(continued from Terry Bulling)
A large question mark hovers near Tom Brunansky as he completes what appears to be a meaningless play. This is his last baseball card. Eventually a ballplayer loses connection to the only world he knows. The question marks grow bigger. I guess they eventually take over.
I landed in Frankfurt in the fall of 1990. The previous year, I’d spent a few months studying in Shanghai, where I lived in a foreign students dorm. One of the other foreign students, a German named Sven, was standing there in the early morning in the Frankfurt airport. We blinked at each other, our mouths open. A few moments later, before we’d even had a chance to process the incongruence of the situation, we were joined by the person Sven had come to the airport to pick up, his girlfriend, Ema, an Italian woman who’d also been a student in Shanghai. I had been friendly with but not particularly close to either of these people. Ema, for example, had always thought my name was Scott.
“What the fuck is Scott doing here?” she said.
During what turned out to be Tom Brunansky’s last season, 1994, he was traded from the Brewers to the Red Sox. The back of this 1995 card combines his statistics for the two teams, something that was never done in the cards of my youth. You can’t know where one period ends and the other begins. Was he doing atrociously for the Brewers? Were things looking up for him on the Red Sox? Was he going to be coming back for another year? Would there, considering the ongoing labor troubles, even be another year?
Questions. Nothing but questions.
The three of us stood there with idiotic grins. I fought back the urge to apologize. I felt large and malodorous, an intruder in someone else’s dream.
My memory is that they drove me to Sven’s town, Heidelberg, dumped me off at the youth hostel, and went on their way, but yesterday I dug through my old notebooks (always a demoralizingly exhausting task) and discovered that they must have allowed me to be a third wheel for a little while. There was a meal in a cafeteria with sausage and mealy mashed potatoes, some moments in a department store where I kept fearing that I’d knock over shelves with my backpack, and a walk through the woods to the ruins of an amphitheater where the Nazis used to mass, the dirt road to that site leading past a tavern where the drinks were free on Hitler’s birthday.
There was also a moment at some point when I temporarily separated from them, and I sat alone on a bench on a hill and heard bells ring for several minutes from every corner of the ancient city below me. I got tears in my eyes. I figured it must have some meaning, some kind of a connection to old joy. But when I rejoined Sven and Ema for the last time before heading on my way, I asked him about it, and he just shrugged.
You can tell on the back of this card that Brunansky had come to the Red Sox once before, in 1990, also in the middle of the season, and as in 1994 this cheap flashy card combines his stats for 1990 into one line. You can’t estimate when he left the Cardinals for the Red Sox, nor see if he helped his new team with a hot streak down the stretch. If there’s a story about 1990, you won’t be able to connect to it in this card. But maybe that’s the story about 1990. Whatever it is, you won’t be able to connect to it.
After Heidelberg, I went south, toward a resort town I’d read about back in America, while leafing through a book in a Barnes and Noble on working abroad. I figured if I could find work as I traveled I could make the aimless trip last longer, or perhaps even last long enough to take on some kind of shape, some kind of a purpose. I’d even gotten my passport stamped with visas to some Central European countries that were just then opening up to the west. I was hoping to work a little, travel a little, work a little, travel some more, and eventually find myself entwined in some kind of inescapable narrative of mystery and discovery. Some kind of story. But everything I came upon, even when it seemed particularly significant, dissolved almost as soon as it appeared. I don’t even remember saying goobye to Sven and Ema.
After a couple days in the resort town of walking up and down steep hills with other foreigners and finding no work, I started seeping back north and east, vaguely toward my grandparents’ old region, Galicia. (I never got there.) I stopped for a couple days back in Frankfurt, where I bought a Herald Tribune and discovered that my team, the Red Sox, had just experienced the most exciting end to a regular season in the history of the franchise. They had needed a win on the last day of the season to get into the playoffs, and they got it with a game-ending spectacular diving catch of an Ozzie Guillen line drive by Tom Brunansky. I imagined the whole scene, heard Fenway Park rocking with cheers. I can’t be sure, but I think the small recap of the game was accompanied by a photo of Wade Boggs beaming, his arms raised in triumph. It seemed significant. The start of a story. THE story.
“This is the year,” I said. I had tears in my eyes.
(to be continued)