brewers baseball and things


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fiberglass doesn’t last forever and Domingo Santana

There are many names given to the grand poobah of the universe and even more names used to describe what’s impossible to describe, attributes of mercy and what not.

Darryl Dawkins was not God, but he named his dunks.

The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Glass-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Babies-Crying, Glass-Still-Flying, Cats-Crying, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Thank You-Wham-Bam-I-Am-Jam”) In Your Face Disgrace, The Go-rilla, Earthquaker Shaker, Candyslam, Dunk You Very Much, Look Out Below, Yo Mama, Turbo Sexophonic Delight, Rim Wrecker, Greyhound Bus (went coast-to-coast), Cover Your Head, Spine Chiller Supreme, Slam Bam Thank You Maam and Walk Away From Love.

He had a heart attack yesterday and passed away. Bummer. He was 58-years old and squeezed a hell of a lot of excitement and blocked shots in a 25 year pro career – NBA, CBA, IBA, Europe.

His nickname was Chocolate Thunder and he was an alien from the planet Lovetron. I tried to reach the planet many times with the help of a ladder in our backyard. With ball in hand, I set sail from the third rung and attempted one of the Dawkin dunks, but more often than not, hung on the rim in the hopes of bringing down the iron. Dawkins shattered a few backboards in his time. Probably inspired the break away rim, yet another extra terrestrial invention. 

I enjoyed watching highlights yesterday of Dawkins transferring the ball we always called a pill from right hand to left in mid-air and still executing a tomahawk windmill shlamoooooooooo. And when I slipped on the White Sox game, lo and behold, Chicago’s Pale Hos unveiled beautiful Bill Veeckian black and white retro Pajama uniforms. I had a new distraction.

I grew up a White Sox fan. They could have worn purple ponchos and I would have loved ’em, but seriously, I love those uniforms, so casual looking like Muslim priest gowns. Speaking of great uniforms, Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez look stunning in Astros orange. Took me no time at all to adjust.

Maybe the orange shoes did it? Or maybe orange is just a great color. Pumpkins, orange juice, marmalade, sunsets, Popsicles, and the orange van in Bad News Bears Breaking Training.

Fiers has a bald head and beard to go along with his orange shoes. He stands tall, cups the ball in his hand, a curly cue leg kick, nothing near Marichal ballerina high, more Japanese stop and stutter. Fiers had never entered the ninth inning of a game, not until last week. Now he has a complete game no hitter under his belt. Nolan Ryan was watching the game. He didn’t look too happy. He never does. Every time I see him on TV he looks constipated and frustrated by the fact.  I think it was the 11th all time no hitter for the Astros.

Ken Forsch and Bob Forsch. One of them pitched a no-hitter for the Astros. The other one maybe for the Cardinals? but together, I think they’re the only brothers to perform the feat.

One of the players the Brewers acquired for Fiers and Gomez was Domingo Santana. He made his Brewers debut on the Fiers no-hit night. In his third at bat, he whipped his waist around, and got the bat on the ball and holy crap, it was over the fence in two seconds.

The Fiers no-hitter and Santana home run happening on the same night reminded me of luggage carousels at the airport and the small cubbyholes with those car wash-like flaps where luggage enters and exits. I think it was when Brewers play by play guy  Brian Anderson announced “No hitter watch,” and all I had to do was press a few buttons and Spine Chiller Supreme Slam Bam Thank You Maam, I was instantly in the eye of the Houston no hitter.

No more wondering what was going on behind the carousel car flaps other side.  


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the color of wind

The whisky virgin knew the mind mess wouldn’t coincide with the death of traffic lights. He took a first sip anyway and made the bathtub a regular routine.

But he never could follow the pattern of a dripping faucet. Thoughts rolled in like a stampede and quickly melted into a ballerina’s tip toe, waves of interruptions, one after the other, round and round, sound of a giggle stick that young man’s mind. The world warped.

He took to squatting under a bridge at night, staring at a polluted river, but that didn’t help either. The rippling water shot dizzy reflections against the cement wall. And no gondola rescue boat ever passed by so he did what the beautiful medicine lady said he might have to do – slip into the outer regions of Pickaxis where fires no longer shot up from garbage cans.

There were no unknowns at all in Pickaxis, no more ladies with horse mane hair whispering, “my tribe is a treasure and yours to discover.” Order and expiration dates were fashion. Stray cats removed. And when news didn’t arrive at 6pm sharp, people scurried for something new to suck on.

It was somewhere beneath the stadium over hang or what was left of it where the whisky virgin bumped into underground letter writers tinkering with a lantern.

“Struggling with Velcro in the rain” was Rabbid Randy’s excuse and a good one at that because the government-issued-velcro was slippery when wet. Shoelaces had been outlawed so even if they were a bunch of letter writing strays, the control freak blue coats mellowed their ass probing, overlooked the gathering beside a lantern and backed off. They did draw their aluminum clubs, however, just to remind everyone who was big asshole in town. Back and forth went the banter inside letter writing minds. Always an “almost” altercation. North tempting south. Hot bating cold. But silence and order prevailed.

The whisky virgin couldn’t a been older than 15; his upper lip barely peach fuzz. Still had rose in his cheeks. Kind of kid that walked down the steps of a burning building. He wasn’t brave, just didn’t care. Equally at ease among tranquilizer junkies as with a swarm of banshees. Wailed right along with the specters and bowed minutes later to the control freak blue coats. Raised a toast at the Inn too. No problem. Yesterday was dead and today would be soon. Three meals and a squat, paradise in Pickaxis until the day the whisky virgin stumbled on a phone book. Threw his innards out of whack because there were no phone books in Pickaxis. There were no books at all. Caused him to wonder and wander and he wasn’t accustomed to neither.

The closest control freak blue coat musta been busy scratching his private parts because the whisky virgin had enough time to remove a sheet stapled to the phone book. He was being pulled somewhere and like a drunk in search of  a liquor store, he couldn’t stop. Didn’t want to. He wandered towards the river.

The sheet was a sketch of a human hand over a round object. The fingers looked like a tarantula wearing high heels. A few words were scribbled below. Knuckle ball Steve Sparks phone book incident 1994 Brewers spring training.

The whiskey virgin knew nothing of knuckle balls, Brewers or 1994. He only knew a spark was a spark and that someone somewhere in the not too distant past must have performed a message in a bottle equivalent, in the hopes……………He stopped in mid thought and whispered,

“Hope?”

The kid memorized every last detail in the sketch, the positioning of the fingers, angle of the forearm. He speculated some more. Iron claw Earth? He had a secret and slipped away, not knowing what it was or what it could do.


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that disturbing sound of paradise

I remember Lars talking about Oklahoma or maybe it was Nevada? A few weeks later, he was gone. It sucked. He was my best friend. I tried to track him down, but couldn’t remember how to spell his last name.

He had a brother – Leo,  but we called him Veto as in reject, hoping he would disappear. He was two years older than us, not a bad guy, but always combing his hair and that was cool, but he never had enough time, not even to rag on his younger brother and that wasn’t cool because younger brothers needed ragging.

We assumed Leo would get first dibs on choosing a bedroom since he was the oldest, but dad said Lars gets first choice and before Leo could whine about it, dad screamed, “Because I said so.”

Dad moved ’em from an apartment complex into a small cottage house. Not a big deal to many kids, but to Lars and Leo it meant no more sharing bunk beds. Lars twanged the straps of his imaginary overalls, scanned the shag carpet and sighed. He picked the room across from Dad and no one understood why. The one down the hallway was obviously the  best choice. It had an outdoor porch and gutter to slide down, easy escape to the outside world.

Lars needed his Dad close, just like he needed his mom before she passed away. He didn’t want freedom, didn’t know what to do with it. He preferred carpet space and shelving units, to store the leaves and insects, stamps, coins and baseball cards he collected. They were his compass and security blanket.

Dad moved the family during the same summer Paul Molitor threatened Dimaggio’s hitting streak – 1987. In reality, Molitor had only passed Ken Landreaux’s 31, but that was enough to wet our wipples. 

Lars waved me closer one night and whispered to “keep quiet.” We waited until Leo slid down the gutter and when he was out of sight, Lars tiptoed into Leo’s room and  “borrowed” the boom box stereo sitting on his night stand. It was better than the TV or the big family radio because it had batteries. We could move around.

I spun the dial to 620 WTMJ. We went outside. Lars had a Maxell cassette tape ready to lock and load and I guess, record the game. We listened like we had so many nights that summer, to Bob Uecker’s play-by-play. Molitor was on the brink of tying Ty Cobb at 40 games, only four more names till Dimaggio.

I don’t remember who was pitching for the Indians, but Molitor was on deck in the bottom of the tenth and still hitless, score tied 0-0 when Rick Manning hit a soft liner to drive in Mike Felder with the winning run. Brewers fans booed. It was bad enough that Gorman Thomas had been traded for Manning. Now he had to go and get the game winning hit with Molitor on deck and his streak frozen in time.

We went back inside. Lars pulled out a shoe box from under his bed. I wasn’t  surprised to see how many games he had recorded. He was a collector after all, but the dedication – to slip into Leo’s room like a jewel thief every time? That took guts and precision. All of the games were labeled and in perfect order, from Marshal Edwards first career home run in 1982 to Mark Brouhard’s last at bat to Teddy Higuera’s 20th win in 1986 and now Molitor’s 39 game hitting streak would have a slot.

It was late, but we were too confused by what life and Manning had done so we played back the last inning hoping for a different ending, something like – Manning strikes out and Molitor gets another chance! But something even better happened!! The sound coming from the speaker was monstrous and slow like a 45 record stuck on 14, Bob Ueckers voice an alien transmission. The boom box or cassette had malfunctioned.

Lars and I raced down to the garage and waited until we heard Leo’s footsteps and when we did, Lars turned the volume up and pressed play.

Dad said Leo pounded the front door so hard his knuckles were bloody. Leo denied it, said he went back to his girlfriend’s house. He winked at us when dad wasn’t looking, but we had the cassette and within a few weeks our own boom box to play that alien sound when Leo entered the room.


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all my messiahs

After completing the final edit to Dreaming .400, I had no choice, but secretly wished Bill Lee`s phone number would not be available. He scared me. I had met him once before, here in Montreal, but as part of a small group outside a book store. It was safe and Mr. Lee broke up the coffee clutch anyway and escorted us to a bar. Bill Lee was unpredictable, never said a commonplace thing, equally at ease with baseball nerds and those who know all the “right“ bands and books.

I never saw Bill Lee pitch and never read one of his books, not until a few years ago, but after meeting him, all the baseball stripped away. He was and still is a guru to me because he enjoys life. I’d be content watching him tie his shoes or fasten the velcro. I must have sounded like a nervous chicken when he picked up the phone the other night. I had to do most of the talking, to seduce him into reading my book of short stories and providing an opinion, some praise to be published on the back cover.

Well, he agreed and when I said, “By the way, don’t be deceived by the title. The stories include plenty of pitchers.“ Bill laughed. “Don’t worry, I dream .400 every night before bed, but wake up hitting .200“ and then he laughed again. So did I.

This story – “All My Messiahs“ was written with the other night and Mr. Lee in mind.

A quick peek at the neighbor’s dog did it. That quivering nose reminded me there was much more happening than I could ever imagine. I wandered outside for a good while, slipped through some bush and stripped down to my shorts and eased my way in, lay flat on the St. Lawrence riverbed floor.  Most people warn me. They say it’s dirty, infested with pollutants, but what do I care. I grew up splashing in the dirty Milwaukee river and would like to better understand the language of birds, fishes and trees.

I could only sustain the séance a short while. My mind wandered. I came up for air and sat on a cement slab, probably an old fishing pier. I closed my eyes and let the sun do its thing – dry me off. I was freezing and so I escaped, back to the Ding Dong days when Hostess was more than a wafer and body of christ at St. Pascal’s. It was a holy trinity panel of baseball cards that sparked all kinds of conjuring, of tip toeing down the basement steps and digging out my father’s imaginary Elmer Fudd hunting cap. It was the summer of 1977. The hat fit me well so I changed my name to Pierre and began to hunt, for baseball cards that is, not the most manly of hunts, not in my father’s eyes, but Pierre senior-that was my father. He had already passed away in this daydream so Pierre junior – that’s me. He was free.

And so he scrounged for coins in the cracks of couches, raided Mom’s penny purse, even hocked Dad’s war medal for a couple of bucks. He lost all sense of right and wrong, obsessed by O-Pee-Chee baseball cards and as a collection gathered on his shag carpet bedroom floor that feeling from his father’s death – that amputated limb feeling. It disappeared.  

The writing on the backs of cards was in both French and English, some sort of language law, but Pierre cared more about the language of trees, of lumber and how bats were made and anyway, he had a magic fortune-telling eight ball under his bed and it flashed three names not known to Pierre one hot summer 1977 day. He swears he saw them appear out of that eight ball blue liquid, “looked like names chiseled on a tombstone”  he said. “Dawson, Cromartie, Valentine” and no one believed Pierre, not until a few months later when Gary Roenike was traded to Baltimore.

Same Gary Roenike who hit .285 with 14 homers for the Quebec City Carnavals in 1975, earned the Eastern League MVP, but was considered “expendable” and traded, probably because of those same magic 8 ball words – “Dawson, Cromartie, Valentine.“

For the first time, Pierre felt daddy`s death in the gut. Made him cry too. Change came quickly. Strange coincidences. Two more Quebec minor league teams were being eliminated. Death was everywhere.  The Eastern League had dropped Thetford Mines in 1975, shortly after Pierre senior passed away and now Quebec City and Three Rivers were being booted from the baseball solar system. Only the Expos remained.

Thetford Mines was more inland and would require some portaging of the canoe and maybe the water between Three Rivers and Quebec City suffered some rapids, but Pierre was determined to trace a triangle and barnstorm. He didn`t know why, but he did it anyway.

The stadiums were empty. The grass was in need of cutting. A few stray newspaper pages flew in and out. There was the sound of wind. The words came to Pierre, words he could never say to his father, simple words like “thank you.“ 

The sun had done its thing. I was dry. I could hear trucks in the distance, maybe a dog barking. I put my shirt on, climbed up the hill and walked home.


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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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