Woodie FrymanMay 16, 2008
Unless I’m forgetting something, always a distinct possibility, there is only one former major league city. I’m not counting the borough where I lived for many years, Brooklyn, which is a part of a larger city that from what I understand has major league baseball affiliation of some sort. Of course, the same can no longer be said about Montreal.
Big league baseball has left other cities before, such as Baltimore, Milwaukee, Washington, and Seattle, but it always returned to those cities like a guy crawling back to an old girlfriend he’d once dumped.
“It can be like it was, only better, I promise,” the guy pleads, a heart-shaped box of candies in one arm, flowers in the other. This from the same guy who’d once explained that the relationship had grown stagnant and empty then packed up everything but some mildewed jockstraps and sped off to his sexy, sun-drenched new life without even turning back to wave. What the guy deserves is a kick in the nuts. But I’ve never heard of a city, even a formerly spurned city, saying no to major league baseball. It is pleasant to imagine Montreal being the first to refuse an attempt at reconciliation—I envision a torch-bearing mob, led by Warren Cromartie and a wine-breathed, filthy-furred Youppie, scalding the sweets-bearing representative of major league baseball with intricate Gallic curses as he flees across the border, head bleeding from a fresh hockey puck wound.
But let’s face it. Major league baseball will probably never return to Montreal, so the act of remembering is the only way for the Montreal Expos to endure. In that sense they are the most important team in the world of the Cardboard Gods, a world created solely to hold onto things as they fade. Because lately I keep finding baseball cards all over the place, I haven’t written about the cards from my disappearing childhood for weeks. Though I enjoyed the feeling that I was for the first time in a long time opening my eyes at least a little to the world of the present moment, I have also started feeling a little thin and empty without the ritualistic attempts to connect to my past. With my latest extended meditation of found baseball cards having run its course, I want to reach for an old card that will bring me back that feeling that what is gone can still have some kind of a life. I want to reach for a Montreal Expo.
And so today’s prayer is to Woodie Fryman, who after over a decade of mostly anonymous toil for several teams, including an earlier stint with Montreal, finally found a niche as an effective left-handed reliever for the excellent Carter-Dawson-era Expos. He looks in this picture to be someone who would know how to handle a crisis, like a former small-town farmer whose unflappability and natural moral uprightness inspired his townfolk to elect him (though he hadn’t campaigned) to the office of town sheriff, where his keen eye and steady hand allowed him to steer the town through whatever troubles came its way.
In fact he looks in this photo as if he may already be in the middle of a crisis. Perhaps a young Ellis Valentine, suffering from a premonition of the beanball that would derail his promising career, has begun raving and screaming and wildly swinging a bat around. While the Rodney Scotts and Scott Sandersons of the world bolt for safety, Woodie Fryman bravely, if also with wise caution, approaches the unstrung rightfielder and attempts to talk him down.
“Whoa there, big fella,” he seems to have just said, his voice a drawling, mellow tenor, like that of a bluegrass great. “Easy now. Take ’er easy.” He is fully prepared all at the same time to continue calming his teammate, to use his glove hand to fend off a lunge from his teammate, or to save another teammate from an attack by taking the hulking maniac down with a skillful leg tackle.
It’s natural that I, a panicky coward, would be drawn to such a card, or drawn, more accurately, to embroider this card with such a fiction. But in fact what first drew me to this card was not a need to imagine myself out of myself and into a more sturdy, capable persona, but the more primal need to be protected by such sturdiness. In other words, if I’m imagining myself into this card, I’m not imagining myself as Woodie Fryman but as the unhinged lunatic Woodie Fryman is prepared to help. In my madness I want to escape the moment, to crash through to oblivion, but if I make a run for the empty seats and artificial turf beyond Woodie Fryman, for the oblivion of the Expos as they are now without the mercy of memory, Woodie Fryman will intercede. He’ll use words, and if they don’t work he’ll drop me with a left cross to the chin or floor me with a shoulder to the solar plexus. One way or another, he’ll stop me from disappearing.