Archive for the ‘Los Angeles Dodgers’ Category

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Steve Yeager

October 17, 2011

The Cardboard Gods Ass Backwards ABCs of Parenting

Y Is for Yeager

Baseball is often used to define fatherhood, and fatherhood is often used to define baseball. Somewhere it was said that baseball is fathers playing catch with sons, or something like that (I don’t know if he coined the phrase, but the great poet—and Dock Ellis collaborator—Donald Hall wrote a book of essays about sports using that title). Feeding into that notion is the familial bond strengthened and even defined through a shared love of the game, the game being passed down from generation to generation, and, last but not least, the literal act of fathers playing catch with sons, an act perhaps as sacramental as any other in secular America. What above that would a new father think of when imagining his relationship with his son? What else could more firmly lock father and son together and lock them both to the most tender and joyful element in the myth of the nation? This notion of fathers playing catch with sons has become an epicenter of sentimentality, too, a way toward weeping hot, nostalgic tears for, depending on the weeper, the distance in time from such a catch, the absence of such a catch, the absence, in part or in full, of the father. This is the myth of the land, too: the absent father, the catch that never was.

The elevated notion of fathers playing catch with sons crested in the popular imagination in Field of Dreams, a movie about a guy named Ray Kinsella hitting middle-age and still looking for that catch with his dad. In the end, the ghost of the long-gone father, John Kinsella, emerges from the corn, and he’s a catcher, that’s his position, his role during his time on earth playing baseball as well as in eternity: he is a father and he catches. The movie climaxes with this exchange between father and son:

John Kinsella: Well, good night Ray.
Ray Kinsella: Good night, John.
[They shake hands and John begins to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Hey… Dad?
[John turns]
Ray Kinsella: [choked up] “You wanna have a catch?”
John Kinsella: I’d like that.

The second time I saw Field of Dreams I wasn’t having any of this, rejecting it as I would the idea of eating a bucket of sugar. By the time of the climactic catch between father and son, I had already come to this conclusion about and rejection of the movie, and Costner’s phrasing—“have a catch”—put me over the top. I’d never to that point heard of the act of throwing a ball back and forth as “having” a catch, and the term made the act sound all the more precious and sentimental, almost unbearably childish, even though the term my brother and I used when we wanted to do throw a ball around, if we had to use one at all beyond just eye contact and the waggle of a glove—“play catch”—was also childlike. I don’t know, “playing catch” just sounds, still sounds, less like a big production with swelling orchestral strings than “having a catch.” I understand now that it’s probably just a regional thing—in some places this is just what people say when they want to throw a ball back and forth. (But, still, I for one will never use the phrase “have a catch.”) Anyway, that second viewing of Field of Dreams formed my official stance on the movie, but I must admit that my first viewing of the movie went much differently.

I first saw it on an airplane over the Pacific Ocean. I was at one of the more vulnerable moments of my life, as I was on my way to spend a few months in China with the idea that I would study there, but I had no real plan beyond the notion that I was going to meet up with my college writing professor, who was teaching there for a year, and together we would “figure something out.” I had never left the continent before, and I didn’t know a single word of Chinese or anything about Chinese culture. It was a leap into the unknown. And here, during the longest flight of my life, into this unknown, came a soothing story about baseball and the American Dream and fathers playing catch with sons, and I fell into it completely, desperately, and at the end, during the “have a catch” scene, I started to lose it. I was sitting next to a young Japanese guy, and he was starting to lose it, too, and the two of us turned to one another and grinned sheepishly.

Japanese guy: It is nice.
Josh: [choked up] Yes.

So, let’s face it, I’m as deeply snared as anyone in the myth of baseball and America and fathers “having” catches with sons. Now that I’m a father I have already thought repeatedly about such a catch with my own son, even though his command of his hands and limbs is minimal, but it is not nonexistent, and he is able to grip onto my finger, which has more than once made me feel choked up. Anyway, it’s a long way off. In the meantime, however, everything but everything, or so I’ve been told, maybe not in so many words, is fathers playing catch with sons, and in this my role is to be a catcher. I have to catch what he throws. I have to be there. I have to be sturdy and balanced and relaxed but ready. Like Steve Yeager in this 1977 card, an impossible ideal of relaxed readiness, the supreme catcher. Whenever you’re ready, Yeager seems to be saying. I can crouch here all day. Whenever you’re ready, I’ll be here.

***

Previous installments in the Cardboard Gods Ass Backwards ABCs of Parenting:

Z Is for Zisk

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Terry Forster

April 20, 2011

In the beginning, Terry Forster must have seemed like The Natural. He made it to the major leagues as a teenager able to do anything and everything on a baseball diamond. In his first two big league seasons, he averaged better than a strikeout per inning on the mound and went 12 for 24 at the plate. His all-around abilities extended to the basepaths, too, as in 1972 he became the last American League pitcher to steal a base before the institution of interleague play. The designated hitter rule in 1973 took the bat out of Forster’s hands for the next few years, but in 1977 he moved to the National League and racked up 9 hits (including a double and a triple) in 26 at-bats for a .346 average. Because of the role he settled into for the rest of his career—short reliever—he would never again get more than 8 at-bats in a season, but he continued to produce with the bat whenever called upon, and his lifetime batting average reads like a typographical error. Terry Forster was a .397 career hitter.

In 1978, Forster’s first season in Los Angeles, he had a typically stellar year at bat (going 4 for 8). Meanwhile, he had his career-best performance on the mound, recording 22 saves and posting a team best 1.94 ERA for the pennant-winning Dodgers. He added five scoreless innings and a win in the playoffs. He’s on the brink of that dream season in this 1978 card, a doctored artifact that attempts clumsily to obscure the fact that in the photo he was wearing the uniform of another team. It gives the card a blobby, globby, and, yes, gooey feeling, and perhaps it can be viewed as the embryonic beginning of another narrative that would eventually expand (like a midsection) and obscure entirely the initial story of Terry Forster’s career, The Natural disappearing via a David Letterman monologue into “a fat tub of goo.” Forster, ever the natural, took it all in stride, shrugging off Letterman’s remark with one of his own: “A waist is a terrible thing to mind.”

***

As you may or may not have noticed, I decided that to continue posting team predictions deep into April was pretty dumb, plus the team predictions I’d been posting had become increasingly allusive to the point of not really being predictions at all. Still, I’m going to finish out the last few cards in my stack of “team prediction” cards, and if anyone wants to attempt to connect this 1978 Terry Forster card to the fortunes of the 2011 Dodgers (or the Jose Canseco card from Monday to the 2011 Blue Jays, etc.), I am all ears.  

I did want to make sure and direct anyone wishing to enjoy the 2011 baseball season from a Dodger perspective to Dodger Thoughts, a shining light in the baseball blogosphere and one of the great online communities of any stripe.

Finally, a question, in honor of Terry Forster: Who would make up the all-time “goo” team? The pitching staff would be easy to assemble, and I’m sure there’ve been some portly catchers, outfielders, and corner infielders, but I’m drawing a blank for the middle infield spots. If you’ve got any suggestions to fill out the roster below, please let them fly.

Team Goo
C: Mike Lavalliere (1 vote), Hector Villanueva (1 vote), Ramon Castro (1 vote), Henry Blanco (1 vote), Smokey Burgess (1 vote)
1B: Cecil Fielder/Prince Fielder platoon (1 vote)
2B: Ronnie Belliard (1 vote)
SS: Juan Uribe (1 vote)
3B: Pablo Sandoval (1 vote)
LF: Greg Luzinski (2 votes), Kevin Mitchell (1 vote)
CF: Kirby Puckett (1 vote)
RF: Matt Stairs (1 vote), Tony Gwynn (1 vote)
Util: Ty Wiggington (1 vote)
SP: Mickey Lolich (1 vote), LaMarr Hoyt (1 vote), Sid Fernandez (2 vote), CC Sabathia (1 vote), David Wells (1 vote)
RP: Juan Berenguer (2 vote), Rich Garces (1 vote), Joba Chamberlain (1 vote), Charlie Kerfeld (1 vote)

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Tom Lasorda

August 24, 2010

This weekend I caught most of an episode of Silver Spoons that centered on baseball cards. I don’t make a habit of watching episodes of Silver Spoons, but for reasons I am no longer in contact with I watched plenty of episodes of the show when it first came out back in the early 1980s. I was a teenager by then and should have had better things to do than watch a “heartwarming” sitcom about a little rich kid and his “zany” father (the theme song alone should have caused me to sprint screaming into the night), but I guess I didn’t. What was I supposed to do, push-ups? Homework? My evenings then, as now, as ever: television. Hence, at an age when in another time and place adolescent Indian braves of yore were traipsing through the wilderness purified by fasting and prayers in search of life-defining visions, I was watching Silver Spoons.

However, possibly because underage drinking and other mind-altering substances swooped in to spirit me slightly away from television for a while, I missed the episode a few seasons into the show’s five-year run that featured Ricky (Ricky Schroeder) and his grandfather (Academy Award-winner John Houseman a couple roles away from The Final Curtain) scheming to make a killing with baseball cards.

The mention of baseball cards is what stopped me on my tour through the channels. Though the scheme the robber baron grandfather hatched was pretty ludicrous (noticing that his grandson has cornered the market on Tommy Lasorda cards, he drives up the value of the cards by starting a rumor that Tommy Lasorda is about to be voted into the Hall of Fame), it’s interesting to me that the episode aired when the baseball card industry was reaching its peak, and the skyrocketing value of cards was making kids into savvy, merciless businessmen. I had stopped collecting cards by then, so I missed out on being inside the bubble of card prices that seemed for a while as if it would expand forever. It must have been exciting, but I think it would have made baseball card collecting a little nerve-wracking for me. With my cards, I wanted to dissolve away from the world and enter another world. If I was constantly worried about whether to “invest” in, say, Pat Listach or Gregg Jefferies, I think I might not have enjoyed it as much, or found as much comfort in it, because I’d still be present, capable of losing, instead of disappearing altogether into the world of the cards.

This Tommy Lasorda card at the top of the page was from the group of manager cards in the 1978 set. I liked these cards for the long listing of mostly underwhelming minor league stats that is on the back of almost all of them. Lasorda is no exception, toiling for many years in the minors with only enough cups of coffee in the majors to compile an 0 and 4 record with a 6.52 ERA. He did have some big years in the minors, though, mostly with the Dodgers’ affiliate in Montreal, for whom he played for eight seasons. He seems to have been an overachiever as a minor league lifer: He didn’t strike many guys out, and he walked guys a lot, and somehow he usually won more games than he lost. I wonder if he started to get bitter that The Call never really came. It seems particularly cruel that he was shipped to the Dodgers’ minor league affiliate in Los Angeles in 1957 (where he was a teammate of both legendary minor league slugger Steve Bilko and fellow future manager Sparky Anderson), and then when the Dodgers themselves came to Los Angeles the following year they sent Lasorda back across the continent to Montreal. I imagine him on a mound in Montreal in early April, freezing his nuts off, using some colorful language as he dwells on Dodger golden boy Sandy Koufax, who in an earlier season took Lasorda’s place on the major league roster.  

At the end of the Silver Spoons episode, Tommy Lasorda makes an appearance. He has a whole bunch of cards of himself, which will “flood the market” and drive prices back down and make official the restoration of innocence that Ricky already started moving toward when he gave back the money he’d fleeced from his friend. I believe the last line of the episode is Lasorda’s, saying something like, “Hey, did you hear? I’m a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame!” He actually did make the Hall, but it was twelve years after the episode aired. I don’t think he thanked John Houseman in his acceptance speech for getting the ball rolling. I also have to think he refrained from the colorful language that, in this day and age of the ever-present recording device, has given Tommy Lasorda two lives, one being the sunny, wholesome Dodger Great shown on the front of the 1978 card at the top of this page (and in the 1985 episode of Silver Spoons), the other being an incredibly foul-mouthed accidental entertainer of the YouTube generation. I have to admit that the latter is by far my more favorite of his two incarnations, in part because he is clearly one of those people blessed with the ability to use obscenities with operatic gravitas and gusto, and also because the latter Tommy Lasorda persona seems to be the one connected with its vitriol and bitterness and also its vivid life and its unadorned humor to that more interesting personal life story, the one present on the back of his 1978 card, the life of the marginal itinerant far from sunshine and Cooperstown. 

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Burt Hooton

February 16, 2010

The Blue Jacket

One

Morty, the boss of me for a few years in the 1990s at the now defunct 8th Street Wine and Liquor, used to yell at me to laugh. He thought I was too serious and morose, a walking cadaver. Morty was in his seventies. He’d undergone enemy fire on a warship in the Pacific, had buried both his parents, and was on his second marriage and his second liquor store after his first store had burned to the ground. I was in my early twenties. I was untouched.

“I laugh,” I said. “I’m laughing on the inside.”

“Joshua, we could all put our problems in a hat and then pick from the hat and get somebody else’s problems and we’d be begging to have our own problems back,” he said. “Think about that.”

“I have,” I said. “You told me that one before.”

“Be good to yourself, Joshua,” Morty said. “Who else will be if you won’t be?”

He’d told me that one before, too, but I didn’t say anything. I just sat there trying to picture what it would look like, me being good to myself, but all I could see was myself tucking myself in for a nice long afternoon nap, which I did whenever possible anyway, always waking in the dusk with a stomach-wrenching sense that the end was near. Scared and doomed, I’d stagger to the bathroom and look at my face and hate it. Someone else was going to have to be good to me.

***

When Burt Hooton was the age I was as I slumped behind the liquor store counter, he had already gotten his career off to an almost impossibly good start. He had swept into the big leagues as a first round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs after posting a 35-3 record at the University of Texas. Then, in his fourth major league game, he had pitched a no-hitter. After that, the guttering Cubs began to drag him down to their level somewhat, and by the early 1975 his won-loss record, rightly or wrongly the primary yardstick for pitcher evaluation back in those days, stood at 34-44.

He was traded to the Dodgers in May of 1975 and everything changed. He was on a contender. He was winning. At some point in the midst of all this he was asked by a Topps photographer to pose for a picture to be used on the 1976 baseball card at the top of this page.

***

I really didn’t think I was such a sad sack. So I didn’t roll with laughter every two seconds, so what? I’m deep, I thought. My joys are visionary, my sorrows timeless, etc. I considered myself this sensitive soul, a modern-day Rilke, if instead of swooning around the castles of his various benefactors writing immortal poetry Rilke had been employed to sell half-pints of Leeds Vodka to men struggling to inch through the day.

When I think of those early days at the store I think of the greasy nickels those men pulled from their pockets and shoved across the counter to me. I think of a lot of things. I think of a maroon Corvoisier windbreaker, a promotional item a salesman had dropped off years before. My brother, who had preceded me as a clerk at the store, had first inherited the jacket, and then it had been handed down to me. The right pocket had started to rip and the flap hung down. Really, if you thought about it, I needed a new jacket. But I never thought about it.

***

With the Dodgers, Burt Hooton became a top pitcher on an elite team. He finished second in the Cy Young race in 1978 and made an All-Star team in 1981. I don’t know exactly when or where this photo was taken, but some of the improving fortunes of Burt Hooton, nicknamed “Happy” by manager Tommy Lasorda, must have begun to announce themselves by the time the photographer asked the pitcher to pose for his baseball card picture.

Look around you, Burt Hooton. All-Stars everywhere. Starlets in the stands. Wins piling up on your record. Sun shining down. And your young heart is thumping, is it not, Burt Hooton? So give us a smile, Happy Hooton. Say cheese.

***

But it’s always been this way. When the excitement of ripping open the wax wrapper is gone, and the gum has become a tasteless pellet, the blankness of the day begins to loom. You look to the gods, and some of them smile, even beam, and some are in the middle of the action that you are not a part of, but as often as not they stare back, unsmiling. They have been traded. They have lost. They will someday be released. Even if they’re in the midst of a warm blue day, they understand everything is fleeting, everything will be released.

***

I’d concentrated on writing poetry during college, but in the liquor store days I was losing my grip on it. Every poem I tried flattened into monotonous sentences searching for a story in a life that proceeded as if designed to avoid any kind of a narrative thrust whatsoever.

“You just need to get laid,” said another boss of me one evening. This was Dave, the store’s night manager, who worked a few nights a week after logging some classroom hours as an adjunct philosophy professor. He gave me pep talks about women. He kept telling me they were as lonely as guys. I didn’t believe it.

“You just have to talk to them,” he said.

But I didn’t feel like I had it in me to do that. So I just stared at them whenever the opportunity presented itself, hoping that they’d see my Rilkean sensitivities and take things from there. I needed something like that, some kind of rescue.

“You just need some more confidence,” Dave told me more than once.

I didn’t disagree with him, but I saw that any kind of an improvement would have to come from outside myself. I was at the mercy of life. I was waiting to be told I’d been traded to a winning situation.

(to be continued)

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Pat Perry

December 18, 2009

Pat, a soft-throwing southpaw middle reliever, has suffered

That is how one of the great unsung literary achievements of the last twenty years begins. I’m talking about the two paragraphs of text on the back of this 1991 Pat Perry card. It is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of its genre, a work that transforms the task of filling up the would-be blank space below a meager list of statistics into a comment on the space we all try and mostly fail to fill through all the days of our finite life. Through most of the history of the genre, which like intricate and ornate medieval book marginalia has been produced entirely in uncelebrated anonymity by nameless artisans, text was used to attempt to refute the vast void below the would-be blank space on the card. Below numbers that intimated transiency and futility, claims of importance were made, hopeful prospects voiced, brief miniscule highlights clung to.

A fine utility player for Chisox the past 2 seasons, Bill hopes to see action as starter with Mariners in 1977.

Brian’s first big-league Homer came after just 7 games in majors.

Gary gained credit for Victory as Brewers defeated Indians, 17-4, on September 6, 1976.

The hallmarks of the genre, including the use of clipped article-dropping syntax (as if the message was the body of an urgent telegram) and the heavy reliance on certain nouns signaled by the capitalization of those nouns (as if to elevate key words such as Victory and Homer to the realm of the sacred), produce a third common trait in back-of-the-card text: a faintly desperation-tinged voicing of the message that Everything Is OK.

Maybe everything is OK. Maybe one day we will all “see action as starter.” Maybe one day we will all have our lives transformed into a holy succession of Homers and Victories. Maybe one day we will all be redeemed.

I don’t know. I cling to all those Maybes and more as much as anyone. Then once in a while I hear a song or see a painting or read a passage in a book that hits me as if it was some portion of the unknowable truth reaching momentarily into my uncertain world. I’ve suffered. You’ve suffered. Pat,  a soft-throwing middle reliever, has suffered. As it is written, in its entirety, on the back of Score 1991 card #527: 

Pat, a soft-throwing southpaw middle reliever, has suffered a lot of baseball rejection in his 13-year career. He has been released three times and traded twice. Nine times he has played with at least two teams in one year. The lowest ebb of Pat’s fortunes came in ’83 when he was cut by Double-A Columbus (Astros) in June, signed by Double-A Buffalo (Indians) in July, cut 12 days later and finally signed by Class A Springfield (Cardinals) in August.

At any rate, Pat was signed as a free agent by the Dodgers in December ’89 after he was cut by the Cubs. Unhappily, he was on the disabled list the first two months of the season with a shoulder injury and was used sparingly after that.

(Much thanks to Stan Opdyke for sending me the card of Pat Perry, who after gracing this card never appeared in another major league game.)

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Lee Lacy

September 2, 2009

Lee Lacy 78

Before the 1976 season, the Dodgers shipped two of the more versatile Cardboard Gods, Jerry Royster and Lee Lacy, to the Atlanta Braves, which is kind of like pawning your poncho and your Swiss Army knife just before setting off to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail. At that time, the Dodgers boasted what would become the longest tenured infield in major league history—Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey—so maybe the team felt it’d be okay without much in the way of reinforcements at those spots. Also, the multiplayer trade involving Lacy and Royster made the Dodgers younger and, presumably, more durable in the outfield, the team exchanging 34-year-old Jimmy Wynn for 27-year-old Dusty Baker.

Halfway through the season, the Dodgers apparently realized their mistake and swapped struggling former Cy Young-winning reliever Mike Marshall to the Braves for Lacy and Elias Sosa. Though Lacy’s contributions as a pinch-hitter and backup in the outfield and infield were unable to put the Dodgers over the top in their battle with the Reds for the division crown that season, it was one of only two years in a six-year span in which he didn’t make it to the World Series. I doubt you think of him if and when you ponder the Dodgers pennant-winning teams of 1974, 1977, and 1978, or of the World Series-winning Pittsburgh Pirates of 1979, but Lacy was on all those teams, and he was far from just a passenger. He played all over the field every year and hit with some power and had, for a player who spent most of his career as a utility man, a notably high lifetime batting average of .286.

After playing in four World Series in six years, Lacy receded from center stage, due to the flagging abilities of the Pittsburgh Pirates and of his last team, the Baltimore Orioles, which he joined just as they, too, started to decline from their 1970s and early 1980s golden age. But he seemed to get better and better, and he even somehow got faster, the man who averaged a little over four steals a year in his twenties somehow swiping 40 bases in 121 games when he was 34. His ever-strengthening ability to rocket line drives all over the field finally allowed him to become a full-time player in his mid- to late 30s. His high in plate appearances came when he was 37 years old.

I vaguely remember this later version of Lee Lacy. I was no longer buying baseball cards, but I’d catch his name in a box score or in the Sunday averages once in a while. It mystified me. It–

Ah fuck it. Can you believe I’ve been working on this Lee Lacy profile for three days? The first paragraphs came about fairly easily, career summary spieling that they are, wikipediarrhea, and since then I have been trying to reach for something at the end, some poetic or philosophical flourish connecting the career of Lee Lacy to some part of my own life, or to Human Life in General, but each attempt was worse than the last, one hackneyed blues guitar lick after another that I’ve already played a thousand times before on this site. I have to go to work soon. Last night I had to stay very late at work proofreading and then waited a long time for a bus on Golf Road in the dark and while I was waiting I wanted to kick in the plexiglass window of the bus shelter, which would have been impossible, but nonetheless I wanted to try but I didn’t because I am 41 years old and cars were streaming past on Golf Road and I didn’t really want to be a 41 year old man kicking a plexiglass bus shelter window on fucking Golf Road. I wish I were younger. I wish I could smash my hackneyed guitar to pieces and have a whole new song hatch from the wreckage. I wish I could find some way to work Lee Lacy’s full first name, Leondaus, into the mix. But the only wish that can come true at this narrow moment is the small ingrown wish of the quitter, which in this case would be: I wish to be done trying to write something about this particular baseball card. I wish to press the “publish” button and go take a dump. And so I fucking shall.

*     *     *

(Love versus Hate update: Lee Lacy’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

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Orel Hershiser

March 5, 2009

orel-hershiser-95

One day when I was a kid my brother and I went panning for gold. I don’t remember where we got the idea. Probably from something on TV. We chose to ignore the fact that, as far as we knew, no gold had ever been discovered in our town, or in any surrounding town, or in the whole state of Vermont, or anywhere except the sunny golden valhalla a million miles away known as California.

***

Yesterday the news came that the center of the baseball world in 2009 is sunny southern California. At least that’s how the news of the signing of Manny Ramirez struck me. Even though I’m not a Dodgers fan, the news was somehow exciting to me, and I went to my old Baseball Toaster neighbor Dodger Thoughts to congratulate the Dodgers fans there. I blithely threw out a comment along the lines of “the playoffs are a lock now” and went on with my day, checking back later to see that a couple of other commenters had cringed at my hex-inviting certainty. In retrospect, I understood completely, and was sorry I’d used those terms. If it had been my own team that had signed one of the most reliable of the pure-gold sluggers in the history of the game, I would have tempered my excitement with the awareness that nothing, not even something that seems without question to be gold, is a sure thing. Even the most richly gleaming gem might turn out to be pyrite.

***

When my brother and I went panning for gold, it was something like spring, that brief queasy northern version of the season that seems to act like an alternately sentimental and sadistic despot who can’t decide whether to finally ease up on the cowering local subjects or punish them for daring to exit their storm-windowed encampments in anything less than fifty pounds of woolen outerware. We set out down the dirt road across from our house in sneakers, Toughskins, jeans jackets, and the green caps of our little league team. The temperature seemed to rise and fall as the sun ducked in and out of clouds, and during the walk to the stream where we would find our fortune we alternately sweated and shivered. We both carried a tin pie pan in one hand and in the other hand carried an empty mason jar to store all our riches.

***

Los Angeles has not been the inarguable center of the baseball universe for some time, probably not since the man pictured at the top of this page turned in one of the most golden of postseason performances in leading the Dodgers to the 1988 World Series title. It’s amazing to me to think that someone born the year this victory occurred is now old enough to get legally plastered in all 50 states. It seems like it just happened, that just a minute ago Orel Hershiser was mowing down everything in his path. This card, from 1995, a piece of the new “Aunt Celia” wing of the Cardboard God collection (named for my wife’s aunt, who gave me a pack of random cards of relatively recent vintage for Christmas), seems contemporary to me, as if it could have come out a couple years ago at most instead of over a decade ago. On the back is evidence of my distorted accordianing of time, Hershiser already seemingly in the midst of a long, gradual, injury-filled decline from his brief stay at the pinnacle of the game to a much longer spell as a good but not great pitcher apt to lose about as many games as he won. In 1988, Orel Hershiser seemed to be pure gold; by 1995 he was less than that, not gold anymore, not certain, but iffy, fragile, human.

***

My brother and I shivered by the side of the icy stream for a while, pine trees shielding us from the sun even when it shouldered free of the clouds. We kept one hand buried in the pocket of our jeans jacket and panned for gold with the other until the panning hand started to go numb and we switched hands. We didn’t really know how to pan for gold but had gleaned that you scooped up water and silt and tilted your pan back and forth until the water spilled over the sides and left a sludgy residue at the bottom of the pan. Then you sorted through the sludge with the fingers of your relatively warm pocket hand. It was spring, or before spring, or whatever it was in Vermont when somewhere far away down south the Red Sox were getting ready to carry our needy prayers on their shoulders. We were on our knees by a stream, trying to find something miraculous in the cold wet earth.

***

Orel Hershiser went on and on, blurrily, long after his heroics in 1988. I have decided to not look this up so as to lay bare the almost certainly unreliable nature of my memory, but it seems to me he played for several teams, bouncing back and forth from the AL to the NL. I do remember him briefly playing for the Mets late in his odyssey, mostly because my friend Ramblin’ Pete often reminisces about the game when Hershiser Made The Call. I can’t recall when this game was, but I’m thinking it was the late 1990s, and it was a big playoff game full of wrenching twists and turns, and as the game stretched into extra innings a TV camera showed Hershiser in the dugout reaching for the phone and placing a call. By this time in his career, Hershiser was well-known for his devotion to his Christian faith, and Pete believes that Hershiser, in the manner of the similarly squeaky-clean believer Ned Flanders, decided the time was right after all his years of humble service to make a supplication to The Man Upstairs, and did so via the use of the dugout telephone. As proof that this is what indeed happened, the Mets seized victory immediately after Hershiser placed the phone back on its receiver.

***

Spring, let’s face it, is a time to pray. You want to get excited about new beginnings, but you also want to hold back a little, temper your enthusiasm, acknowledge that life has a way of bringing you ever-new forms of pain and woe. You want to make no demands, voice no certainties, claim no entitlements. You want to pray in a way that won’t invite the gods to turn any riches you might possess to dust.

***

Every once in a while we found specks of something that glittered at the bottom of our pans. We used our cold fingers to separate these specks from the otherwise gray silt, and dropped the specks into our mason jars, closing the lids back up afterward as if the specks were capable of flying away, like fireflies. By the time we grew too cold to continue, we each had a thin layer of glittering specks at the bottom of our jars.

Somehow we knew the specks were worthless. But as we walked back home on the dirt road and the sun edged out from behind the clouds we held up our mason jars and shook them, hoping that the specks would fly around like a golden version of the storm in a snow globe. But the specks were wet and heavy. They remained embedded in the muddy residue at the bottom of our jars.

But in my praying, faulty memory I see it differently. The specks, somehow suddenly dry and light as confetti, come loose and swirl in the jars in our hands, shimmering in the light of the warming spring sun.