brewers baseball and things


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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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it was the beginning of a dynasty

Franz Festanoosh didn’t have the name of a ballplayer, not a last name anyway, sounded more like a sweet treat at a county fair or a musical instrument from another century and well, Franz didn’t really care, not until late one summer afternoon when it started to rain and didn’t stop for 24 straight hours.

It was more of a mist than a downpour….real soft and soothing on the face, almost invisible, but wet enough that birds behaved like oil rigs pecking at the earth in search of worms and come to think of it, the mailman did turn down Melvin Street instead of Atkins Boulevard and Franz did slip into the library and that hardly ever happened. It was 5:30 PM and the only thing Franz remembered was a skinny librarian, her blue rimmed glasses and the sturdy grocery bag she handed him. Next thing Franz knew he was home, sitting on the edge of his bed with the fattest book he had ever seen.

It had a grey hardcover with a three word title and a red diamond beside it. Franz flipped open to the back. There were over 3,000 pages. He lifted it up. Must have weighed 10 pounds!

He shut the front cover and opened it, shut it and opened it. He did this a few times and then read the title out loud, “The Baseball Encyclopedia” and as he did , the small bookcase in his room did not spin 180 degrees and no magical passage opened up, but when he opened the book again and began reading, the night started to feel like a slumber party with sleep the enemy.

The book began with Aardsma, David and it didn’t take long for him to realize that the only requirement to get in was one single solitary big league appearance. That explained the presence of Abadie, John a few pages later. Abadie came to bat 49 times in 1875-a beginning and an end.

Franz thumbed through every page and every name in search of someone-anyone with the name Festanoosh and the closest he came was Alex Ferson and Lou Fette. Not one player had a family name beginning with Fes, only a manager named Wally Fessenden so Franz, now fully under the effects of post midnight loopiness, thumbed through every page and every name a second time in search of someone-anyone named Franz. And with the light of day still no where in sight, it happened.

Franz Otto Knabe appeared and Franz was only his birth name and not the name fellow infielders probably chattered when going round the horn, but Franz raised his arms above his head anyways and sizzled out an elongated Yessssssssss for a good 15 seconds or so.

Franz Otto Knabe played 11 years beginning in 1905 for Pittsburgh, but only three games. He was waived and claimed by Philadelphia. Stayed  seven years there and then jumped to the Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League. Jumped?

That’s what it said and Franz had to pause because he had never seen the word “jumped” to describe a player transaction, maybe a shortstop “jumped” to avoid incoming spikes or the accused “jumped” bail,  the courageous “jumped” into fires and saved little children, but a player “jumped” leagues?

That was free will, rebellion, and defiance. Franz felt elated to be related to a ballplayer like Franz Otto Knabe even if it only was a first name. His excitement sobered a bit when reading the next line….Knabe was “purchased” by those same Pittsburgh Pirates in 1916 after the short-lived Federal League folded. He only played half a summer with the Pirates before being traded to the Chicago Cubs. He retired that same year.

Why would Pittsburgh want him back and then get rid of him so quickly again? There were was no biography, only the facts Franz knew from the backs of baseball cards-height, weight, place of birth and burial, but there was a piece of paper, crumpled and torn, sticking out of the next page and on it, in cursive swoops was written…..”Otto Knabe” and underneath were words written with even bigger swoops. 

“prone to gambling and drink, tiny little runt, but had arms like bowling pins and never met a cat he wouldn’t pop in the belly or keister.”

The name Franz was not written on the note, but Franz Festanoosh knew and good thing too because when the sun poked above the horizon and injected all that light into objects, Franz felt naked and exposed, but no longer alone.

It was time to get ready for school and Franz didn’t know it yet, but that mist would last another 12 hours.

 


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but it still gets me giddy

It’s not often that a 6.37 ERA at AAA causes a manager to say “meet in my office” or if it does, the conversation will maybe be about a local hypnotist, primal scream therapy session, or “would you be interested in a forced ligament tear and a TJ surgery?”

But when the pitcher in question was the organization’s number one draft pick a few years ago and the major league team is struggling and it just so happens to be draft day (s), well it’s a perfect time to show off a prized investment.

Taylor Jungmann was that guy with a 6.37 ERA and he got the call to pitch Tuesday night and became the third Brewers pitcher this year to make his MLB debut.  

The Brewers made Jungmann their first  round pick back in 2011. I was excited at the time for very superficial reasons. Jungmann was born in Texas and played baseball at the University of Texas and well, Texas and pitching always struck me as a peanut butter and chocolate situation. Plus he was 6 feet six inches.

Once draft day is done I don’t pay much attention to draft picks except for the occasional update by Brewer announcers or when the scouting director visits the broadcast booth. I love minor league baseball and all its smallness, but don’t take it very seriously. Same with University baseball. It’s great entertainment, but translating success at others levels into the MLB is a border line Lotto ticket.

There are 30 teams and 25 spots in the combined dugout, bullpen, and clubhouse and there are over 1,000 players drafted as well as international players arriving by the fleet load dozens from Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Japan.

The cruel bulldozer waits at diamonds and parks across minor league baseball land as another Steve Bilko bites the dust. Bilko hit over 300 home runs in the minors, but never cracked 100 during 10 MLB years.

But Jungmann also has a great name, a cross between  a hang man and a Jung. I was stumped right from the git go last night because his motion was a spitting image of someone I knew and had seen pitch many times. Brewers play-by-play man Brian Anderson rang the bell. It was without a doubt Jered Weaver. Jungmann strides from the right side of the rubber and dives across the mound with an over the top motion exactly like Weaver does.

Jungman pitched at AAA Colorado Springs which is apparently the worst place in the universe for a pitcher. Musta made PNC park feel like heaven last night. Jungman recorded 13 in a row at one point to go along with five strikeouts, seven innings and his first major league win and puts the Brewers in position for a second consecutive series sweep.


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When a Bull Head Dreams

Joyous Glashkins never attended “How to be cruel” summer camp. He never needed to. He learned how to jab pencils into playmate’s forearms and feel no remorse, all on his own. And as peach fuzz began to gather on his upper lip he used words to manipulate his way into people’s minds and found where they were weak and gonged away until individuals lost their voice.

Joyous’s Mom and Dad were never around. No brothers or sisters either, but a cousin took him on long walks and called him Wick and the name kinda stuck. Wick spoke in superlatives, about the best band, greatest book, biggest dumb ass and if you didn’t agree with Wick, he made you feel stupid and small.

Wick remembers the day dad took off for good. The local library hours had loosened, sometimes staying open till midnight and other nights not closing at all. The days of being book smart had become fashionable so Wick loitered at the library, copying down big words most people had never heard. He collected them like weapons, to show off and when the time was right, he said mawkish instead of lovey-dovey and his peers oohed and aahed. 

The only bandwagon Wick refused to hop on was baseball. He hated the game ever since the local little league made wearing spikes illegal. Sheerskin’s Bluff was where the old Steel Mill League used to play and Wick loved the place because there was no grass or diamond and no reminders of baseball other than above ground dugouts, but they were covered with what Wick called “an incurable disease of tree root whiskers.” 

He wandered among the bluff’s ruins with stick in hand atop old furniture limbs and piles of dirty clothes. He was a vulture in need of a carcass to conquer. Wick was chained to this routine like a couch potato to a couch or a runner to the road.  

Sheerksin Bluff was not a popular destination. It was a place for lovers or junkies to hide out. The sound Wick heard one day was too many voices. Something was not right. He poked his head through a fan of leafy branches and wished he hadn’t because what he saw disgusted him. There were bats and balls and two teams and to make matters worse, a freckle faced girl playing keystone combo flip with a man wearing a patch over his eye and was that a cigar dangling from his mouth?

Baseball returning to the Bluff was bad enough, but this church choir girl impersonating the gas house gang with a man blowing a blues harmonica sent Wick over the edge. Too much east and west dancing side by side. Wick’s lips began to move on their own. 

He slid quietly to the bottom of the hill and stared at the Enstant River rippling in the sun. The reflection looked like glass shards and it soothed him, but the sound of leather smacking leather up above was fingers down the chalkboard. Wick curled up like a sow bug, surrendering to sleep’s sweet escape.

But there was no way out. Wick dreamed of a floating camp fire log and when he awoke, the image lodged in his mind. Was it a relic from a forgotten people?  A sirloin steak? The burnt foot of a bear? 

Wick’s mind had turned into a buffet table of possibilities. His certainty had vanished POOF! Poisoned by choice! He felt like a ghost in his own life. He curled back up and begged for more sleep. The Wick had been snuffed out.

If only Wick were real and he was in Minnesota this past weekend. The Brewers may have the worst record in baseball, but their fans were louder than the first place Twins fans. Wick would have loved to hear them muted on their home turf.

Target Field may be spacious, but the Brewers keep hitting home runs, three more Friday night and one on Saturday. Two wins in a row. A Sunday shutout by Mike Pelfrey spoiled what would have been the Brewers first sweep of the season.

But Monday brought a win against Pittsburgh, a combined 2-0 shutout after two long rain delays. The Pirates struck out six times with runners in scoring position, but details aside, the Brewers are 21-37 and officially over the Cleveland Spiders 1899 hump of 20 wins. Next up the 1890 Pittsburgh Allegheneys and their 23 wins. 


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rearranging furniture is maybe not a revolution but it’s a start

The bar stools are tall and never sturdy. Someone whittled away wood on the fourth legs of each chair. Puts people on edge as if their drinks had been mickeyed, a speak easy. People dance wherever they want to.

I daydream this bar up and  brave a stool. The bartender rewards me with a newspaper, the kind with ink and chemical smells. I remember the backs of sports pages as my main source of information-the MLB standings, box scores, league leaders and that list entitled-TRANSACTIONS.

Nothing special, just a a roll call of players recently  put on waivers, traded or called up. The explanations were more technical than that, but the gist was always crystal clear. Someone would be enjoying a roll out the barrel moment and someone else biting the dust.

Transactions lists were baseball’s Morse code, real minimal and matter of fact, kind of cold and colorless, just the facts, but fun to wonder. It was more about what the transaction didn’t say. I especially liked the call ups because this could be Ponny Lurcett’s one chance and there would be fireworks in Lurcett’s home town of Coos Bay, Oregon, the Mayor declaring it Ponny Lurcett Day. Local TV crews swarming to Motel 6’s up and down the Pacific, vowing to keep the course until Lurcett’s penciled into pitch. Or maybe it was the opposite and Purcett was sent down and had no more options except how to use the one way bus ticket offered by the organization as compensation.

Transaction lists are cruel, but democratic like a birth or death notice. Everyone gets one. Even when Ray Chapman was beaned in the head August 16, 1920 and died 12 hours later, a change had to be made because there was a free spot on the roster. The Indians won the freaking  World Series that year and Joe Sewell enjoyed his first at bat on September 20 and that’s the same Joe Sewell who is still baseball’s all time toughest guy to strike out, one every 63 at bats. But the only thing The Cleveland Plain Dealer or any paper in the syndicate could say in its transaction was a cold rote of words something to the effect of, Ray Chapman: deceased and replaced by so and so. 

Gus the imaginary bartender slides me a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sports page. I finger to the back and scan to the transactions list with more piss and vinegar today, because the Brewers have been busy the last 48 hours and well, win or lose I like movement up and down the organizational ladder, but especially when we’re losing, maybe for the same reason people buy lottery tickets when they’re depressed or bored. Change.

The Brewers called up Tyler Wagner from AA Biloxi this past weekend-to start on Sunday against the Diamondbacks at Miller Park. Wagner was born in Las Vegas and attended the University of Utah. That makes him the 10th Utah alum to make the MLB. I looked it up. The Brewers drafted him in the 4th round of 2012. 

He lasted 3.2 innings Sunday, gave up 9 hits and 5 runs, but the Brewers won the game in 17 innings on a walk off home run by catcher Martin Maldonado and after the game Wagner was sent back down to Biloxi. The plan was to keep Wagner around a while, but the 17 inning game used up 9 pitchers including starter Matt Garza for 5 innings.

And so now it’s Tyler Cravy’s turn, an even fresher arm. He was called up from AAA Colorado Springs early Monday morning. Cravy was born in Martinez, California. The Brewers drafted him in the 17th round of the 2009 draft so he’s enjoyed a few bumpy bus rides. Cravy didn’t pitch last night, but the Brewers scored a first inning run in St. Louis and the run held up. Mike Fiers and four relievers played tag team chain gang and shut out the Cardinals 1-0.

Kolten Wong hit a slow rolling drunk ground ball towards first base. The tying and wining run were on base. It was the bottom of the ninth. Jason Rogers literally smothered the ball like catching a mouse and then he snaked his way on the ground over to first base for the last out. Smiles all around. The Brewers are 18-34. The Cardinals fall to 33-18. 


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over at salem again

Bus cabins are not designed for sleeping, not with seats the size of pizzas, but they work wonders in a rain storm. Bigger crowds than church pews. All the onions, cheap perfume and cigarette stenches neutralize each other. Messes up the slide show in my eyelids, no more flashbacks.

I stand beside a tree instead, outside the bus cabin and pretend there’s a man inside, the tree that is, with a cane in one hand and a Blatz in the other. I imagine that eight years have passed since we first met and even now I hesitate to say the word “by accident” because I remember when his eyes transformed from barely slits to big bulges. His straight jaw opened so wide I spotted the uvula in the back of his mouth, but there was no pendulum swinging la dee da. It was quivering and spastic and all because I said “by accident.”

I’ve read bits and pieces of Carlos Castaneda, never an entire book, but enough to get the shape shifting drift and maybe I’m wrong, but this imaginary old man appeared on the brink of becoming a bear or vulture.

“Amalekites,” he said and then repeated the word four times, each softer than the previous with the last one a whisper.

I heard him say “a-mall-of-kites,” so that’s exactly what I parakeeted back to him, but I added a lilt to the word kites so he knew I was sincerely confused and not mocking him. My sensitivity worked like a golden key into his city. His eyes became slits again. He sat down and like an old preacher, shared some warnings with me.

“Amalekites are vampires,” he said. “But not suckers of blood. They lower your temperature instead, like fire extinguishers.”  

He spoke so clearly and looked so calm now-the polar opposite of minutes earlier. Made him all the more amazing like maybe his spastic side was a just a ruse to reel me in. He didn’t give me much chance to talk. Maybe that’s why I liked him. He  went on and on about caves and tree houses and how there was nothing sadder than a docked ferry-boat no longer in use, gathering weeds and what not.

“This summer, he continued, “I’m gonna build a tree house. I’m gonna build it with my bare hands. It’s my Eleusinian responsibility.” 

I coulda swore he said Elysian as in the after life or that make-believe field in New Jersey. Was it in Hoboken as in hobo kin? This was an exciting tangent. All the research grants and super smart people who wasted their breath debunking the Elysian Fields as if a believer really cared what a cynic or critic thought.

It was the end of May 2015 and I was no different than anyone else in that a part of my mind was often held up in a desperate panic.

I handed the made up old man an imaginary briefcase and filled it with objects that glowed in the dark. I asked him to bury them like a treasure between the Milwaukee Zoo and Ryan Braun’s restaurant-Braun’s 8-Twelve Bar &Grill which  is now permanently closed. He never hesitated, said it was “part of his Eleusinian responsibility.” The shovel and heave-ho ceremony went off without much fanfare. He staked toothpicks in a pyramid shape on the spot, the kind you find in a club sandwich, the ones with the colorful lace wrapped tightly around the top.

I didn’t bother telling him what we buried or why. The Brewers were 16-31 and he didn’t need to know that either. We never talked about baseball, but I bet he would have liked my why the hell not-nothing to lose intention.

It’s not like the Brewers are really threatening history. Four more wins and they tie the Cleveland Spiders who were 20-134 in 189 and down the road there’s the Detroit Tigers from 2003 to celebrate at 43-119.

The Giants are in Milwaukee and they won the first two games of the series and former Brewer Norichika Aoki is 7 for 9 including a home run on Monday. He has his average up to .320 and OB% at .396. The Giants hit three home runs last night and why am I talking about this like it’s a good thing? Flowers have a wide range of uses for life and death and apparently  there are 42 common edible ones.

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