brewers baseball and things


death, montreal mirages or maybe this has to do with baseball?

A lobster crawls along the ocean floor and that’s only on TV. In the grocery store, their claws get rubber banded shut. They continue to crawl, but THUMP into the glass wall too. They turn around like bumper cars, crawl some more, thump into the glass wall again, and then again, and again. Must be frustrating. 

They look drunk or wounded and anyway, they’re too expensive and too complicated to eat. But I’ve heard that the flies in northern Quebec are so everywhere summer annoying that a Native American Tribe whose name I forget said screw it and went east towards the Atlantic Ocean and survived on lobster till autumn.

I would change my ways if need be and eat lobster, but I don’t know about those advertisements on TV for a hypoallergenic pillow. It’s  a 1-800 number and says things like, ‘ if you order now,  we’ll throw in a satin night-gown. It guarantees a great night’s sleep. I would never buy one but it’s a nice thought – a good night’s sleep. There are so many ads like this, one after the other, all guaranteeing a better life, from pills to skin creams to comfortable cars. I guess these days are filled with great idealism. It serves as great fodder for the critics, cynics and comedians as well. It’s a see saw world  and meanwhile, back to that lobster.

It’s escorted by blind fold equivalent dry to a kitchen and lowered back home, into water, only it’s not cold fresh water; it’s boiling hot water. The end. Strange way to die. Cows are tricked to the slaughter-house as well. Rabbits hung out on a clothes line and sliced head to toe. Birds snipered out of the sky. Deer and moose stalked and rifled. Humans sit in hospital beds attached to wires, moaning and groaning. Old baseball pitchers jump out of train windows into suicide valleys. Flat lines for us all one way or the other.

i wonder if before darwin took his boat around the world our ancestors looked at a chicken and said “oh, that white thing coming out of its ass, mmmmmm, I think I’ll crack it open and give it a try.” I guess they got the idea from other animals. Good thing they did, for omelletes sake.

i miss pay phones and many things, but evolution and technology and medical breakthroughs are great. It’s just that sometimes i feel really useless. I don’t know what I would do if the grocery store reverted to its warehouse roots. It would be like braille without bumps. I would go blind or i mean hungry or maybe both after eating some poisonous plant thinking it was celery. I’d  have to start over and learn new things, how to gather the right nuts and berries, fish, and hunt and what not.

I was reading the other day that the Pawnee Native Americans were star-gazing people and arranged their dwelling places on earth as a mirror to certain constellations. I’m not sure how that helped their day-to-day life but it sounds interesting.

There must be a constellation out there in the endless traffic light galaxy resembling one of the Brewers’ defensive shifts? Then, if all the buildings and stadiums suddenly disappeared and we had to start over, we could arrange diamonds and dugout shelters according to one of these defensive shift constellations.

Maybe the ocean would respond in some sort of rocky way with volcanoes in never before places. A Machu Picchu might form at a nearby park and a baseball team might even return to Montreal. The ancinet issue about the city having to build a new stadium would vanish as nature became a pitcher’s paradise with that impossible Picchu home run wall.

Is it asking too much? I mean who decides to put up all these condominiums anyway?

The heroic souls cemetery called Elysian Fields could remain and so could the physical place of baseball’s first game, on that field with the same name – Elysian in that city with another name – Hoboken. 

I always liked that name, hobo kin. The city sits beside the Hudson River and that river bends into bays and the massive Atlantic Ocean and there’s still a hobo wind with no color or destination. It dances an invisible dance and seems equally pleasant as it does cruel, realistic, like kin.



crayons and picket signs

The Atlanta Braves are not quite Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Miami, or Chicago White Sox pathetic when it comes to this year’s attendance, but it’s pretty damn close. The Braves are 25th overall, 22,107 per game, or scratch that, they just jumped ahead Cincinnati into the 24th slot and anyway 22,107 doesn’t sound THAT bad, only looks bad because Los Angeles, San Francisco, and St. Louis are all over 40,000.

It’s some sort of reverse marketing hype as opposed to Dem Bums of Brooklyn who enjoyed forward marketing hype and still do. Those ”loveable losers?” I never understood that. Maybe they were loveable, like many other teams, but not losers. Cripes, seventeen out of their last eighteen years in Brooklyn, 1939-1957, they enjoyed a winning record, including three seasons of 100 or more wins, seven trips to the World Series and one World Series triumph. And yeh, they lost six World Series and three other ones before 1939, two as the Brooklyn Robins and one as the Bridegrooms. The Bridegrooms? What kind of a name is that for a baseball team? Anyway, they – those Bridegrooms also suffered a tie in the 1890 Series (3-3-1) and that strikes me as a sin. Can you imagine a World Series ending in a tie today? There would be riots like there should have been in Milwaukee when Selig let the 2002 All-Star game end in a tie.

Maybe all the hype around Brooklyn is because it’s New York or Brooklyn or whatever and well, anything New York seems to get a disproportionate amount of attention and good thing too, probably saves baseball from going bankrupt, but anyway, what happened to the good old 1951 days when the Boston Braves averaged 3,653 fans per game. That musta been a blast, to be at The Wigwam Braves Field and having all that space and silence to watch and ponder a game, a major league game, no different from the game 17,000 fans at Fenway were watching or different, for sure, but interesting in its own right.

I say move the Braves back to Milwaukee. I haven’t made a picket protest sign yet, but I’m thinking about it. Unfortunately I’m in Montreal so no one would know what the fart I’m talking about, but a few people in Milwaukee are still bitter, mostly old farts and mostly as an excuse to get together and drink beer and remember 13 consecutive winning Braves seasons before being airlifted down south and yeh, the Braves won 14 divisions in a row there, but only one World Series and everyone expected them to win more with all that pitching, but they didn’t and this year, Atlanta is 14-34, tied with Minnesota for the worst record in baseball.

This is the ideal moment to return the Braves to Milwaukee and piss off Montreal, make them more like Red Sox fans who cry about curses. Montreal would then fight even harder for a team, maybe a relocated oakland or tampa bay.

Milwaukee as a two team city would result in more tailgating, but where? Who cares where! What good is a brand new stadium if only 21,000 fans looking like ants sit there? A local field filled with bleachers would be louder and the new Milwaukee Braves would win lots of games from all that enthusiasm.

And that new stadium being built for the Braves, the one where play is to begin next year could be turned into a giant dog park paradise with people from all over the world visiting, proceeds or part of them funneled back to the MLB to compensate for money lost at small venue Milwaukee Braves Field. I’m panting, tongue wagging, out of breath.


almost a book reading

There were three of us presenting projects this past Saturday at the SABR Quebec gathering and three other members, so we were six in all, a nice sized country at the Le Cage sports bar-restaurant beside the Bell Center. We shared a pitcher of Molson Export. The Blue Jays were on one TV, at home hosting the Dodgers. A hockey playoffs game was on the other TV.

One guy bought fish and chips. I bought just the chips. Norm King talked about his book –  50 Greatest Expos Games – or we all talked about it, about Bill Stoneman’s no-hitters, Dennis Martinez’s perfect game in the alcoholic recovering twilight of his career, Curtis Pride’s first hit at Olympic Stadium as a deaf man. It seemed appropriate that the Dodgers were on TV in that no one talks about the Dodgers in Montreal, not after Blue Monday 1981 when Rick Monday hit a playoff home run over Dawson’s head and there went the season down the drain.

When the food arrived, Patrick – the SABR Quebec president said, “steve, tell us about dreaming .400. I had it all rehearsed, hadn’t really slept much the night before. I was terribly nervous, but so was Norm King and so was Jean Allard, our third presenter. Jean is a long time P.A. announcer of local and international baseball competitions.

I chose the story Close Encounter to discuss. I could have read a sample and would have felt comfortable doing it, but people were eating. It didn’t seem like the time and anyway it was so informal and friendly. In fact when I mentioned the long shot thrill of Bill Lee endorsing my book, Jean Allard asked “Did you go up the hill?” That hill leads to Bill Lee’s home and mini baseball bat factory in Craftsbury Vermont. Jean had made the trip before.

I discussed my book for no more than 10 minutes, mostly about the story Close Encounter, about it taking place Easter Sunday, 1987, at  Milwaukee County Stadium, the Brewers being on the brink of winning their 12th game in a row to start the season, thrilling in itself, but even more in Wisconsin because of our local greasy spoon burger chain George Webb that we always called Le George Webb.

George Webb has been around since the 1940’s predicting the minor league Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association would win 17 games in row. They never did and were forced out of town when the Braves arrived from Boston. George Webb then lowered its prediction to 12 and hinted that if the Braves won 12 in a row, free burgers would be dished out for all of Wisconsin. The Braves didn’t win 12 in a row and they relocated to Atlanta in the mid 1960’s. The Brewers were next, a few years later, and this time George Webb did more than hint. They promised free burgers if the Brewers could win 12 in a row and holy crap, they did it in 1987.

The fictional character I created for that story – Sam Doobins was at the Easter Sunday game and he went to George Webb the next day and something happened there. He redeemed his free burger of course, but something else happened and it changed his life forever and that’s all I said on Saturday. It was a teaser because I wanted them to buy the book and one guy did and another said he would buy it from the publisher’s website – summer game books

I also traded one Dreaming .400 to Norm King for his book – 50 greatest Expos Games. A great moment…trading books, trading anything. I’ll trade you an aortic valve replacement for 1 year of car maintenance and I’ll cut your grass too. OK, fine I’ll throw in my Tim Raines rookie card. That must piss off the world’s corporate structure? Or maybe I should leave that topic alone? Politics + economics = over my head.

The last thing I said was thank you and Go Brewers. Later that night, the Brewers won in Cincinnati. Aaron Hill hit three home runs, including the extra inning go-ahead grand slam.


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one night long night

not exactly charboneau
down the lit-up walkway of yet another bus

saunters a boy with beast in his eyes,
expos hat on his head,
slipping into the seat beside the can
like it’s an old saloon or something.
you’d think he knew the players/passengers from some other life.
he’s got a deck of cards out and he’s fanning them with ease,
makes that ruffle cruffle crunch sound and no one can resist.
they all turn round.
one with hat on backward,
another no hat at all,
there’s a bible belt boozer, one from tobacco road, a tamiami swamper, an okie spitoon,
some are tall, some small, some singing, some shy,
tumbling towards beautiful nowhere,
and like a thousand times peoria pawtucketville plattsburgh before
the fit turn to flab and
15 minor league years pass just like that,
a wonderful shooting star
and no one made it
their lives one long beautiful anonymous night,
that tomorrow big league dream never coming
but everything’s gold anyway and never to be forgotten,
chiseled on invisible scrolls of second base smoke plumes
conspiring with other long lost nights and becoming clouds,
to rain down for someone else to forge the mantle new.

Micah Kila Kaʻaihue returned from Japan last year and served two AAA tours of duty, one with New Orleans, another with Syracuse, his overall batting average – .195. He was  released,  but he did hit seven home runs and that makes 14 consecutive years he’s hit at least one. Next stop northern league? Sand dune whiffle ball league? One more home run Kila Ka-ah-hoooo! You’re only 32.



not exactly a trip to the yard, but….

People still say, “Look over there, it’s the swimming pool where Willie Stargell launched home runs.“ Memory arouses mirage I guess because there is only grass where the small unroofed grandstand and a baseball field once stood and off in the distance, there is also the Stade Uniprix, where tennis tournaments are now played.

But it is located on Gary Carter street and there is that grass and an empty field, maybe not the exact location where Ron Hunt stood, but close enough. And I like staring at the grass and waiting like a kid might, lost in the universe, a zillion miles away from my home planet, anticipating that it might happen and then it does.  Someone either stumbles along or is already there, sitting on an adjacent park bench. He’s half-shaven and wearing a winter coat, probably sweating like Bill Stoneman did back in early September, 1971, on the Jarry Park mound. He knows what it’s like to have his heart yanked out and is happy to feed my hunger and so he tells me about that swimming pool and Stargell.

He never bothers mentioning Olympic Stadium. No one liked the Big O, not anyone I’ve talked to since moving here. The naysay and criticism is in fashion, almost cliche.  The holes in its concrete roof and the threat on human safety is all that matters anymore.

It was announced that in 2016, for the third consecutive year, major league baseball will play exhibition games at Olympic Stadium and so the stadium issues lingers and that’s ok by me. It’s a chance to revisit 2003, the year The Canadian Baseball League began play. Ferguson Jenkins was the commissioner.There were eight teams and two leagues, an east and a west. Seemed like a good idea.

The Montreal Royales were one of those teams. They played home games at Amadée Roy Stadium in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Sherbrooke is a very beautiful city I hear with mountains, rivers and manufacturing and is the former home to the Pittsburgh Pirates AA affiliate too. Mario Mendoza hit .268 on that 1973 team and Kent Tekulve recorded a 2.62 ERA in 1972 and well, the names Mendoza and Tekulve get me high on a cold, windy autumn night coming soon when leaves fall to earth and coupled with rain, stick to the cement and don’t move.

Mendoza symbolizes the mundane into magnificent for me, the mediocre into something celestial or longitudinal or at least a line, a Mendoza Line is medicine.  And in Tekulve, there is an ostrich flinging a ball submarine style at 90 mph while wearing dark glasses. But I’m way off topic.

Oh yes, Sherbrooke is wonderful place, both past and present , but its a 90 minute drive from Montreal. And sure, the Royales only played nine games at Amadée Roy Stadium before the team and the entire league folded. Bankrupt or something. The TV contract bellied up. And in that same season-2003, the Expos played some home games in Puerto Rico at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, 3,099 miles away. That stadium issue….a ghost all over again.

The National League welcomed Montreal into its exclusive club back in 1968 and the city of Montreal promised it would build a place for baseball, but didn’t and the team almost moved to Buffalo. But then as a sort of last resort, Jarry Park was transformed from a 3,000 seat overhang into a 29,000 seat venue and the powers that be let it be for a little while longer – 8 years to be exact or until the Olympics happened. The homeless Expos were on the move again, to Olympic Stadium. Only temporary, they promised, but a new stadium was never built.

Baseball was back in Montreal in 2014 and again in 2015 and it went well.  Sell outs for two consecutive days. Come cheer on the Blue Jays, they encouraged. We chanted “Let’s go Expos.“ instead, but the The Red Sox are coming in 2016, to face those same Blue Jays. We had hoped a regular season series would be played as a sort of next step in the process, but the current mayor of Montreal – Denis Coderre is a huge baseball fan. He’s made bringing baseball back one of his major issues. Hopes are high, but they have been before.

Oh well, there’s still that open field green grass Jarry Park and on Saturday, September 18, 1971, Ron Hunt was not hit by a pitch, but he did bang out two hits and score three runs. The Expos beat the Phillies 6-2, Bill Stoneman with a complete game for his 16th win. The attendance was 16, 6779 and if I squint my ears, I can hear them. I hope it’s the future.


cream cheese blues in need of an accordion

The final edits of my book of short stories – Dreaming .400 are now complete. The extra lap did wonders for the story “Expos Next Generation,” but that’s all I will say.

The release date has been pushed up two weeks, to the end of September. You can still pre-order the book or wait until it’s available at places listed on the publisher’s websiteWe’re also flirting with the idea of posting a PDF version of one of the stories. I’ll keep you posted.

I received the uncorrected or “galley” proofs of the print book over a month ago. The vain sensation of holding it in my hand and seeing my name on the cover didn’t last long, but it still felt kind of cool. I have been distributing them in the hopes of reviews being written and some have, to be posted in various places.

I’m slow when it comes to marketing and branding my author name, but I try to keep my mind open. In the next few weeks, I will be pursuing a number of on line avenues to draw attention to my book – a Dreaming .400 website, author page, Facebook page, and so on. The experts tell me it’s best to link all of the sites together so there will be an icon for each on this blog to click and be taken directly there.

In other news, I survived a cream cheese scare at work. Either the bagel was way too small or the lady behind the windshield was way too liberal with the cheese. All I know for sure is that it squirted out the sides and through the hole like play-doh and yes, that can be fun when you’re at lunch and have one hour to kill, but not during a 15 minute break.

I knew right then and there that cream cheese belonged in a pita or on wonder bread, something with a roof or cover, not a bagel, but it was too late. I had it all over my hands, nose and cheeks and I was hungry so I rubbed my face free with my finger tips and licked away, all the while saying to myself, never again, never again!

But I still had a job and that’s a good thing and my imaginary great uncle – Otto von Simchastein popped into my head as well. I hadn’t thought about him in almost a year. He always told me that in a previous life he was a fighter pilot in the SS Nazi army. That always struck me as kind of strange since my family is Jewish. Otto said it had to do with gilgul which is reincarnation in Judaism. Sounded good to me. I love bratwursts and sauerkraut. It ain’t kosher, but it sure tastes good and on a grill outside Miller Park is just right of paradise! To die for!

Otto loved attending free events. He took me to solar panel demonstrations, limerick recitals and my all time favorite frenzy of his – “Russian language classes, all you can drink Vodka.” I always brought a harmonica hidden in my jacket pocket because I knew how Otto could get after a few swigs of Captain Karkov, inventing little fortune cookie ditties like,

“One carries pampers on his head, another a case of beer. Do you have a favorite dead tree, free, you and me, see?”

And when I politely asked what the hell he was talking about, he would just slip into more ditties,

“A hangover is a leftover. The moon is a pill, still, we will find a thrill.”

If Otto were a real person I would buy him an accordion and invite him to a real simple place with wood bleachers, maybe the home court of a division three basketball team. He could roam the sideline and pluck strangers from the crowd and dance with them a while and when the waltz was over, raise up their arms in a Che Guevara triumph, crowning strangers with unexpected joy.

Speaking of joy, the Brewers now have a better winning percentage than five teams including the Atlanta Braves. And in Canada, the Blue Jays are kicking so much ass that even Montreal baseball fans are warming up a bit.


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.


stairway to St. Marys

The February booger freeze Montreal suffers less than its igloo past; thanks to Quebec’s hydroelectric power. The fire dance becomes a thermostat finger tap and presto; heat duct coils burn lava red. Toes yawn and what’s that over there? Expos’ red, white and blue splattered across the backs of Montreal newspapers? 

Nothing new but it feels new because it only happens once a year; if that; so merry freaking baseball morning subway commute! Good to see you Felipe Alou; the most popular manager in Expos history. Words; wonderful words on the backs of newspapers; “Alou one of this year’s Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees.”

The Hall’s been around since 1982 when George Selkirk became one of the first enshrined. Selkirk replaced Babe Ruth in right field at Yankee Stadium; took his number too. Born in Huntsville, Ontario; 9 years wearing that legendary number 3; hit .290, .400 OB% , 108 homeruns; maybe the best Canadian born hitter not named Larry Walker.

The Hall was originally located in Toronto, but moved to St Marys, Ontario in 1998. There’s 106 members; a mix of Canadian born players, managers, umpires, writers, and anyone from anywhere who contributed to the popularity of baseball in Canada. Players must be retired for at least 3 years and receive 75 percent of the vote. They stay on the ballot for 9 years assuming they get at least one vote every 2 years.

Bob Elliot, Corey Koskie, Matt Stairs, and Carlos Delgado join Alou to round out this year’s new members. Elliot is a baseball writer born in Kingston, Ontario. Delgado is from Puerto Rico but hit plenty of home run in a Blue Jay uniform including 4 in the same game; only been done 16 times and Delgado is the only one to do it in 4 plate appearances. He also hit 30 or more in 10 consecutive seasons; 8 of em’ in Toronto.

Koskie was born in Anola, Manitoba; career cut short by a concussion suffered as a member of the Brewers in 2006, but 9 seasons and 3400 at bats; 126 homers and a .376 OB%.  

Alou managed the best Expos team that never was; shut down by the 1994 strike with the best record in baseball. He managed the Expos for parts of 10 seasons; 1992-2002; won more than 90 games only once; in 1993, but he was loved and would be the most well-known of this year’s inductees if it weren’t for Matt Stairs and his many hats.

Stairs was born in Saint John New Brunswick and signed as an amateur free agent with the Expos in 1989. His one season in an Expos uniform was a sign of things to come. He went on to play for 11 different teams; one shy of the all time record set by Octavio Dotel and Mike Morgan; both of whom were pitchers which makes Stairs the vagabond position player King. He also played the 1993 season for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan.

Stairs played left field then first base and DH mostly as a part-time player, but he did log regular gigs with the Oakland A’s; hitting 20 or more homers between 1997-2000 including 38 in 1999, but his legend kicked into high gear later on and it was the stuff of little league dreams.

I felt a bit deranged impersonating baseball heroes on an empty diamond all alone, but I did it anyway. Bottom of the ninth and “Your attention please; now pinch-hitting for the shortstop; number 27 (insert my name)” and  I would always work the count full and guess right and BAM; there she goes and there I go into one of countless different homerun trots.

On August 21, 2010, Matt Stairs stepped to the plate. It was the 8th inning; his Padres trailing the Brewers 6-3. Kameron Loe must have tossed a sinker that didn’t sink because Stairs launched a two run home run and no big deal. For his career, he hit 265 in 5204 at bats or 1 every 19.6 at bats,  but this was more than a home run.

This was the 21st pinch hit home run of his career; a new all time record; breaking the previous mark held by Cliff Johnson. When I hear the two words “all” and  “time” bunched together in a baseball sentence, my teeth feel like wood and I start to bow or tip the hat I never wear.

Stairs finished with 23 pinch hit homeruns. 


11-year itch

A seesaw on a foggy cliff overlooks probably more fog is wonder. Why does one kid gravitate towards the pitcher’s mound and another second base and why does one sync mind and body and let all worldly burdens fall away like a snake-skin abandoned while another is heavy from the sound of his own mind?

Maybe we only appear equal before the starting gun sounds but something happens in that split second first step and only a few really and truly carry on; up at the Ichiro dawn perfecting their own hit, bunt, and run; everyone else walking dead; only going through the motions; reluctant since the initial fall; maybe it was a hernia surgery at 18 or getting fired from a dream job; or stuck in state of wince over being dealt a bad hand.

Harvey Kuenn was born and raised in West Allis, Milwaukee, Wisconsin long before the major league Milwaukee Brewers and almost 30 years before the Boston Braves relocated to Milwaukee, but the minor league Brewers played their games at Borchert Field on Milwaukee’s North side and in the 1940’s Bill Veeck wielded his magic marketing wand there and well; Kuenn was an only child and he loved baseball.

A baseball environments is no guarantee. Destiny’s obstacles are fiercer and anyway, ballplayers come from all kinds of places including Ed Porray; born at sea or Tom Browning; born in Casper, Wyoming; one of only 14 players to ever be born there and Browning pitched one of baseball’s 23 perfect games.

Or maybe there is one place where no mobile hangs above a newborn’s crib; dangling ceramic bat, ball, and glove and the chances of a father son mythic catch are slim to none and just the word baseball sends a bitter bolt across its citizens’ tongues.

There hasn’t been baseball in Montreal for 11 years; not since 2004 when Termel Sledge popped out to third base, but there were no suicides and life continued and the Montreal Canadians remain more popular than the church in French Catholic Quebec.

Raines or Dawson are sometimes  mentioned around the water cooler.  A park was recently renamed Gary Carter field. Warren Cromartie continues to canvas for baseball’s return. There’s even an annual spring training game at Olympic Stadium.

The death of baseball attacks in subtler ways; in back alleys and playgrounds where kids learn new languages and share stories and build their own mythologies. Baseball is not a part of that in Montreal anymore, but the kids don’t dwell on it. They do something else and the river dries up.

I wonder if Harvey Kuenn got a warm feeling in 1944 when he found out that Bill Nagel-the Brewers minor league third baseman was bought by the major league White Sox. Harvey was 14 years young and maybe thinking; “damn; if he can do it, so can I.”

Kuenn went on to play at the University of Wisconsin and hit .383 over a 3 year career; foregoing his senior season to sign with Detroit in 1952. There was no draft back then. He enjoyed a 15-year career; 8 of those with the Tigers. He had the dubious distinction of making the last out in two of Koufax’s no hitters, but he was feared by opposing managers as unpredictable; a bad ball hitter who didn’t walk too much, but didn’t strike out either. In fact he never k’d more than 40 times in a season.

He hit. .303 for his career with a .357 ob%, 2092 total hits and a walk may be as good as hit in some computed run scoring probability sort of way;  little league coach’s broken record mantra and patience is a virtue and carrots are good for your eyes, but I’d sacrifice a week’s salary to board a time machine and see Kuenn golf a dirt ball into orbit; off the wall for one of his league leading 42 doubles in 1959 or take a shoulder-high swing and line the ball down the right field line in 1952 when Kuenn not only led the league with 209 base hits, but he took home the rookie of the year award.  



Ron “rising up from” TheFLoor again

Maybe it was a fork prong stabbed in the back of a hand on a minus 20 degrees day or maybe Oklahoma and Nunavut can’t see the damn sky; dust or snow; the end always near and kin folk ready to break emergency glass and retrieve Armageddon shoes for one last dance.

There’s a big jump between Kalamazoo and Denmark;. kings and queens and flags and Karl Marx burned and “drift continent drift” screams the wind. Dave ??? what’s his name? the light skinned Japanese looking Red Sox who stole that risky base back in 2004; down 0 games to 3 and trailing in game 4; bottom of the ninth and it was close at second but he was safe and then this and that happened, Red Sox beat the Yankees 4 games in a row. Red Sox sweep the Red Cardinals. Church attendance soars.

I love impossible comebacks but Ron LeFlore gives me more goose bumps. I probably watched him steal a base or two back in the late 1970’s at County Stadium when the Brewers and Tigers were in that big bad AL East, but hell if I can remember. 

There were 7 teams in that AL East and I do remember Boston”s Dwight Evans wore an inspector Clouseau mustache and New York’s Mickey Rivers twirled a bat better than a bobby sock cheerleader did a baton. Andre Thornton was the professor in Cleveland; Cliff Johnson was a pock-marked assassin Blue Jay or maybe that happened in the early 80’s?, Lenn Sakata Baltimore wore glasses and I was convinced he had the secrets to atomic energy and I loved the Brewers, but the Tigers had Ron LeFlore and we all said “here comes LeFlore” and I didn’t know why then, but I whiplashed around to see anyway. LeFlore stole a lot of bases. He was traded to Montreal and that was a foreign country.

I think LeFlore still holds the single season record for steals in Expos-National history. Was it a good stolen base percentage? Was it up to sabermetrics satisfaction? I don’t know, but he hit for a good average; above .300 a couple of times, walked enough, hit 16 homers one year, and none of that really matters because Ron LeFlore is  remembered for a movie about his life and that movie is hard to find. 

LeVar Burton played the life of LeFlore in “One in a Million.” I think it was an after school special. I never saw it and have been trying to find it with no success. Grows up in a Detroit ghetto; deals drugs, hooked on heroin,chain-smoking by 14, stuck in jail for armed robbery or something like that goes the horse stable fable, but then LeFlore’s story turns an unprecedented direction and gets inspirational and downright greek mythological and heroic; legendary, like a nature show depicting the life cycles of some obscure wildebeest.

He plays baseball in prison ; no big deal, but someone sees and reports to Billy Martin-manager of the Tigers at the time and LeFlore gets a tryout during a furlough  from prison? or he was on parole? Anyway, he makes good during the showcase and he’s never played organized baseball in his life, but the Tigers sign him to some kind of contract and this doesn’t happen in real life or not anymore anyway? Does it? So the rest of LeFlore’s life is Walt Disney? Not really, but he may be the Duracell bunny in disguise or at least a cat with 9 lives.

I read about his life and pinch my onion arm; convinced this is a satire. How much can one human being suffer and endure before turning into a sour puss grinch or reach for the Socrates poison and end it all? Somehow LeFlore is still smiling and doesn’t make excuses or point fingers. 

He was booted off the White Sox sometime in the early 80’s for being fatter and falling asleep in the clubhouse or maybe because he was arrested and cops found amphetamines and a loaded revolver in his Chicago home. Probably banned from baseball at that point. Couldn’t even find a job selling peanuts so he he became a baggage handler at the airport, failed at  umpire school, played and coached in a few pro leagues that no longer exist, lost a child to infant death syndrome; got busted a few more times on drug charges, had his leg amputated in 2011, but couldn’t get disability insurance because he hadn’t worked for 10 years and the baseball pension plan?????

He’s waiting till 65; when Medicare kicks in for one more dance.