brewers baseball and things


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a roll of the tongue

Headlines screamed this week, “The Brewers are trading everyone“ and so off to the cemetery I went, to pay respects, a stroll and a look up and it was as if god himself had dunked a broom in a bucket of paint and streaked it across the sky. I walked further and the river with its polluted swirls of muck and debris suffered the same mighty whisps and up ahead, 2nd floor McDonalds, more of the same in cream twirling a toilet flush infinity into my black coffee.

Carlos Gomez will be missed the most. “He brought fun back to baseball“ or at least he laughed cartoon exuberance. Knees cork screwing, toes digging tasmanian, head pops off or just helmet, but that smile, kissing the bat, rubbing the balaebooshka, climbing outfield walls, hopping in Rafer Alston skip to my lou serenades.

All My Messiahs, from frozen pizza to ding dongs, baseball cards, my first landlord, countless older brother surrogates to Rob Deer, Mark Clear to you Carlos.

I cringe at the thought of phoning Babe Ruth, not only because he`s already transformed into something I can’t fully understand yet, but because it’s Babe Ruth. I could barely whisper his name as a kid, almost embarrassed or scared like i had sinned and I never saw him play, not even on tv, just inside a book at the grade school library, but Babe Ruth. Bigger than any mountain.

What about Bob Golasso then? or Andy Replogle, Buster Ricky Keeton, Timothy Leary? In Keeton’s case, Buster was just a nickname, but I will forever find it wonderful anyway, this Brewers cast as superficial as it may be, just names, but potent, turn a dull day into scrabble related activities followed by a feeling of avalanche and escaping outside, grateful my disease caused me to swim.

There was a full moon last week and it was humid and hot in this season of sex, love or murder, babies conceived, cricket mating sirens, electric nature, a constant warning sound.

There’s much more work to be done.


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a few sunday thoughts

I don’t see too many wild animals in Montreal. Lots of squirrels and on recycling day, plenty of raccoons. Bold creatures. Standing on hind legs and holding a chicken bone with two hands, playing it like a flute in complete calm. I let it be. I’ve heard about those claws.

There are crows, sea gulls, robins and pigeons and even the occasional fox up on Mount Royal. I’ve seen a falcon up there too, up above the canopy, just milling about or maybe it was a hawk, but definitely not an eagle. Never seen one of those.

An abandoned heap of worldly possessions sometimes just appears on the street corner. The contents are never the same, maybe a pile of clothes and a few books, a cosmetic pouch or in another heap maybe one tennis shoe, a hammer and some half-used notebooks. Always a different bouquet, but the feeling hits me the same. Where’s the person? I think of spaceship abductions?

And around another corner comes an old man. I watch him and decide that he isn’t that old and muster up the courage to find out and well, the facts agree. He was 22 back in 1971 Saigon so that puts him barely over 60 right now. The flash backs come to him in sporadic spurts.  Sometimes impossible to anticipate and other times, as obvious as the dumpster top slamming shut and his mind filling with helicopter blades chopping air and the heavy humidity and spiders and jungle thicket and yet, “worst of all,“ he tells me, “was not having a TV.“ There was never any escape, except maybe a joint, but that shit made me paranoid, just more of that war, inner, outer, all of it war.“

He lets out a laugh and we walk and there’s trash everywhere. Even the concrete feels like pollution. I buy two beers from the same survival store as always, not exactly Cheers where everyone knows my name, but the cashier slips us brown paper bags that fit perfectly over the cans.  There’s a kindness in that and everyone feels it, from the cops on the street to the park bench that offers us a rest.

I’m glad I’m not a pitcher and forced to really know the breeze of inner moods and countless other factors and adjust my sails accordingly. So we drink beer instead and our thermometer blurs, but there’s a blood line and water eventually returns to its source, that slow trickle of a rain drop pearl sliding off a leaf and falling to the mud below, hopping a gutter stream back to a river or lake. Or maybe that’s a fairy tale or is it science?

Aramis Ramirez was returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Yhonathan Barrios, a shortstop, third baseman and more recently, a pitcher who apparently throws 100 mph or fast enough that the Pirates decided to try him out as a pitcher. Not a great trade for the Brewers, but more a favor to Ramirez and why not. He quietly became one of baseball`s all time great third baseman. Originally signed by the Pirates and now he`ll finish up with the Pirates who lead the NL wildcard.


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the sound of beer

Three generations of brick layers and all Gus Van Dabble could dream of was becoming a carnival barker and this was no cotton candy in the armory parking lot whim. Gus longed for trailer parks and dusty roads, Tulsa, Baton Rouge, and go go go. 

His father Frank bought him an aquarium and would have driven him all the way to Timbuktu, anything to woo his boy back to the bricklaying fold and Kenosha baseball, but it was no use. Gus loved voices and would walk an extra mile to hear a barker or a train conductor, construction foreman, poet, disc jockey or Muslim call to prayer. Voices.

“Into the Milky Way I wander,” Gus sang to his father. “for the crunch of a cowboy boot, the cloppity clop of a hottie`s high heel stiletto, the electric chirp of crickets. Sounds and more sounds. Voices and sounds, The Uni-fied-Verse.”

Frank looked up at the ceiling and remembered the days of unraveling a baseball with his boy, strand by strand. They would then wrap the yarn around the family Christmas tree, round and round until Gus tired and Frank would read from the only book he ever read to his boy-Baseball’s Zaniest Stars. Sleeping pill for little Gussie.

The Northwoods League arrived to Kenosha in 2014 and Frank liked to sit on a bench  outside Simmons Field, listen to the Kenosha Kingfish crowd, but when he returned home, the only sounds were Gus performing vocal cord stretches and alliteration tongue runs. His voice flew up and down the Doh Reh Mee, and the gusto felt like a slap in Frank`s face,  a wake up call reminder; that parenting was nothing but eggs and sperm and similar shaped fingernails. A kid’s  dreams were different. They came from somewhere else.

“Step right up boys and girls,” Gus sang. “Test your luck against the miraculous Miranda Mermaid and one of her seven swinging tentacles.”

Frank liked the giddy up in his son’s voice and felt an urgency to be with him before he took off for the Milky Way and what better place than Lake Andrea. The Van Dabble’s cabin existed for four generations and Gus never turned down a week in the woods with mosquitoes, not since he was a boy anyway.

Frank wanted to share his excitement about baseball being back in Kenosha during the drive, but he knew better, didn’t want to cause his son the other kind of fever so Frank thought quietly about Satchel Paige and Warren Spahn playing at Simmons Field, the Kenosha Girl Comets too. He wondered if the Kingfish players of today knew about the wood grandstands burning down way back when? 

Gus lowered himself slowly into Lake Andrea that first morning. The algae was longer than previous years. Slimier too. Felt like mummy strands wrapping around Gus`s legs. Lake monsters flashed through his mind. He splashed his way out of the water, too scared to care if anyone was watching and raced inside. He was still wet when he slid under blankets and hid like a dog during fourth of July fireworks.

Frank knew the moment was right and when he looked over at his son and saw a face staring back at him with a beggar’s will for anything, Frank jumped into action.

“How about we take a drive,“ he suggested.“ And so Frank became the tour guide he once was to his boy and they drove back to town, parked the car, and walked around Simmons Field. Gus never said a word. He was simply relieved to have the lake monsters out of his head.

Kenosha was hosting the Madison Mallards. Frank bought two tickets and when Gus showed no signs of resistance, they slipped through the turnstiles, into a dream for Frank. He was at the ball game with his boy and when beer vendors let loose their beautiful bellows, the dream came to Gus as well. His ears twitched and eyes opened wide. Gus mumbled quietly during the remainder of the game and all that night, integrating new sounds into his internal barker data base. Frank felt the window of opportunity opening wide. The next morning he presented his son a blue beverage hawker and lowered it over his neck. Gus felt like a king being crowned.

The grandstands of Simmons Field filled that summer. They came to see a Jason Scholl home run and to hear Gus sing his serenade to a beer cup or haiku rap for the baseball pill moonlight. Every day a different beer vendor bark. Kids dropped their mitts and impersonated Gus`s voice and the older crowd spoke in softer whispers, “Did you hear Gus today? “Felt like a carnival the way he hit those up and down notes.“ 


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a thank you letter

I made a friend in Spanish and another in Beat Literature class. We became a trio of sorts. When school finished we fled in different directions, but sent letters back and forth for more than 20 years. Fueled our respective loner lifestyles. It was the only writing group I ever belonged to, until wordpress and what V aptly calls “team.”

A little less than a year ago,  I sent some stories to a publisher and he expressed interest, asked me to flesh out the themes, make them longer and add a few more, so I did-11 stories in all and now almost a year later, my collection will be published by Summer Game Books. The book is called Dreaming .400: Tales of Baseball Redemption and will be released September 15. Some of the characters first appeared here. Others are new.

I wrote a poem a few years ago with friends from the past in mind, how essential we were to each other, the friction, influence and love transforming our lives. And now I think of that poem with you in mind, of us, our baseball writing team, a small team, can’t even field nine players, but without your words of encouragement, wit, sarcasm, and humor and what not, I’m not sure I would have even tried to get published, not that it really matters anyway.

they stuffed cigarettes in my pack

our words were never to boast,
only seduce us
deeper into ourselves
so we too might know the sound of
different instruments and play fusion one day.

Steve

 


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in this cracker jack world

The library seems unaffected by home internet usage. Attractive people still roam its halls, from holy stench vagabonds enjoying yesterday’s news to the elderly with uncontrollable flatulence. There are comfortable chairs and tables. Loitering is allowed, conversation encouraged and everything is free.

I like a third floor window seat, especially when it’s summer outside. Feels like my own dirty secret as the world runs around half naked. There’s a younger man wearing a fur hat and there is no air conditioning or it’s not working. The combination gets me thinking of Russian fur coats and men standing tall and proud on snow covered fields, some with mustaches and some without, but no one ready to conquer a people, not with guns anyway, more of a Babe Ruth expression-a smile to sway a generation of Lapta players.

The first library was apparently in Sumer-Mesopotamia-southern Iraq-cuneiform on clay tablets-commercial transactions. I wonder what library first encouraged the modern day equivalent of typing in “functions of garlic skins” and 12 searches later, becoming mesmerized by how to build a  birch bark canoe?

I like imposing a cave man lifestyle on myself, not to eat saber toothed tigers by campfire, but to let sun and shadows splash prison bars across my face and become warden of my own cell with sweat and toil as the daily ferry boat ride to the other side where the welcome mat is nothing but….

“What’s the goal today chief?”

“Say a few prayers and look for food, sing and dance.”

And the same tomorrow and the next day. Fear and shadows, survival makes for great inspiration. Then came the farming hoe, food storage and the Greek concept of school-
skhole as in “spare time, leisure, rest ease.” More and more inspiration.

I don’t really remember getting lost in Tinker Toys, building a card house or playing with the family heirloom Erector Set, but according to my mom it happened. There were the Bowery Boys and Lone Ranger on Saturday morning TV followed by This Week in Baseball and the game of the week. I once saw Nolan Ryan pitch a no hitter on TV, in the Astrodome, against the Dodgers I think.

There were actual three dimensional baseball cards inside what was already paradise-the Kellogs sugar cereal fix. Ditto for Hostess and the beautiful panel of three cards lining the backs of its packaging. We gawked at the trio before even cracking open the creamy filled ding dong. A junkie starter kit for sure. I love life for letting me get lost like that. And when the sugar craze dried up, I caught the bug for ancestry, wanting to know if there were any legends in our family and there weren’t. My aunt sobered my search anyway by saying, “You’re from Milwaukee and that’s all you ever need to know.” And when I learned that Al Simmons was buried in Milwaukee and raised there too, I figured my aunt was maybe right. Inspiration feels like a vapor transplanting onto new things and beings.

Marco Estrada.  Experts still say he has no place in the major leagues, that some high school pitchers throw faster. And maybe they do, but once upon a time there were no radar gun gods.

Marco stands on the mound like a man squeezing into an old phone booth, the ones with accordion doors. His back is super straight, hand and ball tucked inside his glove and all of it hidden and looking like a hijab the way it covers his entire face, except his eyes which are beady lasers looking in for the sign. He’s breathing in and out. Nice compact wind up, the pitch and no batter ever knows-fastball or a change-up because Marco never wavers from the details of his physical ritual.

The Brewers claimed him off waivers back in 2010 from the Nationals and by 2011 he was making heavy hitters look foolish, swinging at change ups in the dirt. He quickly became my favorite Brewer mostly because he did whatever they asked-long relief, mop up, spot start.

Estrada was traded to Toronto last winter so his career as a Brewer lasted only five seasons and yet he has the lowest WHIP-1.169 of any pitcher in the history of the franchise and the second most strikeouts per nine innings with 8.447.

I miss that guy.


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swept away again

We called them gulls because there was no sea,  just a big lake and a lot of dirty rivers. We used to get real close and open our palms to impress both the gulls and Mr. Sphere. “Question of crayola and contrast,” he would say.

We never understood what the hell he was talking about, but we liked the free rein. “The gull carves invisible angles” said the smart ass among us, but Mr. Sphere knew our game, knew we wanted something from him and maybe we did, but we were too young to know what the hell we were doing. Smashing in sun roofs one night and pool hopping the next.

“A drunk pendulum, but in full control,” Mr. Sphere said and then lifted his glasses and let them get lost in that wild hair of his. I think that was the moment an invisible seance ignited within us. We felt all together like never before and were no longer interested in far away places or even next towns. We watched gulls much closer from then on, especially their kamikaze nose dive missions toward one of our abandoned brown paper bag lunches. We felt kindred watching their cadaver dance, pecking away like an oil rig and looking up every now and again, in between chews and swallows as if to say This is our town. This is seagull planet earth. We rule your endless human ruins, junk heaps and piles and mounds. 

We made a pack to be like gulls and defy our own gravity and webbed feet. It was one thing to be a hawk, falcon, or eagle soaring from one mountain majesty to another, but to be a gull and dumpster dive and scrounge through frat boy vomit. That was the simple cement to us all, the stuff to build our future, the back alleys, utility infielder, heave and hoe of our soon to be anonymous 8-4 lives.

We sat everywhere together, but no place felt more like home than the dugout. It was partially below ground and would  probably be called a semi basement if it were an apartment in the classifieds, but it was public space so we lived there for free, three times a week anyway, when our baseball teams played. We were in senior league. Weird name since none of us were seniors, but we were too old to reach Omaha’s Little League World Series so we were washed up I guess and they called us seniors-aged 13-17.

But who needed little league anyway! We played on real regulation diamonds. Pitchers had mounds that looked miles away from home plate. Bases were 90 feet apart. We could psyche out the pitcher and steal like Henderson and Raines, head first slides if we had the guts and most importantly we had dugouts. We arrived early and left late, loving to loiter in there long after the game, exploring all kinds of boundaries. That dugout was the closest thing to home other than our bedrooms and as we got older, only the dugout endured.

It was our fort and shelter and it felt ancient and essential when we found out about the dugout canoes used by Native Americans and Africans, Asians and Europeans too, all the way back to stone age peoples.

They renamed that diamond we played on. It’s now called Henry Aaron Field. It’s where the UW-Milwaukee Panthers play so there’s black and gold Panther colors everywhere and the dirt is a beautiful red and the grass is well manicured and what not, but I bet the corners of the dugouts still fill up with dry crunchy leaves.


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musta been a good tasting fish

There were stubbed toes and brothers who played dirty, but morning still smelled like a never before flower and there were always the Dizzlers. Nothing but scavengers and part-time beggars, sleeping under the stars, flinging names around the campfire-from Cave Man Cleo and Slip a Mickey to Tanya the Twirler and not a night passed without some Dizzler mentioning  that sweet ol’ river-the Drashkin Drew, “in which even the fairest lady swam in her stew.”

The Drashkin River was off limits to respectable citizens, had been since the crossing guard set his red Cadillac on fire, drove it into the river and drown. The river’s name was never officially changed, but after the funeral, no one ever said Drashkin anymore and only the Dizzlers dared going anywhere near.

They didn’t swim, just floated across the scum, the Hologram Pigeon Scum, a chemically infested bubbly waste, the perfect texture for Dizzlers to bath and splash and laugh and catch and cook up a new species of radioactive fish.  

Some say it was those fish that sent Dizzlers up hillsides and under overpasses concocting silver shaped satellites from garbage can lids, twirling them in the moonlight and flashing shadows on cement walls. They were merely performing a bodily function and never intended to pull thousands away from their lives, but streets filled and that drive thru movie-anything is possible feeling returned. People flocked to see what came to be called Dizzlers Walk up Shadow Puppets.

There were Clones of Ichiros and Bands of Behemoths in the hundreds and thousands projected all over those walls. It was like an Old Ark had set free its residents and endless clans of baseball teams were now everywhere, returning the landscape to barnstorming chaos. Dizzier than a peacocks’ tail with as many languages as there were individuals and who knows how many dialects and accents. There was no need to convince anyone of anything. Egos hung like tennis shoes from telephone wires and people danced a rhythmic and foot stomping sosh n’ mog dance. Dugouts were built from fallen timber and burned after every game followed by collective camp fire cook ups, roasting rodents on a spittoon, wild singing and more sosh n’ mog.

I like thinking I would do more than survive under any circumstances and if need be would manufacture moonshine with the help of some friends, raise up a riot if need be, in a secret Warsaw Ghetto sort of way.

I like it when the assassin and his cock sure balabushka is free to do his thing and the fiddler with his goldfish is free to do as well and Beluga the tongue shocker with her noisemaker rattle at her side can knock us all home or sit on a southern patio and twirl feathers. The universe on a clear night seems like a chess match more than anything else with rules no human could ever understand.

I like thinking that even if our polymania of people failed, we could start over with grass and dirt and trees and we could keep starting over and starting over and starting over.

Aramis Ramirez is on the trading block and Kyle Lohse would be too if his ERA wasn’t so close to 7.00. The body of Carlos Gomez suffers wear and tear, but he’s already passed the 27 club. Jimmy Nelson is the Brewers ace and the team identity shape shifts into more clouds.

Apparently, every Brewer is up for grabs. Lohse and Matt Garza were signed long-term to play big brother to young pitchers, keep things mediocre and steady and maybe get lucky, but it’s the kids doing the baby sitting as elders are pushed out to sea to become legends in the night-time sky and we at home play Astro Jack! Set the ship on fire! Start over and if draft picks turn to duds and 100 losses happens, praises be to the city of brotherly love as the only team to ever lose 100 games five consecutive years (1938-1942)

Hope will rage under the surface like a beautiful delusion with all the squinting and what ifs and  nothing to lose behavior, generating enough energy to fuel a country or cook a bowl of rice. It’s a start either way and more tasty than stale hair.

 

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