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Byung-Hyun Kim

May 8, 2008

                                                          Golf Road
                                                       Chapter Three
                                             (continued from Brad Ausmus)

There wasn’t a lot to do in my town. You waited for winter to end. When spring came you walked half a mile down Route 14 to the general store to buy a couple packs of baseball cards. A few days later you did it again. The years went by. I stopped buying baseball cards. Instead, I extended my walk just beyond the general store, to the road that branched off Route 14 and led up out of the valley. My brother had showed me what to do. You stand there and when a car comes along you stick out your thumb. Maybe they stop, probably not. Very few cars come along.

                                                       * * *

In 2003, I found myself getting excited when the Red Sox picked up Byung-Hyun Kim. He’d authored two horrific collapses in the 2001 World Series. Few if any players had ever failed as spectacularly or as publicly as he had. In the moments after that double-collapse, he’d seemed broken, a ghost of a man. But the following year he’d bounced back to save 36 games, with 92 strikeouts in 84 innings. And he was still only 24. Most of all, he still threw a hundred miles an hour. I tried to ignore the image of the ghost of a man and focused on imagining Byung-Hyun Kim to be exactly what my favorite team had always lacked. In this life you learn to gnaw on the spent, faintly narcotic cud of hope. Sometimes it numbs the pain of waiting.

                                                       * * *

Once, while I waited for a ride up out of my town, a pickup truck turned off of Route 14 and zoomed past my upraised thumb.

“Get a car!” the driver yelled. As the pickup disappeared the horn sounded. Like the General Lee, it had been rigged to play Dixie.

I’ve never really put that moment behind me.

                                                       * * *

Kim had switched to the starting rotation at the beginning of 2003 with Arizona, and for his first month with the Red Sox he remained a starter, but in July he moved into the closer’s role, which had been Boston’s biggest weakness that year. In fact, it had been Boston’s biggest weakness for most of their existence, ineptitude in that area a perfect Schiraldi-faced symbol of their long history of repeatedly getting close to winning it all only to blow it at the end. In half a season as the closer, Kim saved 16 games, but he started looking shaky near the end of the season. His shoulder was bothering him, but his inability to get the ball over the plate seemed to the fans, and to his manager (who started yanking him at the first sign of trouble), to be signs of cowardice, the pressure of the looming postseason causing him to wilt. In his one brief appearance in the playoffs, at a game in Oakland, his ineffectiveness contributed to a Red Sox loss. The next game, back in Boston, the fans showed their disappointment during pregame introductions. It wasn’t fair, but it seemed to the fans that a guy who could throw harder than all but a few human beings who ever lived didn’t have the stomach to throw strikes. So the boos rained down on the 24-year-old far from his home. What would you have done in that moment if you were him?

                                                       * * *

I wait on Golf Road, holding the damaged nest of baseball cards against to my chest. Minutes ago what was trash is now the newest addition to my most prized possession. Cars fly by. There’s always a small part of me braced for one of the drivers to yell something at me, to mock me for being carless. For once I don’t care. I found a bunch of ripped baseball cards. I feel rich. I feel lucky. If anybody said anything I’d just laugh. But the problem is that on Golf Road nobody says anything. The sound of traffic is like the roar of some foreign tongue you’ll never be able to learn. Even so, the message is clear: You don’t belong. You’ll never belong.

(to be continued)

8 comments

  1. 1.  For a couple minutes this post had a paragraph summing up Kim’s career since 2003. It wasn’t really adding much, so I deleted it, but here’s a link to an intersting article about his current doings, from just a couple weeks ago in the Korea Times:

    http://tinyurl.com/6cd5fl


  2. 2.  “In this life you learn to gnaw on the spent, faintly narcotic cud of hope. Sometimes it numbs the pain of waiting.”

    Line of the week, Josh. Amen.


  3. 3.  What’s refreshing and miraculous about your find of torn cards, Josh, is that they’re current! The players you are now weaving into your stories aren’t the cardboard gods of our youth, but the players of today (or, last year, really).

    I would love to have been the person who snapped that photo of BY Kim: the pose caught, and the out-of-focus background of the fans in the stands makes for as dramatic and cool an image as I’ve seen in many a card….


  4. 4.  “In this life you learn to gnaw on the spent, faintly narcotic cud of hope. Sometimes it numbs the pain of waiting.”

    Wow. Sing it, brother.

    As always, I’m anxious to find out where this tale is going. The last chapter’s focus on the Paul Simon song “America” reminded me of another excellent piece of writing on another blog — a remembrance of being in Manhattan on 9/11, five years later, with “An American Tune” as the backdrop:

    http://tomatonation.com/?p=920


  5. 5.  3 : I agree about the photo. If this is his last card, it’s a nice way to go out.

    4 : The first line of this post is an homage to another song, Steve Earle’s “Someday.” It starts: “There ain’t a lot that you can do in this town…”


  6. 6.  While in college my brother worked the stadium camera at Fenway. His responsibilities were mainly filming the candid fan shots they show on the big screen in centerfield. He was filming the player introductions the day Byung-Hyun Kim gave the Fenway Faithful the finger. His video was the one they showed on ESPN and all the national networks. It was probably his proudest moment as a Red Sox employee.


  7. 7.  I was going to comment on the beautiful truth of the “cud of hope” sentence, but I see it’s already been pasted here twice. This is damn fine writing, Josh. It’s comforting to know there are others who know the roar of traffic as “some foreign tongue”, and who escape into other worlds (usually baseball universes on all those childhood Sundays). The bits about America (“where are they all going?”) remind me a little bit of Kerouac.


  8. 8.  Well said, Charlie. And Josh, of course.

    That reminds me a little bit of the beginning of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, where one of the characters notes the faces of commuters they are passing by, and how dead and empty they look, like a funeral procession.



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