season after that, and demoted to the minors the next year. At the end of that year he was sold to another team, who brought him back up for one more chance, which he squandered, posting a 7.20 ERA in 10 games, an effort that cast him into the oblivion beyond any back of the card stats.

What remains of him in the collective memory is a ditty either written by a sportswriter or sung by Cubs fans or both, depending on which of the various sketchy versions of the past lingering in the ether of the Internet you choose to believe. It was sung to the tune of “That’s Amore” and went like this:

When the pitch is so fat, that the ball hits the bat, that’s Zamora.

*** 

What traces will you leave? To date I’ve had a couple things named after me, but both fell into disuse long ago.

The first was something called The Wilker, and it was a punishment invented by my high school ultimate frisbee coach. His name was Buzz and he was a surfer dude from Santa Barbara who was getting his phys ed degree from a nearby college, UMass, which he helped lead to the college ultimate frisbee national championship one year. He was probably the best coach I ever had both because he taught me a lot about the sport and because he was a nice guy and with his van and surferly ways made us all feel cooler by extension. But one day I just ditched practice to go to a pizza place and play the Star Wars video game with my friend Julian. I guess I figured that since I thought of myself as invisible then the whole world thought the same, and so no one would notice I was gone. But Buzz noticed, and the next day he gathered up all our frisbees and had me chase down his long throws one after another, which basically amounted to fifteen or sixteen wind sprints in a row. From then on, if anybody did anything out of line or stupid or lazy the team would clamor for them to be given The Wilker. The tradition, such as it was, only lasted the season.

The other time I had something named after me was when I was a part-time liquor store clerk in my early twenties with no money and an aura of glowering desperation, and yet I somehow briefly dated a successful, attractive woman. She was, it was later determined, way out of my league. Somehow the whole improbable situation got wrapped up in me getting a $10,000 deal from a British publisher to write a book about Pearl Jam, a band I knew nothing about and didn’t particularly like. I raced around for a while thinking that my life was going to change completely, that I was going to be an exciting, successful, unlonely guy.

“You’re so beautiful I can hardly keep my eyes on the meter,” I told the woman one night, quoting Woody Allen. We were riding in a cab to her apartment.

“Josh, we need to talk,” she said.

“Who the hell are you?” a member of Pearl Jam’s publicity team demanded of me the next day. I was trying to request an interview with the band for the book.

“I’m a nice guy,” I think I said. I felt like crying. Kurt Cobain blew his brains out right around then, and once I heard the news I worked it into a gloomy letter of resignation to the nice woman at the British publishing house who had wanted to give me $10,000. I went back to peddling booze and glowering alone. Anyway, from then on the notion of somehow connecting with someone or something out of your league became known among my small group of friends, at least for a little while, as “pulling a Wilker.”

21 comments

  1. 1.  I was told by the staff of my local Fatburger that they’d unofficially named my regular burger (a double Kingburger with cheese, egg, chili, and bacon) after me. Around that time my cardiologist told me I’d be lucky to live to be 30. My 30th birthday was 20 months away. Five years later I’m still alive. Dumbass cardiologists.


  2. 2.  Be careful about sprinkling the ashes in Amsterdam; someone might end up smoking them.

    I’m planning on being poured out over the Garden ice, preferably during a Rangers-Islanders battle.

    On September 2, 1972, Oscar Zamora pitched a seven-inning perfect game for the Oklahoma ’89ers against the Denver Bears. Among those unable to get a hit off the Cuban righthander were Lenny Randle and Jeff Burroughs.

    Keep on truckin’, Josh. Not everyone pulls a Wilker all the time, not even a Wilker.


  3. 3.  I played ultimate all the time in high school, but when I got to Stanford and went for the club team, I found they took it way too seriously. Took all the fun out of it for me. I’m fascinated that you had a high school ultimate coach.

    And, despite turning 40, I have completely avoided confronting how I should be disposed of. Your conversation with your wife has made me jealous in the strangest way.


  4. 4.  Zamora had such a brief, undistinguished career (unless you count giving up 17 HRs in 71 IP one year) that I wasn’t even sure why I immediately remembered him when I saw this posting. Then I recalled that the only season of cards I had for the APBA baseball game was for the 1976 season. The pitchers were ranked A through D. Zamora was a D. I must remember bringing him in from the bullpen during some drubbings that the Cubs were absorbing.


  5. 5.  Don’t forget your own term for destroyed baseball cards: Wilkerization.

    There was a time when I was such an ultimate frisbee nut that there was no amount of long passes I’d have to chase that would amount to punishment. I think I was part labrador back then.

    Read “Stiff” if you haven’t yet for a nice rundown on the possibilities for you when you go.


  6. 6.  Speaking of legacies, Bill Buckner just threw out the first pitch in the banner-raising home opener. He got a 2-minute standing O. If I’d been watching I would have cried.

    1 : That burger combo makes me a little hungry and a little frightened.

    3 : I was at a huge boarding school that had a club ultimate team for a while before Buzz somehow wrangled a way to get himself some easy college credits. His being there allowed it to be designated a varsity sport, and I would have two varsity letters, just like my more legitimately athletic basketball-playing older brother, if only I’d not been too lazy to go pick them up at the end of the year.


  7. 7.  5 : I loved running back then, too, but The Wilker nearly killed me. I remember gasping for breath at the end and having our team captain, a science guy, stand near me and tell me what was physiologically going on in my body. I wanted to throttle him but I couldn’t raise my arms.


  8. 8.  FYI: A couple cool links, from Spudrph and turkeyleg, came in at the tail end of the Larry Cox comments:

    Coover’s imaginary baseball universe

    http://econweb.tamu.edu/turocy/WTGWR/

    Kerouacs’s imaginary baseball universe: http://www.thecolumnists.com/isaacs/isaacs69.html


  9. 9.  I want to be dismembered (not cremated) and have the parts sprinkled on the parking lot that used to be old Comiskey Park.


  10. 10.  Please turn me into Rocket Fuel!


  11. 11.  The most beautiful way to sends ones ashes into the netherland is hire a boat, have the ones you invited hold the urn and either talk aloud about that person or in private and then scatter the ashes into the ocean.

    They make an interesting display once in the sea and then the currents take them away.

    Conversly when it is Charlton Heston time just diving deep into the ocean depths and letting currents take you away seems like a good way to go and no one has to deal with ashes and the like.


  12. 12.  I used to make up numbers that would help me in my debates with friends. They came to be known as “phil facts”. That’s all I got after 49 years.

    Some life


  13. 13.  9 : The word “sprinkled” gets even funnier when used in conjunction with a dismembered parking lot corpse.


  14. 14.  Dismembered parking lot corpse!!!
    Dismembered parking lot corpse!!!
    Dismembered parking lot corpse!!!

    Somehow it just needed to be Griffithed.


  15. 15.  “A few days ago my wife and I were talking about what to do with the ashes [my mind put a pause here] when one of us keels over.”

    Whew. After reading that first paragraph I thought this was going to be a much more depressing post.

    Anyway, traces. When I was in fifth grade there was an essay contest for the local schools in Lafayette, IN. The subject was “What will things be like in 100 years.” The winners would have their submissions placed in a time capsule in the corner stone of a city building.

    I wrote a poem. It was good enough to be one of the final two selected from my school. As a class, we voted on which of the two we were going to submit to the city to enter. I still have vivid memories of the vote. The teacher made us put our heads down, probably so that no one would be influenced by who was voting for which. She even mentioned, before we took the vote, “Remember that this is an essay contest.”

    My poem won anyway, by one vote, despite these poor instructions to the jury from the teacher. I voted for myself. I felt kind of bad about that at the time. Was I being selfish? I usually didn’t do something like that-vote for myself-when the polite thing would have been to defer to someone else. But this other girl’s essay was boring…something about eating Space Krispies for breakfast. Maybe I just wanted to win something, so I ended up voting for my submission. Looking back, I’m actually glad I did.

    The city’s review committee ended up picking my entry from among all the fifth grade submissions. My “reward” was to read it out loud over the PA system to the entire school. Presumably, it was put into this time capsule in a city building in Lafayette.

    So, in about 75 years, if someone gets around to opening up that time capsule, the poem of a fifth grader will be among its contents. I sincerely doubt that the actual world will resemble the contents of my poem.


  16. 16.  one time i pulled a wilker and i couldn’t use my right elbow for a week.


  17. 17.  15 : Now all I have to do is somehow live to 115 to read that poem. And maybe have some Space Crispies.

    16 : The importance of stretching beforehand can not be overstated.


  18. 18.  I remember Buzz well, Josh. Played against him regularly when I was at Swarthmore and then out of New Jersey after graduation in the early-to-mid 80s… The Wilker was what the folks who taught me to play had me do as practice early on… I couldn’t throw worth a damn but was a DIII soccer player and could catch most anything I could get my hands on… I loved playing at Zoo Mass, too… oh, the breakfasts in town, utter exhaustion during the day and beer (did I say beer? I meant carbo loading) at night… and there was an odd semi-Caribbean restaurant on the outskirts of town we’d eat at pretty regularly… I like the idea of mixing ashes with white chalk and marking a field with ‘em… Always affectionate towards the Sox, my now-wife and I lived in Groton, MA, when Dan Duquette (Amherst College grad, eckhkh) was GM and developed quite a distaste for the Sox (and The Globe’s Ryan, who’s just a dirty old man… see historical quotes about Nancy Kerrigans gams)… now, we’re regaining that affection but are deeply sad about being swept in ’04… part of what drew my wife and I together was a long-time affection for Ken Reitz… got anything on him?


  19. 19.  18 : Hey, APRudy: It makes me happy to hear that Buzz is remembered. He was the co-star of that great UMASS team, as I recall, the other guy a lanky dude named Jeremy, I think. I did an internet search for Buzz a while back and discovered that he is (or was) working as a bartender in Colorado.

    Ken Reitz? The Big Zamboni? Stay tuned . . . (note: it might take a while to get to him but I will, eventually, if I stay in a non-ash state long enough, anyway)


  20. 20.  You understate the impossibility of that Pearl Jam assignment. It really was an untenable situation and you gave it a good shot.

    …and…uh, don’t want to quibble over tindersticks here, but just to be fair to the legacy of your legendarily-eponymous-in-his-own-right older brother, i believe the term in question was “pulling a JOSH Wilker.”

    But hey, just as Bobby Hull practically owns the mortage on Boom-Boom Geffrion’s slap shot…
    well…
    I feel that over the ensuing decades I have perfected this act of somehow connecting with ‘someones’ and ‘somethings’ out of my league to the extent that the brief glorious shelf-life of this sort of situation’s “grace-period,” be it a week, a year, or a mayfly’s lifespan, could conceivably be dubbed “Millerman -Time.”


  21. 21.  20 : By god, I think you might be right about the phrase being “pulling a Josh Wilker.”

    Which of course doesn’t have the ring of “Millerman-Time.”



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