brewers baseball and things


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knuckleball dreams

She’d been waking up early, before the sunrise and it wasn’t an alarm clock beep, a crow, or baby scream that did it. She just woke up and started wondering if maybe Allah was calling her because she had heard that Muslim Sufi Dervishes woke up early too and spun around and felt good. But she didn’t like to dance; she just liked the name Dervish because it was so close to Padres pitcher Yu Darvish. The silence and darkness of those mornings is what she loved; that’s when she didn’t think about nuclear bombs and radiation and melting flesh, when she didn’t feel like a useless scrap around the toilet bowl that refused to flush.

Harrietta Sickle wore an orange baseball cap. It was plain, no indication of a favorite team or if she preferred the National or American League. She related to the river and the way it never stopped, reminded her of her mind – an airport baggage carrousel of thoughts that never shut off, round and round and most of the thoughts were guillotines and electric chairs and overdosing on valium, but she had hope buried deep within her too – thoughts that her mind was maybe like a dog and it could be trained if she only had a whip.

She worked as a cashier in the local grocery store. She’d look away from her watch and then back at it and only 10 minutes had passed and so when a customer showed up in the line and talked about the weather or the price of corn flakes or the mayor of Suddville, she was grateful for the distraction. Time flew which was a good thing because it meant she was closer to last breaths and tombstones. Harrietta liked making up things to put on her tombstone like, “Born alone, die alone and so I feel lucky to have met you, in between” and it was true she did meet someone, but she slit her wrists and died.

Harrietta wore her hair in pigtails. She woulda quit her job in a second if a baseball team ever came to town. Yeh, she would work in the ticket office all spring and summer, sell tickets in a booth until the third inning and then go watch the rest of the game for free and since she still lived at home, she’d have enough money saved for the winter months, to help her dad out with rent.

Harrietta liked to walk to Fitzgerald’s Pharmacy in the morning, in those pre-sunrise Sufi Dervish “mawnings” as her Boston Aunt used to say. She went there because they had a bundle of papers beside the front door which was interesting because no one read newspapers anymore, and that got Harrietta thinking about food stamps, phone booths, and VHS tapes, and all the things she’d seen in old movies. Her dad made her watch old movies. He said it was part of his duty as a father, “to pass on the bridge.”

One morning the sun didn’t rise and there was a man at the pharmacy in a suit and tie, an old tie, a wide one, solid green and that green signaled GO! to Harrietta. She walked closer. The man had a full head of hair and none of them were grey so Harrietta figured he couldn’t have been older than 30, not that it mattered. He was sitting on a bench beside the papers, rocking back and forth and humming and when Harrietta inched her way closer, he winked.

“They had a team here once,” he said while rubbing his ear, looking like a third base coach sending signals to the batter and Harrietta liked the codes. “We live in Suddville and we ain’t got no team, but they used to call this town Desperado,” he continued, “and we had a team, yes we did. It was a bandit team and the players were all trespassers or boonswicklers.”

“What’s a boonswickler?” asked an excited Harrietta.”

“People who made their own moonshine,” laughed the man. “That’s what a boonswickler was and probably still is. We just don’t hear or see them anymore. Each one of them added a special ingredient to make that moonshine their own, give it a signature, ya know what I mean? Like ginger or garlic or cinnamon. They didn’t agree on much, those boonswicklers, only when it came to bubblers, ya know drinking fountains; they agreed on that, on moonshine replacing water and drunking the town and people punched each other in the face for no reason, but they danced with strangers too.”

The man stood up and bowed towards Harrietta.

“Do you know about baseball cards? Probably not since you’re a lady, a nice looking one if you don’t mind me saying so. I like them pigtails. Not often I see a lady with pigtails. I’ve been to hundreds of baseball card shows and there aren’t too many woman there. None that I’ve seen anyway. Yeh, the majors got that Kim Ng and the minors got their lady managers and the announcers aren’t all mini skirts and high heels anymore. You women got brains, baseball metric brains, not that I like metrics, but baseball cards? I never met a lady baseball card junkie. You wanna drink?”

The man pulled out a decent sized plastic bottle of whisky from his black bag and it was morning and as depressive and suicidal as Harrietta could be, she never bothered with booze in the morning or the night either. She preferred weed.

“I live in a big complex,” continued the man. He was talking fast. “I pay 300 bucks a month. Collect welfare in three different states so I can live in a drunk state too. I love the government or I like screwing them over anyway.”

They both laughed.

“Three different P.O. Boxes. Three different states,” said the man, still standing, “and friends that mail me the checks. I eat at soup kitchens. That’s how I have enough money to collect cards. Why don’t you come with me to a baseball card show? They got em twice a month, sometimes three, all of em at St. Alyosius. Ever been to St. Alyosius? I’m not much of a prayer guy, but they got a nice organ there. Anyway, you should come along. Here, take a swig or mind my manners. I’m sorry. it’s still morning. No good young lady drinks in the a.m. or do you?”

The man let out a loud laugh and it lasted for a few seconds, a belly laugh.

Harrietta thought maybe early morning booze was a key?

“The pharmacy will be opening soon,” he said. “We’ll sit at the half moon diner in there and I’ll buy you a coffee and spike it with some of this here magic corn.”

He let out another laugh.

Harrietta stepped back.

“But I don’t know you. Don’t even know your name.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll be surrounded by humans at the diner. Watch tower humans. Guardians. Protectors of the species. They know me there. I won’t even kiss you on the cheek. Promise.”

He bowed again.

“Call me Hillbilly.”

Harrietta knew about suicide squeezes and Mordecai “three finger” Brown, but knew nothing about baseball cards. The only thing she collected were toothbrushes and that was only because she forgot to throw them out. She took a deep breath and nodded her head up and down, a yes, she’d take some coffee corn. She had something to prove.

“What’s your real name?” asked Harrietta.

“My jewel and yours to discover,” said Hillbilly.

Into the pharmacy diner they went and there was no one there, only Felicia the waitress and she had no smile on her face, as always, secretly wishing the world would get angrier. Harrietta sat down, looked out the window, and whispered about Eri Yoshida, about her being a girl from Japan who worshipped Tim Wakefield.

“Who the hell is Eri Yoshida?” asked Hillbilly.

“Shes in wikipedia god dammit,” screamed Harrietta.

Hillbilly liked her edge and waved his hand to Felicia for some sugar towers. And while she was busy fetching the sweet drug, he removed his flask and topped off their coffee with some boozy whisky and the rest was blurry for Harrietta because she didn’t usually drink. Hillbilly had her where he wanted her – vulnerable, open to baseball card ideas.

“It’ s my anchor, these cards, far away from “why am I here?” questions. Puts my mind on something. Fixated. Free.

And that word – anchor – made sense to Harrietta. She needed one, to make this earth the stop, to dig in and enjoy something, anything and Hillbilly knew it and in a beautiful benevolent conspiracy sort of way, there happened to be a card show that day, a Sunday, a holy day. He led the way. They took the Mitchel street bus west and went to 92nd and Greenfield.

Gonzaga Hall was attached to the St. Alyosius church.

“Welcome to the land of boozy breaths” said Hillbilly.

The doors opened.

Harrietta took an immediate liking to 1971 Topps – the black border and the Thurman Munson card, especially the Thurman Munson card, not only because the team name was green and player was yellow, but that rookie of the year trophy and the photo, most of all the photo, the action, the dust of a close play at the plate. Hillbillly bought her the card and Harrietta held it in her hand and for a change, for a moment, she felt right in her skin.

There was still no team to cheer for in Suddville, but that night she dreamed of knuckleballs and when she woke up she realized that the pitch had nothing to do with knuckles. It was all fingernails. She laughed and reached for the Munson card, only 751 more cards to complete the set.

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bell towers and Red Sox rookie stars

*this is a continuation of the previous two posts.

The grounds crew room was warm. There were no windows. The overhead pipes looked like stiff, above ground tree roots. The hammock didn’t sway. There was a slow drip of water from one of the pipes, bit it didn’t bother me. It was like the motor on the bus – a consistent, repetitive sound, soothing, a dark lullaby. I slept.

“You awake from your nap Trevor?” asked fungo man. “Or should we call you Butch like they did back home?”

“Doesn’t matter to me,” I said while falling out of the hammock and landing on my feet, standing up, a decent dismount.

“Well, how about we give you a new name,” said fungo man, “since you’ll be doing a job you’ve never done before – a writer for a new league, a new town, a new place to sleep.”

“And new hot dogs I hope.”

We both laughed.

“We’ll figure it out,” said fungo man. “Let’s discover your style and then we’ll come up with a name.”

I didn’t know what to expect about this new league and its 12 teams. But I knew all games would be at Hawthorne Stadium, and that a batter had three strikes to work with and that there would be chalked lines, and the delicious possibility that a game could go on forever, like that two-day, 25 inning marathon between the Brewers and White Sox back in 1984.

Fungo man walked towards me and patted me on the shoulder. “We’re gonna decide everything about this new Continental League. And you, my friend are a member of the Pigeon Committee. You get to vote on all matters.”

“Pigeon Committee? Why Pigeon?” I asked. “Why not Lion or better yet, a Robin Committee in honor of Robin Yount and Robin Roberts. There are no baseball players nicknamed pigeon.”

“No, it’s gotta be pigeons,” insisted fungo man. “They’ve come a long way.”

So much for voting I thought, but didn’t get a chance to express my opinion. Fungo man had more to say.

“From passenger birds carrying messages to them pigeons performing figure eight flight patterns, all together, every morning, looking like an aerial school of fish…that’s how we’re gonna be.”

It struck me as a tad communist, but it did remind me of my dad reeling off teams with a unified theme from the Gas House Gang to the facial hair of the Oakland A’s to Harvey’s Wallbangers and anyway, I had no other place to go and I liked this fungo man….

Wetchy, the pitching coach, was another matter…he struck me as a bit of an ass, someone who always needed to get in the last word, but he had given me a stack of empty notebooks before my nap, the same kind, he said, he used to track pitches, 154 lined pages per book, all that virgin paper. I reached for one of them. I was going to jot down this pigeon concept, but didn’t get a chance. A young man with a turtle neck walked through the door. He was wearing tan corduroys and brown shoes. He had a big smile on his face. He looked like an ivy league honor student. Couldn’t have been older than 20.

“This here is the manager of the Hawthorne Madcaps. His name is Billy Tomcat, but call him Catty,” said fungo man. “He might be young, but he knows his advance metrics and isn’t afraid to follow a hunch either, best of both worlds.”

“I hear from my cronies,” said Catty, “that you will be joining us on the Pigeon committee and that you will be writing about the Madcaps.”

“He’ll be writing about the entire Continental League,” interrupted fungo man.

“The hell he will,” screamed Catty. “He’s writing about the Madcaps and that’s it, that’s all.”

Fungo man removed his cap and bowed. The grounds crew room suddenly felt more like a dictatorship than a commune, so much for pigeon unity.

“And don’t forget,” continued Catty, “it was God who brought you here, as certain as a cow’s moo.”

I knew what had brought me to Hawthorne Stadium and it wasn’t god. It was thoughts of John Briggs and sleeping inside Memorial Stadium, as certain as a suicide squeeze. The door was still rattling when in walked another guy, shorter, with a straight jaw and large forearms. I had him pegged as a third baseman and I was right.

“This is our third baseman,” said fungo man. “Lance Henchman. I’ll leave you guys to it. Let’s get outta here Catty and let these guys talk.” Fungo man winked at me and then he and the skipper exited the scene.

“I deconstructed radios as a kid,” explained Henchman, skipping any hello, how do you do formalities.

“Did you put them back together?” I asked.

“So, you’re a smart ass,” said Henchman.

“Only when someone asks for it,” I replied.

A breeze hit my face. It wasn’t from outside. It couldn’t have been. There were no windows in there and no air conditioning or fan either. It made me feel alone and wondering what the hell I was doing there. I had the suspicion that I was being set up, framed. What was the point of getting involved with this team, this league, this Henchman. It would all suffer the same fate as wood stadiums and the Seattle Pilots – death and disintegration like my mom and dad, six feet under, eaten by worms. I wanted to be alone, to not be attached, to not suffer the here today gone tomorrow fate of us all.

I walked quickly to the door, opened it and stepped into the open air, under the seats. I looked to my left and the outdoor gate was still there, the same one I had entered through, a few hours earlier. I thought about the hill I’d seen when I first got off the bus. I had a tent and a sleeping bag. I could sleep there, under the trees, find a soup kitchen, loiter at the library during the day.

I could feel Henchman trailing me.

“Hold on Butch,” he yelled.

I had no idea how he knew my name. My suspicion grew. I ran as fast as I could and distanced myself from him, surprising since I had the sleeping bag and tent on my back, but Henchman had that belly. I ran until I was out of breath. To my right was a laundromat and attached to it, a giant chimney, a minaret that extended into a bell tower way up there, at least three Fenway Park green monsters high. There was a ladder on the side of the building. I stepped on the first rung, pulled myself up and continued.

“Stop,” screamed Henchman.

I looked down and there was Henchman, shaking. I knew about these practical people, guys like Henchman. Sure, they could deconstruct radios and handle the hot corner, but those were all gravity bound tasks. Ask them to climb a minaret and they would cower like a turtle crawling back in its shell.

I took one rung at a time, easy-peasy. I had a knack for climbing buildings. My dad used to compare me to Ken Griffey, the way he scaled walls and turned would be home runs into outs. I could have gone fast, could have reached the bell tower before Henchman made it half way up, but I wanted to see him suffer. I thought about my parent’s suicide and the injustice of it all, me, alone, orphaned at 23. I wanted revenge on the world.

Henchman was whispering some self-help mumbo jumbo to encourage himself to carry on and I have to admit, I was impressed by his resolve and determination, but it still smelled fake, contrived, like a set-up and yet, there I was, still as a Buddha statue, waiting for Henchman to catch up and he did and we climbed together. It was like I was under some spell.

I or I should say we eventually made it up and over the last hurdle, a short wall. We were inside the bell tower. I was calm, as calm as a no wind, early morning. Henchman was out of breath and sweating, but he had a smile on his face. He started laughing.

“Do you collect baseball cards?” he asked.

The question was delightfully random, completely out of nowhere. He didn’t give me time to answer.

“My favorite all-time baseball card is the 1972 Topps Red Sox Rookie card featuring Carlton Fisk, Cecil Cooper, and Mike Garman.”

Henchman sat down in the lotus position. I did too. I felt seduced, but liked the idea of rookies, of starting over.

“I wondered what happened to Garman?” I asked. I looked at Henchman. He shook his head. He didn’t know.

I suddenly had a lot more questions.


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Fun-go Man strikes again!

*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.”


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The Fun-go Man

The doctors said my father Frank suffered from “nervous complications.” He’d close both his eyes and then open them, over and over and over, some sort of twitch. There was nothing the doctors could do for him.

Dad never pocketed a nine ball on the break, but he tried. He bought a mini pool table for our basement. We played all the time. I liked the way you had to hit the balls in order, 1-9, every shot filled with so much possibility, all those balls banging and with a little luck, that nine ball might fall in the pocket for a victory.

My dad kept his boiler room/janitor job his entire adult life, 35 years and then he retired at 53, and no, he was no Cal Ripken in terms of consecutive work day streaks, but he did his overtime. He also stayed married to my mom too and in all honesty, I don’t remember them ever fighting. They weren’t always holding hands or kissing in public and didn’t have couch cushions that said “happiness is marrying your best friend.” They had their private lives like over the road truckers being away from their husband or wife for long stretches and those marriages lasting and so did my parent’s marriage.

I had read about single men dying young and experts saying it was because they ate a lot of macaroni and cheese and tuna fish and tended to drink booze. And I had some friends who grew up with single mothers and they told me about trips to the soup kitchen and food pantries and a slew of messed-up boyfriends to help their mother pay the rent. Not my my mom. She didn’t have to work double shifts and she always had pocket change to buy me baseball cards which jumpstarted my obsession – to complete every year’s Topps set. I’ll never forget missing one card from 1980. I didn’t know the player’s name, just his number – 623. I had every other card and then one day I got it. It had taken me an entire spring and summer and all my paper route money to get that card and I don’t think I’ve ever felt better than when I got that number 623 Gorman Thomas.

Mom and dad took an interest in my life too. We went to the zoo every year on Thanksgiving and we always ate dinner together on Monday nights and then watched a football or baseball game. Our getting along so well and them getting along so well made it shocking when they both overdosed on valium and beer. I was 19 and still living at home. I was the one who found them. There were police investigations about a possible homicide/suicide, but it was pretty obvious from the scene that it was a double suicide – two empty bottles of valium, one on my dad’s chest, the other under my mom’s chair and beer cans all over the floor, some standing up, a few flat on their side and a couple dented and mushed. I remember staring at those cans and thinking how they resembled land mines and how fragile life was and how fleeting happiness could be.

I had never worn a straight jacket, but I think how I felt that day was what it would be like if I was wearing one. I couldn’t move and could barely breathe. I had no brothers and sisters and all my other relatives lived out of town and I wasn’t close to any of them anyway so I just packed a small bag and attached a tent and sleeping bag to it and bought a bus ticket to go west. I picked San Diego as my destination but I had a ticket that allowed me to stop and stay in whatever city I wanted. I had three weeks until I had to get to San Diego or be stranded in whatever town I happened to be in and I had no intention of making it all the way to San Diego. I liked the idea of being set free in who knows where strange town and having to stay there, to start over, and deal with all the newness. I had like 100 dollars plus the bus ticket and anything would be better than our house and all those cops and journalists asking questions.

I always sat in the back of the bus, right above the motor. That sound provoked me. I went in and out of crying spells and anger tantrums. More than once, the drivers of the different buses threatened to kick me off, but I told them what had happened and he or she would put me in the front seat, reserved for the elderly or handicapped and we’d talk and that had me loving America more than I ever had in my life. I don’t remember what we talked about, but it was nothing profound. It was just good to talk to someone. I stopped in various towns. Spent one night in a motel for 20 bucks. It had a TV. The three weeks passed fast and then, there I was in this town whose name I had never heard before. It was warm and hilly there. Not too many green trees, but other kinds of trees. I’m sure they had names and classifications, but I didn’t need those. The shelter they offered was more than enough. I slept in those hills, under those trees and never really thought about coyotes or mountain lions or getting eaten to death. I didn’t care. I just wanted to stay outside and listen to the weird sounds of insects and birds and look around at all the stars so that’s exactly what I did and I pretended that I was a member of some Native American tribe that believed my mom had become the moon and my dad one of the birds that strangely stayed in the branches of the tree I had made my temporary home.

I eventually grew tired of that tree and the moon and wandered into town. There were a lot of dirt roads and an abandoned gas station. I found the main street. There was more than one traffic light and a lot of small houses, some of which were shacks with aluminum siding. They looked like mini hangars, the ones that house airplanes. I still didn’t know the name of the town. I found a nice space under a storefront awning. “Keep clean and there be no problem,” was written on a piece of cardboard and stuck against the window. I liked the communication so when I had to go the bathroom that night, I made sure to piss in a plastic bottle and the next morning I found a sewer and emptied it. Made a nice sound as it hit the water way down below. I still had 50 bucks and the soup kitchen served three meals a day, weekends too.

I eventually found out the name of the town. It was Marshville. It said so on the post office front door. I had no letters to send, but I had a lot of energy that day. I started seeing things – rolled up pieces of newspaper, fallen branches, tumbleweed and beer cans and I liked all the broken promises in everything like a branch no longer connected to its source and a beer can already drunk and a used condom already used. . I wasn’t much of a drinker back then…..but beer was the last thing my parents drank and I wanted to feel what they felt, not the desperation, but the elation and then like destiny or something I stumbled on an abandoned stroller and knew exactly what to do – go to a booze store and buy beer, lots of it, a 12 pack, hide it in the stroller with the curtain pulled down over the opening. No one would know I had beer on board. They’d think I was a good father. I still had 40 bucks. I walked and drank for a long time. It was like sleep walking and then when the beer ran out, I woke up.

I hid the stroller in some bushes and then kind of suddenly……suddenly because my head had been down, there it was – Hawthorne Stadium. That’s what it said on the red brick wall in fat black letters. I wondered what a Hawthorne was? Some sort of bird? Underneath the name was a bat and a ball. I tiptoed towards the back. I don’t know why I tiptoed. It was fun. I slipped under a chain. I loved exploring the innards of a baseball stadium. I once slept inside Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and thought about touring the country and sleeping in each MLB stadium, trespassing, loitering, always at home. I loved the top of the first when the players, when the defenders shot out of the dugout like bottle rockets, each with its own destination on the diamond or grass.

And so there I was, under the chain and inside. I walked and a fence was open. It was the home run fence. I looked at the warning track and outfield grass and off in the distance, the brown dirt. I was in the outfield bleachers. I looked to the right of the bleachers. There was a building. It was the other part of the stadium. I walked under the stadium seats and knew this was a great place to sleep. And if I was nine ball lucky, I could get to know an old beer vendor and he could get me beer and we could drink together and hopefully he wouldn’t get fired and we’d become buddies all summer. It was dark under the seats and I liked it. I heard some metal scraping the cement floor. I followed the sound and came to a door marked clubhouse. I entered. There were two people standing beside lockers. The light was on.

“Game today?” I asked, half scared of getting busted and half sincerely curious.

“What the hell are you doing in here?” asked one of the men. They were both wearing a uniform. “This is the clubhouse. It’s for the players. Get outta here before I call the cops!”

“I just have a few questions, mostly about the stadium,” I said with a surprising lilt in my voice, surprising because it felt like confidence which I usually didn’t have.

“What kind of questions,” asked the same man who had threatened to call the cops.”

And so I started talking about houses and castles and churches and bridges and all the things man had built, from teepees to skyscrapers to baseball stadiums. And what d’ya know, the other guy in a uniform walked to a fridge, removed three beers and offered me one.

I was already drunk, but the beer didn’t hurt any, the generosity in the giving loosened my tongue even more.

“Dugouts too,” I said. “I’ve never slept in one but the Indians used to have dugout canoes, probably still do somewhere.”

“Ambrosia is pitching tonight,” said the man who gave me the beer. “it wasn’t my idea. It was his.”

He pointed at the other man.

“That’s the pitching coach,” he continued, “or that’s what they call him anyway.”

“And this bozo is our charity case,” said the pitching coach. “He hits fungos to the outfielders. The organization doesn’t have the heart to let him walk.”

“Hey, I’ve been here longer than you Wetchy!” snapped back the fungo man.

“I’m Andy Wetchenman. They call me Wetchy. I’m the pitching coach and the fungo man, we just call him Fungo.”

“Did you ever see the players not have fun with me?” asked fungo man. “How could they not have fun with me? I hit them balls to the wall and over the wall and in between, those perfect fungo blasts that inspire over the wall catches. I betchya those catches they make raise up their morale.”

I popped the top of my Pabst.


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towards sun-drenched lands

It had been there for years, stuck in the corner of Tucker Bandwith’s bedroom, leaning against the wall. Tucker never touched it, not out of respect, more disinterest than anything else. He never called it a bat. To him, it was a club because he was into ancient cultures, long time ago cultures, Neanderthal and caveman cultures when supposedly men carried around clubs that helped them ward off monsters, dinosaurs, and saber-toothed tigers.

It was an official bat. Some old ballplayer used it, a real MLB player or that’s what Tucker’s dad said, insisted, in a slur, a drunken slur. He had some connection to the player on the bat, but he never told him what it was. Dad gave it to him in the hope he’d catch the fever and he did, but a different fever – cowboys and punk rock music. Had an album collection that snaked around his room. He wore string ties with brooches and combat boots. He sprawled out on the black and copper- colored shag carpet in his bedroom, read the liner notes of albums and listened to music, the names of songs and albums, even the musicians didn’t matter, only the love he had for the lyrics. He dreamed of becoming a rancher and the dream made its way from his head to his heart to his hands. He rode horses, held reins at the local, indoor stable and on the rare day when it was warm outside and the livestock roamed or reclined, he studied the ways of cows sprawled out on the earthen floor, especially the way their tails waved in the wild, unpredictable breeze.

But then there came a foggy day, so foggy that you could only see the bottom half of downtown skyscrapers and in the suburb where Tucker lived, the water tower completely disappeared. Tucker had never been part of such a day. No one in Broomsville had, Broomsville, the coldest town in the nation, with 347.7 below freezing days per year, but never any fog and then so suddenly this fog, like a Woody Guthrie dust bowl blues rolling in thought Tucker. His caveman instincts kicked in; he picked up that bat, that club and prepared himself for whatever might suddenly come in from the fog, into his private 8×12 bubble. Minutes seemed like hours. He had his Star Wars watch to prove it. He rubbed the bat and it was smooth. He stopped for a second and for the first time, he read the name wood-burned into the barrel. There were actually two names – Louisville Slugger and Pepe Frías. He wasn’t sure which one was the actual name of the player, but it seemed strange to name a kid after a town – Louisville though he knew a girl named Georgia. Anyway, he chose “Pepe” as the name and began to make up a little jingle to soothe his fear of fog…

“born in a railroad track town
wearing an imaginary crown
Pepe Frías makes me clench my fists.”
about a land that no longer exists.”

And he took his song to heart or to his hands; he clenched them and then squeezed them around the bat handle and a creature suddenly appeared out of the fog, a dwarf of a creature with a computer screen for a head, a keyboard chest with all kinds of letters from all different kinds of alphabets – Cyrillic, Latin, and Chinese. There was a purplish brown liquid oozing out from where a human’s belly button would be. It mumbled in low baritone sounds not making any sense. Tucker grabbed the bat and started swinging. The computer screen head soon popped off and that purplish brown liquid started oozing from its arms which were mufflers and from the legs which were mini cement coal plant towers. He kept swinging that bat round and round and up and down and he made solid contact each and every time and he didn’t stop until the creature stopped speaking in that horrible low baritone. A strange silence, a loud silence began.

The fog lifted and Broomsville returned to cold and dark and all was well and right and fine except for the animal rights activists who insisted Tucker had killed an animal for no reason at all. Tucker pleaded with them, insisted that it wasn’t an animal, that he didn’t know what it was, but it made a scary sound and seemed ready to attack, that it was an act of self-defense.

The activists didn’t believe Tucker. They chased after him and they had gas station nozzles that shot gas and large softballs which were actually hard and they reared back and flung them at Tucker who ducked down alleys, kept a decent distance, avoided his attackers, but they grew in number when word sprang up about Tucker “the animal killer.”

Tucker knew every Clyde needs a Bonnie so he ran to his high school and waited behind the old elm tree; he waited for the wonderfully blue-haired, skinny, daughter of a construction worker – Ms. Penelope Dagger. Nothing needed to be said. They held hands and raced toward the Ludding Sea. Tucker positioned the bat under his armpit. Penelope scooped up a decent sized branch and together they sprinted across back yards and over fences and along railroad tracks. They knew all the shortcuts and soon the water appeared. You couldn’t see the other side. It felt like forever, They waded out into the water and drifted, staying afloat thanks to the bat and the branch.

The sun crawled slowly across the sky. Tucker and Penelope tried to bury their fears and enjoy the salty smell and cold, but refreshing water; they tried to feel gratitude towards the wood that kept them afloat, but they couldn’t help looking all around, for the boat that would inevitably appear, an Animal Rights Activist boat that would kill them. Instead, a few minutes later, a canoe appeared and two paddlers asked about the bat and they knew Pepe Frías, knew he was from San Pedro de Macorís and knew his 1976 Topps baseball card, him smiling in a Montreal Expos uniform.

“Any friend of Frías is a friend of mine.” said one of the men. He smiled. “Give me that bat and we’ll give you a ride.”

Tucker handed over the bat, climbed aboard, and with the barter complete, he sang his song,

born in a railroad track town
wearing an imaginary crown
Pepe Frías makes me clench my fists.”
about a land that no longer exists.

No need to clench your fists,” encouraged the paddler. “You’re heading to a land that still exists. You’re already there. It’s the nowhere land.”

“The now here land,” added the other paddler.

Now here thought Tucker. He looked at Penelope. They enjoyed the cold breeze and the seagull soars up above and the purplish clouds on the horizon. It wasn’t long before a fishing boot appeared. The canoe paddlers said a few words and the fishermen extended their hands and Tucker and Penelope stepped on board and then a few miles up ahead a larger cruise ship came into view. Tucker and Penelope slipped onto the back deck and no one noticed. They eventually joined the shuffleboard crowd and made small talk with an old couple from Dusseldorf. The ship was headed south, to the Caribbean.

They watched the waves bubble up behind them as the ship raced on…


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and a deer still eats grass

The chips, glass of green olives, and 2-liter Mountain Dew moved slowly along the conveyor belt, getting closer and closer to the cashier and her red lipstick. Herman Beeline didn’t know her name or her birthday, but he knew she was big…big in lips and big in breasts and she liked to talk, mostly about coupons which was more than enough for Herman. He envisioned her as the lady who would one day make him big brown paper bag lunches with little notes tucked inside, notes that had thoughts on them and these thoughts would occupy Herman’s mind as he earned his keep, delivering the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania newspaper.

Herman thought about grabbing the chips, eating a few and then reaching over the conveyor belt and touching the cashier’s forearm and in the process, end his anxiety, maybe her’s too – that feeling of being totally alone. He woulda rolled the dice if his mom wasn’t there. She knew he eyed the lady cashier and she knew he liked to eat and sealed packages were never a deterrent so she pointed with her index finger for Herman to look away from the lady and the food and it wasn’t that Herman was overly obedient; he was just scared by his mom’s still eyes so he chewed his nails and when he completed all ten, he swivelled his head 180 degrees and looked at the rack of movie star magazines which didn’t take his mind off the cashier, but then he spotted a magazine he’d never seen before, about the size of a baseball digest; it was a 1979 farmers almanac.

Herman grabbed the almanac and opened it up. There were weather predictions, horoscopes and an article on “nuclear families.” He read a few lines. It reminded him of his own family – a house, a mom, dad, brother, and dog named Raja, totally nuclear, but then his father flew the coop, headed north to Alaska, “To live off the land.” The brother went to jail for robbery and when he got released, he joined the Moonies or got abducted by them and disappeared. The dog died of cancer and so did the “nuclear family.” It was just Herman and his mom after that and despite here being strict when it came to food, she was loose as a lush about booze. She became Herman’s personal bartender, every night at sunset…Long Island Ice teas, Harvey Wallbangers, straight whisky, or whatever other concoction she invented.

Herman didn’t like that word nuclear. it reminded him of his family that once was. He flung the Almanac like a frisbee and then stomped up and down the grocery store aisles, grabbing cereal boxes and syrups and throwing them to the floor. He was eventually asked to leave and when he refused, a big armed security guard escorted him out of the store. That’s when he really started thinking about nuclear, about the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant meltdown two months earlier, on March 5, 1979 and another Three – Three Rivers Stadium – home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the same state as the nuclear meltdown. It was then that Herman knew; he knew it as certain as a mouse knows how delicious cheese is; he knew that Three River’s Stadium was built on top of a nuclear reactor and one day it too would suffer a melt down too and then what? a Kent Tekulve submarine pitch would disintegrate before reaching Manny Sanguillen’s glove? Omar Moreno chasing down a deep drive would stop in mid-stride and tip over, hyperventilating. There’d be no more heckling Mike Schmidt of the cross state Phillies as fans melted into their seats and disappeared like his nuclear family brother had.

Herman needed to know the future, to warn people of this nuclear meltdown at Three Rivers Stadium, to keep them far away on the day, the players too. This was a big deal in the small, newspaper delivering life of Herman Beeline. He was being called upon to be a super hero in real life, an RS, a Radiation Savior and no surprise that RS also stood for Runs Scored to inspire the Pirates in the 1979 National League East pennant race.

Herman knew scientists and he went to see them and they told him to take notes, collect data. “Of what,” he screamed. “The end is near.” He went to priests and pastors and rabbis and gurus and they all told him the same thing – to look towards the hills, that the answer was there, in the unknown, but Herman had no time for mystery and mystics, he needed specifics, the when Three Rivers Stadium would suffer a nuclear meltdown.

He called a palm reader he found in the back of the very paper he delivered and the palm reader charged him three dollars and told him to never take wooden pennies and that did Herman no good so he consulted an astrologer from the same paper and she gave him a date – July 20th. That’s when the nuclear reactor under Three Rivers Stadium would suffer its meltdown and well, that was only four days away and John Candelaria was scheduled to pitch for the Pirates, against the Astros.

Herman needed help to spread the warning word. He closed his eyes in search of a strategy and the cashier with red lipstick immediately came to his mind. She came in a slide show montage, all the images he’d seen of her, of receiving cash and doling out change, her blushing and smiles and dancing in place. God, she was perfect. He raced back to the grocery store and explained to her his predicament, Pittsburgh’s predicament. He asked her name. She told him. Sandy. They talked about coupons, the wind and well, she accepted her role as Radiation Savior 2. They made capes with RS on the back. They printed out fliers, warning citizens and players of the nuclear reactor under the stadium and the impending meltdown. They contacted the local media – newspapers and television. No one listened.

On the day of the game, Herman and Sandy sat in the bunker they had dug and listened on an AM transistor radio and an amazing thing happened. There was no meltdown and the Pirates won, a complete game by Candelaria and a home run by Phil Garner off the Astros J.R. Richard.

Sandy never made Herman brown paper bag lunches, but Herman bought a flask of Smirnoff and mixed it into sunny delight orange juice and he invited Sandy for a drink of a “screwy delight” and a wander down by one of the three rivers and so they went together and a deer was there, standing on all fours, looking calm, eating grass, and eyeing them every once in a while.


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the umpires who chewed gum

She woke to AM talk radio every morning, before the sunrise, in total darkness. She woke to words of a war in a faraway land, car crashes and four-alarm fires. “Redhead” Radcliffe took a few deep breaths, but rather than relax her, she felt annoyed at the life she’d chosen or rather, the life her father had chosen for her – work at the feather shop, the arranged marriage, a devoted husband, and two kids.

She raised her arms and stepped out of bed or tried to, but the realization that she had never exercised her own free will was overwhelming. She slipped back under the covers and longed for something different, something not so tuned to her father’s vision.

She switched the radio to FM, to classic jazz and though she didn’t know the names of bands or songs, the bass and hi-hat sounds ignited a daydream. She would have no husband or children and there would be no job at the feather shop. Instead she would work at a warehouse picking orders with fellow “clock watchers,” as the boss called them because they had the habit of staring at the clock hanging from the wall. It would be no Big Ben, but it would still inspire dreams, of the hands moving faster, to bring the day to an end, but those hands would move slower than molasses and time, in the minds of the “clock watchers,” would became a tyrant, one with no remorse. It would always win.

The warehouse would have no windows and when the boss wasn’t spying from his second floor office, the workers would talk, none more than the oldest employee – Lockhead McDade. He would talk to Redhead Radcliffe about centipedes and global warming and then talk some more during their 15-minute break, at lunch, and insist on walking with her after work.

Lockhead would exaggerate his gait on the way home, doing what he called the “silly” walk, longer strides than usual, a nice rhythm, thought Redhead, a seductive one. The two would walk side-by-side.

Lockhead would invite “Redhead” Radcliffe to dinner and she was free, had no husband, no kids and so she would accept. It would be a small, one-bedroom apartment and they would eat salmon and pasta and Lockhead would flip on the TV, to watch a baseball game, all of it brand new to Redhead. She would have never seen a baseball game before.

“You see the way the pitcher tries to outsmart the batter,” Lockhead would explain, “a quick pitch, his change of speeds, but the batter gets his chance in this duel. You’ll soon see the way he calls time and steps out of the box to upset the timing of the pitcher.”

And then Lockead would finish his salmon , stand up and declare that he was born between Shakespeare and Hitler, in April, around opening day and…

“so what if the average fan is 57 years old, there’s no need to speed up the game. Leave it be. Let the empire known as baseball run its course like the Roman, the Inca and the endless others. Let it fade away. There will still be games, maybe not MLB games, but people will play all over the world and not a penny will be earned. Yes, people will wear mitts and hold bats and there will be championships and scouts and pine tar incidents and foul poles and if stadiums are destroyed to make room for expensive condos, baseball fans will transform old junk yards into diamonds and they will toss and swat anywhere there is grass and dirt, even on pavement and at the base of mountains and on top of buildings and to the hell with instant replay and robot umps. Let pitchers and players adjust to the imperfection. There are cracks in tombstones, the names no longer legible.”

Lockhead, apparently done with his speech, would then walk Redhead to the door and ask her to leave, but rather than upset Redhead, she would welcome his unpredictability. And the next day at work, Lockhead would stomp up the metal stairs to the boss’s watch tower office and Redhead and the others workers would watch as Lockhead tied the boss to his chair, turned off the light and slammed the door. He would then stomp down the metal stairs, three steps at a time, back to the “clock watchers.”

“Any ball that hits the roof is an automatic double,” he would announce. “The home run wall is obvious, the rack in the back. We’ll use cardboard as bases. This will be warehouse ball and we have plenty of players, more than enough for managers and four of us to be umpires and we will call balls and strikes and declare fair and foul and we will chew gum to welcome managers and players to argue with us.”

And before first pitch, old Lockhead would walk to the wall, unhinge the clock and remove the batteries.


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the droopy-eyed motel

Terminal Hedwig had no idea how he got there – to those railroad tracks high above a deep gorge with a slip through the ties a certain death.

“how ?” he kept asking himself. a drunken wander? abducted by a cult? extra terrestrial parachute? suicidal leaning?”

he didn’t breath too deep. didn’t want to rattle his body one way or the other and slip through the ties, so instead, he carefully, with a sudden will to live, tiptoed to the other side, the safe side, to the rest of his days, some sort of 12th chance or however many it would be and next thing he knew he was flat on his back, staring up at a late afternoon sky, the shapes of clouds like those of a naked, skinny-to-the-bone prisoner of war, a rib cage sky, and he cried as he lay there and then, his belly boiled, hotter than a heating pad followed by a sudden burst from somewhere within him or outside him and a realization that it didn’t matter where it came from.

it had happened and he shot up like he’d been jabbed with epineprine and there he was, standing on the outfield grass of some diamond or field or yard, a pitcher’s mound in place but not much else, no bases or traces of dugouts, only that mound and what lay beneath it…ghosts? dead ancestor bones? both?

Terminal Hedwig knew in his gut that he had defied death, gravity too. he raced around what were once probably bases, round and around he raced and stumbled and fell and got up and raced until he could breath no more and then he thought about beer and green tea and knew that some days called for one and others days called for the other. The sun was settling now and the clouds along the horizons were orange and purple, a time to celebrate, a time for beer.

he reached into his pocket and felt some paper, six-20 dollar bills….. enough for a 12 pack of Pabst cans and three nights at the droopy-eyed motel and its stained carpets, smell of a damp basement, 25 cent vibrating beds, mirrors on the ceiling, artifacts of what once were but would probably never be again. he spotted a newspaper on the dresser, beside the bed and that paper had the funnies and a sports page with box scores and it wasn’t from that day or even that year, but it didn’t matter because as he was reading it, he forgot about the experiment he was a part of, this life thing that involved death and then he looked towards the wall and there was a tv and he turned it on and there was cable and the mariners were playing the diamondbacks at 7 and he didn’t know much about either team.

he popped a top on a pabst and then another and another and abracadabra it was suddenly 7 and the Mariners took the field.


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even the dogs did a little jig

The pre-game, pagan circus show starring Loretta Le Croix and her swordfish swim did nothing to change the fortunes of the Catchemcan Cannonballs, pride of southwest Kentucky…..nor did Nathan Leopold’s cave man chants while tiptoeing across red hot coals. There were vodka screwdriver giveaways, replica baseball player doll days. Nothing worked. The Cannonballs kept losing, but there were crowds….oh, there were big crowds and not only baseball fans. Preachers came and so did cops and peddlers and tinkers and thieves and they all shared cold feet and straight-faced jaws of indifference.

Manager Billy Oppenheimer loved to sleep, so much that he installed a bed in the dugout and caught some zeeee’s between innings, insisting that his dreams would solve the riddle of “incessant losing.” He woulda been fired too if he hadn’t a been a local boy, born and raised in Catchemcan. Local pundits said this aroused pride in folks who were so weighed down by all the abandoned coal mines, poverty, begging on the street, and the revival of hoovervilles.

The skipper’s bed became the hunchback good luck charm of players, specifically relief pitchers, not so much to right the ship-to win, but to ensure a steady flow of whisky in the bullpen. There were bootleggers back there, disguised as law-abiding citizens and they slipped them relievers dark jugs of moonshine whisky. The onlookers, those feisty local prohibition police came closer.

“What’s you got inside the jug?” they asked “We run a peaceful operation here! It’s a break, ya know, a little baseball medicine, for the residents.”

“Nothing but molasses,” promised “Tender Legs” McGoo, the closer. “Good for our pitching hands. Gives us a better grip.”

“Doesn’t seem to do you a lick of good. Can’t win a damn game, but alright then,” surrendered Johnny Law, not too interested in investigating the situation any more, preferring the breeze and daydreaming about their honey’s pot roast later that night.

The relief pitchers typically sipped the moonshine, giving them a slight attitude adjustment when they entered the game which was often and they were good, real good, about the only good thing the team had, in terms of statistics anyway….hadn’t given up a run in sixty three innings. Those damn starters walked the clean-up hitter, the nine hole, the third string catcher. They couldn’t hit an ocean with a beach ball….couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning and the game was already over by then. But those fans stayed, them and their cold feet and straight-faced jaws of indifference.

Well, one day them relievers drank moonshine all game long and in gulps too, out of nerves. you see, there was a perfect game going on, as rare as a toilet in a farm field for a Catchemcan starting pitcher and so not one of them relievers was summoned and they kept drinking and they passed out in the pen and never did find out if the perfect game happened. They woke up with a hangover, a headache worse than a heartache and they did what any right-minded citizen would do, they drank some more to revive the previous night’s feeling and after a few gulps the feeling was even better than the original drunk high.

They danced across the outfield grass as the position players performed stretches and played long toss in preparation for the new day’s game, them relievers still in the dark about that perfect game and with every dance step, they stopped caring about perfection. Once those players caught sight of the dance, they stopped and danced too and the manager, that snoring Billy Oppenheimer arose from the dead bed and declared that he would wake up early from then on and that practice would begin before dawn.

Didn’t matter if it was a day or night game….they were all to report to Billy Oppenheimer’s bedside before that sun crawled up the horizon and well it didn’t do a damn thing for the team’s won loss record, but that “crazy walking” as the newspaper coined the dancing, slipped into the umpire’s shoes and ushers too and police men and the organ player and the dancing never stopped, long after the game, into the streets and the bars and the zoo …..yes even the animals got into it as well as break rooms of banks, the schoolyard, the prayer people under the moon, painters of the water tower, and the dogs loitering beside the lagoon.

there was the side-step, the cradle launch, the bugaboo and whatever other dances the Catchecan folks and dogs and other animals felt like doing… fish started jumping too…


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she stared at trees

Mike Ketchum slept under the awning of the local laundry mat. He panhandled for pieces of clothing to wrap around him when he slept. He peed in a plastic water bottle and emptied it into the sewer drain, well aware that the smell of human urine would be a turn off to those eager to wash their clothes.

There was a time when Ketchum dreamed of playing baseball. Unfortunately, the little league coaches said his singing Donna Summer songs during games “wasn’t in the best interest of the league.” Ketchum found it hard to believe that no team wanted his services, not the tigers, brewers, angels, red sox, or even the last place Indians, none of them. And it wasn’t like Ketchum couldn’t play. He had decent range at shortstop, an accurate arm, and he hit to all fields and maybe most importantly, he could take a pitch, work on at bat, sometimes for 10 or 11 pitches and even if he ultimately struck out, he wore the pitcher down, frustrated him, and sure enough, every once in a while the next batter singled or doubled.

Ketchum wasn’t one to cry, not because he didn’t want to or need to; he simply lacked access to the mechanism in the human body that produced tears, to empty the bucket of woe, so after not making the little league, he walked to mellow the sting; he walked two towns over, to Beckum where there was a village bazaar underway….in the wide open spaces with sun, clouds, wind, and men at tables with booze breaths, selling baseball cards, old farm equipment, 45’s and lp’s, kitchen utensils, paintings, all kinds of stuff and there was a she too, suddenly appearing in the section that sold jacket patches and yeh, maybe she didn’t have the most perfect face or smooth, silky hair, but she walked on her toes.

Ketchum asked around and the dealers said she was there every Saturday, walking up and down the dirt floor aisles, never buying anything, but stopping every once in a while to stare up at the trees. if only he had confidence, thought Ketchum, he would walk over to her and discuss leaves and photosynthesis and before he could say three shots McGoo, they’d be drinking root beer at Fitzgerald’s Pharmacy. But the only date Ketchum had ever been on was with Missy Tannenbaum. He asked her to see a movie, A View To A Kill, James Bond. Bad idea because of all that James Bond macho crap. Ketchum kept quiet after that,

But this girl at the Bazaar had Ketchum daydreaming of train station scoreboards and far away destinations. Ketchum called his aunt Rose and asked how to strike up a conversation with a girl and how to hold her hand.

It was the second Saturday in March, en route to the bazaar when Ketchum spotted a man leaning against a stop sign, leaning and not moving, as still as the sign itself. The man was wearing a fisherman’s hat, long blue nylon coat, and holding a green gym bag at his side. The man rolled his fingers towards himself, a hint to follow him. Ketchum didn’t grow up with warnings to not take candy from strangers……his mom taught him that there were an endless cast of characters to discover.

the man led him to an alley behind the milk store. he removed two gloves and a ball from his bag.

“You see. You hold it like this,” the man explained. “A roll up ball. The ball starts low, then dips even lower and finally rises to the top of the strike zone, impossible to hit.”

It took a few pitches, but the alchemy came to Ketchum. He turned a flat ball into one that dipped and rose and a feeling came over him, of never wanting to die. He turned to thank the man, but he was sprinting away, soon out of sight. It didn’t matter because he had a new object of desire, to make the high school team. He forgot all about the girl who stared at trees.

Ketchum practiced against the brick wall of Dougan’s Bakery and made the high school team. The scouts came. There was a draft and a contract and an assignment to rookie league followed by A ball and many immaculate innings, but then suddenly, on a perfect blue sky day, Ketchum’s pitch no longer moved…one game after another, week after week, nothing. Ketchum met a hypnotist, tried meditation and visualization, group therapy, massage, but still no swings and misses.

there was nothing more humiliating than being taken out of a game, that slow walk a manager makes to the mound followed by a signal with his hand calling for a new pitcher, a better one, a fresher one, not prone to giving up a hit, a home run. How many times can a pitcher endure that patronizing pat on the shoulder!

Ketchum took to a life of aimless wandering, soup kitchens, loitering in libraries and sleeping under awnings. He often wondered if his life woulda been better if he had met the woman who stared at trees…..then he would have never followed the man, never learned the pitch.

Ketchum never knew the month, day or year, only if it was hot or cold. and then came a day. he was sitting lotus under the awning of the laundry mat, listening to AM radio, to a Twins game, a bottle of Wild Irish Rose rot gut wine at his side.

“Remember Lyman Bostock?” asked a lady with red hair. “Can I bum a sip of your wine?”

Ketchum smiled and looked up at the trees.