brewers baseball and things


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sympathy at the local watering hole

The outside sign had lost its luster, rain and snow outlasting wood and paint. There was a curve of what once was maybe an S, nothing but a mini crescent moon now. Arnold Heymaker didn’t really care, only the NEON in the window blinking OPEN did.

Arnold or Arn, as his landscaping crew co-workers called him, was a regular at the rail though he never talked. He often passed the bartender walking his dog up near the wood fence palisade that separated the apartment buildings from private homes, squalor from scented bathrooms. Arn didn’t reach down and say in a respectful little coddling voice…”nice little doggie.” No, he didn’t say a word because, as a kid, he was bitten by a Dalmation. He bought a piano later in life to slam the black and white keys, crush his fear of Dalmations, of dogs, but it didn’t do a damn thing. He crossed the street when a dog neared. The bartender never asked why.

Arn always tapped the bar’s wooden door four times before entering, a symbolic gesture of three bases and a plate, a cycle, a completion of one’s long journey, a return home, this watering hole, a place where he never had to speak because the bartender knew exactly what he wanted.

He slipped in quietly and doffed his green baseball cap towards the bartender. There was an elderly couple at the rail, right beside a man with a mustache and an afro bowl of curly hair. He held a slab of wood in his hand. It resembled an ass slapper used by teachers or priests of days gone by. It was a cribbage board.

Arn sat far enough away to not be invited into the game, but close enough to hear their talk. They skipped all formalities and slipped into a rumor about a preacher doing double duty as an A ball pitcher three towns over.

“He’s got it,” beamed the bartender.

“Not overpowering, I bet,” replied the man with angry gruff in his voice. “Has that pinpoint control, right?”

And with that he flung his cribbage cards in the air and abruptly ended the game. The bartender sighed, a reminder sigh to himself, that he’d seen this behavior before, a mask on a different face that signified – I’m drinking past bar time tonight.

Arn peeked at the card flinger, his slouched back somehow still sturdy on the stool, eyes staring at the tall bottles of booze below the mirror or at nothing at all, alone in his thoughts, gripping a Moosehead with both hands like it was a buoy, the same hands that probably once held a bat or gripped a ball, batter or pitcher, it didn’t matter. The dream had dried up.

But Arn could see with each ensuing sip this guy took, each gulp, and new bottle that he didn’t care anymore. His memories of whatever had happened were a ship fading fast into the horizon…..like a long ago girlfriend, revisited on only the drunkest of nights high on wine, but this guy didn’t go for wine and this couldn’t be about a girlfriend because he showed no interest in the jukebox beside the bathroom. He was a beer drinker and he had a job to do – get drunk, forget, and enjoy the nothingness.

Arn turned and faced the front. He noticed a stack of napkins and a glass filled with colored toothpicks. He thought about Steve Dalkowski, especially that minor league year Dalkowski walked 207 batters in 104 innings and also struck out 203, a hit or miss sensation, must have had every fan eager for the next pitch, to see if Dalkowski might throw one over the backstop for a souvenir and had every home plate ump wanting to cut out, retire early, and collect their pension.

Arn put both hands on the rail and wondered why the church hadn’t crowned Dalkowski patron saint of drunks? After all, the one-time pitching prospect who earned the nickname “white lighting” claimed to not remember a big chunk of his life, too much drinking the culprit, and yet, Dalkowski is still alive, 80 years and counting!

Arn thought about the car crash and what he’d lost. He turned his head shyly and looked at the card flinger a second time, then at the bartender. He cleared his throat.

“Bartender,” Arn said with a crackle in his voice, from lack of use. “A round of beer for all of us and three shots too.”

It was the first thing Arn had said in weeks.


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a little of that old pitchback game salvation

It happened so suddenly…..
this no more talk of resurrection and red sea crossings…
this no more bird chirp dawns of spring…
this no more kids playing whiffle ball in suburban backyards…
this no more spring training number 99 who? playing shortstop…
this no more violet bulbs on branches bursting a wild rush gush of green.

this crucible we’re in.

i got that worry, that paranoia. I bought a lot of food, but in my panic i bought spicy hot dogs that are messing with my stomach. i’m failing this test so i close my eyes and watch my body walk real slow, slide across the wood floor a sort of moon walk. Along the way, I pick up a rubber ball and slide some more, towards my bedroom wall. I stand on a makeshift mound, a stack of underwear or an old newspaper and I exhale nice and slow. I throw that rubber ball.
I’m Tiant’s 180 degree tango one pitch.
Fernando’s heavenly glance the next,
and then Pedro’s three quarter,
Dave LaRoche’s eeuphus,
Kent Tekulve submarine and so on…
Tim Lincecum’s cupped ball…..Brandon Woodruff over the top and holy crap he can hit too, whacked a home run off Kershaw in the 2018 playoffs and so I dream of a bat in my hands and long for a pitcher to bring it on and
suddenly i don’t know what time it is or what day and death doesn’t matter, for a few minutes anyway.


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a spring training thought

I don’t wonder about the origins of the universe, when and how it all started, things like that. Maybe I should. Maybe it would take my mind off my old, doomed jalopy of a body and the 8-4 work thing. But instead of philosophical ponders, I’d rather take a quick peek at one of the Brewer’s top prospects, pitcher Zack Brown, his last year minor league numbers, really bad, and then yesterday, see him pitch a scoreless, 2 strikeout inning in spring training against the Padres and wonder how his stats were so bad? He looked so good, fastball on the corners, not afraid to throw inside, and a backdoor curve ball. Reminds me of an imaginary world where Demitri Jayson hits three homers one afternoon and strikes out four times the next day. Elation and blues, crazy bi-polar seesaw universe, all of us with tons of potential…. enough to try it again tomorrow, another chance to tilt the scales.


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dodo birds and their expanding kin

Pluto was once part of our (earth’s) solar system and then some years ago it was kicked out. I don’t remember why or remember really caring either. I mean, big deal, it was kicked out of this private solar system club. It didn’t disappear because of the exclusion. It lived on and still does somewhere in god’s great universe.

The same thing could be said about a lot of things like Jimmy Jimricks who used to be a member of the Long Horn Golf Club (LHGC). I say used to because for reasons no one knows, the powers that be at the LHGC decided one day that Jimmy Jimricks was no longer welcome so they slipped him a pink piece of paper that said get lost. Jimmy didn’t blame it on golf. He blamed it on the LHGC and kept playing. He was like Pluto. He lived on.

The same thing cannot be said for the LOOGY(Left-handed One Out Guy). It will no longer be. A rule change has now been put into effect. Relievers, any relievers, both righties and lefties must face at least three batters. No more pitcher entering the game to face one batter.

I guess a name like LOOGY was doomed from the git-go….. that snot spit we send from mouth to pavement. But I will miss the LOOGY like I miss all pitching changes and any other Mike Hargrovian delays because I like turtles and rain delays and long, lopsided games when right fielders pitch or second baseman catch. I also like watching games on TV that take a long time. It gives play-by-play and color man a chance to talk, to tell stories, to rib each other, and to crack jokes. The commercials I could do without, but what the hell; no one says we have to watch them. We can go the bathroom or heat up some pasta.

Last year, they limited the mound visits and now they’ve eliminated the LOOGY, all efforts to speed up the game. It’s sad, but fans need to be won, money needs to be made and people like click click click now now now fast fast fast so they’ll be no more Jesse Orosco types prolonging their careers as a LOOGY, no more 38 year old left-handers hitting the gym and playing long toss and dreaming just maybe if…..

This song is for you LOOGY. When singing it karaoke style, simply insert the lyric “I could have been a LOOGY” to replace whatever else Nick Drake sang in his “I could have been” melodies.

 


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initiation

Maxie Masimo was five-years old when his father gifted him a pack of baseball cards. He did it without saying a word, hoping the subtle gesture, would spur his son a junkie habit.

Maxie unfolded the wax paper with one hand and discovered a rectangular stick of pink gum. He let his other hand hover over it like one of those mechanical arms aiming to hook a stuffed animal. He pinched the gum with his finger tips, brought it close to his face, squint his eyes, and sniffed. He examined it like an entomologist might do with a beetle. That’s when he noticed a white residue. His heart and stomach jumped for he knew it was sugar.

He dropped it on his tongue and bit. The piece cracked in half. He chewed. The pieces crumbled. He knew building legos took effort so he worked the scraps into a saliva flow and chewed and chewed and chewed. Only then, with the sugar fuelling his every move, did he remove the cards and let the wax paper float to the floor like a helicopter leaf.

He handled the small stack of cards and liked the feeling of the cardboard edges rubbing against his palms. He looked at the first card and tucked it under the stack. He continued until he’d seen all the cards. He never paid attention to the colors, the player names or what team and when he turned the card over to the backside, he overlooked the height, weight, place of birth, birthday biographical data. The other numbers didn’t impress him either. The cards were nothing but another toy, to be stashed among a pile of Mouse Trap and Erector Set parts. He tossed them, one at a time, and tried to get each card to the wall without it actually touching the wall.

Lightning and thunder and breakfast cereal still ruled Maxie’s world.

It wasn’t until a few years later, sitting in the TV room with his father and two of his father’s friends when something caught fire in the belly of Maxie Masimo. It was game 87 of the 86 game season, an extra affair because the Valentinos of Stackland and Cold Cuts of Beachwood were dead locked at season’s end.

The Valentinos scored five runs in the first inning and it was 5-3 heading into the bottom of the 8th when two men reached base, one by error, the other a walk. Then Tristan Trinkets launched a three run homer to put the Cold Cuts ahead for good.

Maxie watched his father and his father’s friend’s heads drop and shake. Every year the Valentinos came so close to winning the division and every year they found a new way to lose, one year the ace tripped over a sprinkler, the next year the left field slugger divorced his wife and quit baseball right in the middle of the pennant race! This year it was Trinket’s three run homer.

Maxie sat in bed that night. Couldn’t sleep so he squirmed out from under the sheets, ran towards the light switch, and flicked it towards the ceiling – the sky, he thought. The light went on. He walked among piles of clothes, towards the cards, and they were where they always were, scattered among other toys. He picked them up and cleared away an outfield grass equivalent.

He sat in the lotus position and for the first time, looked closer at the cards, at the colors and action and poses. He arranged them in order, first by name, then team, then position. He did it over and over again. At one point, he looked at the digital clock on the table beside his bed. It was 4 in the morning. He had never stayed awake that late.

At breakfast, the sugar frosted flakes didn’t seduce him. He thought back to the game and all that five run first inning euphoria and late inning plummet, all that joy and suffering, all that here and there, night and day, moon and sun and so on and he wanted to be a part of it, part of something bipolar bigger than himself. He brought the cards with him as he crawled back into bed after breakfast and fell immediately to sleep.


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thinking of Don Kessinger

Judah Muscovitz was a beggar by trade. He held midnight vigils – bonfires in garbage cans, burning yesterday’s newspaper blues. Flames waved free. He banged on the side of the can with a stick, and inspired by the beat, he chanted simple little ditties.

“In a horse’s hoofs and the sigh of a skipper.”

He knew baseball rules, from the infield fly to the subtle nuances of a balk. He knew all the names and numbers too, from Bruce Benedict to .367. He especially liked the way skippers paced and spit. It hinted of contemplation and design. That’s where Judah felt home, in the safety of his mind, chanting.

During one of his late night vigils, a young man approached. It was Adam Stronghold, a catcher on the local wood bat team. He lived in the dirt, both on and off the field. He never bothered to remove infield earth from under his nails or between his toes. They were a badge of honor. And he did more than push and shove during a bench clearing brawl. He kicked to the mid-section and landed punches. And when tensions mellowed and a runner on third dared to tag up and score, he blocked the plate like a sturdy, ancient wall.

Fans nicknamed him The Mustang Man for he often stood up from his crouch and flexed his biceps for all to see and at the plate he stepped out of the batter’s box and did a dozen push ups. He would have done more too had the umpire not told him “to get on with it.”

But he was more than a muscle show off. He had the wings of an eagle in the way he housed all his teammates and listened to their woes, a bartender soul. He carried their problems to bed and as a result didn’t sleep too well. He wandered one night north, the next night south, never the same streets twice, a practice to hopefully never see two days as the same and he never did. One day, Mustang Man thought about turtles and the next one, he wondered how butter was made.

It was during one of these late night walks that he stumbled upon Judah Muscovitz and since Mustang Man was never one to lack confidence, he strolled towards Judah and his garbage can vigil as if he were heading out to the mound to relay words of encouragement to his ace who had suddenly lost control.

The heat from the flame slipped quickly into Mustang Man’s heart. He joined Judah’s chant midstream like a school girl entering a jump rope revolution, round and round, trapped joyfully into forever. They chanted all night. Only when a trace of daylight appeared did they stop and sit down, on the curb.

“So you’re a ballplayer,” implied Judah.

“How’d you know?” asked Mustang Man.

“From the giddy-up optimism in your voice,” replied Judah, “That encouragement to the pitcher, to hit the target. I wish I had that kind of enthusiasm.”

“But your chants and these fire vigils, your faith in the bat-ridden nights!” said Mustang Man.

“I’m always in my mind, haven’t cried since…….I don’t know when,” whimpered Judah, his head down and shoulders slumped. “All I do is think and chant.”

“Why don’t you come and play with us,” encouraged Mustang Man.

Judah accepted the invitation and later that same day, he stood on the diamond and kicked around dirt. He pivoted to his right and left, making off balance throws from second base and short, panting and stretching, standing on his toes. It was as if a wound up tight top had been set free. Judah felt his heart beat like never before. For a change, he used his heart more than his head.

The Bemidji Bunyans had no second baseman so Judah was inserted into the lineup. There were seven ground balls hit his way that first game. He made all the plays and was invited back the next day. He stood flat-footed at the plate, waving his 32 inch Louisville Slugger. He poked singles past all the infielders.

A week passed, then a month. Judah still stood on second base. But he did more than field ground balls and bang out base hits. He didn’t forget his mind. He studied opposing batters and instructed his teammates where to stand. On offense, he suggested to redo the batting order. There were grumbles, but more than half the team agreed with Judah. Mustang Man called a meeting. A vote was taken.

The Bemidji Bunyans of the Wood Bat League made Judah Muscovitz the first player-manager in team history.