brewers baseball and things

sort of a happy ending

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Arnie Waters would have probably forked over an arm or leg, maybe even an eye for one more line of cocaine, but he wasn’t always like that. He was kind of quiet in high school, a cross country runner and a huge baseball fan who turned me onto OB%.

He had three posters in his bedroom; Darrel Porter, George Brett, and Cheryl Tiggs. There were piles of baseball cards on the floor and every Bill James baseball abstract back to 1977. A pair of running shoes. He slept on a water bed.

I remember the night Arnie disappeared for the first time. Our pre-drafted strato cards had already arrived from Glen Head, New York and we were still punch drunk as we were every year; playing on average 8 games per weekend before settling into a long season.

Arnie’s older brother drank and smoked and was seldom home, but he liked us; thought we were different. Every once in a while he would hang out and talk baseball and in the middle of a conversation, just get up and walk out. No goodbyes. Just a shake of his long straight hair and sweet ol’ nothing. Added to his mystery. He had street smarts, girls, played in a band and knew as much about Johnny LeMaster as we did. We looked up to him.

It was during one of our early season overnight strato marathons when he heated up cocaine on a flat sheet of tin foil and inhaled the vapors. We all tried and we all felt high, but Arnie looked as if he had found god and apparently he did.

dreamstimes.com

dreamstimes.com

That was the last night of Strato Arnie ever played with us. Within a few weeks he was gone, not dead, but gone as in out of town, dropped out of high school.There was nothing we could do other than move our games to another basement floor, so we did and we made it through high school without Arnie.

There are certain songs that remind me of those days; remind me of Arnie… like  Rush’s “Lessons” or  Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam.” I don’t forget faces or like to think I don’t so there were many times over the past 20 years when I was sure it was Arnie, but it wasn’t, but then it was.

I was at a baseball card show on Milwaukee’s South Side; Gonzaga Hall-92nd and Greenfield. He was bald and kind of fat, but looking healthy and awake. It took a few minutes, but he remembered.

We went outside for a cigarette. He spoke in confessions; needing to get it out every other sentence. He had followed his brother around for a few months and then found his own way from city to city with cocaine the only constant for 10 years or so and when crack cocaine become available, another 5 years.

jim_konstanty_autographBut there was a turning point as I sort of expected. He was assaulted in San Francisco on the civic center steps during the early morning of a binge; got his head bashed in and “what do you think I saw?” he asked me. I had no idea so I offered him another cigarette, but he was too much in a hurry to speak.

“A 1961 Jim Konstanty baseball card. That’s what I saw. It was floating above my head. There were like five or six of them looking like birdies in a cartoon.”

We both looked at each other and didn’t say a word for maybe a minute. I knew the rest of his story was gonna be predictable; clean and sober for however many years and a key chain to prove it. I wanted to savor the significance of a baseball card appearing to him in maybe the darkest moment of his life and I think Arnie did too.

“Did you even have the card?”

He lit the cigarette. “It was my brother’s when we were kids before I ever knew you, before we played strato. I don’t know where he got it from, but he gave it to me and a couple dozen other cards. That Konstanty was the oldest. He had the look of a visionary on his face, that squinting, like someone who could see over the bullshit towards light at the end of a tunnel.

“Like Jim Brosnan?” I sort of joked

“Yeh, like Brosnan. For some reason or no reason at all, Konstanty’s face, that card never left me.”

Arnie works at a Hardware store and collects cards again or I wouldn’t call it collecting. He’s trying to get back cards he sold for the other kind of thrill.

He’d probably be pissed if he knew I was playing this song in his honor. He hated the Beatles.

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Author: Steve Myers

I grew up in Milwaukee and have been a Milwaukee Brewers baseball fan for as long as I can remember.

8 thoughts on “sort of a happy ending

  1. I sort of knew a kid like that once a long time ago. Coolest kid in the 7th grade, Joey Andalora. Good looking kid, easy way with the girls that the rest of us just couldn’t comprehend. Long, black hair. Turned out, though, that he was collecting the ’77 Topps baseball set as were my brother and I. When he found out that I had almost a complete set, needing only around six more to go, he decided to come over to my house to take a look at my doubles to see if we could trade to help each other complete our sets. When all was said and done, I was a single Doug Rau baseball card from completion, and he gained around 40-50 cards. A week later, he came over with the Rau card, and it was the last set I ever completed. Not exactly best friends in school, but Joey pass the word around that my brother and I were “all right,” and not to be picked on by the tough guys. Joey smoked a little pot later on in high school, as did I, but to my knowledge, he had no great “fall from grace” that he ever needed to recover from. Just a couple of blue collar kids surviving in the way we did back then.
    Great post,
    Bill

  2. Thanks Bill. That cocaine, like booze, but not so much marijuana can hook people real deep and take em for a long detour.

  3. I remember playing on a friend’s Strat-O-Matic baseball game in the summer of 1971, when I was ten. I only played in once Strat-O-Matic once, I think, but I remember thinking how cool it was, especially the way the background stood out and looked like the scoreboard and the flags of Wrigley Field. I’m not even sure that I knew it was Wrigley Field or not, but I just thought it was cool. It must have been an older version, because the players included Tom Tresh. Then again, it couldn’t have been that old, because I just looked it up, and Tom Tresh played from 1961 through 1969. I don’t even think I ever saw Tom Tresh play, but I remember thinking that he must have been some superstar, some real great player who must be destined for or already in the Hall of Fame. For some reason, the only player I remember in the game was Tom Tresh. I just looked it up, and he actually only had two really good years, 1965 and 1966 with the Yankees.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/treshto01.shtml

    Glen

    • I hadn’t realized that Tom Tresh had died until just now, when I looked up his record. The Treshman was only 70.

      Glen

      • only 70? Sometimes I feel like 55 will be plenty, just like the speed limit but I’ll be grateful with 60 and give me 70 and I’ll take up crossword puzzles again.

    • I think you overlooked 1962 and 63 for Sir Tom Tresh. He was not only rookie of the year in 62, but got some MVP votes too and deservedly so after hitting .286, 359 OB% and 20 homers. Maybe that’s why you had Hall of Fame in the back of your mind. He didn’t turn out as planned or expected, but then again, most people and players don’t.

      I have a complete set of 1972 strat-o-matic cards. I’m always looking for people to roll some dice. There was one guy at work but he recently took another job. Dammit. I have the Tom Seaver card from that 1972 set in front of me right now. The stats are from the 71 season and it’s the best starting pitcher’s card I have ever seen.

  4. Never had the Stratomatic game, but in 1974, at the age of 16, I won the only radio call-in contest I ever bothered dialing in for. I lived on Long Island and the radio station was 66 WNBC am – the era was Don Imus, and the prize was a Dodeca baseball game. One more relic from my past that I wish I still had.

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