Archive for the ‘Texas Rangers’ Category

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Tom Grieve

January 25, 2019

tom grieve

Kingdom Come

Two

“Will the earth last forever?”

My older son asked this a few days ago. He’s seven, the same age I was when I first held this 1975 card.

“Yes,” I said.

It was near bedtime, and near bedtime the night before he started panicking about tarantulas. The point is that near bedtime I will lie to my son about the impermanence of all things. I won’t tell him everything starts and ends with a flash, and there’s no start or end, and there’s no such thing as time at all, just the blazing light of kingdom come.

***

There’s no earthly reason for me to keep coming back to these baseball cards. And yet at the beginning of this month, the beginning of a new year, I pulled four cards out at random and spread them on my desk, and they’ve been here ever since, a thin, insistent barrier between me and earthly reasons. Ralph Houk with his glowing watch and air of impending resignation was the first card, and this one was the second.

It’s from 1975, the first year I started collecting cards, which was also my first full year away from my father. I had only recently learned to read, but when I first held this card in my hands as a seven-year-old, I’m sure I was able to read that simple, familiar first name: it was the name of my mom’s boyfriend. But that second word was more complicated. I didn’t know what it meant, didn’t know that it meant anything. Something was gone, and in its place was this: Grieve.

So I’ve been thinking about this word and its weight, and I’ve been thinking about fathers and about sons. Tom Grieve and his son, Ben Grieve, were both drafted in the first round of the major league baseball draft, making them, I believe, the only father and son duo with that distinction, but that’s not the father and son duo I want to get involved with here. Instead, allow me direct your attention to the father and son that I came across when this card brought me to an article about Tom Grieve’s biggest day at the plate, which also happened to be 10-cent Beer Night:

Meanwhile, the intoxicated crowd continuously misbehaved.

This included a woman running onto the Indians on deck circle and flashing her breasts and trying to kiss the umpire, and a naked man running onto the field and sliding into second base as Grieve hit his second home run of the game.

Also, a father and son ran into the outfield and mooned the fans in the bleachers.

***

“O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.” – Thomas Wolfe

***

On Sunday in Asheville, exactly one year after a stroke wiped my father’s mind clean, my mother, my brother, and I drove to a path that was the last place where my father took walks. My father was along for the ride too, in a box on my lap.

All his life, my father walked. He walked all over Manhattan as a boy. He walked on the rising and falling paths of Thomas Wolfe’s hometown in his nineties even after recovering from a broken hip. He just walked slower and used a ski pole for balance.

On the drive I brought up on my phone a 2012 live version of Lou Reed’s song “Cremation (Ashes to Ashes),” and my brother turned on the blue tooth so that it could play through the car speakers.

Since they burnt you up, collected you in a cup, for you the cold, black sea has no terror.

We got to the parking lot as the song was swelling to a conclusion. My brother cut the ignition. We got out of the car and inched down the icy path against a biting wind. My mom started to cry a little, and I put one arm around her. I carried the box under my other arm. We headed toward a point in the walkway where my father, on his walk, liked to sit for a little while before moving on.

My mother, brother, and I got to the part of the walkway near the bench and stepped carefully down toward the edge of the stream. My mom took the first turn of dipping a paper cup into the box of ashes.

“Note the direction of the wind,” my brother said, wisely.

My mother turned her back to the wind and tipped the cup, and the ashes swirled and fell to the water and dissolved. My brother went next and shook all the ashes in the cup out into the wind. Then my brother paused and looked down in the cup. He looked over at me and then held the cup up so that I could see. At the bottom of the cup was a large metal screw.

I took my turn at scattering my father to the wind and water, eventually, but not before all three of us laughed until tears welled up and then froze on our cheeks.

(continued)

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Mike Hargrove

January 3, 2017

mike-hargrove

The Human Rain Delay was first captured in cardboard in this 1975 Topps offering. He’s not mentioned as such anywhere on the card. I’m guessing this nickname wasn’t yet in existence but rather gathered momentum gradually as the player’s approach in the batter’s box became more familiar to everyone. Obviously someone had to first coin the term at a particular moment in time, but the coining surely came after an accrual of moments over the years, everyone becoming more aggrieved by Hargrove’s deliberate batting box routine, the touching of this and the tugging of that, everyone finding themselves wishing, with growing exasperation, that he just get on with it, but Hargrove himself holding fast to the conviction that this is the one and only moment there is. What’s the rush?

***

The other night I woke up from sleep and looked straight into death. There’s some kind of a chemical in your brain that keeps you from staring straight into death most of the time, but it’s in short supply in the middle of the night. Every so often throughout my whole life, all the way back to when I was the kid first looking at these cards, I’ve woken to the unmitigated reality that in a short while this will be gone forever. There’s nothing to be done to ward it off.

***

I never liked Superman. Have I ever mentioned that? Probably. I’ve mentioned everything at least once in this ongoing attempt to ward off with words what can’t be warded off. I don’t get the appeal, honestly. He’s impervious to everything and can do anything. The whole scenario seems to be without any frailty, a fascist daydream of inhuman invulnerability. Give me instead the Human Rain Delay. Now there’s a superhero I could get behind. He’d be a somewhat somber, cerebral cousin of the Storms, that brother-sister duo forming half of the Fantastic Four, the combination of the mortal world and the elements in his name similar to The Human Torch, and his dubious collection of relatively flimsy “superpowers” most closest in the superhero world to Sue, the “Invisible Girl,” who—presumably due to her origin in the mind of a fantasizing misogynist—didn’t possess any strength or the ability to shoot fire or lasers or harm any man in any way but could turn invisible and create invisible shields and cushions for the fellows should they be, say, blasted out of the sky by Dr. Doom. He probably would never rate his own series but might get called into the fray occasionally and in marginal ways during the sprawling ongoing saga of the Marvel foursome as they continually faced down total global annihilation. His only power would be to cause some minor annoyances. He’d have, I don’t know, keen eyesight, good judgment. He and the Thing would have some kind of a running dialogue, the latter always wanting to roll into calamitous action with his trademark bellow, “It’s clobbering time!” and his rock-hands balled into building-crushing fists, and The Human Rain Delay, on the other hand, quietly but in an enervating adenoidal monotone, advocating patience. Ultimately, his counsel would be ignored, and his modest collection of tics and mannerisms, his so-called powers, would prove as irrelevant as words in the seemingly unstoppable wave of destruction hurtling toward the Fantastic Four and by extension all of humanity. But maybe for a little while he could sort of slow things down a little.

***

A few days before I woke up and stared straight into death, I went down a hill backwards on a sled. It was Christmas Day. I’d been going down a hill in a blue plastic sled with my older son, Jack, for an hour or two, him in front and me in the back. My other son and my wife and her family were back at my wife’s parents’ house.

“It’s getting to be time to go,” I said. “One more.”

“Seven more,” Jack said. He’s five. He never wants anything to end.

“How about two more?”

We haggled for a while, finally settling on four, with the requirement, per Jack, that each one be “crazy.” We went down the hill with me lying down on my stomach and him on top of me; with our eyes closed; on our knees; and, finally, backwards. The last one was my favorite. The laughs whooped up out of me like they haven’t since childhood, and then I was in a snowy heap, and then I was staring into my son’s beaming, laughing face. Time stopped.

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Vada Pinson and Jim Mason

October 16, 2015

Jim MasonVada PinsonALCS Preview

This one is pretty simple. The two cards here, representing the American League teams poised to vie for a spot in the World Series, both feature players who got one chance to play at that very pinnacle of their sport. Vada Pinson did so in 1961, when he was 22. He had a spectacular season, the best of his splendid career, and helped the Reds win the National League pennant. In the World Series, the Reds faced one of the greatest teams in history, the 1961 Yankees, and got smoked four games to one. Pinson played poorly, managing only 2 base hits in 22 at bats.

Fifteen years later, the teams met again in the World Series, only this time it was the Reds, not the Yankees, in the role of legendary collective steamroller. Pinson was no longer on the Reds, or anywhere in the majors, but Jim Mason was on the Yankees team that the Reds blasted in four straight. Unlike Pinson, he’d not been a central factor in his team making it to the World Series, hitting .180 in 217 at-bats as one half of a punchless shortstop platoon. In the World Series, the platoon approach seems to have gone out the window, and Mason’s counterpart, the immortal Fred “Chicken” Stanley, got the start in each of the four games. In game 2, Stanley was pinch-hit for early, and Mason replaced him in the field and got a turn at bat later in the game. It would be his only World Series at bat. In his entire career he would have 1756 plate appearances and would homer just 12 times, but he made his one World Series at bat count by lining one over the right-field fence.

It was the only home run by the Yankees in the series. In the ninth inning, Mason’s turn at bat came up again, and manager Billy Martin pinch-hit for him, bringing in righty Otto Velez to face lefty Will McEnaney. Velez struck out. A few weeks later, Velez would follow Mason to the Blue Jays in the expansion draft. Mason didn’t last long as a Blue Jay, but Velez established himself as one of the most prominent of the early Blue Jays—by the time he left Toronto, he was second on the Blue Jays career home run list to only John Mayberry, who is best known as a member of the team on which Vada Pinson finished up, the Kansas City Royals.

Is life a swirling web of interconnected strands, Pinson to Mason to Velez to Mayberry to Pinson, everything tying together with everything else in a dizzying and ultimately infinite everlasting wholeness? Or is it just an absurdity of random occurrences? Who knows? All you can do is break things down into measurable data. And on that level, the level of percentages, Jim Mason, the only player to homer in his only World Series at bat, is—despite his inferiority to, among others, Chicken Stanley—the greatest World Series performer in the history of human civilization.

Edge: Blue Jays

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Jim Mason and Len Barker

October 8, 2015

Jim MasonLen Barker 78ALDS preview, part one

So the playoffs begin today for the Blue Jays and Rangers. Beginnings are often romanticized as capacious fountains of possibility, but in actuality beginnings are messy, fraught with disorientation, flailing, clumsy masquerades, mistakes. Jim Mason would be distinctly qualified to verify this, as he’s the only player to play for both the Texas Rangers in their first season, 1972, and the Toronto Blue Jays in their first season, 1977. The Rangers and Blue Jays began life with 100 and 107 losses, respectively, and Jim Mason epitomized both efforts by hitting .197 for the Rangers and .187 for the Blue Jays. You could interpret the repulsed grimace shown on his face here as his reaction to being pulled back into his second formative morass. He’s shown as a Blue Jay, but at the time the card was produced there was really no such thing as a Blue Jay, so Topps staffers had to take their best guess and doctor this blind approximation atop whatever photo they had available, in this case a shot of Mason on his 1976 team, the Yankees, who punctuated their profound distance from stumbling beginnings by winning yet another pennant in 1976, their fucking thirtieth.

Mason didn’t last long on the Blue Jays, which is probably a pretty demoralizing thing to go through—being unwanted on one of the worst teams in history. His old team wanted him, however, or at least wanted him and Steve Hargan more than Roy Howell, who they shifted to the Blue Jays along with some cash, and so in 1977 and 1978 he teamed with his counterpart here, Len Barker.

While Mason, a utility infielder on new and terrible teams, suggested the reality of beginnings, Barker was of the species of baseball player most prone to being glimpsed through the romantic notion of beginnings as daydreams of dazzling, boundless possibilities: a big young pitcher who throws smoke. In 1976 at age 20 he tossed a shutout in his second start, and the following year, at age 21, while teaming with Jim Mason, he posted in limited duty the best numbers, by percentages, of any pitcher on the 94-win squad. Things were looking up for the Rangers! But as it turned out the Rangers sank back into the swamp of losing for many more years, and Barker never really became the next Nolan Ryan, as was hoped, though he continued to show flashes throughout the years.

That’s the reality of life: bright flashes and long, dim slogs. So what’s the right way to think about beginnings? Do you grimace in knowing revulsion or smile? In practice I tend toward the former, but I always hope to at least lean toward beaming idiotic dreams.

Edge: Rangers

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Mario Mendoza

January 24, 2015

Mario MendozaImmortality

5.

The greatest sages from ancient times
Have not shown us life immortal.
What is born must die . . .
-Han Shan

The Chinese poet Han Shan lived over a thousand years ago. No one knows for sure exactly when. He shacked up in the mountains, maybe with a fellow hermit who accompanied him on periodic giggly visits to town, and wrote his poems on rocks, maybe. That’s the lore anyway—if there ever were poems of his on rocks time has smoothed away the words or perhaps turned the rocks themselves to dust. I first read about Han Shan in Dharma Bums, and I hoped to follow in Jack Kerouac’s and Gary Snyder’s footsteps as they followed in the footsteps of Han Shan. I wanted to wade off into some lofty world of mist and visions. I don’t know what my days have ended up amounting to. I don’t carve my poems in rocks or write poems of any kind anymore. Yesterday I worked a long day in a cubicle and then, back at home, taped Buzz Lightyear’s foot back onto his leg. It had fallen off when my son was playing with his action figure from Toy Story. I was able to make it so the toy could still stand up. Work hadn’t exactly made me feel like I was swatting game-winning home runs, so I counted the wobbly new stability of the mass-produced plastic offering as a victory.

***

Mario Mendoza, utility man—everyone knows he’s the man behind the Mendoza Line, right? But he had nothing to do with its creation: it was the doing of teammates Bruce Bochte and Tom Paciorek, cackling over Mendoza’s consistent presence at the bottom of the Sunday newspaper batting average lists, and the doing of George Brett, who heard the term from Paciorek, and Chris Berman, who heard it from Brett and started weaving it into his SportsCenter spiels. We have no power to shape the world; it just takes shape. We have no power to make anything last. Hank Greenberg, the immortal at the beginning of this meditation that I’m now calling to a halt, once racked up 103 RBI by the all-star break. This is two more RBI than Mario Mendoza got in his entire career. And yet there’s a chance the Mendoza Line will outlast Greenberg. Or at any rate it’s the same. Language, plaques: everything in one way or another is a random snaring of language bound to disassemble.

***

I’m rereading Robert Stone’s novel Dog Soldiers. He died a few days ago. I heard an old radio interview with him a day or two after he passed away, and he was talking about the time he and his friends in the Merry Pranksters met the Beats. He said Jack Kerouac was bitter that Neal Cassady, now the speed-addled bus driver of the Merry Prankster’s Furthur bus, was no longer at Kerouac’s side but with this younger crowd. Kerouac, Stone observed, was just generally bitter. Bitter and jealous. He was still handsome at that point, Stone said, but within a year or so his disease, alcoholism, would wreck his fine facial structure, puffing it into a bulbous mess, an attack on the charismatic youthful myth of the man even more severe somehow than when the next stage of his ravaging illness took hold and ended his life. Anyway, it’s a great novel, Dog Soldiers, I mean. In it the promise of the sixties has gone the way of Jack Kerouac’s good looks—everything’s in bitter, smoldering wreckage. The last great novel I’d read before picking up Dog Soldiers again was Jonathan Miles’s 2014 book Want Not, which features a subplot about a group of intellectuals and engineers and specialists from various fields coming together in a project devoted to communicating the danger of toxic waste to future civilizations. The problem the group faces is that toxic waste will, in the estimation of scientists and linguists, outlast any current language. Languages deteriorate and eventually vanish altogether: this seems to be an unavoidable universal rule. Write your words into the internet ether or carve them into rocks and it’s the same. They’ll erode into nothing. No one will understand whatever it was you were trying to say. The linguists in Want Not (whose thoughts reflect linguistic theory that Jonathan Miles studied in researching the book) are certain that even the most basic pictographs will be unable to keep people 10,000 years in the future from blundering past all of our signage and into a murderous cache of our toxic aftermath.

***

For a little while when I was a young man I had a job on the graveyard shift loading trucks at the UPS warehouse in Hell’s Kitchen. I was living in the East Village, miles from the job, but for some reason I used to walk to work, several miles in the middle of the night. Nothing ever happened to me until one night when I was crossing a street on Third Avenue a few blocks south of 42nd Street. It was around two in the morning and there weren’t any other pedestrians around. I was struck by a car. The driver was hurrying to make a left turn before the yellow light changed to red and he didn’t see me crossing with the light. He braked when he saw me but not in time to avoid impact. I was scooped up onto the hood and thrown to the pavement.

The driver opened the door of his car and got one foot out. He was a doughy young Hispanic guy. He was scared.

“Are you OK?” the driver said.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” I said. You will always want this to be the truth. Amazingly, it wasn’t that far from the truth. I got to my feet.

“I’m fine,” I said.

I continued on to work. My jeans had a rip in them and were slightly bloody. I performed a version of the task that I’ll be performing my whole life in one way or another, job after job, if I’m lucky enough to stay employed. Boxes came down the conveyer belt, and I sorted them by address into the proper shelves in one of four trucks in my station. During my fifteen minute break I read Dante. I don’t know which part of the Divine Comedy I was on. It doesn’t matter—I only remember one thing from the whole trilogy, which I read in its entirety in fifteen minute breaks from loading trucks: paradise is frightening, stripped of fallible humanity and mistakes. Paradise is lifeless.

***

Mario Mendoza played his twelve final major league games the year this card came out, 1982, and got his last seventeen at-bats, connecting for just two hits. He was released in July with a .118 average for the year, the farthest he’d ever landed below “his” line—a .200 batting average—at a season’s end. His career average fixed itself quite clearly above the Mendoza Line at .215, which is somehow more dispiriting than if he’d somehow lasted as long as he did—nearly a decade—with an average below his own line. I’ve spent my life marveling at shit like the Mendoza Line. That to me is the beautiful stuff, a way to capture the ineffable mediocrity of most of this short rude gift we’re given, this life.

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Steve Foucault

August 9, 2011

All right, I’m up, showered, fed; the kid is asleep, the dishes are all clean, and I’ve got a half hour to write before I have to climb on my bicycle and pedal to the bus stop and ride to work. This is it from here on out for a while, more or less, so I am not going to mess around with craft too much. Jack Kerouac, who my kid is named after, said that craft in writing is a kind of subterfuge, a way of avoiding honesty anyway. Then again, well, I don’t totally believe that and see that it can be a way out of doing the work needed to make a piece of writing be more than just someone’s spit-up. (Sorry, I have spit-up on my mind.) Also, Jack Kerouac’s writing lost momentum as the years went on, his writing lost life I mean, and his greatest book was written and rewritten many times and suffered for despite the myth that he spontaneously created the whole thing in a few weeks with no forethought or even any effort beyond what it took to crack open a bottle of benzedrine. Still, there is a time for carefully crafting stuff, maybe, and a time to just report from the bunker as fast as possible so as to keep a semblance of sanity and the human voice alive. This situation I am in is not—is actually the farthest thing from—holing up in a bunker. But it is relentless, dealing with a newborn. Of course, I am far from the front lines on this one (back to the battle metaphors again, I know) and am more like a guy running supplies to the ranks on the front lines, those ranks being my wife, a beleaguered army of one who nonetheless is all softness and love with the baby, and when he’s sleeping and giving her a chance to think, her mind is racing with worries that something might happen to him, to his tiny fragile life. As for me (I almost stopped writing to consider my next thought instead of just slamming it down first thought best thought beatnik style) I am coming down from the first high of the kid being born, when I thought I would be a different guy altogether forever, someone able to give myself over totally to complete holy sacrifice all the time, like fucking Gandhi or something, transformed by my love of the boy. Turns out I am the same as always, just more tired. I live for the kid now though. But when I get a little time here and there, I want to figure out what the hell is the shape of my mind. So here I am, staring at the third and final Steve Foucault card in my collection. My three Steve Foucault cards form a progression through the years, the 1975 card showing him looking in for a sign, the 1976 card showing him coming to a set position, and this 1977 card showing him just after delivering a phantom pitch. No ball is visible in any of the cards. Foucault wears a Texas Rangers uniform in various combinations, a long-sleeve undershirt disappearing then reappearing. His right pointer finger pokes out of his glove in all the photos. He has the same long mustache and thick sideburns every year. He looks off to his left in the first picture, off to his right in the second picture, and in the last picture he gazes straight at the viewer. The imaginary ball is out of his hands now and out in the world. Your turn now. He is looking at me, and looking at you. His right hand is in a fist, but it is loosening just a little, his middle finger itching to unfurl. The days are long and exhausting. The years fly by. You can’t touch this pitch. You can grow a splendid walrus mustache and sideburns but you can’t know what’s next. You can’t ever know.

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Steve Foucault

June 28, 2011

Just under a month ago, Steve Foucault peered in for a sign. Now he is coming set. He’s in a different uniform—the away ensemble—and it seems as if his hair may be longer. He’s still working away on a big chaw in his right cheek, and he’s still got the walrus facial hair. In both cards, trees line the horizon, and in this card there also seem to be members of the Oakland A’s in the distance.

This weekend my very pregnant wife and I went for a walk. The doctor said going on walks would help get the baby in position, or something along those lines. I forget the specifics. I am finding it more and more difficult to process information with any accuracy. I’ve been reading books on pregnancy and labor and all the facts and instructions seem to partially or completely disintegrate on contact with my mind. Anyway, the walk was good. We ended up over by the lake, where there’s a small sandy beach. It was a gray day, not that warm, but some kids were still splashing around and playing Frisbee in the water. We sat on a bench on a concrete slab up above the beach, next to another bench that had a pair of women’s shoes sitting on it. One early morning a few weeks earlier, I’d been running on this beach when two young deer appeared around the corner of the abandoned-looking building at the edge of the beach. There’s nothing but big rocks around that corner, so their appearance seemed inexplicable to me. They followed me for a while. I kept looking back and there they were, clambering on their spindly legs up the beach, stepping unsurely on the sidewalk leading away from the beach, moving toward Sheridan Road. Sheridan Road is a busy street with a McDonald’s and a red line El station and homeless people and, on rusted racks, the bones of half-pilfered bicycles. I lost sight of the fawns when I turned the corner onto this street, and I don’t know what became of them. When my wife and I sat on a bench this weekend at that beach I thought of them and thought of this kid on the way.

When a pitcher comes set after getting the sign he most commonly focuses his gaze downward, or perhaps even inward, gathering himself, gathering resolve. In this photo Steve Foucault seems instead to be gazing off into the distance.

 Sometimes I find myself kind of praying.