brewers baseball and things


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the birkenstock messiah

it wasn’t so much the shag carpet or its color – red, his favorite, but its proximity to mom and dad’s bedroom, across the hallway. He was the youngest of three boys and so he, via some ancient tradition, had first dibs on bedroom selection. He could have picked the one at the end of the hallway, the one with a porch and a get away gutter angling down towards street level, to smooch a secret love in the future shadows of an Elm or sniff paint thinner and watch the sun set below the telephone line or endless other dreams-dooms-destinies, but he didn’t want that freedom. Instead, he wanted to be close to mom’s long ear lobes and dad’s hunchback gait and they responded to his love and loyalty with box after box of baseball cards.

Kids called him Crucible Joe because of his scrunched up face, some hidden turmoil they deduced, but it was far from true because in reality, inside, the Crucible felt lucky…every waking day a triumph over death and with box after box of baseball cards, a veritable jubilee. He didn’t care about the player or photograph or stats on the back, only that he had lots of them, an existential blanket before he knew what existential meant. He placed them on the floor, in one long, meandering horizontal stack like an endless chain of train cars, a reminder that he was not alone.

But he was alone, day after day, year after year, until the Burnes boy got wind of his collection and snuck in through the first floor window and tiptoed up the steps. The Crucible’s door was always open. Burns didn’t waste any time either. He got right down to it, preaching the Barcelona experiment, the ancient barter, anarchy, and then he grabbed a few cards, slid them, one at a time, in his palms, oohing and ahhhing, in intervals, like a sophisticated song appreciating rain…a hum dance under the moon. Crucible Joe suddenly knew these cards were more than a material warm shower in a cold, lonely world, born alone die alone. They were an attraction, a talisman, a mysterious totem.

Burnes removed a 1974 Topps Traded to New York Lou Pinella and “that look of Spanish gambler,” he remarked….then a 1983 Lenn Sakata and his “perfect stab at the second sack” and on and on went Burns, from 1962 Eli Grba to 2019 Eric Sogard, their glasses, “their microscopes,” ruminated Burnes, “in love with details.”

Burnes offered a “surprise” in exchange for the cards and the sound of that word “surprise” conjured in Crucible Joe’s mind, images of his mom’s ox tail soup and so he nodded his head yes. Trust took flight. Burns walked to the window and removed his cap, tapped his forehead twice, a third base coach signal to someone or something down below.

She appeared, fat as grapes, lips like worms, wearing birkenstocks with white socks and a black hat with a peacock feather aiming out the back. She was Clarissa the Rat, an old truck stop handle, from her days as a well worn lot lizard. She sat down on the floor, lotus position with ease, flexible for a lady of her girth, cottage cheese arms and the smell too. She removed a stack from her front pocket, a stack of cards, but not baseball cards or playing cards or Tarot cards. These were strat-o-matic cards. She spread them out on the red shag and began to explain, rules of this simulated dice baseball game, and soon they played and she returned the next day and the day after and Crucible Joe was suddenly not alone.

And like the Baltimore Colts fleeing in the night, inconspicuous, Crucible Joe flew the safety of the family coop. He and Clarissa rented a motel room, 70 dollars a week. He turned to a life of decisions, to hit and run, bunt, or hit away? Replace a pitcher? Double switch? Infield in? The stress of managerial tinkering took a toll and so Clarissa the Rat offered scotch and with that first sip, he slipped under the gateway into a marriage with the bottle, a life of strat-o-matic, booze, welfare checks and Clarissa the Rat, she in the East, he in the west, two dugouts of the same diamond. And in the halls of erudition and down by the dirty river, an amor fati shimmered.


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sleeping with ghosts

there’s always a risk of an old fling lover wearing black boots strolling into our dream and us awakening and carrying the fantasy further, daydreaming and thinking what if….

It’s dangerous and ultimately fruitless because not only will it never happen, but even if it did, it would most likely end up how it ended the first time, as a dead end, as one of those highways that never gets completed, the ones with the metal coils sticking out. It’s best to keep moving onward on and forget the past. I think so anyway.

I hope that keston hiura of the Brewers does the same – forgets the past. The brewers had high hopes for him and why wouldn’t they! Hiura was drafted ninth overall in the 2017 draft and he sprinted through the minor leagues, hitting way above average at every level.

And yet, the Brewers sent him down to AAA Nashville earlier this week…..yes, the minor leagues is officially under way….no more alternative sight. god, it’s been a while, hasn’t been a AAA game since the Sac river cats won the championship in 2019.

But back to Hiura, I hope the minors help him refresh the system, and he doesn’t play over and over again that old fling, that major league success he had, those 19 homers in 2019 to go along with a .303 BA and .368 OB%. He followed it up 13 bombs in his sophomore year, but his average plummeted to .213. he also struggled defensively at 2b and struck out over a third of the time.

This year the Brewers moved him to first to make room for super glove man Kolten Wong, and Hiura bit it at the plate and so they sent him down. In fairness to Hiura, this is the year of the pitcher. Hitters just reek, with of course, a few exception, but it seems to be, once again, all or nothing, launch angle, exit velocity BLAH BLAH BLAH, strikeout strikeout strikeout and it’s bothersome. We need a change. We need batters bunting for base hits. We need batters to learn how to bunt! and we need batters to hit to the opposite field to negate the shift.

I hope Hiura relaxes a bit and returns to the majors and fulfills some of his promise. The brewers could sure use him…they’ve lost three in a row to the Harper-less phillies as more and more and even more players wind up on the IL…..including Christian Yelich for the second time this year with lower back problems….The crew is now without their best pitcher – Corbin Burnes and best hitter – Yelich. This might be a good year to get to know the Brewers AAA affiliate – the Nashville Sounds.


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injuries and pickle buckets

there seems to be more injuries in baseball this year than ever before. i don’t know if they keep track of the stat…baseball not keeping track of a stat? that’s like a dog not knowing neighborhood smells. maybe the mass injuries have something to do with so few games last year? Corbin Burnes (49k’s, 0 walks) one of the Brewers best pitcher (Brandon Woodruff being the other) probably contracted covid. there’s no official word, but the brewers so silent regarding the matter hints of Covid because apparently you need the green light from the player to reveal that he has the virus, as if it’s embarrassing to the player or is there something I’m missing? Isn’t it dangerous to not tell people? what if he signed an autograph for a kid before a game?

anyway, the brewers have been hit rather hard with injuries…14 or 15 currently on the IL including their two top catchers and yet, they are currently in first place. it’s gotten so bad that they reacquired catcher jacob nottingham from the mariners for cash after waving him and they begged jordan zimmerman out of retirement…he was apparently chilling at a cabin in eagle river, wisconsin when the brewers gave him a call. he had been invited to camp as a non-roster player but got cut.

and go figure, Cain and Yelich came off the IL yesterday and were in the lineup last night against the phillies and yet, the brewers lost which wouldn’t be so strange except that they were like 11-6 or something without them.

it’s exciting and strange to watch a Brewers team that is so pitching rich, kind of a first for the 50 year young franchise. when ya think of the brewers over the years, hitters come to mind, not pitchers. and with good defense, it bodes well for brewers chances this year, but….

who knows what can happen? In fact, this might be the year I attach a half-dozen pickle buckets under a large piece of sturdy wood, stake a tiki torch and stroll down stream….and maybe I’ll learn how to forage, hunt rabbits, and finally make it through Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra…god, is it confusing. I read like 10 pages of it, not understanding a lick and then BAM, there’s a nugget to consider for a few seconds and mark the page with a corner crease to be reread.

i need these distractions even though i will probably never build the raft or forage, but thinking about them is a little medicine especially with the situation in India covid variant horrifying…and that gets me thinking of the disparity….of countries with oxygen and vaccines and countries without. how in the world did i get so lucky? and in a selfish way, i can only cringe at the thought that if it’s happening there, in poor countries, it will eventually happen here and as part of it being here, messing up the baseball season, not that baseball is life or death, but it sure is a sweet escape.


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boomerang

i don’t remember when i got potty-trained. it’s not like my parents made some certificate commemorating the event, but it was a big deal…it was goodbye squirming around in dirty diapers and hello grab the sports page and head to the holy throne. actually, i was too young to be reading the paper, but at some point, i did “hold it in” until i found the sports page and folded back the pages to see the boxscores….those sacred box scores….one of the only bridges to the greatest reality i knew – baseball numbers….years before computers….

but this post wasn’t supposed to be about potty training. it was supposed to be about the pitchback i played with as a kid…..tossing a ball against a metal rectangular frame with a tightly strung rectangular net inside and a box inside that as a strike zone. that thing was called a pitchback, still is if Hasbro or whoever still make them.

i pretended to be a pitcher, throwing the ball, aiming it at that square for a strike….ahhhhh…. wasting away summer afternoons, the privilege of not having to work in some sweaty, garment factory.

then, i got older and surrendered that pitchback and entered the ring with other people, the opposition, the competition and all the new challenges that brought, but if i could go back, i would and i do. i’m doing it right now with this computer keyboard.


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forever cocktail

the baby mobile that once spun slowly above him in reality or dreams or both blurred together
would just make him drunk circle dizzy now.

and his body was never much to begin with
but now his ribs can be seen and there’s other things…

the fists he once carried into playground battle are now parked beside the prayer hall
in search of??? and all he gets is an echo that says in an oz like baritone – it’s out of your control.

are we all failed experiments? suddenly?
steve blass forever?
care for a drink?


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hoping for a resurrection Ryan future

i take notes. i do it on the backs of utility bills or if i’m lucky, a fresh, virgin, untouched piece of paper from a copy machine. i fold it into a small square which makes 8 small sections, 16 in total, with both sides….i number each section so when i’m reading them later on, there’s some continuity. i always keep one of these pieces of paper in my pant pocket holster. i jot down books or movies, a grocery list, doctor phone numbers, ideas for a story or a blogpost and on and on.

this past saturday, i was going through a whole mess of these papers when i stumbled on what must be something i copied word for word, from a baseball game, most likely from an old radio broadcast on you tube. It says TRANSCRIPT on the top and underneath it says, Jeff Davis, but his name is then crossed out and under him it says Phil Rizutto and under him Mel Allen. Radio? TV? Probably TV. I’m not sure who made the announcement….

“The score at the end of three full innings…the Red Sox one and the Yankees nothing. (long pause) Fans, this Sunday at Yankee Stadium will mark the return of the colorful Detroit Clowns who will meet the champion Kansas City Monarchs in a Negro American League doubleheader at 2PM and returning to the stadium with the Clowns will be the fabulous Goose Tatum and the equally noticed Sweet Water Clifton and it should be a big afternoon on Sunday.”

Too bad there’s no way to watch this game, but there was a way to watch Saturday night’s Twins-Brewers game. I haven’t seen a better pitched game in a long while….both pitchers – Jose Berrios for the twins and Corbin Burnes for the Crew….the two in total command of their pitches and painting corners, all four corners….virtually identical performances, both with double figure strikeouts by the 6th, no hits allowed, the sole baserunners – two HBP by both pitchers, both on good pitches too, sliders in.

Burnes was removed after serving up his first hit, a gopher ball to Byron Buxton in the top of the seventh. Stupid pitch count did him in, or not really, only 87.

Berrios got the surprising hook after six innings, surprising because he still had a no-hitter and because he too hadn’t made that many pitches – 84.

Where’s Nolan Ryan’s ghost, that game on June 14, 1974 when he threw his gas for 13 innings and god knows how many pitches!?

Saturday night was a bummer for Berrios. Bummer for baseball….though Berrios seemed to take it all in stride, swimming in that cliche of the day – “happy to do whatever it takes for us to win.” I prefer the Blake Snell edge – “leave me in coach, I got this guy and the next one too dammit!”

if any pitcher manages to throw a no-hitter or perfect game these days, it’s gonna be dodo bird resurrection rare. Twins won 2-0.


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evolution of the baseball species

a few weeks ago my tooth hurt and then it kept hurting. i thought it was the weather changing but the pain wouldn’t go away. i couldn’t inhale on that tooth, couldn’t even put toothpaste there so i called the dentist and made an appointment. i sat back in the lazy chair and he tapped a few of my teeth with a metal scalpel of some sort to find out what tooth was causing the pain. he took a few x rays too. i had cracked the 27 tooth. i had no idea teeth were assigned numbers but dr. pizem told me it was number 27. i immediately thought of carlton fisk because that was his number when he played for the red sox and when he was traded to the white sox, he reversed it and wore 72. Luckily, we don’t have 72 teeth. anyway, doctor pizem said it could have happened with anything, a hot dog , a slice of bread.

my 27 tooth was a filling too so doc had to remove the filling to see the severity of the crack. turned out, thankfully, the tooth was salvageable so a root canal did the trick. later that day i read that around the same time i cracked the 27, byron buxton of the twins cracked one of his, biting down on a steak. He also needed a root canal. i felt like a major leaguer, me and Buxton, enduring all that pain, pulling up our socks and playing on, Ripken-ish. reminded me of a time when i had more balls, back when i was in a class at the university of wisconsin-milwaukee…it was called evolution and variation or something like that. it was a big class, lots of students and yet, I unabashedly, mustered up the courage to ask a not so intelligent question…how long would it take for a baby to grow fins if they were born in water and spent their entire life there? the professor laughed and answered – eons!

eons? That gets me thinking of masks. will we be wearing them for eons? and if so will our bodies respond, as we tend to do, adding fingers to our repertoire so many thousands of years ago and then standing up and becoming homo erectus…will we grow an extra flap around our mouths like the added flap of batting helmets, a slab of skin that can be zipped and unzipped to protect us? evolutions like 10 balls for a walk, then nine, eight and eventually four… the lowered mound…. designated hitter….inter-league play….the wildcard…..wild cards…. are these evolutions or devolutions? what about the runner on second base to start an extra inning?

the brewers were down by three heading into the bottom of the ninth, opening day against the twins. Travis Shaw hit a line drive to score the second and third run of the inning, tied it up and in extra innings to start the top of the 10th, there was that damn runner on second base…that stupid new rule, the stress of an inning starting with a runner on second base, but then the thrill of Josh Hader blowing three hitters away with electric fastballs and me the hypocrite suddenly glad to see lorenzo cain on second base to start the bottom fo the 10th and he advanced to third on a single by narvaez and then scored the winning run on a chopper by orlando arcia and there were jumps up and downs and brewers are in first place, for a day anyway.


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a junky’s dream…

opening day today reminds me of of an incident a long time ago. i was walking around Milwaukee’s river west neigborhood with a friend and we spotted a bag in the grass and us being curious, we looked closer and good thing we did…. it was rolled up and filled with green, marijuana green…..maybe from a drug deal gone bad, cops witnessing the transaction, and a smoker soon on the run when the contraband slipped from their sack and into destiny – our greedy hands or maybe there was some magic easter bunny specter, dropping golden eggs in the mist? we weren’t big smokers preferring a boozy brain vacation, but we adapted and our summer was set with a big (in our estimation) half ounce bag of weed.

and so here we are at 20 or so percent capacity, fans in the stands that is, good enough, and 162 games, a massive stash and i splurged, again, and made my annual not tax deductible contribution to mlb.tv and so i’ll be behind the screen to watch the brewers host the twins in what’s become their mlb arranged, post inter-league, contrived rivalry….i say contrived because brewers fans never had a gripe with the twins. it was the white sox when we were in the american league and the cubs when we switched to the national, but ratings are ratings so they made us an enemy…some war economy equivalent.

anyway, we got 162 and i plan on melting, on escaping into the massive beautiful tangent of baseball. it is extra seductive this year because of the lingering threat, covid strains death stuck in our conscience minds…screws up everything…a headache and i think i’m dying, a slight exaggeration but it does lead me to the bottle. i’m usually pretty good about not thinking about the inevitable death, for a few hours at a time anyway and though i’ve gotten used to this mask wearing and fear and death, it still sucks, for lack of a better word and yet, nature and tradition roll on….easter eggs, crossing the red sea and bulbs on branches to burst into green…every team a horse behind the gate ready to begin on equal footing or maybe not with covid already cancelling the mets nationals and the blue jays beginning without George Springer and Robbie Ray and the white sox losing eloy jimenez for 5-6 months and so on and so on….

but the Brewers will send out their new second baseman, golden glover Kolten Wong and we’ll probably see another newcomer, another gold glover – JBJ as they call him – Jackie Bradley Junior…..the brewers are all about pitching and defense this year or that’s what marketing is pushing to us fans, but i bet they’ll do like bamberger did and wait for the three run homer….no bunts for base hits to beat the shift…

in other news, a blessing to the tall and skinny, there is a new addition to the Pascual perez, oil can boyd ilk and he goes by the name Triston mcKenzie at six feet five inches and a robust 165 pounds!! He has apparently earned a spot in the tribe’s rotation….

it’s 1:45 eastern time…15 minutes till first pitch brewers and i think i’ll pour me a small glass of whisky…my excuse? it’s what hot air balloon flyers do when the balloon lifts off. actually, i think they use champagne, but a champagne buzz comes and goes like a bottle rocket…whisky is longer lasting, a bonfire, but that hot air balloon ride must be something else….soaring slowly across the summer sky…..long lasting….like the 162.


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when drivers honk horns

He’d been trying to live in the mystery of that which no one knows for some time…went so far as changing his name…to Terence Karob Knell, the first and middle names not mattering as much as the last name – Knell…a bell sound signalling death. 

Becoming a catcher seemed like the obvious choice…all that equipment, tuned to the danger and fragility of it all, the easy pop fly one out followed by a rule breaking Pete Rose collision at the plate. A catcher, he reasoned, sits so close to the ground, to earth-dirt-dust, a reminder of here today-gone tomorrow…a catcher squats, grateful to gravity’s gift, stuck to a planet floating in outer space and the future? He flashes signs. He faces the diamond and sees all, but still, there’s no way of a catcher really knowing, only that Knell sounding some day.

Terence was tall and lean and had big hands. His teammates pegged him as a pitcher. But he didn’t like the raised pedestal of the mound…too tempting to lord over the opposition. He preferred the surprise attack of a whipper toss behind the batter, to his first baseman, to catch the runner leaning casual and cock sure.

and he did well…He hit for average, double digit home runs, could even run a little, bunt for a base hit. Screwed up the shift. The junior colleges came calling and he went to some small school and then on to a bigger, division 1, where he set a record for most bunt hits by a catcher and base runners? No chance. He threw out over 50 percent of would be thieves.

draft time. the Tin Town Totems were pleased to see Terence still on the board in the 11th round, same round as Milt May back in 1968. He moved quickly through the minors, mostly on account of his defense. He framed pitches with the best of them. Didn’t use a sponge under the cowhide either. And stuck out his bare hand to snag wild pitches. 

It was in early May when the Totems called him up. Told Terence to cultivate “fire man readiness, like a pinch hitter,” that they might need him in any inning, to replace the longest tenured Totem – Darrin Youth.

Terence paced the dugout eager to know his team. The left side of the infield gathered beside the sunflower seed buckets, a critical bunch, a circle jerk of cynicism, wouldn’t know good fortune if they bulls-eyed back to back bingo wins at St. Hedwig’s….left Clarence feeling powerless, no guns in his holster, not even a sling shot, not a witty remark in him for miles. But he accepted his meekness like a turtle does rain and as luck or god or destiny or the Knell bell would have it, the centerfielder – Clem Secretbloom was a Mormon, completed his obligatory two year mission in the Independent Leagues, preaching out of the back of a pick up truck. And Clarence considered becoming a servant of God for a few games, but seeing the second baseman back pedal into right field and make a diving catch hooked him on self-reliance, again. That was the only way. And so one day, a game against the Pale Crows, set for 2 PM with a 10:30 arrival time required…Clarence was a no show.

The cool Lake Winagain breeze sucked him in to its easy morning way and so he walked, fully uniformed in green and red, the Totem design emblem on his hat, wearing spikes too. People took note. Thumbs up and screaming out Tin factory windows, praising his passion, his trust in the 162, win or lose. He made it all the way to the Catchmecan Bridge and it was there when he realized why he’d come, to know what lay behind the Knell bell and so he jumped to what he hoped would be an instant death, but the drop was not far and the water not too cold…it sent electrical jolts up his spine and mind.

He swam to shore and made his way back to Forever Avenue and as he walked, he heard another kind of Knell….horns sounding and they hit him like Jericho blasts.

It suddenly didn’t matter if there’d be no bar flying or utility talk with the boys. And who needed to know what was behind the curtain, if anything at all. In time, he’d find out. He was here, right now, in the major leagues and he longed to get in a game, to hit major league pitching, to frame pitches, and most of all gun down runners hoping to steal a base.


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two junkies in the park

he didn’t remember what it was, maybe his knee cracking and buckling when he tried to take a flight of stairs or something less significant like a paper cut. He slumped down on a couch, letting out a long sigh as he did. He thought about the body’s unreliability, of its destiny – to become an old jalopy, abandoned along some country road… weeds pushing through the floor board…..weeds being nose and ear hairs that never seem to stop growing.

His mind became a slide show, one memory after another….of a sprained ankle during elementary school dodge ball…of playing football at a friend’s house and diving for a catch and the football not being there, but a stone bird bath was and SMASH….his lips puffed up and turned all kinds of crayola purple and yellow, kept him out of school for five days, plenty of stitches, and when he returned, he was still crayola purple and yellow and people looked the other way, grossed out, and very few of them bothered to ask what happened.

it was then he knew the world was rigged. he didn’t know by who, but he knew it was rigged, that it wasn’t fair, that looks mattered more than anything else so he set his mind on absolutes, on the periodical table and 60-feet six inches and later that same spring, with a barely visible scar on the side of his mouth, he struck out nine little league batters and a few years later struck out 12 in a varsity game and division 3 schools came calling and there, at St. Ida, he struck out 14 batters and was eventually selected in the 12th round and did well in those A ball rookie leagues, but tore his achilles and slipped on water spilled from a big orange jug and hurt his hip, started suffering bad headaches and then he tripped over a summer sprinkler playing with his brother’s kids and it wasn’t exactly a body bag tag….

he could still breath, but he couldn’t pitch, couldn’t get any traction in the dirt, so he quit and met a post office cashier and they had coffee and walked around a bit and she noticed a vacant look in his eyes, a look stuck on some unattainable goal and soon enough, he told her about his bad body luck so she suggested they go to that afternoon’s baseball game between the hometown Clementon Catnappers and the Ludvig Lovecrafts. He resisted at first, not wanting the reminder, but she nudged him on the shoulder and the physical touch had him feeling better in his skin.

They sat in the bleachers. She bought a scorecard announced the names and called out every play. They went to the next game, then another, day and night. Season’s passed. They bought lower grandstand season tickets, glad to be Clementon Catnapping junkies and he forgot all about his body and she had a smile in her stomach, seeing that his eyes no longer had that vacant look, no more stuck on some unattainable goal…