brewers baseball and things


how i got to thinking about god

my cousin eddie wasn’t really a baseball fan, but he took me to my first baseball game, a doubleheader against the Red Sox at Milwaukee’s old county stadium, in either 1977 or 1978. I was seven or eight at the time or come to think of it….it had to be 1978 and I had to be 8 because Eddie was ten years older then me. how else could he have a driver’s license? you had to be 18 to drive in wisconsin.

He loved cars. Had a massive car brochure collection. He said it was all about marketing and when I asked “what’s about marketing?” he said, “everything” and then he pulled out a lincoln continental car brochure, right there, right at the game, pulled it out of his mysterious black bag (back then you could go to games with mysterious black bags) and opened it up, pointed to the opera windows towards the back of the car and at a family of smiling faces enjoying a picnic or something like that. i was too young to get his sarcasm, but i liked the way he waved his hands around to make his point.

We took the bus to that doubleheader game. It was the first time i had ever been on a city bus. Eddie said it was the green limousine and to not forget it. Thinking about it now, it’s kind of strange that he never had a car since he loved them so much. he took me to the car show every year after that game and in between car shows he took me to the dealerships to test drive cars and more than anything else, i remember that he knew more about the cars than the dealers!

eddie said he was gonna make a fortune selling coupons. i was too young to understand his business plan, but looking back now, why would anyone buy coupons? Wouldn’t that ruin the idea of coupons, of saving money? anyway, Eddie had other ideas.

he loved the idea of catholic parishes, not so much because he believed in god, but because he hoped all the different ones could come together and build runways for extra terrestrials. he believed they were gonna visit earth some day soon, that they were our true ancestors, that all humans were related. i had seen close encounters of the third kind the year before so i knew about the possibility….

but back to the game, my first game ever that he took me too. i don’t remember much about it other than Dick Drago pitching for the Red Sox. eddie bought me a program and told me to keep it, that it might be worth some money one day, but he also told me to never sell it. it’s weird that i remember him telling me this, but i can’t remember a damn thing about the actual game or games since it was a double header. i love that name double header as in two heads as in baseball is a head game. anyway, he wrote some stuff down inside the program, on the scorecard which didn’t bother me since i had no idea how to keep score, how sacred it was for some fans, more important, way more important than twirling a rosary between pitches. on the home team side, he wrote – “if it’s all pre-determined, what’s the point of cheering?” it made no sense to me at the time. i threw it up as Eddie strangeness and was glad to know him. he was something different than my parents or my brother. he made me feel like i had my own road to travel down before i ever knew anything about four lane highways and trucks jackknifing and all that.

the brewers were good the next couple of years, really good and they kept getting better. they won 93 games in 1978 and 95 the following year, fell to 86 wins in 1980, but won the first half of the strike shortened 1981 season and then lost to the Yankees. But then in 1982, they beat the Angels in the ALCS but unfortunately were without their closer Rollie Fingers and lost lost to the Cardinals in the World Series. I defied Eddie’s wisdom and cheered my voice off. I remember going hoarse at the couple of playoff games my dad took me too and I remember being sincerely sad when Bruce Sutter struck out Gorman Thomas swinging to end game 7. I cheered that year without really knowing why. i just wanted the brewers to win. There were no thoughts of it being like a gambler wishing for the right cards or a disciple calling to Jesus. Eddie’s words across my program still didn’t awake any of the typical why are we here questions.

it wasn’t until a few years later when that happened. i was a sophomore in high school. my friend chris and i decided to not sleep. we picked up leaves after midnight, held them under the street lights and noticed for the first time that there were lines on the leaves like veins on our arms or like the lines on our hands. the branches on trees were so still and silent. it was kind of eerie. at some point, we started thinking about things we had never thought about before like time as a measure, a human measure, made up, that clocks were nothing compared to the sun and shadows and then we went to Denny’s. It was like four in the morning and we thought out about life being a book, the author unknown and that got me remembering what eddie wrote in the program he bought me because if life has an author, then it can’t be predetermined because authors have no idea how a story is gonna end and or maybe they do? i don’t know. In any case, I decided right then and there that i was gonna cheer for the Brewers for a whole new reason – because the book is still going and we can sway the author to change the outcome or at least scream loud enough to motivate Rowdy Tellez to play solid defense at first base.

last night Tellez did. The Rays and Brewers were tied heading into the tenth inning. rays had the freebee runner at second base to start the inning. Devin Williams on the mound. Ground ball to Tellez. without hesitation. he throws a perfect strike to third. i forget who was playing third. Maybe Urias? anyway, he tagged the runner. One out. runner on first tries to steal a few pitches later. tagged out. that’s two. the batter with two strikes on him. he strikes out. Williams faces two batters and gets three outs. brewers win in it in the bottom half. Willy Adames with a sharp single to left field.

I cheered. I thought about Eddie.



Davillo removes the curse

there was mold on the bathroom wall. the kitchen clock was broken. severe weather sirens echoed at noon every day. Cliff Longhouse called it “the great decline,” said it started when his mom and dad drove him home from the “miracle” maternity ward and continued through the years, but it was something other than tombstones he thought about as a teenager that had him putting a book down before finishing a page.

light poured in through his bedroom blinds….shadows too and together, side by side, light and dark, they reminded Cliff of prison bars. He could have moved out, found an apartment on one of the other sides of town, joined a church choir, clipped coupons and flirted with a dreamy looking cashier at the local grocery store, but he couldn’t and he knew why. it was because of the curse a middle-aged Danish lady once put on him. She didn’t wave a wand, but she promised that he would grow old and lonely and scatter brained, be unable to focus on anything, not even during Do Something Different Day, the most cherished day in Hankerville.

The day was announced on both AM and FM radio, spontaneously, sometimes three times in the same month and other times, only once per year. The rules were simple – do something different. walk to work up or down a never before street. Drive around in a rented hearse. Wear a red hat. Walk with a hippity-hop in your step. Sing out loud. something, anything different.

no one knew who or where the judges were, but they were there because friday night, at sun down, the winners were announced and rewarded with 10 tickets to Tubman’s Movie House. Most winners waited till the first of the month, when the new movie came out, to use their tickets. That gave them something to look forward to for 10 months. Cut the town’s suicide rate down by five percent.

there was one memorable Do Something Different Day that came when leaves had already turned yellow and red, broke free from branch home, and begun their wild see saw sway to the ground. And as they did their death ritual, a voice came, at first undecipherable, but once out on the street, all ears turned towards the place where no one had previously looked – megaphones sandwiched between tree branches and light poles… a voice with a southern drawl….

“Two boats been discovered at the bottom of lake makeawish.”

mothers and fathers made a bread line rush for the lake in search of something new – a Kansas City Athletics hat, a Montreal Expos t-shirt, a pliers, an anonymous family photo. kids left their bikes behind….everyone under a spell – the sudden need for something different, everyone ready to dive and discover.

And Cliff? he heard the words too, but they slipped in one ear and out the other, that damn scatter brain curse, his mind switching to thoughts of beer, to Hedwigs Pub and so that’s where he went. he sat in a booth beside Bobcat, Train Track Tom, Vandy the vampire and The poet, as always, lingered at the end of the rail, sipping from his customary pitcher of Blatz, no glass needed, reading from his latest poetry publication – “Hagar’s Kin.” he stopped in mid-poem and said – “Cliff, turn yourself into a pretzel, become solstitial,” the poet clearly under the effects of Do Something Different Day……the poet suddenly an alchemist.

Solstitial, thought Cliff, as in solstices, as in two polars, as in change, as in lack of focus, as in up and down, as in happy and sad, an all over the place way of being. Cliff laughed, an out of his mind laugh, so long and loud that he thought he had replaced his old mind with a new mind, a laughing mind, that maybe he’d been saved, but then he stopped laughing and thought about rivets and erector sets, his mind still operating like a baggage carrousel on the move.

“I’ll call my old friend Rilo Davillo,” said the poet. “He’ll be home and he never turns down a beer, not on Do Something Different Day day and don’t you worry Cliff, he’ll bring a bag of balls. And a bat? Look no further than our family doctor, the bartender, Hector. He always keeps one beside the grey goose vodka in case one of those punks high on energy drinks jumps the rail in search of a freebee.”

Rilo arrived in less than an hour and he was a beer drinker. it was in his DNA, stretched back to the beer baron ancestor days on his father’s side, but this was Do Something Different Day so he dangled a flask of Jamesons Whisky in front of Cliff and led him outside, up 4th avenue, to the Food Emporium parking lot where the lights stayed on all night.

“Take the bat and stand by the wall,” instructed Rilo.

“Give me that flask and I will.”

Rilo handed him the flask and counted off 60 feet six inches.

Cliff took a nice healthy swig, swiped his feet on the cement, spit on his hands and waved that bat like carney lansford and on the first pitch, he took a wild swing, low and outside, way out of the strike zone, and on the second pitch, he tried to check his swing, but couldn’t, inside, almost hit him. amazing that he was even able to swing, more than enough fodder to inspire Rilo, typically quiet and humble to offer advice.

“You got a lay off the useless, wild ones; they do you no good? Like those thoughts of yours, that distraction-itis. The poet told me all about it.

“I hate Do Something Different Day,” screamed Cliff, “Turns a poet and his friend into a buddhist Tony Robbins. I’m going back to the bar.”

Cliff drank beer all the way until 2 AM bar time, and that’s when he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and studied the room like a weather vane studies the wind, to know if there were an after hours party to attend. there wasn’t so he asked the bartender Hector for a bag of peanuts and Hector, on the Do Something Different Day frequency, handed Cliff a bag, no charge, and added two cans of miller beer. Cliff, already drunk, stumbled a while, but his GPS guided him up 5th avenue, then down 5th avenue, then across the Green tree bridge and sliding down the hillside.

He sat under that Green Tree Bridge, beside the water, and the sound of Lake Makeawish came to him. He forgot all about the peanuts and beer. Instead, he thought about the two boats at the bottom of the Lake and then his mind, his ears, turned towards that sound of water. he listened to it and for a change, he had no other thoughts except that sound.


polymania and the jays

there was Fenway Park. Just about everyone talked about its left field home run wall, the green monster. it was One Shot McGoo who turned left and not right, led the boys away from Fenway Park, to the Wigwam, home of the Boston Braves. it was 1947. it was two years after the war. Warren Spahn was back. One Shot McGoo didn’t need to convince anyone after that game, a 9-0 win for the Braves, a Spahn complete game shutout. Tommy Holmes went 5 for 5. Earl Torgeson hit a triple and drove in two runs.

the Wigwam gang was born. No one ever mentioned the Red Sox again.

and as the days and games passed, the boys began to wonder about wigwams and braves and what the words meant and so they snuck away to the library and found out about wigwams being domed dwellings and Braves meaning a lot, from Chippewa to Passamaquoddy to Iroquois Confederacy and maybe most importantly, in a practical sort of way, the beauty of a canoe, the way one is built. They loitered that same day in the alley beside Penticelli’s fish market and when the time was right, they swiped a few pickle buckets and with some ply wood slabs nailed to the buckets, they rigged up a raft and spent that summer paddling in no particular direction.

The Braves relocated to Milwaukee and eventually Atlanta. Boston became a one team city, but the wigwam gang still refused to root for the Red Sox. A few members of the gang had children and there was no scientific evidence that their love for the Braves seeped into their genes, some new DNA rebel strand passed on from generation to generation, but in the 1970’s, an invisible force guided the children of the Wigwam gang. They turned left, not right too and smoked lucky strikes beside the reformatory and a few years later, drifted into all you can drink coffee diners and at night, drank Schaefer beer from bottles at old man dive bars.

The sons of the Wigwam gang stuck together and most of them found their way, for better or worse.

The son of One Shot McGoo, birth name Tristan, mandala tattoo on his pitching arm, slipped across slimy rocks and swam into the rapids, head out of the water, a joint dangling from the side of his mouth. He jumped up on bar rails, ripped his shirt off and sang as cigarette smoke danced its way up to the x-shaped revolving fan hanging from the ceiling. he swore he’d jump off the Chuckskins bridge the night of high school graduation and he did and drowned and died.

Mitchel Doogans waxed on and on about the hydroelectric potential in waterfalls and the physics of a pitched baseball. Never did earn a university degree. Learned it all in the pubic library on his days off from the plastics factory.

Issac Bendrhymer set up a yurt, grew his own produce and petitioned the city council for the right to have cows and chickens in the back yard of the apartment complex where he lived.

Two Tones Trype was the only son of the wigwam gang who had no way, no idea what to do. he wondered about his father, still on the semi-pro baseball circuit and its million dreams. Two Tones delivered newspapers. Washed dishes at a pizza joint. Sat alone, at the end of a rail and never caught the fever of camaraderie, every social encounter a crucible, to survive.

But then came 1976 and the announcement that a baseball team was coming to Toronto, in another country, but closer than Seattle, the other expansion team…nothing a penpal connection couldn’t solve. And so Two Tones sent a letter to Baseball Digest, to the Fans speak out section, included his mailing address in the hopes he might exchange a few letters and if he was really lucky receive a fold up Blue Jays schedules that could easily fit into his wallet.

There were no replies, but there was still Toronto and the Lake Ontario it hugged and how it connected to other Great lakes, all that fresh water and merging with the St. Lawrence River and Montreal and further east, the wide open, massive Atlantic Ocean and what about Jays, the birds, where did they go in winter and were there hunters and gatherers in the region? native tribes and….

Two Tones bought his first pack of baseball cards and wondered about the printing press that made the cards and then he thought about the history of ink…..old ink from feathers and carriages and horses and rolling hills and mountains and sheep and who would be the first player the Jays drafted in the expansion draft and it turned out to be Bob Bailor and that rhymed with sailor and that was water and Two Tones remembered his father telling him about the raft he and the Wigwam gang built and Two Tones suddenly had a road; a polymania, a mad craving for everything in the universe.


doesn’t have to be hairspray

he had some outward signs…the grey patch of hair, a bit odd for someone 17 years young and then there was that cold, still gaze he shot at you, those pupils hinting at infinity, unsettling. But what really scared Wendel’s parents was the book he carried around with him….slept with it, brought it to school, parked it beside his dinner plate. Mom asked him where he bought it and Wendel wasn’t the least bit shy. “got it brand new, for a dollar, at St. Hedwig’s annual book bazaar.”

Three months passed and that book was always with Wendel like a third arm or something. He grew his hair long and took to smoking cloves.

Wendel’s mom drank vodka before sunset and well into the night, lubricating her pose of “respecting secrecy.” She waited for Wendel to fall asleep, tiptoed around his room with a flashlight and found the book, on his bed, beside his body. She recognized the tan cover and hitter’s stance. She scooped it up, retraced her steps back outside and committed literary sin; she read the back of the book synopsis. It didn’t strike here as a banned book from some old, prude decade, no illicit sexual exploration or mocking of an ethnic group. The author was Donald Gropman and the book was about JOE JACKSON, the baseball player, not the singer.

Mom then did what she always did with books. She asked a random question and then thumbed to a page, a passage, for an answer. she closed her eyes and asked,

“what is my son’s dark side?” and then she ruffled through some pages, exaggerated a long inhale through her nostrils and exhaled out her mouth, ruffled some more pages, decided on one or it decided for her. She moved her finger up and down, and then stopped, opened her eyes….page 70, lower right hand corner. An entire paragraph highlighted in yellow.

“in the territory of the Southern League (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisianna, and Tenessee), the spring of 1910 was one of the coldest on record. Sea lions swam in the ship canal at Galveston, Texas, where they had never been seen before. And for the first time in its history, the Southern League had to call all its games one day because of the cold spell.”

she jotted each and every word down, returned the book to Wendel’s bed, and went to see her husband. the two discussed the grey patch of hair on their son’s head and his still glaze and now these words, these dangerous, highlighted words.

“Maybe we should have given him a different name,” wondered the father. “a catcher’s name, maybe Milt after Milt May.”

“Yes, a catcher,” replied the mother….”close to the ground, rooted, a survivor.”

“Not some half-crazed doomsday lunatic named Wendel,” continued the father, “this cold spell cancelling games in the southern league will no doubt be more than enough fodder to ruin our boy’s optimism. He’ll drink hair spray, push around a shopping cart and whisper about the ice age doom that awaits us.”

Mom and dad’s concerns proved to be legit. Wendel mounted a poster on his wall describing the earth’s previous six extinctions and the seventh one we are currently stuck in. He began to rip away his cuticle flesh, blood dripping on the kitchen table…the sight of which forced mom and dad to play their card.

They called the Revive the Ritual Crew and the RRC, as they were known around town, didn’t hesitate, the desperate fiends; they came in a blue truck, armed in space suits, knocked down Wendel’s bedroom door, wrapped him up in a straight jacket and carried him away, to the headquarters where there were housing units, wrought iron fire escapes, cars, buses, pollution and back alleys and there were also trees and rabbits. it was a place where the days were split up in abacus organizational detail – morning meditation, reciting prayers, observing birds, listening to bus brakes, counting stars, all of it designed to tune Wendel and the other prisoners into the miracle of existence.

Wendel tricked the authorities with fake smiles and in secret, plucked dandelions and a few months later, turned them into wine and got all of the prisoners drunk and well, shit, god damn, they had a baseball team too and so he served in thought and deed – he studied pitchers and learned how to hit to all fields and play his position, the one his parents recommended – catcher, shifting his feet like a hockey goalie, blocking balls with his body.

…and there came a day when Wendel was deemed appreciative of his surroundings and therefore, ready to be reintegrated into society and when he left, he removed the rituals like a scuba diver escaping the suit, naked, relieved, returning to land and a new thought hit him like a never before breeze; that it was all tangents – meditation, prayers, doomy thoughts, camaraderie at the bar rail, and with that in mind, Wendel hankered for Seattle Pilots baseball cards and he had other desires too….there were Asian players to collect and Mariners games to listen to and with his new belly (he ate well with the Revive the Ritual Crew) a possible spot on the local softball team, as a first baseman because he was ready to be hospitable, to converse with baserunners, to share a little wretch over what we all have to suffer.


on accepting/welcoming the DH in Milwaukee, again

it’s been 25 years since the brewers inserted a dh into their line up. That’s when they were in the AL Central, spent four years there, from 1994-1997. Before that they dogged it out, in the tough AL East.

My earliest recollection of the Brewers dates back to 1978 when my dad took me to a double header against the Red Sox. The only thing I remember is that Dick Drago pitched one of the games for the Red Sox. I’m not sure who played DH for the Brew Crew that day, but it might have been Larry Hisle. He was one of a number of players who served as the DH in 1978….51 times for Hisle. He hit 34 homers and drove in 115 runs. The Brewers were 93-69 and yet they finished third in that tough AL East. They were Bambi’s Bombers back then, named after manager George Bamberger and when they changed skippers, to Harvey Kuenn, they got coined – Harveys Wallbangers…..bombs and bangers, lots of homeruns without Atlas physiques.

i was at the dentist yesterday. routine clean and x-ray. there was a painting on the wall of a herd of buffalo crossing a river. Reminded me of the brewers hopefully doing the same this year, entering a new land, an added DH bat, extending their playoff run. They’ve made the playoffs the last four years, but only advanced to the NL championship once, in 2018, losing to the Dodgers. i hate to sound greedy, but with their pitching and defense, anything other than a WS crown would be disappointing.

Newly acquired Andrew McCutchen has appeared in 14 games as the DH.

the Brewers are 12-7 and currently in first place in the NL Central.


for the donnie moore never gone ilk

if earth disappeared,
would the rest of the galaxy really care?
would they even notice?
i feel you donnie moore and
if i knew you before you shot your wife three times and killed her and then killed yourself,
if i knew you, i would have encouraged you to
dance dance dance
dance more
lift up your legs and
dance dance dance
dance more
and then just maybe,
all that misery woulda passed and there’d be
another day…


what about Sweet Lou?

i like the backs of baseball card stats, not in a nostalgic, cling to the past sort of way. I know baseball statistics have evolved and that the more we study numbers, the better the odds we might come up with fresh insights about player performance. I’m just bad at math.

Thankfully, some argue that the “eye test” is the truer way to evaluate player performance. And who knows, they may be right. Assuming baseball is still around in 2215 and cell rejuvenation the norm, there might be an alert, 186-year old who watched Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Trout and the current star of 2215 play and he or she could tell us who was the overall better player without ever mentioning a percentage.

But for now, we have numbers and well, like i said, I’m bad at math, really bad. I mean I get it if a player has a seasonal WAR of 12.4, as Yaz did in 1967, that he had an excellent year, that his contribution to his teams’ winning ways was off the charts incredible. This becomes clear in a non-statistical way when watching a special on that 67 Red Sox team and the narrator waxes on about how Yaz carried the Sox on his back, all the way to the WS. But how is 12.4 calculated? I have no idea and that’s frustrating and I have no one to blame but my self.

we had a strange requirement in high school – take two years of math and then choose between more math or a foreign language. I know. What the hell do the two have to do with each other? i have no idea. Maybe Noam Chomsky has the answer. Whatever, I chose the foreign language option because other than simple multiplication and division, math always confused me so this offer my high school made was gold. i took it as a get out of jail free card. i enrolled in spanish and learned how to say in the front of a suddenly intimate class, “i brush my teeth before i go to bed in the evening.” I said it with the right verb conjugation too and in the same language as Tony Oliva.

I mention Oliva in the same paragraph as my lack of math because he’s in the hall of fame, was elected this year by the veterans’ committee. And I think he deserves to be in the hall, but if he’s in, Lou Whitaker should be in too. His numbers are comparable, if not better than Oliva’s, his back of the baseball card numbers anyway…..more home runs – 244 and more RBI’s- 1084 and sweet Lou played second base, a position that has not historically produced too many homeruns. Jeff Kent and Robinson Cano are the only two second baseman who hit more than 300 with Cano still an active player, but his numbers questionable because of PED’s. Kent should be in the Hall too.

Mazeroski, by comparison, also a second sacker, hit fewer homeruns than Whitaker, had fewer RBI’s, and stolen bases, a lower BA, OB% and slugging percentage and yet, Mazeroski got elected in 2001. yeh, he hit one of baseball’s most memorable post season, WS blasts, but one homer does not make a career.

It’s questionable if loyalty to a team is a factor when considering HOF worth. A player sticking with the same team most likely is the result of many factors – nice salary, good living conditions, stable life for his family, etc. There’s a long list of players who spent their entire careers with one team, but when ranked in terms of most years, of the top 30 players, only four are not in the HOF, Whitaker one of them.

Brooks Robinson and Yaz top the list with 23 seasons. The top 14 are all in the HOF. The fifteenth is someone I had never heard of before, a Mr. Mel Harder of the Cleveland Indians. played with them from 1928-1947. He’s not in the Hall. Then there’s Whitaker and Dave Concepcion, 19 years with the tigers and reds, respectively, both not in. Ossie Buege, another player I’d never heard of is the fourth member of the top 30 that never made it.

Whitaker coupled with shortstop Alan Trammel are the longest shortstop second base double play combination in major league history. I’m not sure how to read defensive metrics but Whitaker didn’t make a hell of a lot of errors and i assume he had decent range, based on his 143 career stolen bases. he was a five-time all star, rookie of the year, world series winner in 1984, didn’t hit too good in the series, but he only had 49 post season at bats.

I remember Whitaker in the dog fight AL East, back when the Brewers competed there. Whitaker hit balls into the right field upper deck of Tiger Stadium, 146 of them. He also hit 98 homers on the road.

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ball, yarn, and stub

All those medications and mindfulness classes and Gil let his mind wander anyway, at a boy under the bleachers… stetson hat, bluejay feather jetting out, opened black suit jacket, t-shirt, jeans with holes in the knees, and what looked like a 20-sided dice dangling from his neck. He was tossing pebbles at the tru-link fence, looking dreamless, bored.

The typically shy, reserved Gil approached this boy and told him, in a semi-preachy tone, about the beautiful yellow stains on the outfield grass…”that they come from the sun or maybe dog urine.” The boy laughed and did a 180…faced the field for maybe the first time so Gil continued….”trees carved into bats and the ratter tatter of players on benches mocking pitchers and sometimes the taunting works wonders as balls fly over the home run fence.

“Come with me,” continued Gil. The boy had no where to be…never did, so he followed along, to Pinball Pharmacy where Gil bought seven packs of baseball cards.

It was Bert Blyleven’s 1986 Topps card that planted forever in Gil’s heart and so he explained to the boy all about Blyleven’s curveball and about there maybe, possibly, hopefully, being some up and coming A-ball pitcher emulating Blyleven’s 12-6 spinner and as sure as a Russian mountain, another up and comer, a left-handed batter who would guess that lollipop sweet sucker was coming and send it sailing towards the right field bleachers into hands, our hands, forever, the lottery ticket winner.

“You mean, you get to keep the ball?” asked the suddenly bewitched boy.

“Yes, you do,” replied Gil. “Yes, we do, and yes, we will.”

“Well then, it’s about time I told you my name,” said the boy. “I’m Uriah.”

And so an objective, a dream, was born, to catch a home run ball and it bound Gil and Uriah together, more powerful than ethnic ties.

The two lived in Sweet Hammer, Michigan and other than the annual firehouse parade, there wasn’t much to do unless you liked fishing down by Tater Creek. But baseball fans didn’t mind all the nothingness because Sweet Hammer was home to the short season, A-ball, Cave Dwellers. They played at Hellbright Stadium.

And there were home runs there, plenty of em, maybe no more than the year Calvin Catapalt hit 47, but that damn canopy of longer arms and hands always won as some lucky older bastard caught the ball, but Gil and Uriah didn’t pout. They drank beer and played a game, more like a simulation, no sides, no winners or losers, only the two of them. One would throw the rubber ball on the gutter-less side of Tinker Tech’s school roof and the other would position themselves like a fireman waiting for a suicide leap, waiting for that ball to drop in their hands. then they would reverse rolls, until the sun faded and they couldn’t see the ball anymore.

Of course, they could have bought a ball from Merle Harmon’s Fan Fair at the old Busby Mall. Or Gil could have asked his father for one as a Christmas or birthday gift. Gil’s Dad worked at Yadorian’s Slaughterhouse and yeh, he eluded the bottle fate and didn’t beat his wife or fall asleep in front of the tv. but he was quiet, skinny, sad. not meant to be a father. and Uriah’s father? he didn’t have one. didn’t have a mother either, not that he knew anyway. He was an orphan. bad luck for both boys or maybe not because Gil clung to Uriah and Uriah clung to Gil, two vagabonds, sharing straps of a heavy load.

Gil took up guitar and found a job in textiles. Uriah let his hair grow and became a gravedigger.

A Detroit Tigers caravan voyaged around Michigan, to seduce families into summer trips to old Tiger stadium. And they came to Sweet Hammer one winter….Trammel-Whitaker-Parrish-all of em. They talked and signed autographs and a played an actual game with fans, indoors, at the local armory. Whitaker flipped a ball to Digger Whooster, a janitor at the only high school in Sweet Hammer. Gil and Uriah didn’t play. Instead, they drifted to the right field area where the bleachers would be and it was John Wockenfuss who sent one sailing, into Gil’s hands and well, the two young men never made a pact or an agreement as to who would keep the ball if they caught one…no documents, no signatures, no nothing and they say when water boils, the impurities rise to the top and as sure as a dog barks and world wars ignite, a custody battle ensued. Uriah argued that he deserved the ball, that he’d been wronged too many times in his life, from being an orphan to being fired from Otto’s Muffler repair shop to his life as a gravedigger.

Gil listened to Uriah’s plea and nodded his head, but he never let go of the ball. His nails were long. He’d been growing them to play a better flamenco guitar and so he easily set that ball’s red stitches free and then he removed the leather casing, unwound the yarn, intestines to the moon long and when he reached the golf ball sized ball in the middle, he tossed it to Uriah and said, “this yarn is textiles; it’s mine and this ball is yours.”

Uriah had no idea about a baseball’s innards, but he’d seen plants and flowers bloom above graves and rabbits too, darting about with their big, bulgy, life affirming eyes so Uriah figured why not give it a try…he tapped the 20-sided dice around his neck and buried the golf ball sized ball with a grave and winter came and winter went and in spring, there were no magical mangos dangling from birch tree branches, but Uriah felt warm.

he tracked down Gil and the two wandered out to highway 69 and hitchhiked south, to Tiger Stadium, to the upper deck of the the right field bleachers, and in the bottom of the seventh with no outs, Johnny Grubb launched one their way and no, they didn’t catch the ball, but a few innings later, when the 27th out was recorded, they joined the others and got flushed from the beauty and well, they made sure to keep their ticket stubs.


baseball tongues

it wasn’t clear what he longed for more – a little tail on his fastball or something, anything to arouse a sensitivity to the miracle – the gravity holding our body parts together…blood pumping our hearts alive.

he was putting on the years and day after month after year, he never noticed a stranger’s flirtation or figured they were eyeing his over-sized ear lobes.

All he had left was a name, Merbata, a name his father gave him, a reminder of an older people, his people, a south of the Sahara nomadic tribe who relied on the stars to know.

every day at 1:30 PM, he set up a telescope and aimed it at the horizon to see McGibbons the mailman appear and then he watched as he got bigger and bigger, closer and closer and when it was true, when McGibbons entered his apartment complex and jingled keys and opened the mailboxes, Merbata put the telescope away and waited and when McGibbons was gone, he peered into his mail slot and it didn’t matter what might be there…. coupons, jesus christ solicitations, local barber shop openings, warnings of lead in the water. he loved it all…reminders of passenger pigeons and emotions shared and he enjoyed an ember of hope that there might be some more of those emotions, but he never found any and yet, he knew about crocus plants sprouting above genocidal tombs and this thought of ‘maybe again’ danced through his daze and hope bred hope because one day there was a ball of yarn in his mail slot and along side it, birch bark, curled at the ends with scribbles on it, maybe letters? he wasn’t sure.

The town Merbata called home had more than one traffic light, a local community college too; been there for over a hundred years, back when the town was called Intanka which meant sky momma. the school was a Mennonite affair with pictures of carriages and butter churning machines lining the hallways. A Professor Shmoolie taught linguistics there, he, a fourth generation preserver of languages, new and old so Merbata grabbed the birch bark and hoofed it over to the house of learning and Professor Shmoolie, not accustomed to visitors, welcomed Merbata with a cup of green tea, a veritable hookah of hospitality he was and after some talk of traffic lights and local saloons, he got right down to it, dissecting and deciphering the codes on the birch bark and it became immediately clear that there were details mentioned of some old game and more specifically, ways of tossing balls, “hoop-hat pitches,” they were called, appearing as clear and visible as cave paintings, initially anyway, but then gone like spectres, impossible to hit and the breasts and bulge behind such pitches were christened as hermaphrodite deities.

“and are there instructions as to how to toss one?” asked Merbata excitedly.

Professor Shmoolie reached behind himself, to a bookshelf of dusty Harvard Classics and removed a red stitched ball and said, “Follow me” and off they sauntered to the courtyard, between Cummins Hall and the Sanctuary and Professor Shmoolie explained more of what was written on the birch bark. Merbata grabbed the ball and backtracked sixty feet-six inches or thereabouts and a catch ensued and Merbata never knew he had it in him, but there it was….that ball appearing and disappearing and indy league call ups followed and 60 scoreless innings and a major league contract and a minor league assignment…

but then he awoke and realized all was a dream and for reasons of leaky faucets and dead end jobs, he went to church and Professor Schmoolie was there too and they sat together and the professor closed his eyes and whispered in tongues, an acapella of confusion to Merbata and when the professor’s trance mellowed and his eyes opened, he explained that his speaking in tongues was ancient, as old as a redwood, and that his scholar, erudite buddies called it glossolalia, and that it was bursting with symbols.

Merbata smiled out of one corner of his mouth, a happy to learn something new smile, this glossolalia and on the other side of his mouth, a brother gut feeling formed, a reminder of Derek Deitrich, his catcher friend.

he took a small breath and told the professor that his baseball buddies knew symbols too and that “we call them a catcher dropping signs for his pitcher and that it was also ancient, Darrel Porter ancient.”

Merbata didn’t feel so numb anymore. tears came to life in his eyes. he looked at Professor Schmoolie… “You wanna go for a drink?”


end of times bloom

they called him the splinter cause he got into you, dreams mostly. he was always in them, as a tall man or a small one, the physical-ness didn’t matter. it was the sound of his voice. high pitched and clear and not necessarily advice or magic incantation formulas. they were simple discussions or monologues, about utilitarian things – staplers, hole punchers, saws…..and yet, upon waking you always felt right and moved without ever looking back, moved like a three-headed monster was chasing after you, seeking a fourth head. in fact, you didn’t move at all. you sprinted as you put on your socks and shoes. you did it like you were crossing a river to freedom. you cherished your decisions too, like quitting the real estate gig in St. Louis and moving to Tulsa to wash dishes at Clem’s diner.

“why Clem’s?” sounded the voice and vice of doubt. “Why over 300 miles away? Couldn’t you find a diner in good old st. louieeeeee, stay closer to home, near mom and dad? they were getting old after all.”

you wore shutters over your ears…shutters that were closed. and you moved on.

it was the dreams that did it, the dreams the splinter provoked, they were so clear and so specific, to not only relocate to tulsa but to find Clem’s and who could resist destiny dropped down in front of you like a billboard….but minimum wage? yes, the bare minimum, the lowest common denominator because this wasn’t about money; this was about dreams and when you said yes to the turnkey motel with a mini fridge and hot plate place, you knew once again, it was right. didn’t know the specifics, but you believed in time, that all would be clear and sure enough, with dawn and sun and life coming back into objects, colors appearing, you looked to the other side and there was ONEOK field, home of the Tulsa Drillers and yeh, they were the AA affiliate of the blue dream Dodgers, the team of Fernando and Rafael Landestoy, but it didn’t matter, none of that major league chatter mattered, only the game did and AA or whiffle ball did the trick, took one’s mind off the panic of being alive.

and there were other splinter dreams that came true, mostly in the meeting of strangers and the clues they slipped your way, subtle ones, through seemingly inconsequential talk about the colorful spinning of clothes in a dryer and the way he looked at your hands fighting for a safe place to hide and how you leaned against a brick wall.

it was these seemingly innocuous words and looks that reminded you of a gift you were given at birth, of being left-handed, of being a southpaw and as luck and destiny and splinter dreams would have it, there was a parking lot at ONEOK Field and it was a place where not only cars parked but fans played soft toss and someone caught sight of you side-winding against a wall and he slipped you a business card and you instantly remembered the golden ticket in your previous night’s dream. you watched the Drillers win that night, a shutout, a 1-0 game that contradicted the team name, the Drillers, but you knew, all is never the same in baseball.

You called the number on the business card the next morning and it was decided right away, to meet at Caeser’s Gym that same day, early afternoon, “first pitch time,” said the man. He said not to worry, that there was plenty of open space, in the back, behind all the bar bells, bikes, and bench presses.

You had no idea how to pitch, not with control, but your ball moved and that’s what attracted the man with the business card. And before he could speak, you remembered another Splinter dream, of a being trapped inside a racquetball court filled with colorful butterflies…..and that first pitch you threw in the presence of the man, that first pitch, you dug your fingernails into the ball without any prior knowledge of a knuckleball, only that southpaw Wilbur Wood threw one and your ball drunk driving its way to the plastic tarp with a square on the middle, hitting just below the lower line, a tad out of the strike zone, but effective bait, no doubt a swing and miss and you were signed right then and there and you suddenly remembered about impossible dreams at the end of times and you knew it was always the end of times.