brewers baseball and things


twins versus white sox

i hadn’t watched a game in a long while when one stared me in the face Sunday. i was cable clicking around the stations. The Twins were hosting the white sox. it was the bottom of the ninth; 11-11 was the score. there were two outs and david robertson was on the mound. I thought he threw much faster? Maybe he did when he pitched for the Yankees? i was surprised by the large crowd considering the twins are so bad this year or they were the last time i checked. i think they had the worst record in baseball or maybe it was the braves?

there was about 25,000 people at the game, paid attendance, the announcers said. i like minnesota especially since they now play on grass and outdoors. it’s more than tolerable to stare at the grass cutting formations. It’s actually pleasant. i didn’t slip into a coma of relaxation but watching the last two or three innings must have dropped my stress levels. Byron Buxton looks like a great hitter, but he sure holds the bat kind of weird. The White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson said it’s all in the chin, that you can always detect a great hitter by the chin. He said Buxton had a great chin, not in a Milan fashion runway sort of way or at least i don’t think so. It’s in some other way, maybe having to do with his head on the ball, chin being still and what not.

The other Sox announcer – Steve Stone coined the game’s curtains as the immaculate Deflection. The white sox had scored two runs in the top half of the 10th or 11th and then sin of sins, their pitcher walked the two first batters in the bottom half. With two outs and the tying runs aboard,  the batter hit a sharp ground ball that ricocheted off the pitchers shin or leg right to the shortstop who bare handed it and threw to first for the routine 1-6-3 immaculate Deflection and final out of the game.


one foot in front of the other…..

He said the trees told him everything he ever needed to know. It was the way a fallen branch took root and grew on its own, “as sure as a bullfrog or bumblebee” he would say.

We were walking away from a Salt Lake City Hotel room when we heard him whispering,

“cola, cola, cola.”

He was on the other side of the street. There was plenty of traffic between us, but we could still hear him. Made it kind of amazing.

“cola cola cola,” he said again.

His voice never grew softer as he got closer so we kept on hearing him and he kept on saying “cola cola cola.”  He must have said it 30 times. It was a soothing contrast from our previous night – all that screaming and stage diving from the hotel room’s upper floor. We had never been in a room with two levels. We burned pages from the bible and pretended we were on a West Coast Rock and Roll tour.

“cola cola cola.”

He didn’t fold up his arms or lean against the hotel lobby wall. He didn’t shove his hands in his pockets either. He just stood there, arms at his side, steady. He had dark beautiful beads for eyes – infinity eyes. I was both terrified and put at ease. He extended his right arm and squeezed my forearm. He pulled me closer very gently. He said it was the Apache way of greeting someone and that cola meant friend in either Apache or Lakota language. I forget which.

We had spent our last dime on that hotel room. All we had left was a bus ticket to San Rafael, California. We also had jobs lined up and a place to stay. Our new friend had lost his mother and he needed to walk. He wasn’t Apache. His mom was Northern Cheyenne and Dad a descendant of a beer baron family from Hamburg, Germany. Dad escaped the baron fate as a stowaway aboard a Krumshaka ship back when the Northern Cheyenne were living in what is now Minnesota, east of the Mississippi. He made a name for himself killing buffalo, but lost his taste for pillage and hides when he met Blue Bridge of the Northern Cheyenne. He lost his head. His heart opened. He took to her way of life.

This walk our friend was on was not an around the block walk. It was a walk with no destination. He called it a Kiowa walk to honor their neighbors to the south who took to many migrations in their history.

“Not many more migrations these days, only the inner kind,” he said, “To see with hobo freshness.” He smiled after saying that and I suddenly felt guilty about what we had done to the Bible the night before. All those animal sacrifices of the Hebrews condensed into today’s ritual prayer and yet, we decided to burn pages from the bible? Oh screw it! We were on our own journey.

We walked with him. I noticed that the cars in Salt Lake city were covered with stickers that either said “praise the lord” or  “Mormons on drugs.” We walked in the direction of steeples and spires, of the Great Mormon Church or maybe they were pointy hills up ahead. It was hard to tell with the sun’s glare so strong. Either way, the horizon looked like zigzagging vital signs. We walked on and a perfect blue day turned into a perfect black night. The fringes of that horizon were still burning orange and purple when cola stumbled on a pile of clothes that could have easily been a bag of cannibalistic heads. Our minds were tricking us. Cola felt around the bag with his feet. One of those abandoned lives most likely. There were shoes beside the bag as well. Freaked me out. It was as if a spaceship had dropped in and beamed someone up.

Cola removed a few socks from the bag and tied them together like someone trapped on the fifth floor of a burning hotel room – a sock ladder of descent. He said it was a hoop and then we walked some more. He collected large fallen branches along the way and when he had enough branches, he stopped again and began to whittle away the tops and make them sharp. He used the force in his fingers and a rock he had also picked up.

He said we were gonna play the hoop and pole game.

He gave an explanation of the game’s origins, about a young virgin impregnated by a spirit named Sweet Root. The virgin abandoned the child. An old woman found him and named him Sweet Medicine because it was where medicine roots grow. The kid became a great hunter but no one cared about him because he lived with an old lady grandma in a tepee. 

Cola then counted out steps in the direction of the sun rise. Musta been 30 or 40 steps. Then he continued to talk of the game’s origins.

The kid told his grandma to make a hoop wrapped in buffalo hide and to prepare four cherry sticks. Old lady grandma did just that and so he began to throw the sticks through the hoop and people gathered round, interested in this new game. He threw the fourth stick and when it went through the hoop, it changed into a fat buffalo calf, a magical calf too because there was always meat to eat from then on. The game became a promise…playing it ensured an abundance of buffalo.

*Thanks to that great big wonderful coffee table book The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Indian Mythology for details on the Hoop-And-Pole Game.

**And thanks to baseball reference. I took a quick look at the all time leaders in fewest walks per nine innings. Candy Cummings tops the board with 0.4731. He’s followed by Tommy Bond, Al Spalding, and Cherokee Fisher and well, I can’t help wondering if they ever walked into the hoop and pole game?



tale of a search engine mishap

i never really liked to read when i was young. i did receive a subscription to baseball digest. read some of those and a few books. Greatest World Series Thrillers was one of them. But i spent more time playing video games on intellevision and watching tv, mostly sitcoms and this week in baseball. Bummer because like any other kid I went to the bathroom and sometimes it took a long time in there. It was a perfect place to read. Every once in a while i planned ahead and smuggled a Digest or a stack of baseball cards into the can, just in case. But most of the time I went in there empty handed.

That’s when the hand soap came in handy because it had a story on the back or not a story, but close enough. It had ingredients of strange sounding names. Chemicals galore and the location of where the soap was manufactured. I had something to read, to kill the time and take my mind of the stomach ache i sometimes had. I must have read the same hand soap ingredients two dozens time or maybe more. it wasn’t exactly shakespeare but it did the trick. I pulled up my pants and escaped the bathroom time and time again.

i don’t remember any of the ingredients, but i do remember where that hand soap came from – Minnetonka, Minnesota. I hadn’t thought about it for many years until a few months ago when i started wondering if Tonka Toys were also made there? That’s when my search went all hay wire. It was like a weather vane leaving the barn roof or a cross soaring from a church top and going all air out of the balloon every which way.

I meant to look up Tonka on the computer, but typed Tanka instead. That resulted in a japanese poem very similar to a Haiku but with more syllables. I quickly tried to fix my mistake, but typed in wonka and that took me to the candy company made popular by the movie and somehow after that i landed on wankan tanka which in Lakota way of thinking means Great Spirit or Great Mystery. So now i was in lakota land which is near the Dakotas which is near Minnesota, but as it turns out Tonka Toys originated in Mound, Minnesota, not Minnetonka, but the company adopted the Dakota Sioux word Tonka or Great for its name and the logo back then was a red oval above waves apparently inspired by Lake Minnetonka.


a few things

sometimes it’s a stance, a Cooper crouch that gets me. other times a name like lyman bostock. why such a great name? boston a lemon? a hyman stock?

i love warning tracks, not so much the crunch of gravel under foot or that to, but just the concept of one, a reminder to be vigilant with every step since we never know when a wall might suddenly appear.

the on deck circle is círculo de espera in spanish. espera means to wait and to hope. That’s a nice twist on the ho-hum of waiting, swinging a bat with donuts, a sledgehammer, yawning, looking into the crowd. That espera of hope seems to raise the temperature a bit.

Dugouts were once canoes and they sort of still are with teams going up or down river all spring and summer long.

A foul pole is a funny thing. So is a bullpen and all the secret things pitchers do there.



A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

with the control freak out of their hair, conversations drifted to life on other planets and the beers served there; with a lime or without? And what would those beers be made from? Dead conquered aliens, of course, intergalactic cannibalsitic delight.

talk then turned towards Tequila bottles and the worm at the bottom followed by mescaline and if a pitcher ingested copious amounts of the psychedelic alkaloid and then spit on a baseball in say a regular season game of the Diablos Rojos del Mexico; would that pitch appear to the batter in hallucinating waves?

Amanda Wurlitzer of the Bad News Bears got away with it, not ingesting mescaline, but spitting on the ball and so did Gaylord Perry. It goes by many names. MLB rule 8.02 refers to it as “shine, spit, mud or emery ball.” Vaseline and pine tar do the trick too. There’s no shortage.

It makes the stitched spheroid cut and dive a little more, gives pitchers an edge, but it’s not so easy to throw and even harder to detect. It arouses the puritan in some fans and yet the knuckle ball takes an even wilder, more unpredictable course to reach the catcher and it’s raised up to holy cult like status, guru ship of grip passed from one pitcher to the next.

Spitball is the low life greaser I guess that no parent wants watching their precious child. They ride in disguise. Most don’t get caught, but Mike Scott, Don Sutton, Rick Honeycut, Joe Niekro, Lew Burdette, and Whitey Ford did, all of ’em  ejected for doctoring baseballs. Preacher Rowe confessed in a 1955 Sports Illustrated interview entitled, “The Outlawed Spitball Was My Money Pitch.”

We’ll never know the entire family. It’s another cat and mouse in baseball. Makes it exciting. To doctor a baseball reminds us that pitchers are medicine bag minds with all kinds of potions under their caps, behind their ears….sun screen, lighter fluid, hand creams, emery board, thumb tack, paper clips, safety pin, scuff, scuff, scuff and God gave us fingernails for a reason dammit……to scuff some more.

The doctored ball, like any other innovation, was not the sole genius of one person, but the consensus is that Ed Walsh made it popular back before it was banned. That was in 1920. Seventeen pitchers were given a get out of jail free card to keep doctoring until they retired. And of course they were good little boys and didn’t perform spit lineage and pass on the spit and trick. The spitter was extinguished and everyone lived happily ever clean spit sober after. Fat chance.

Gaylord Perry was born in 1938. He became the spitball master, for either throwing one or planting an idea in the opposition’s head that he might. Perry says Bob Shaw taught him how to throw the pitch in 1964 and yet, it wasn’t until 1982, at the Kingdom in Seattle, before Perry at 43 years old was caught doctoring a ball, ejected, and suspended for the first and only time of his career, after so many years befuddling everyone.

Perry won 314 games and was elected into the HOF in 1991. Vaseline was his substance of choice, so much so that former manager Gene Mauch suggested a tube of KY Jelly should be attached to his plaque.


half way home

It wasn’t so much the history as the hair – Nabookar’s hair. That’s what the boy loved, and if anyone asked, he told them “Nabookar was a chief with the wildest curves of burgundy.”

Kids in the neighborhood grew curious. They gathered in the early morning, to be there, when the boy pulled the curtain cord. He never did at the same time, but he always did the same thing. He stared at nothing in particular, for 20 minutes sometimes. Then he would wiggle off the chair in spasms, like he had been tasered and slip gracefully into a somersault of however many rolls it took to reach the window, poke his head outside, look left, then right, then left again….a cuckoo bird escaping the clock.

Kids grew spiteful. They heaved all kinds of vegetables at him, some fresh, some not so fresh. He changed his name to Arooooooon and turned every taunt into fuel. Then he screamed “vrooooooooom vrooooooooom goes Arooooon, to the thicket on the outskirts of town.”

Mom and dad figured all the fleeing would end with the arrival of arm pit fuzz, but it didn’t. After Mom kicked dad out, she kept right on figuring, that the fleeing would end when Arooooon poked around under the hood of his first jalopy, but there never was a jalopy. There was only Nabookar and Arooooon’s course.

“Some course!” screamed his mother. “You’re nothing but drift wood.”

“Vrooooooooom vrooooooooom goes Arooooon to the thicket on the outskirts of town.”

He changed the walls of his bedroom or not the walls, but the posters he pasted on them. He removed the tidy animals of pleasant looking fur – all the bunny rabbits and guinea pigs that surrounded that wonderful head of Nabookar’s hair and replaced them with centipede legs and scorpion stingers.

But he never messed with Nabookar.

And suddenly he was no longer a kid and then no longer a teenager, nor a twenty something-er either. In fact, he was 33 years young and neighbors, not school kids scrunched a wicked grimace when Arooooooon walked by. He kept his vow and recorded each and every taunt on a notepad. He stored them under his pillow in the same bedroom he slept in as a child. 

It was a few hours before sun rise, on the eve of Aroooooon’s 34th birthday when his mother mustered up the courage to finally make a run for it – to the bus station – for a one way ticket – 2700 miles away – to be free of what she had created – her only child.  

The father smelled the mother’s escape exhaust because he rose above the thicket where he slept on the outskirts of town. He stomped single-minded to the home he had built with his own hands and braved the smells that sparked all the memories, of being kicked out, not so much for sloppy drinking, but for failing to light a fire under their boy’s breast.

 “Make him a captain of industry, a singer of Psalms,” his wife would scream, “Something! anything!” 

But she was gone now and as the father rounded the final corner, he whiffed an island of spruce and spotted the black shutters of his boy’s room and sighed. Another chance, he thought, to put an end to the boy’s aimlessness.

Pops still had a left over from the previous night’s drunk so he fell right at home slipping through the cat crawl space into the kitchen. He wondered out loud to his boy of 33 years young about circuit boards, the mechanics of a lawn mower, and the intricacies of a ceiling fan. He seemed to be getting somewhere too because the boy stacked toothpicks on the table in the shape of what appeared to be a log cabin.

There was Echo bowl later that same afternoon. They weren’t exactly attached at the hip, more like a locomotive and caboose with a million box cars in between, but the beer, balls and pins falling was a start. Pops flashed a few hand signals to the bartender. A liter of Wiser’s Whisky arrived. He gulped and so did his 33 year young son. The son stomped outside. Now the father followed to under the overpass where the brightest of Bazaars was always under way. A black market filled with beautiful wild-eyed drunks, louts, scums, and serendipeteers laying out their worldly wares onto the naked earth, from pinball machine parts to baseball cards to paper clips, porcupine statues.

Aroooooooon eye’s became like microscopes there.