*In case you’re bored and didn’t read the first part of this post – The Fun-go Man, here’s the link – https://brokenbatsbaseball.wordpress.com/2022/12/23/the-fun-go-man/
“What’s your name anyway kid?” asked fungo man.
The beer had gotten to me. A tear appeared in my eye, then another. They both roll down my cheek. I hadn’t cried since being above that bus motor, the hum of it so steady, unlocking a part of me I typically had no access to.
“This is no time for tears,” said pitching coach Andy Wetchman (Wetchy). “We got a game tonight. In less than an hour, this clubhouse will be filled with players and they got no time for feeling sorry for themselves, no time for distractions like that. Ambrosia is pitching tonight and he’s got control, elite control, not much junk, not much of a fastball either, but he throws strikes and so players got to be on their toes, focused come first pitch, ready for the ball coming their way. They’ll be playing jacks and hackey sack in preparation, playing right up until batting practice. Ya gotta be sharp when Ambrosia is pitching. No humming Esquivel in the outfield, no picking up stones and trying to flick them in the same spot, no rituals, no good luck charms. This is about skill and if there are bad hops, you block them with your chest, pick up the ball and throw the runner out.”
I stopped crying and looked at fungo man.
“My name is Trevor, but people back home called my Butch.”
“What…you play third base?” asked Wetchy. “They don’t pay much to play on this team, just enough for rent and some grub at Sal’s Diner, but we sure could use a third baseman. So do you play?”
Fungo man walked over to the fridge and removed three more beers.
“Hey, we gotta game in four hours,” yelled Wetchy. “No time for beer.”
Fungo man tossed me a beer.
“Like we need to be sober during a game,” laughed fungo man. “You’re so god damn stiff Wetchy. When you walk out to the mound, you’re supposed to loosen up the pitcher, not stress him out and cause him to groove pitches in the batter’s wheelhouse or get him aiming too much and throwing wild pitches. You could use a beer or three before the game, a little mental calisthenic.”
“What are you talking about,” snapped back the pitching coach Wetchy. “You don’t do anything all game, except chew gum and blow bubbles, pretending to be Kurt Bevacqua! You’ll never get your face on a baseball card. The day they make one for a fungo man is the day I hand in my uniform, cash in my last check, and go and see Linda over in Hanker County.”
“How you manage to keep her under your skin,” snapped fungo man, “is more of a miracle than Oil Can Boyd, all six feet, one inch, 155 pounds of him. He’s lucky a nor’easter didn’t blow him right out of Boston and you’re lucky that Linda over in Hanker County hasn’t done the same with you.”
Fungo man put his arm on Wetchy’s shoulder, squinted his eyes in my direction and asked what I wanted to know about the stadium. I repeated what I had told them before, about houses and castles and churches and bridges and all the things man had built, from teepees to skyscrapers to baseball stadiums, dugouts too. I took a big hit from the beer can, nearly half the can, and revealed that I liked to sleep inside stadiums, to find a cubby hole somewhere and doze off to the lingering smell of hot dogs.
“So you’re a loiterer,” snarked Wetchy, “a bum and so young too. Ah what the hell. If you can play third, we’ll give you a shot.”
“Why do you assume every human being is a baseball player?” asked fungo man, “or has the potential to be one? You suffer from a one track mind Wetchy. There are players and there are fans and then there are those who like to sleep inside stadiums.”
I took another hit off the beer, took a deep breath, let out a long exhale, and began to speak.
“I lost my parents to a double suicide and bought a bus ticket to San Diego, but that wasn’t my destination.”
“Where were you planning to go?” asked fungo man.”
“Anywhere but home. I had three weeks to use the ticket and I could stop and stay anywhere along the way.”
“So let me guess. Three weeks passed and you wound up in Marshville,” said an irritated Wetchy. “No one comes here unless they have a little baseball left in the tank….washed up prospects who lost their chance at making it, for one reason or another…..tripped over a sprinkler, busted their ankle, screw inserted, hobblers for the rest of their life, but good enough to play first base in Marshville, Bill Buckner their patron saint. Others took to cocaine and booze, spent years in the gutter, but experienced a baseball revelation, to pray to Jesus and to play ball, a Josh Hamilton species. And you? You come to Marshville and don’t have some tragic story ending in a return to the game that once made you happy? I don’t believe you.”
“No,” I said. “I just wound up here, as random as a monk parakeet in Brooklyn.”
“That’s not so random,” snapped back Wetchy, “because there are monk parakeets in Brooklyn and yeh, them and their lime green fluorescent feathers stick out like a toilet in a farm field, but they are far from random. They’ve been there for decades. Build nests at the top of electric posts. I’ve seen them up on Avenue J. You ain’t fooling anyone kid.”
Fungo man walked back to the fridge a third time and tossed me another beer.
“So, what’s with the stroller?” he asked.
“It’s where I stash my beer. Last thing my parents drank before they overdosed. I like sharing the euphoria they experienced. Reminds me that there’s still a chance.”
“Do you ever watch baseball?” asked fungo man.
“Oh yeh. I don’t remember when I first caught the fever, but the first player I remember was John Briggs. My dad was from Philly and he had a poster of Briggs up on his bedroom wall.”
I stood up and walked towards the water cooler, my back to Wetchy and fungo man. “I think I inherited my mom and dad’s melancholy, “the fits,” my dad called it. Whenever I got that way, dad reminded me that Briggs played 12 years and finished with a batting average above .250 and an OB% above. 350, signs of consistency, “which is what we’re striving for,” he would say. He taught me how to play strat-o-matic baseball and took me to baseball card conventions.”
“Do you collect sets or individual cards?” asked a warmer Wetchy. ” I see you as a sets guy, someone who likes completion.”
“I collect both. All kind of cards,” I said. “Come to think of it. I should go back home and get my cards before they seize our home.”
A few minutes passed. It was the first time in weeks that I hadn’t thought about my mom and dad, my mind suddenly occupied by baseball cards.
“I got an idea,” said fungo man”
He started pacing.
“Did you ever hear of the Continental League?” he asked.
“Yeh, my dad talked about it as a way to mellow the sting of New York losing both the Dodgers and Giants. A new league that never happened, right?”
“Something like that. Well, it’s about to happen again,” replied fungo man.
“What is?” I asked with sincere curiosity. “Don’t tell me we’re gonna turn Marshville and its competitors into the Continental League? I like that idea. We could compete with the MLB.”
“Well, that would never work,” said fungo man. “You know how the MLB gobbles up all rival leagues. But, we’re gonna tell anyone that asks what you’re doing here that your grandfather was set to be a journalist for the Continental League and when the league never happened, he passed on the journalism itch to your father and when your father died, his last words were “Continental Times.” It’s your turn kid.
“Turn for what,” I asked.
“You’re gonna write about every game that’s played here at Hawthorne Stadium and there are plenty of games. All teams play here, all 12 of them and on some Saturdays, there are four games, first one starting at 9:00 a.m. so get your pen and paper ready. It’s the beginning of the Continental Times. I have a copy machine at home and we’ll make hundreds of copies of your story and hand them out to the couple dozen fans who attend – game summaries, interviews, editorials. And don’t you worry about sleep. There’s room in the grounds crew room and I know Epstein, chief of the grass. Got plenty of room beside the rakes and hoses over there. I’ll have him rig up a hammock for you. And food? Plenty of peanuts, hot dogs, and coke. It won’t kill you. What do you say?”
Fungo man looked at Wetchy and then me. I laughed. So did Fun-go man. Wetchy shook his head and said, “Takes all types.”
December 27, 2022 at 12:07 pm
Purpose and belonging are what it’s all about. Even if sleeping next to ground crew equipment. Good to see Fun-go man find that. Very interested to see if you continue his story.
December 28, 2022 at 9:06 am
Thought I’d give it a try, a post that continues longer than one post. I guess sleeping near rakes and shovels could be dangerous. They might seep into his dreams that then become nightmares. I have trouble remembering dreams, but if I concentrate on the one or two things I do remember, then they sometimes mushroom into more details.
December 28, 2022 at 5:34 pm
I really like the idea of a continuing story. Looking forward to reading more.
December 29, 2022 at 1:21 pm
Thanks Bob. We’ll see where it all goes.
December 27, 2022 at 2:24 pm
I look forward to the first edition of the Continental Times. What a cool name for a baseball newspaper, Steve. May it prosper throughout the baseball land, fictional and otherwise. And may it include more references to players such as the unheralded John Briggs, one of the best acquisitions made by the Brewers in their early years. What a performer: 20 doubles, 7 triples, 18 homers for the 1973 Brewers, and 30 doubles, 8 triples, 17 homers for the 1974 Brewers.
December 28, 2022 at 9:15 am
Thanks Mark for the well wishes on the Fun-go man. We’ll see where it all goes. As far as John Briggs, I was reading his wikipedia page and it says he played for the Lotto Orions of the NPB, back in 1976 when he was only 32. I would think back then most of the players who went to play in Japan were older, at the end of their careers. Briggs didn’t too well over there so I guess he must have had the sad realization that it was time to retire.
December 28, 2022 at 11:58 am
The Johnny Briggs story is as intriguing as some of your tales.
In February 1976, the Twins released Briggs at his own request so that he could sign a more lucrative two-year contract offer with the Lotte Orions, The Sporting News reported. Briggs’ teammate with Lotte was former Dodgers infielder Jim Lefebvre, 34.
Briggs got off to a robust start with Lotte, hitting six home runs with 17 RBI in 21 games in April. In May, he told the club he wasn’t feeling well. Briggs was given two separate and complete physical examinations _ one by an American doctor in Tokyo and the other by a Japanese doctor _ and both showed nothing was wrong with him, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Briggs, however, insisted he was sick. He asked the team for permission to return home to New Jersey, but the team refused. Briggs left anyway in late June 1976. Because he was under contract to Lotte for 1976 and 1977, he couldn’t play for any other professional team, U.S. or otherwise, during that time.
In 1978, the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees offered Briggs minor-league contracts, but he declined, his hometown Paterson (N.J.) News reported. According to the newspaper, Briggs became an insurance salesman for Met Life and also played for a local baseball club in Lodi, N.J. in the summer of 1978.
“Baseball doesn’t owe me anything and vice versa” Briggs told the Paterson News. “If I don’t go back, I’ll have no regrets.”
December 28, 2022 at 3:55 pm
Thanks Mark for coming up with all that information about Briggs. All new to me. I love your knack for research! An amazing skill you have and then to write it up the way you do. A real treat and treasure.
It’s such a mystery what happened to him in Japan. Maybe culture shock to some degree? Or it’s almost like we could call it a syndrome, a sudden loss of interest in the game? In any case, it reminds me how hard it is, for so many varied reasons, to have a long major league career.