Archive for the ‘Seattle Mariners’ Category

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Mark Langston

June 5, 2012

In an essay of mine that went up today on the Los Angeles Review of Books, I mention a game I went to by myself in the summer of 1986. I wanted to see Tom Seaver pitch. He had recently been acquired by the Red Sox and wouldn’t be in the big leagues much longer. He faced Mark Langston that day. I was eighteen and starting to notice the blurring of the world and wanted the game to stand out from that. I wanted the game to be memorable. I didn’t want it to just come and go.

The presence of Seaver in the middle of the diamond offered some hope that the game would amount to something, but that alone wasn’t enough. The game had to have a story. How often does life feel like a story unfolding? Maybe this is one reason why organized religion is such a draw: it’s a way to impose upon life the feeling of being part of an orderly, urgent narration and not just senselessly adrift.

Anyway, the game answered my prayers, and for a few innings, for an hour or two of my life, I was inside a story. I don’t recall the latter part of the game beyond a sense of relief that Seaver’s efforts—he pitched well through seven innings before tiring—were not squandered by the Boston bullpen. But I remember the building drama of the first six innings, when Tom Seaver and his opponent, 26-year-old lefthander Mark Langston, engaged in a duel.

The box score the next day would obscure this element of the game. In the end, Mark Langston, undone by a little wildness, sloppy fielding, and some timely hitting by the Red Sox, somehow ended up surrendering seven runs before the game was over. But for six innings, he outpitched Seaver, retiring 13 batters in a row, five via strikeout, after spotting the Red Sox a run in the first. For a moment, long enough for the game to stay with me all these years later, he was every bit as effective and almost as mythic in his role as the young flamethrower as Seaver was in the role of cagey twilit legend.

Earlier in his career, Seaver had racked up nine seasons in a row with over 200 strikeouts, a feat that among other things amounted to my favorite thing to stare at in awe on the back of a baseball card. By 1986, he hadn’t approached that mark in eight years, since 1978, when his opponent, Mark Langston, was still in high school. Langston, on the other hand, had led the league in strikeouts as a rookie in 1984 and would do so again in 1986 and 1987. The card at the top of this page, from 1988, captures all of those numbers, showing his league-leading strikeout totals in italics. Langston had only been in the majors for four seasons, so the italics dominate the card, painting Langston as a latter-day Herb Score. In a way, his 1988 card was something of a peak for him. Unlike the star-crossed Score, Langston would go on to have a long and successful career, winning 179 games and recording more strikeouts than all but 32 men in the history of the game, but he’d never quite become the legend he seemed within reach of being as a young lefty ace with an electric fastball and baseball card numbers screaming in italics.

That’s one reason the game has stuck with me. Langston. He seemed for an hour or so of my life unhittable, a legend. It was all the great Seaver could do to just hang with him. Then, so quickly as to be unnoticeable, he lost it, just a little, and joined the human blur.

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Jim Todd

January 27, 2012

I can’t escape the 1970s. I want to live in the present. I can’t escape the present. I want to live in the 1970s. I am trapped somewhere in between, like a guy on a baseball card whose uniform and cap are clumsily morphing from the colors and logo of one team to the colors and logo of another. These baseball cards ended a long time ago, but here I am again, starting another year at the beginning of the end. The end for Jim Todd came on September 28, 1979. Earlier in the year he had gotten cut loose from the terrible Mariners but found a home back on the Oakland A’s, the team with which he’d earlier had a brief moment of muted middle reliever glory. The A’s had been good team during Todd’s previous stint, but they were not good anymore. In fact, they were arguably the worst team of the entire decade and in terms of losses inarguably the worst major league team that has ever been fielded in Oakland. They lost 108 games and probably should have lost even more. They scored fewer runs than anyone in the league and gave up more runs than all but one team in the league. The least effective pitcher on this miserable excursion was Jim Todd, with a team-low ERA of 6.56. But because the team was so bad he kept getting called into games right up until the end, which brings us back to September 28. The A’s starter, Steve McCatty, was torched for eight runs in three innings. Todd was called in with his team behind 8-0. He finished out the game, surrendering eight hits and three runs in five innings of major league baseball that would be called in most places meaningless. But I wish I could have been there. I love games like that. I love them. I’m not trying to be ironic. I love the feeling that nothing whatsoever seems to be happening. It was the A’s 107th loss, and that was it for Jim Todd. Exactly one week earlier, a song titled “Escape” was released. The song would eventually become ubiquitous, a number 1 hit in both 1979 and 1980, but this would not occur for a couple of months after its release, possibly because the song did not initially include the parenthetical subtitle—“(the Piña Colada Song)”—that was soon added to help legions of heretofore confused morons find and purchase the record. With this subtitle in place, the song became what all pop music aspires to be, a hideous epidemic. Soon enough it disappeared and became dated almost instantly but then eventually came back to life as an oldie. I heard it the other day on a station that uses the word “remember” in its promotional jingles. You hear that word a lot on oldies stations, but the songs on oldies stations have been played so often that there is no way anyone could ever connect them anymore to authentic moments from the past. There is some kind of insidious anaesthetization of the masses through the numbing effects of corporatized non-specific nostalgia. Are you remembering anything when you hear an old hit song, or are you covering yourself up and hiding in a warm blanket of the familiar? I want that blanket; I hate that blanket. I wish I could watch television forever and do nothing else besides sleep and eat and sleep and sleep and nothing and nothing and much more nothing. I lack peace. I am always worried. The world as it is now seems unfathomable and fragmented, the shards animated and buzzing toward me from the corners of my vision, from the margin of every moment, every moment a visit to a web page riddled with pleas, attempts to grab my attention and fuel the sense that something is missing, something that will always pull at me from the margins and slip away to new margins in the next moment, the next chattering page. Everything is an ad for something else. Everything is an invitation to escape. There is no escape.

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Joe Simpson

May 25, 2011

The morning I learned for sure my wife was pregnant, I was gazing out the window, putting off getting my day underway. I noticed a man on the sidewalk across the street from my apartment with his hands on his knees, looking down at the concrete between his feet. This was months ago. The kid’s still not here, so I don’t have any stats on what kind of father I’ll be. Probably similar to the kind of everything I’ve been. A little lazy, a little given to staring out windows, procrastinating. Prone to looking for answers in baseball cards.

In 1973, the first stop in Joe Simpson’s professional career was in Albuquerque. After playing in two other minor league cities, he returned to Albuquerque in 1974. In 1975 he played 9 games with the Dodgers and 133 games with Albuquerque. In 1976 he managed to get into 23 games with the Dodgers while also logging 108 games with Albuquerque.

The morning I learned for sure I was going to be a father, a man standing with his hands on his knees across the street started puking. He puked for a few seconds, scattering it on the sidewalk, then he straightened and walked a few steps to a car and leaned on it. I thought he was leaning on whatever object presented itself as handy to him in his efforts to remain relatively vertical at that moment, but after leaning on the car for a moment he took a deep breath, opened the car door, got in, and drove away.

In 1977, when I was nine, I watched a lot of Bugs Bunny. It’s pretty safe to say that Bugs Bunny cartoons on Saturday morning comprised the pinnacle of my week. Oh Saturday morning, nothing to do and all day to do it and cereal with heaping teaspoons of sugar and Bugs Bunny taking a wrong turn at Albuquerque. In 1977, Joe Simpson spent a few days with the Dodgers and the rest in Albuquerque. In 1978, ditto. Joe Simpson, like Bugs Bunny, seemed doomed to forever be undone in his attempts to navigate effectively out of Albuquerque. Finally, the Mariners swooped in to the rescue, purchasing Simpson from the Dodgers, and in 1979 he spent his first Albuquerque-free season in professional baseball. He did pretty well, too, hitting .283 with 17 stolen bases. But judging from the picture on the front of his 1980 card, he still was a little insecure about his place in the majors. He looks a little defensive, as if he’s noticed someone off to his right approaching, and as if such approaches had by this point in his career come to mean one thing only: back to Albuquerque.

An hour or two after I watched a man puke on the street and then drive off for his day, my wife came home from the doctor with medical confirmation that she was pregnant. Last night, months later, while we were watching TV, FedEx showed up with a big cardboard box, a rocking chair sent by my parents, for my wife to sit in while she’s nursing the kid. My wife put it together while I sort of stood around uselessly, then I took a picture of her in the chair holding one of our cats like it was a baby, a gag we’ve trotted out a lot lately and that never fails to annoy the cat. The rocking chair went in the baby’s room, which is filling up with colorful things. I’m excited but nervous, as if this bright new thing might vanish before it ever really arrives, as if someone is going to walk up and say Albuquerque and back I’ll go to the way things have always been, delaying, staring out windows at inexplicable departures.

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Seattle Mariners, 1978

March 19, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Seattle Mariners

You can’t predict the future. You can only hope for the best. Here is the first Seattle Mariners squad ever assembled, the 1977 edition, a collection of expansion draft refugees and free agent driftwood, posed outside the Kingdome. Years later, as the Kingdome neared its last fatal crumbling days as a home for big league baseball, it would be spoken of with shame and regret by the team’s president, Ken Behring [update: Ken Behring was in fact an owner of the Seattle Seahawks]. “We have a building here that was poorly designed, that was never well built and that was poorly maintained from day one,” Behring said. “Plus, it’s downright homely. It was outdated at the time it was built.”

But the setting of this team picture suggests that in the beginning the Mariners had some hope for and pride about the Kingdome. If they didn’t, would they have had their picture taken in front of it? The picture is similar to that of a young family posing outside a first house: Here we are, brand new. Home.

The central dream of human life seems to be to find a home. Maybe this dream has its roots in the very earliest days of human life on earth, when our grunting nomadic ancestors first stumbled into the discovery that any kind of shelter from the harrowing elements was an improvement on loitering around outside and getting pelted with sleet or burned by the sun or swallowed in bloody chunks by saber-toothed tigers. You can’t predict the future, but you can try to lessen the terrifying uncertainty of existence by moving into a cave or a mud hut or a wood house or a concrete skyscraper or a dome. A home.

The idea behind playing baseball in a dome is that it will always be the equivalent of a warm spring day inside such a structure. It was supposed to be one of those days for real where I live a couple days ago. That was the prediction, anyway, but after a brief spell of blue sky in the morning gray clouds moved in and the temperature dropped. I went for a walk late in the day and was a little underdressed, still attached to the hopeful prediction for the day. I passed a newspaper vending bin and saw headlines about a possible nuclear meltdown in Japan. This triggered the loop in my mind of images from the earthquake and tsunami. I continued on my walk. Office workers flailing through nightmare snowglobe frenzies of paper and shattered computers. At a drug store I bought a magazine to help me predict the upcoming season in terms of fantasy baseball. Houses and cars riding giant sheets of water like bathtub toys swirling in a draining tub. I walked back toward my new address, where my wife and I just moved. Survivors in surgical masks picking through rubble. I sat down in my new living room with my fantasy baseball magazine and watched my basketball predictions instantly begin to fail miserably as I planned more doomed predictions for baseball and thought about people in surgical masks searching bulletin boards for familiar names and with all that you’d think I’d give up on the future but I can’t help it. The sun broke through the clouds late in the day and lit up the room where I was sitting and I felt hopeful about my new home.

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How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 16 of 30: Pay close attention while you still can to Ichiro Suzuki. And do what you can to help.

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2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers; Milwaukee Brewers; Minnesota Twins; Atlanta Braves; Cincinnati Reds; Oakland A’s

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Ichiro

September 7, 2009

Ichiro 05

Yesterday I went to the third game in the Red Sox’ four-game series against the White Sox, thanks to the kind invite of Joe Stillwell of Stats, Inc. In the first inning, after the first two White Sox batters reached base, Paul Konerko lifted a blooper to short right field. My eyes went to the right fielder, JD Drew, who was racing forward but who clearly would not be able to reach the ball before it landed. The ball hung in the air long enough for me to feel sorry for myself. All season long I’d been looking forward to the Red Sox lone visit to the city where I live, and they had lost the first game of the series 12-2, had gone down with barely a whimper in the second game, a 5-1 loss, and now this: first inning, bases loaded and nobody out. But as I was going through this litany of self-pity, Dustin Pedroia appeared as if from nowhere, lunged, and made a spectacular running catch. He then whirled immediately and threw a strike to the shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, doubling off the White Sox leadoff man, Scott Podsednik, who had strayed several yards from second as the blooper neared its seemingly sure resting place in the grass. In an instant too quick to take a breath, what looked to be a disastrous start had quieted to two out and a man on first.

Beside me, Joe remarked on the alertness of the second act of Pedroia’s play, and of baseball players in general. This morning, as I was turning the play over in my mind, I thought about my own athletic history, and how I periodically punctuated my anonymous, generally ineffectual efforts with a stupid play of one sort or another. Again and again, my mind wandered, or got lost in the flurry of activity, or just went into a blind white panic. The next moment, when I would come back to myself, always felt like the stunned and queasy moment after a minor accident. Eyes would be on me, for once, but not in a good way.

Well, nobody’s perfect, and even professional athletes make bonehead plays, but the amazing thing about these athletes is that these mental miscues are the rare exception to the norm. Labor Day seems to be a good time to celebrate this element of the major leaguer’s job skills, so I thought before spending the rest of the day lazing around and watching baseball players work, I’d briefly turn my own wandering focus on a current baseball star who epitomizes the impressive mindfullness of professional athletes.

Yesterday this player got his 2,000th hit, reaching the mark in fewer games than anyone in baseball history besides Al Simmons (Ichiro needed 12 more games than the 1930s basher). Barring some unforeseen calamity, Ichiro will collect his 200th hit of the year in a few days, which will set the record for most consecutive seasons (nine) with 200 or more hits, a record he currently shares with Wee Willie Keeler. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch him much, but I have to think, judging from his hitting and fielding records, which are not only remarkable for their constancy but also as close to flawless as the failure-riddled metrics of a baseball player can allow, that he’s had few, if any, moments when he didn’t know exactly what to do at any given moment in a baseball game.

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Ruppert Jones

August 10, 2009

Ruppert Jones 78

Sundown

(continued from Scott McGregor)

Three

I.
I used to live a few blocks north of a bustling Hasidic neighborhood in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. On Fridays as dusk approached the streets emptied but for a few stragglers who hustled to get where they were supposed to be before it got dark.

I never had anywhere to go on a Friday evening at dusk. Maybe later I’d end up at the International on Seventh Street in Manhattan, and I’d stay there for hours, until last call and beyond, and with a couple other regulars help Rose close and lock the gate, and then after a long wait for a subway and a ride under the East River, where decades earlier my grandfather was found floating, I’d stumble home as the sun rose. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Bill Stein

November 5, 2008
 Untitled 
Contrary to my propensity for angry nihilistic self-hating screeds, I’m not an altogether hopeless guy. For example, today’s a good day, a hopeful day. I feel like I might have a leader. Last night, after the first speech of the new president-elect of the United States, I pointed at the TV and declared to my wife, “I want to run through a fucking wall for that man.” I really meant it, and felt an emotional tremble in my voice as I said it, but in truth as a declaration of intentions it was nice and blustery and vague. I didn’t actually have to commit to anything. I mean, I could have said, “Where’s the nearest Peace Corps induction center?” or “Get me the number to an organization that sends guys into locked wards to teach the criminally insane to square dance.” Since I’m kind of a quitter, and don’t enjoy quitting, I try to avoid commiting to anything. But here it is the day after and I still feel hopeful and like I want to be part of the Yes We Can battalion instead of continuing on with my usual lonely mantra of No I Can’t.

What does this have to do with Bill Stein? Well, not much. But first of all, at the risk of starting the first day of a hopeful new warmly inclusive era on a sour and mean-spirited note: whoo, he ugly. I only say this because I love my baseball cards, every single one of them, but most especially the ones featuring the luckless marginals, the nobodies, the drifters, the inglorious, the big-eared and mush-nosed and chinless and soggily-mustachioed and dim-eyed. The ugly. Hallelujah for the ugly! Today we spread wide our embrace to include every-fucking-body, the excluding myth of the Aryan suburban blond Mr. Joe America fatally punctured, hallelujah. And second of all, I mean the second reason I am talking about Bill Stein on this hopeful Yes We Can day, is that before this day was This Day it was, in the ever-evolving myth of the Cardboard Gods, Expansion Day.

On this day, November 5, back in 1976 (the year in which the country eructed stars and stripes from every pore in celebration of that first expansion into nationhood 200 years earlier), the heaven that has presided over my life expanded. That was the day of the expansion draft that breathed life into two new major league teams, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners, and breathed life into the flagging careers of dozens of men on the professional baseball scrap-heap, and breathed life into the hopes of everyone who has ever felt the world closing in all around them. Life contracts, gets smaller, narrower, more and more hopeless. But life also expands. So today on Cardboard Gods we celebrate that expansion, as we will every November 5 from here until the molecules currently comprising my singular body expand to mingle with the body of all.

Happy Expansion Day, everybody!

* * *

And speaking of expansion, Bronx Banter’s ongoing Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory series recently expanded to include my obscenity-laden ramblings about car wrecks, criminal mischief, and Steve Balboni.

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Mario Mendoza

September 3, 2008
 

Untitled 
I Walk the (Mendoza) Line
(continued from Dan Uggla)

Chapter Five

I.
Some guys just look scary at the plate. Their malevolent body language suggests to me not only the imminent production of screaming line drives but also, somehow, physical agony, as if I owe several grand to a mob boss and the hulking batter has cornered me in an alley to administer my late-fee penalties. Pujols, Sheffield, Bagwell, Belle. I don’t know how pitchers pitch to guys like this. If some nightmarish sequence of events somehow put me on the mound against one of these guys in their prime I’d surely just fling the ball over my shoulder in the general direction of the plate while diving behind the meager cover of the mound.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Tom Paciorek

August 25, 2008
 Untitled 

I Walk the (Mendoza) Line
(continued from Bill Plummer)

Chapter Two
Thanks in part to Tom Paciorek, there’s a term for the borderline between just barely getting by and not getting by at all. Some say Paciorek coined this term, but Paciorek himself claims that he heard the term—which alluded to the .200 batting average that a Mariner teammate always seemed to be either just above or just below—from a third Mariner, Bruce Bochte. Either way it seems to have been Paciorek, a gregarious type, who started spreading the term around, most significantly passing it along to Royals third baseman George Brett, who shared it with ESPN’s Chris Berman, who carried news of The Mendoza Line to the rest of the world. Oddly enough, this seems to have transpired in 1980, the year Brett ended up making the most serious charge toward a .400 batting average since the last time the legendary mark was actually reached, in 1941 by Ted Williams. 

Tom Paciorek, like all but two or three living human beings (Brett, Gwynn, Carew), never got close to hitting .400. At the time the card pictured here came out, 1979, he had not hit above .300 in a season either. Conversely, he had hit below .200 once in his career, a mark that may have suggested to Paciorek that the end was always near, which may explain why he so enthusiastically latched onto Bochte’s term. Gallows humor. 

The most recent year listed on the back of the card shows that Paciorek hit .299. One more hit in 1978 and the 32-year-old outfielder would have cracked that barrier for the first time in his 8-year career. It’s difficult for me to refrain from associating his troubled expression in the photo on the front of the card with the disappointment of just missing that mark.

Below the stats of that .299 season is a single line of text: “Brother of John Paciorek, outfielder with Houston Colt .45’s during 1963.” In 1979, the year I started seventh grade, I was first and foremost a Younger Brother. So it’s likely that the message on the back of Tom Paciorek’s card sent me to the baseball encyclopedia to look up John Paciorek. Anyone who has ever treated the baseball encyclopedia as something of a bible likewise eventually comes to John Paciorek, for John Paciorek is in a way the greatest hitter, or at least the most perfect, ever to grace the pages of that glowing tome. Because of injury his career ended very early, but not before he played in a single game for Houston, going 3 for 3 for a lifetime batting average of 1.000. (In 2007, Jose Morales—no apparent relation to Jose Morales—matched this perfection, but he is only 24 years old and may well have a chance to mar his record and leave John Paciorek alone in 3-hit perfection.)

Tom Paciorek finally did hit over .300 in 1981, finishing second in the batting race. At the end of that year I started a tradition, which I only kept up for a couple of years, of cutting out the final Sunday batting average list from the paper and taping it to my wall. So Paciorek was right at the top of that list, just under Carney Lansford. That was the year I stopped buying baseball cards. That was the year my brother went away to school. That was the year I started living more inside my head than ever before.

That list yellowed and curled in on itself in the years to come, right up until we sold the house and I threw it away, along with most of the other things on my wall. That sale occurred in 1987, Paciorek’s last year. A professional hitter, he batted .283 that year, one point above his lifetime average. He was 40, the same age I am now. Last night I lay in bed, unable to sleep, feeling as if I had arrived at my age via a high-speed train that I had moments earlier boarded as a 24-year-old. 

(to be continued)

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Stan Thomas

July 25, 2008
 Untitled 
It’s still a few months away, but I’m already looking forward to my religion’s biggest holiday: Expansion Day. The truth is I just invented this holiday a few minutes ago, just as I have been for the last couple years on this site gradually and half-assedly inventing an indecipherable tangle of fallible deities and contradictory beliefs so as to, among other vague purposes, fill the decades-old irreligious void located roughly where I stuff all the potato chips and beer. (The gut thickens; the void remains.) Yesterday was one of those days that circle around inevitably to fall on me like a sour mist, depressing and slack for no apparent reason, boredom and uselessness attaining the level of a physical ache. I dropped into fantasies of contracting some sort of exotic incurable illness that would not kill me or even hurt that much but that would somehow make it necessary for me to spend the last several decades of life in or near a comfortable bed. There I would sleep a lot and watch episodes of old television shows too obscure to have ever been released on DVD but somehow made available to me by the powerful pity-charged network of affectionate well-wishing that added further cushioning to my stress-free invalid life.

“How are you doing?” each visitor would say, smiling sadly, as he or she entered my room.

“Oh,” I’d say, adding a very slight wince to my brave smile. “I can’t complain.”

“You’re so brave,” the loving visitor would say. “And hey, I brought you a bootleg video of all eight episodes of Quark.”

As fantasies go, it’s probably not as alarming as, say, fantasizing about going one step further and offing oneself, but it’s not exactly a sign of robust mental and spiritual well-being. I mean, consider that oft-mentioned and supposedly motivational notion of a deathbed, as in “When you are on your deathbed, how are you going to look back on your life?” (It’s supposed to inspire you to seize the day, I guess.) But in my fantasy, when I’m finally on my deathbed and looking back at my life, I’ll be looking back at a life spent on a deathbed. Which is a pretty narrow way to go through life. And so when things start to seem narrow, from now on, I will try to remember Expansion Day.

As Expansion Day approaches I’ll have more to say about it, maybe, about what it means to me, about the rituals involved in such a day, about the many legends and miracles intertwined with that day, but for right now I will just pass along the date of this holy day, November 5, and take a stab at the core of its importance to me and my ridiculous religion: It is about possibilities.

Lame as it is, there is a certain purity to my religion, in that I am its only adherent. This will always be the case, but if instead it followed the path of development of other religions fissures and splits would inevitably occur. Take Expansion Day. The cleancut, success-oriented BlueJayists would emphasize the day as one in which seeds of future glory were wisely planted, while the more fatalistic Marinerites would find complicated klezmeresque celebration among the inescapable solemnity of life. Joy in the tears. The list of names would be at issue, the Holy List of the Expanded, and among the names of the Blue Jays would be some, Whitt, Clancy, Iorg, who would one day rise up from the ignominy of being deemed unnecessary to appear in the miraculous baseball version of the afterlife called the postseason, whereas among the Mariners listed there seem to be only years of neither rising nor falling, none of the Holy Names ever offering any readily apparent deliverance.

But still, even though you are marginal, unimportant, unprotected, cut loose, drifting, possibilities dwindling or gone, there is Expansion. You are chosen.

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Larry Cox

April 4, 2008
  
My conscious hours are featureless, my sleep ragged, unearned. I’m a proofreader. Misunderstandings and hurt riddle my dreams. I’m served food I can’t eat, take vague transcontinental airplane voyages with people I haven’t seen in decades. I wake feeling clammy. I ride with strangers, each of us walled off by personal electronic devices. I arrive on time. I sit in a cubicle. I eliminate mistakes. My mind wanders. Mistakes slip through.

Huron, Spart’nb’g, Tidewater, Spart’nb’g, Ral.-Durham, Reading, Eugene, Eugene, Reading, Hawaii, Reading, Eugene. Litany of a nobody. Putrid averages, few games played. Larry Cox kept slipping through.

When I was 19 I tried to follow in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac but was too timid and just rode a bus the whole way, his hallowed continent reduced to a stock footage scroll across the Greyhound window, mountains giving way to plains giving way to mountains, everything leaden with brown pot and boredom. By the time he was the age I am now the dew of his writing had evaporated and he stayed at home with his mother and watched television drunk.

When Larry Cox was 19 the Phillies signed him to a professional contract. Was it a mistake? He hit .219 his first minor league season, which he wasn’t able to improve upon, and then only slightly, until five years later. He eventually had a few at-bats in the majors, but by his late 20s seemed on the way back down, spending an entire year in Tacoma. But instead of disappearing he was bought by a team that did not yet really exist. When he heard the news did he even know of this team which had yet to play a game? Did he wonder if the whole thing was some kind of a mistake?

When Jack Kerouac was 29, the same age as the blurred figure in the imaginary hat at the top of this page, he sat down and out of the desperation of not ever being able to say what he truly wanted to say started hammering words down onto a long scroll of teletype paper. The first line he wrote contained a mistake, a stutter, an inadvertent repetition of the word met, the kind of thing that, had he been typing on a computer, would have produced a squiggly line beneath it, an automated alert that already rules had been broken, but he was saved this niggling indignity and anyway there was no time for corrections, life too short, death too close, the only thing to do just move on, a hungering heartbeat:

“I first met met Neal not long after my father died…I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about except that it really had to do with my father’s death and my awful feeling that everything was dead.”

Kerouac wrote those words April 2, 1951, by chance exactly fifty-seven years to the day before I read them in my new copy of On the Road, The Original Scroll. From there he did not stop but gripped the story in his mind as fiercely as a story has ever been gripped and got it all down in a rush, barely sleeping, pouring everything he had onto the scroll from April 2, 1951, to April 22, 1951. I once hoped for similarly immediate deliverance. All through my twenties I ruined days by sitting down at a desk with the hope that I would just start writing and not stop until I emerged from a trance three weeks later looking gaunt and Dostoyevskian and holding a glowing work of genius in my hands. It never happened. I got jobs to get by. I kept trying. I stopped trying. I kept trying. I stopped trying. I stopped trying to stop. I pray for mistakes.

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Glenn Abbott

November 20, 2007
 

 
There’s an actor that Glenn Abbott resembles, a guy who showed up periodically throughout my youth and adolescence on the fringes of Westerns and cop shows and the stray episode of the Incredible Hulk. I can’t remember any specific role, or even come up with a movie he was definitely in so as to seek him out on the Internet. He was never a leading man, never saved the day, never rode off into the sunset with the beautiful girl. If he ever had any time in the spotlight at all in anything it was a brief, shadow-tinged spotlight. Maybe he uttered a slightly ominous albeit forgettable line of dialogue. Maybe he got thrown into a pile of hay bails by a greened-up Lou Ferrigno. Whatever he did he’s gone now, as far as I know. But then again it wouldn’t surprise me if he showed up in something again. He was one of those guys who was never quite here and never quite not here either.

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Skip Jutze

September 16, 2007
 

We have been mathematically eliminated. We are playing out the string.

We will be let go. We will be exchanged for other nonentities, or for no one yet named, or left unprotected, or designated for assignment, or cut, or waived. It will happen sooner than we expect.

The seats behind us are empty. We take a swing through the empty air. We look to the empty sky.

Any records left behind will show us as unphenomenal, late to the game, rarely necessary, transient. 

Maybe we will have had our day in the sun. We will have hit the first grand slam home run in the history of an expansion team. We will have tagged out a man at home to complete a rare 6-4-3-2 triple play.

But in the end we will be unable to hold back elimination. We will grow a mustache. It will do as much as anything else, which is nothing. We will finish 38 games behind the team that hit into the triple play. We will then be called into an office.

“It is over,” we will be told. “You’ve been released.”

We will wait for a phone call to refute this claim. The phone will not ring.

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Bruce Bochte

July 27, 2007
 

A few days ago I was traveling south in a rental car on I-89 in Central Vermont, headed to Manchester, New Hampshire, for a flight home to Chicago. I had given myself extra time on the drive in case I felt like detouring down memory lane, and because I am always in the mood to detour down memory lane I exited the highway at Randolph so I could descend into the valley of East Randolph and stare at the house I’d grown up in. I’ve done this before, several times. I always pull over and sit there for a few minutes, listening to the engine tick and waiting for something significant to happen. Then I move on, feeling dumb and empty. Perhaps because I knew what was in store for me I added new complications to this latest detour, delaying it, first deciding to stop at the general store in town and then on my way to the general store deciding to take back roads that would take me by Buster Olney’s stepfather’s farm, where I once labored throwing haybails and also played whiffle ball and Stratomatic with the future nationally known czar of baseball insider info. I drove for what seemed like an inordinately long time down a narrow dirt road, thinking that I’d gone and gotten myself lost in the closest thing I have to a hometown.

But then the farm appeared. I drove by at about ten miles an hour. No one was in sight. I don’t know what I was hoping for. Maybe Buster lolling around the driveway in some sort of completely uncharacteristic moment of disengagement. In truth he always was and surely still is constantly and passionately occupied, but I guess I was hoping he’d be just sort of standing there, perfectly open for a surprise visit from a friend out of his past. We’d greet one another enthusiastically, ask about one another’s family, laugh about the good old days, and then eventually the conversation would get around to my favorite way of feeling like a piece of shit: my lack of success as a writer.

“Stop worrying, I’ll make some calls,” he’d say, staring at me meaningfully so as to let me know that within weeks I’d be cashing royalty checks, fending off voluptuous baseball card memoir groupies, and appearing on The Daily Show, Fresh Air, and Mike and The Mad Dog. “Now let’s go throw a few bails for old time’s sake and then play some Strat and eat chocolate chip cookies, old pal,” Buster would then say.

Anyway, a few minutes after rolling by the quiet farm I pulled in at the general store in East Randolph. Since this store was where I had bought the great majority of the baseball cards shown on this site, I planned to buy a new pack there and then tell you, dear reader, all about it. Also, a couple days earlier, Barbara, the long-time family friend who painted the picture of my old house shown on this site during the Mario Guerrero chronicles, told me that the store had recently been bought by a local married couple that included a girl from my grade that I remember very well. In fact she was the girl most often featured throughout my teenaged years in the 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind.

This 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind opened around the time I got the 1980 Bruce Bochte card shown above. I was 12 years old and in 8th grade and as I believe I’ve mentioned before I had recently discovered that the girls around me were bulging through their clothes in hauntingly interesting ways. My god, how I clung to box scores and the Sunday batting averages in those days, clung as I never had before and never would again. I specifically remember clinging to Bruce Bochte, to his name that is, which had in previous years not been among the league leaders in the batting average list printed in the Sunday paper, but now suddenly here he was, an exciting new arrival in the land of Carew and Brett. Though in later years he would recede into a haze that would have me confusing him with Bruce Bochy (who I in turn confused with Bob Brenly, who was nominally entangled with Bruce Berenyi), at the dawn of my troubling, painful puberty Bruce Bochte rang like a bell through the fog, trying to guide me back home, and I in turn tried to walk toward the sound as best I could but more and more just ended up ducking into the aforementioned 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind, where the future owner of the general store in the closest thing I have to a hometown was always shedding her tight 8th grade gym clothes and running toward me with voracious enthusiasm.  

Anyway, I pulled into the parking lot of the general store, mumbled a hello to three younger guys sitting on the bench on the porch (in truth the word I uttered was a stiff, fakely folksy, flatlanderish “howdy”), and walked inside, prepared to confront my past crashing in on me from various angles. There was a pale gnomish lady in her fifties at the register and three other females behind a deli counter in back. I lurched up and down the aisles conspicuously, stealing glances back at the deli counter. I saw two skinny teenagers and a woman who looked to be in her forties. Maybe the latter woman was the girl I’d known, though in that moment I was convinced she wasn’t. She seemed far too old. Far too unhot. She was smiling though, and seemed happy, which aligned with what I recall of the good-natured girl I’d sort of known, or at least had chronically leered at. At any rate I didn’t talk to anyone in the store except for a brief and anonymous back and forth with the employee at the register, on my way out.

“Can I help you find something?” she asked.

“Do you sell baseball cards?”

“Nope. Sorry.”

You know the phrase “It’s all water under the bridge”? Last night at a restaurant a friend had intended to say that but instead got the words mixed up and said “It’s all bridge under the water.” It’s my favorite new phrase. It seems to me to be a much more accurate portrayal of the past than the phrase she’d intended to say. The past is not water safely below you and you’re not standing on some firm bridge. No, you’re adrift. And if there ever was something that carried you across the water it’s now crumbled and broken, sunken, stripped of utility and purpose, and if you want any part of it you better break out the scuba gear, because it’s all in sludgy chunks at the bottom of the river. But even if you dive down and locate it, what are you going to do with it? East Randolph, Buster Olney, my old house, the sunny girl at the center of my teenaged masturbation fantasies, even Bruce Bochte: It’s all bridge under the water. If you’re trying to cross over, you better find some other way. You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.

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Kurt Bevacqua (Continued)

March 28, 2007

Prayer for Expansion, Part 2

Kurt Bevacqua seems in this 1977 Seattle Mariners card as if he has been wandering around with mounting confusion on the same blurry, ethereal plain seen in the background of Pete Broberg’s 1977 Seattle Mariners card.

It makes me wonder about the birth of the Seattle Mariners, who had yet to play a game at the time the two cards came out. Maybe the beginning of that franchise was not a series of bargain-bin purchases and expansion draft signings but instead a kind of ambiguous baseball afterlife. Maybe what we’re seeing in the 1977 cards of Kurt Bevacqua and Pete Broberg are not fake Elysian Fields created by the rushed doctoring job of a Topps artist, but instead some kind of miraculous photograph of the netherworld where baseball journeymen go when they pass beyond the veil separating the Big Leagues from the Great Beyond.

The statistics on the backs of both Kurt Bevacqua’s and Pete Broberg’s cards seem to support this idea. In the 1976 season, both of them struggled for playing time on a last-place Milwaukee Brewers club. Broberg went 1 and 7 with a 4.99 ERA, and Bevacqua hit .143 in 7—yes, 7—at bats. Both were in their late 20s, no longer able to be identified as prospects. As he rode the pine and watched his teammates rack up 95 losses, it must have at some point occurred to Bevacqua (if not to Broberg, who, judging from the photo in his ’77 card, seems capable of blithely ignoring any and all negative portents) that he may not be long for the world he’d come to know. I imagine Kurt Bevacqua thinking to himself, If I can’t cut it in Milwaukee, where the hell else can I possibly go? I imagine a feeling of doom beginning to infiltrate the ever-wider spaces between at bats. I imagine a hazy feeling beginning to prevail, things that once seemed inarguably solid starting to become incorporeal.

“What pitch he get you with, Bevacqua?”

I imagine a teammate asking this. Bevacqua has just gotten a rare at-bat, and it has ended in a strikeout.

“My bat,” Bevacqua replies in a near-whisper, but he swallows the rest of his thought. He understands it’s too strange:

My bat is turning to fog.

“Your bat,” says the teammate. “What about your bat?”

But before Bevacqua can answer, the world he has known dissolves altogether. No more teammates, no more dugout, no more fans, no more game.

He is wandering around the blurry, ethereal expanse captured in this card.

It looks a little like the lifeless, bulldozed plain of a landfill. It also looks a little like a dormant spring training complex stripped of its baseball accessories. No batting cages, no pitching machines, no stands, no bases.

No players. There’s no one else around.

Kurt Bevacqua gradually becomes aware as he wanders that he is still wearing a baseball uniform, but it’s not the same one he’d been wearing before, and in fact is unlike any uniform he has ever worn or even seen. There is an M on his cap, just as there had been on his last cap, but it clearly does not stand for Milwaukee. In fact, the M seems to be in the shape of a pitchfork, an alarming realization considering the connotations of pitchfork iconography in afterlife scenarios.

“Oh no,” Bevacqua mutters aloud.

But the physical conditions don’t seem particularly infernal. He’d rather not be alone, and he’d rather everything not be kind of blurry, but he’s not being burned alive, or flayed, or mangled. In fact, the climate is preternaturally mild, as if the blue above his head is not the sky but the painted ceiling of a brand new air-conditioned dome.

“Could be worse, I guess,” Bevacqua murmurs, and he even relaxes a little and entertains the hope that the blurriness of the landscape is merely the world of his wildest dreams slowly coming into focus. Maybe it’s like one of those newfangled Polaroid instant camera pictures, he thinks. Blurry at first but then as you look at it everything slowly, magically appears.

But at the moment he thinks this, a figure emerges from the murky horizon, walking toward Bevacqua. He’s another man in a baseball uniform. As this figure draws nearer, Bevacqua understands that he is wearing a uniform similar but not identical to his own. Then he realizes that he recognizes the man in the uniform. His heart sinks. No way this is paradise. Bevacqua’s expression becomes like the one seen in his 1977 card: Confusion feeding into something verging on anger.

“Broberg,” he says, pained. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Hey, man, I know you,” Pete Broberg coos with lidded-eyed calm. His face is the placid mask seen in his 1977 card. “You’re, uh, hm. Yeah. Ha! I definitely know you.”

“Where the hell are we?” Bevacqua says, exasperated. What a friggin’ idiot, he thinks.

“Don’t worry about it, friend,” Broberg purrs. “I mean, relax, you know? You’ll live longer.”

Bevacqua fights back an urge to punch his former Brewer teammate in his unflappably contented Ivy League face. Live longer? This seems a potentially ridiculous thing to say in the current circumstances.

“I don’t know,” says the angry-faced Bevacqua, “I don’t like this bullshit. I mean, our uniforms. They don’t even match.”

Broberg gazes at Bevacqua, then lazily looks down at his uniform, comparing. Broberg’s uniform has a lighter shade of blue, and his neckline lacks the gold piping seen in Bevacqua’s. Broberg removes his own cap and sees that the outer prongs on the M on his cap seem to splay out more than the straight prongs on Bevacqua’s cap. Broberg shrugs.

“Details, my friend, mere details,” he says. He puts his cap back on his head. He yawns.

Bevacqua, already sick of being around the guy he figures he might have to spend eternity with, glares out at the mushy horizon.

“I think we’re in a horseshit operation,” he grumbles.

But as he says this another figure appears off in the distance. Then another. Soon a couple dozen figures are meandering half-dazed from every direction toward Broberg and Bevacqua, all wearing slightly different uniforms, everyone with a uniquely crooked pitchfork M on their head, everyone in white with lighter and darker shades of blue. Bevacqua recognizes some as fellow marginals. Others he doesn’t know. Nobody says anything.

Then, like the distant crashing of waves or the wide lonesome susurrus of wind through trees, there is the sound of cheering, far off. The baseball players don’t have any idea that the cheers are emanating from opening day at a place called the Kingdome. But they all understand they should move toward the sound.

And so they do, together, a new kind of team.

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