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Kevin Millar

May 14, 2008
  
Golf Road
Chapter Five
(continued from Tim Redding)

When I first found these ripped up 2008 cards on Golf Road I envisioned spreading the lucky, hopeful buzz the find gave me over an entire month, writing nearly every day about one of the cards, welcoming the spring by celebrating the miraculous renewal of each trashed present-day journeyman, a month-long 22-chapter novella that would ultimately establish the bus stop on Golf Road as my personal church, a temple for the embrace of the moment in the heart of the blind spot of the American Dream, which also happened to be the heart of my own strongest desire to escape the moment. It was pretty ambitious. It was bound to end up incomplete.

In truth there’s not much to the story. The bus came by and I got on. That about wraps things up regarding the day I found the cards. There’s also a Grateful Dead song that starts with those words. The bus mentioned in the song is metaphorical in some ways, but the metaphor has its roots in an actual bus, Furthur, which belonged to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, who used the vehicle, an old conveyance for schoolchildren that the proto-hippies had emblazoned with Day-Glo paint, to roam the land ingesting prodigious amounts of LSD and acting unusually around members of the general populace. This was in 1964. They believed they could transform society by passing along, through artful pranks, the enlightenment they were experiencing. Mostly they exhibited their painted naked bodies and yelled at tax-paying citizens with a megaphone. When they returned to California from the cross-country trip they began inviting the general public to acid tests, which the Grateful Dead fully participated in, managing somehow to play their electrified instruments and add strange music to the general sensory assault while they, like everyone else there, hallucinated ferociously. In other words, the bus came by and they got on.

Others followed. The man who would become my step-father was the first in my family to get on the bus, dropping out of college, growing his hair long, crisscrossing the country on a motorcycle, eventually stumbling around the Oregon woods on acid made by the Merry Prankster’s own famous chemist, Owsley. My mother followed him onto the bus. In fact they literally met on a bus to a peace march. I don’t know if you could say my father ever got on the bus, but he didn’t throw rocks at the bus or anything, and when the family split up he did ride another kind of bus (Greyhound) up to see us a lot, and my brother and I took the same Greyhound down to see him every summer. A few years later I rode a Greyhound all the way across the country. There was Cowboy Neal at the wheel. That’s another line from the Grateful Dead song. It’s a reference to Neal Cassady, who was the driver of the Merry Prankster bus and who I first read about in On the Road a couple years before my cross-country bus ride. I wanted to ride beside him, crisscrossing the country in a frenzied search for ecstatic visions, so I tried to get on the bus, but it was a Greyhound. Once the Greyhound had taken me and my liquefying spine to California I saw my first Grateful Dead show and started tripping pretty hard during the first notes of the first song the visibly aging men on stage were playing, Jack Straw. We can share the women we can share the wine. There were people sharing things all around me, most notably hugs in big unshowered hug circles. I found I wanted no part of it. It wasn’t all the hairy armpits, either. I’ve never been a joiner. I prefer solitary, even lonely, anonymity, where without ever having to actually talk to anybody I can painlessly imagine great untroubled renown and warm feelings of vibrant community. I went to a few more Grateful Dead shows over the next couple years and it was the same thing: strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hands, as another of their songs go, and me off to the side, my jaw clenching and my nostrils flaring with the chemical pulse coursing through me, my pupils like fire-blackened dimes. At one show a hippie girl even shouted at me, in a rhetorical way that was akin to a distancing shove of the palm to the chest, “Why are you hiding?”

Anyway that was all a long time ago. More recently the bus came by, the Pace Bus, and I got on and slid my transit card into the slot. That’s about it. Cowboy Neal wasn’t at the wheel but it turned out that Kevin “Cowboy Up” Millar was partially and in pieces in my pocket. Quite a while later the bus arrived at the CTA terminal and I got off. I got on a train. I got off the train. I walked home. Same as any other day. Today I heard on the radio that there’s a physiological phenomenon called synaptic rutting, which leads to physical and mental degeneration and which stems from the kind of repetitive living that I engage in. But I guess there are always slight variations in my routine. On the day in question, of course, I was able on my arrival at my apartment to delay the routine of simultaneous ingestion of food and television by dumping my card shreds onto the counter and with the help of my wife piecing together whatever we could. When she went to take a shower I taped up the pieces, trying to be careful at first but then deciding to be willfully haphazard, so that the torn parts showed even in the cards that had all their parts.

Not all the cards had all their parts, and I guess it says something about me that these partial cards are my favorites. Of those favorites, this Kevin Millar card is first and foremost. This is not surprising, given my favorite team, and given that the player featured on the card not only started what turned out to be the greatest rally in team history but also seemed to be the foremost contributor to the 2004 Red Sox’ renowned looseness. He was, and probably still is, a goofball. Before Millar the Red Sox had always stared into their chronic collapses with the Yaz-faced dourness of a man being told there was no cure for his hemorrhoids. Conversely, Millar’s response to the deeply humiliating 0-3 hole the Red Sox dug for themselves in the 2004 playoffs was to smile like he had just stumbled from a keg party and tell reporters that his team was going to shock the world. He didn’t sound like the raving young Cassius Clay, the first to make such a claim, but rather like a guy who was simply prepared to continue having some fun playing baseball. How much Millar’s attitude and locker room hijinx actually contributed to the team’s famous comeback is a matter for debate, but the fact is the team seemed to take his lead and play the game both without tension and with passion, a sure sign that they were, as any goofball would have wanted it, enjoying themselves.

I was just thinking last night that the goofball is a lucky guy. Last night as he played first base for the Baltimore Orioles a run scored when he let a groundball go through his legs. He has managed to put together a good career, but what would have happened if that error had not occurred in the first inning of an early-season game that his team would come back to win but instead had occurred in, say, the tenth inning of the sixth game of a World Series? But then again maybe there’s something to being a goofball. Maybe goofballs are just luckier. Maybe they know that the mere fact of being alive is itself a pretty lucky thing, so you might as well enjoy yourself when you can.

I was lucky to find these cards, especially the partial 2008 Kevin Millar. In the days following my find I continued to search the grass around the bus stop on Golf Road. I didn’t find anything the first time I did this, but on the second day I came up with three scraps, one of them the missing piece of Kevin Millar. I put them in my back pocket when the bus arrived. Later, as I was exiting the train station in my neighborhood, a guy was handing out brochures for some street fair. I avoid interpersonal contact whenever possible, but because of one of the briefest chapters in the spotty employment history that has brought me to Golf Road I now take things from people when they hand them out. Several years ago I got some money by working for an outfit that handed out surveys in front of movie theaters. We had to say the same thing over and over: “The producers would love to hear what you think of this movie.” The repetitiveness of this, and the fact that I had to go against my deep-seated personal preference to leave people alone, made me start crying on the subway home. But my money was so thin I had to do it again a few more times. Most people I accosted passed me by. During the movie we filled in blank surveys with fictional responses to the movie we hadn’t seen, then when the movie let out we went up and down the aisles and pried any castoff surveys loose from the gooey floor. So anyway I always take pity on poor slobs handing out things, which led to me taking the brochure and shoving it in my back pocket, then pulling it out when I came to a garbage can. When I got home I found that I only had two scraps of cards in my back pocket. The final piece of Kevin Millar had been jarred loose somehow, probably by a ripple from my lackluster, ridiculous past.

I was angry at first, but what are you gonna do? Punch yourself in the head? Fuck it, life is short. You might as well celebrate what luck comes to you and leave the rest for someone else to find.

22 comments

  1. 1.  I take it you never engage in conversation with your fellow ruttman?

    It is easier to stay within yourself but sometimes making the effort to communicate brings forth surprisingly fruitfull discourse that helps break up a routine commute.

    I guess in todays world where everyone is wired into their ipod or cell any intrusion by a stranger is considered an assault on their space. The songs remain the same but a conversation with a stranger is usually full of discovery that sometimes helps me realize that the human race in a group sucks but whenever you break them down into individuals we are amazing.

    Just think of the look people will give you when you tell them you write about baseball cards. Then when they read what you write they will look at you in a completely different manner. This man who they have watched day by day alone on the bus or train, is actually a literary marvel. Think of the secrets your fellow passengers also have.

    Ruts need to be broken or they will deepen and you won’t be able to climb out.

    This is mostly gibberish but I’ve always felt that those who are proud of their seclusion could use a little inclusion but have such disdain for their fellow human beings they feel they are above being a part of them.


  2. 2.  The Kevin Millar of your time reminded me of Mickey Hatcher in my time. Not sure if we’d be hanging a banner with out the goofball antics of Mickey even though he was not a very good player. The comeback in game one all started with him so he did more then just have fun.


  3. 3.  I was glad to see Millar redeem himself with an RBI single and a run scored in the third inning last night; his hitting has slipped but on a near-daily basis I’m amazed by his underrated defensive skills. It would have been cruel to see a rare lapse of the leather cost us that game.

    I’m also happy to report that Kevin is just as goofy as ever:

    http://oriolescards.blogspot.com/2008/04/kevin-millar-2008-topps-68.html

    Sorry for the cheap plug, but this is the first time our two blogs have converged upon one card.


  4. 4.  Comment one is cliched crap.

    Okay, back to work as I put my Hershal Walkers back where they belong.


  5. 5.  1 : Thanks for the thoughtful musings, TC. 2 : I always think of Hatcher first when I find myself wondering–Hershiser and one particular at-bat aside–how the Dodgers won the ’88 title. 3 : Thanks for that link! I’m glad Millar is getting love in Baltimore. I’ll be forever grateful to the guy.


  6. 6.  Josh – I submitted a comment the other day in reference to the Brad Ausmus chapter, but I don’t think it was posted. Probably an error on my part. You may already be aware of this, but just in case – did you know that Brad owns a summer home in East Dennis? Finding Howe’s card on the anniversary of the pitcher’s death is somewhat eery. Given the East Dennis connection, however, discovering the card of the relatively obscure Ausmus suggests there may be greater forces at work. Perhaps the cardboard gods have something in mind for you. Interesting stuff.


  7. 7.  6 : “Did you know that Brad owns a summer home in East Dennis?”

    Wow, you’ve got to be shitting me. Thanks for making sure to get that comment up even after the forces that be ate your first attempt. That’s really cool. East Dennis is a pretty small place, at least it was when I was spending a couple summers there. It’s kind of weird that a major leaguer has a summer home. When’s he gonna be able to use it? Anyway, wow.


  8. 8.  I think the real question is, why hasn’t he been using it for several years already?


  9. 9.  “Before Millar the Red Sox had always stared into their chronic collapses with the Yaz-faced dourness of a man being told there was no cure for his hemorrhoids.”

    This is also an apt description of the look that’s spread across Willie Randolph’s face for the past year or so.

    Perhaps what the Mets need, even moreso than a consistent bullpen, is a goofball or two.


  10. 10.  Or preperation H.


  11. 11.  fantastic entry.

    I don’t know about you, but Millar and the ’04 team changed my fan mentality then and evermore. Maybe it’s because they won it all. I have to think that it’s how they won it. The sound bites along the way. As you put it, the looseness of Millar and the rest of them. The current roster has a lot of guys like that, Manny being the most obvious choice for me… but you know what they say about loves, nothing quite compares to the first.


  12. 12.  Brilliant.

    Toy Cannon, I think those of us who keep to ourselves have our own reasons. Human nature being what it is, if we thought we were better than everyone else, we’d spend our time telling you.


  13. 13.  Josh :

    In the critical care unit where I work some of us use the term “getting on the bus” when a person is near death. It may be morbid but it helps us keep our sanity in our rut.

    As an aside I wonder if Keith Olbermann is counted among your avid readers:
    http://www.bizofbaseball.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2181&Itemid=1


  14. 14.  11 : Yeah, there are some lovable (at least to us) goofballs on the current roster, definitely starting with Manny. Papelbon and Pedroia also seem to fit that mold. I give credit to Francona for allowing that atmosphere to flourish during his tenure.

    Then again, the current skidmark-colored skid they’re on proves that all that goofballery is window-dressing. If you don’t have a good bullpen, you can be the loosest team in the world and you still won’t win.

    13 : Thanks for passing that use of the phrase along. For a big fearer of death like me, it’s somehow a little comforting.


  15. 15.  Can you turn off just being a goofball? Can it be sucked out of you? I remember seeing the Sox at the HOF Game the year after the 2004 series, and it was amazing to watch just how much fun Damon was having–playing with the crowd, coaching 3rd base, etc. He doesn’t seem to have that fun anymore. Or maybe there’s a goofball “tipping point” that teams like the 2004 Sox, 1993 Phillies, etc. seemed to cross.


  16. 16.  15 : That’s an interesting question. Let’s consider three examples.

    Manny: ’04: a goofball with the Red Sox; ’08: still a goofball (if not moreso–anybody see him high-five the fan yesterday?) with the Red Sox

    Millar: ’04: a goofball with the Red Sox; ’08: still a goofball with the O’s

    Damon: ’04: a goofball with the Red Sox; ceased being a goofball on the Yankees

    I’m tempted to say it’s something about the Yankees, but they’ve had their share of them over the years. Mickey Rivers is the first to jump to mind. They also had pitchers who swapped wives (see Kekich and Peterson in the sidebar under Unsortable), The Scooter, and, oh yeah, Babe Ruth, among others. Then again, since the end of the glorious (to me) early-’90s-era Yankees, they seem to have taken their lead from the serious non-goofballs Torre and Jeter. Damon joined them with his magical Jesus hair and beard shorn (and, not for nothing, with his explosive skills slowly but surely eroding) and maybe some of the joy for the game went out of him.


  17. 17.  I agree, but maybe I should rephrase–how many goofballs make a goofball team? Do you need a certain number, or just a goofball leader. Are the Sox still a goofball team with Manny and Papi? Did Spezio’s goofy red beard patch make the Cardinals a goofball team last year?

    Maybe I’m a goofball for continuing this line of questioning.


  18. 18.  17 : I can’t speak about other teams, but I think the Red Sox still qualify. Papi’s a little less sunny overall this year, due to his plate troubles, but Manny’s still bringing the goof, and I guess Pedroia is a clubhouse ham, and it was only a few months ago that Papelbon was jigging around the infield in his red underwear. But if they keep losing, I don’t know if they’ve got a captain-of-the-goofballs like Millar (Manny’s neither a leader nor a follower) to keep them from the collective sourpuss face.

    Interestingly, when Papi was really slumping earlier this season, Francona went to him and told him that he had to keep acting like his old self because the team looked to him to set the mood. I think this points out an important aspect of Francona’s worth; he realizes that the team plays better if everyone’s having fun.


  19. 19.  Bringin’ The Goof.. I think i’m gonna steal that. Thanks.

    don’t forget Jason Giambi..dude was a Chillaxin’ dude from Cali..went to NY and became pinstriped and watered down.


  20. 20.  This card of Millar is a standout. How many of the cardboard gods are wearing shades? Are we talk’in silver hitter here?


  21. 21.  16
    Add Jim Bouton to the Yankee list, and he wrote about a host of 50′s/60′s goofballs.


  22. 22.  “The bus came by and I got on…”

    Actually begins the third line of the second stanza of the song in question.

    And the second movement, if the whole damn thing is performed as written (“That’s it for The Other One” ), although live they mostly did away with the introductory part.

    Re-reading this it sounds pretentious and ridiculous.
    So never mind…

    Not to quibble, it’s a great line.



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