Tom Brunansky

January 26, 2009

Somewhere I Lost Connection

Chapter Two

(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)


  1. 1.  “Scott”, eh? I have a similar story. Early in my senior year of high school, I was taking the SAT. Sitting next to me was a tiny pixie of a girl from our sister school (I attended an all-boys Catholic school) who I had briefly carried a torch for a few years earlier. She tried to chat me up after the test and persuade me to attend her school’s homecoming game or something of the sort (I think she was a cheerleader…the memory fades a bit). The one snag? She called me “Steve”, whereas my name was and still is Kevin. Steve was a friend of mine who she had actually dated once or twice. It would be easy to confuse us if Steve wasn’t several inches shorter than me, with a rounder face and darker complexion.

    Small world corollary: One of my suite-mates in my sophomore year of college dated that girl for a while. When I was exposed to her for a more prolonged period of time, I learned that she was more bitter than her cute and pixie-ish appearance would indicate.

  2. 2.  The Bruno catch is one of my favorite moments in Red Sox history. A few years ago at Fenway they were showing one “great moment in Red Sox history” per game on the scoreboard. The first time I went to a game in which I remembered the moment would be coming, I told people around me “I wanna see the Bruno catch.” Inning after inning I asked for it, and when they finally showed that day’s moment, there it was, the Bruno catch!

    It is pretty funny that he’s got a question mark on the front of his card there…

  3. 3.  All the ways to be a game-winning hero, that’s the one I’d pick: spectacular game-ending catch. Better than striking a guy out with the bases loaded, better than hitting one out of the park to end the game. An inside-the-park game-winning home run would be pretty cool, too, but nothing would be better than a full sprawling layout catch to seal the deal.

    Bruno obviously had the best one of these for the Red Sox, but Coco had a nice one to clinch the ’07 pennant, though that game was far from being in doubt.

  4. 4.  I missed Coco’s catch–I was right above it in the bleachers in dead center, and with that high wall, he went out of view. So I just watched the bullpen guys and waited for their reaction. So I guess two of the best Fenway clinching catches were missed by me live (Bruno went out of view on TV as we know), even though I was watching both.

    On the Coco play, as usual, I was rolling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OMj5ZAjGo8

  5. 5.  after senior year, i was backpacking through europe. in rome, we stayed at a hostel where, on the first day, as i was going to use the unisex bathroom, out comes this woman from college whom i had always wanted to ask out but never did. she was in a small towel, freshly showered. we both paused for a moment, me recognizing her immediately, her looking at me like i was familiar but she couldn’t place me.

    i’m thinking, city of romance, maria in a towel — how can this not be a sign?

    it wasn’t a sign.

    i saw her a few years ago in a restaurant, i said hello, but i still think she wasn’t sure just who the heck i was.

    on a different note, i see that this card and the von poppel both have tm signs next to the team name. when did trademark signs start showing up on the front of baseball cards?

  6. 6.  The ’91 Topps set appears to be the first where the team name written out (in NON-logo font) had the TM.

  7. 7.  3 Mine is similar, with the slight variation is that the catch would be made reaching over the wall to pull back a HR.

  8. 8.  I was talking to a friend the other day about t-shirts of players in years gone by that you’d buy now without even thinking about it. Bruno is definitely one. Others would include Greenwell, O’Leary and Curtis Pride. 🙂

  9. 9.  Tears of wonder
    Tears of reflection
    Tears of happiness

    Being at one with the moment expressing freely – pure love that resonates from a corner of the core of your being.

    I savor these times.

  10. 10.  when i was playing softball for the company team in central park, usually stuck out in right field (i occasionally played first, second, third, and left), in a tight game with a guy on second i made a knee-sliding Rusty Staub-like one-hop pickup of a line drive, slid on the grass, got up, then threw a one-hopper to the plate to nail the runner, all in one motion. it wasn’t the ninth inning, but that’s another great feeling, especially for someone like me who could sprinkle a few singles but never hit for power.

  11. 11.  10 My biggest softball moment was probably in college when I hit a 2 out grand slam in the bottom of the last inning (I think we only played 7 innings in intramurals, but I’m not positive) to tie the game at 7-7. It was somewhat anticlimatic in that we lost in the next inning.

  12. 12.  Josh’s tale of a strange coincidence, seeing the Germans in the airport, makes me think of a somewhat bizarre coincidence that happened to me about 10 days ago. This story is a bit off-topic as it does not involve somebody misremembering my name, Tom Brunansky, or Germans. It does involve this website though, so I can’t resist sharing…

    Like Josh, I live in Chicago and, from a few of his entries, I’ve also realized that we both live in the same neighborhood. In the George Brett entry from the 16th, he described the bitter cold snap that we were suffering that week. That Thursday, the coldest day, I got home from work and resolved not to set foot outside that evening. Unfortunately, I later realized that I had an overdue DVD, Pineapple Express, that I needed to return. So I put on about four layers, wrapped an enormous scarf around my face and set off for the video store. Though it’s a fairly short walk to Division and Damen, I regretted the decision to leave the house after about three minutes as my beard had begun to freeze, despite the scarf.

    After returning the movie, I looked up at the digital bank clock across the parking lot, saw that it read ‘-12 F’, and said, out loud, “I am a f***ing moron”.

    I didn’t check cardboardgods until the following Monday but I could barely believe the similarity…same movie, almost certainly the same store, same day, same bank clock noted. Strange, huh?

  13. 13.  “t-shirts of players in years gone by that you’d buy now without even thinking about it. Bruno is definitely one. Others would include Greenwell,”

    Just yesterday I was going through an old box of t-shirts. Found my Greenwell. It was a large. So I set it aside to wear to Fenway this year. I should be the only one. I still have my “Gator Country” poster, too, and I still say it kicks the crap out of that Mattingly “Hit Man” one.

  14. 14.  12 : Ha! Yes, that’s the same video joint. Too funny. So I guess since we’ve got similar tastes I’ll ask you to kindly leave the Warren Oates DVDs alone for the next few weeks–I’ve been working my way (again) through his inimitable ouvre after stumbling onto Two-Lane Blacktop last month.

  15. 15.  Coming back from Atlantic City to Philadelphia on the AC Expressway late one night my friend and I stopped at a rest stop (pick a famous New Jersey native — Walt Whitman, Woodrow Wilson maybe). Sitting at a table was a guy who lived on the same dorm floor with me. We acknowledged each other as if to say “He’s the last person I expected to see here at this hour” — strange but then again we were in New Jersey.

    Best sports moment came for me in a soccer game during high school. I was playing defense and the goalie got pulled out of the box real far and a ball started slowly rolling toward the goal mouth. I was able to catch it but the only way I could actually stop the ball from scoring a goal was to grab the ball as if I was the goalie. Of course this was a no-no but I did stop the goal. It also caused quite an uproar with the other team and referee. I wound up with a yellow card (unsportsmanlike conduct I guess) and the team got a penalty kick. Of course you know the result — they made the penalty kick. But wait, no! We had the referee rattled and conveniently pointed out the fact that an opposing player was offsides during the penalty kick so the penalty kick was nullified and done again. The second time they really did miss. You’d have thought we won the World Series the way we celebrated. Probably the highlight of my soccer career (I hung up my spikes after this season). Also a memorable season as we imitated the 2008 Detroit Lions and lost every game by a comfortable margin. But I had my moment in the sun.

  16. 16.  Two Lane Blacktop? After I saw Deathproof last year, I watched a bunch of those early ’70s flicks that inspired Tarantino: Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Electra Glide in Blue, Bullitt. I have yet to see Two Lane Blacktop available through blockbuster.com. But it is down to a short wait now.

    I was in Saudi Arabia for the Brunansky catch. I’m not sure when I found out about it. I do recall that someone had a copy of SI about Clemens going berserk in the playoffs.

  17. 17.  16 : I highly recommend Two Lane Blacktop, but it’s definitely an unusual film, even by early ’70s standards. Not really much narrative at all. Like some other of my favorites of that time, it sort of takes a little getting used to the real-time pacing and seemingly flat tone. It’d be a good double-feature match with The Passenger (Antonioni), Five Easy Pieces (Rafelson), Kings of the Road (Wim Wenders), and of course Warren Oates’ tour de force Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Peckinpah). Oates’ co-stars in Two Lane Blacktop (Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, James “Fire and Rain” Taylor, and a gossip-magazine obsessed fangirl named Laurie Bird) were all complete novices. Oates turned in the greatest of the performances, of course, but I also found Taylor’s stiff but intense performance oddly moving.

  18. 18.  Funny, I went from Heidelberg to Frankfurt.

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