little league wasn’t for everyone,
but most kids took their shot at hitting a ball, back alley dares; windows were meant to be broken.
i forget the kid’s name, but it was easier for him when the bat was wet.
he shook the lumber like carney lansford,
all spastic and focused,
auburn colored hair,
even when he swung and missed, he screamed and never stopped,
kicked over garbage cans.
he found a way under everyone’s hood.
he took took us from matchbox cars to the moon, and even now,
so many years later,
i can hear him whizzing as
heads our way!
the old barber shop,
with a red, white and blue twirl outside and
a chair i had never seen before inside.
i was too small so the barber laid a board across the arm wrests to raise me up.
there was a mirror in front of me.
there was a mirror behind me.
i could see myself repeating for infinity.
the barber gave me a bazooka joe bubble gum when he was done cutting.
the wind felt right as I walked away.
i don’t look at the mirror much anymore.
it reminds me too much,
of what’s been lost,
baseball’s four divisions
and before that,
the two leagues of my grandpa’s time
all spring summer season long they played for
only one winner per league,
one playoff called the World Series,
all those games for nothing i love that,
no wild cards,
no inter league play,
no money sponsors commercial,
only strange named relievers and hot dog wrappers.
i like the smell of a vagabond.
i like the will of a can collector.
i like the runaway train determination of anyone doing what they love to do.
i cut my own hair these days.
The library seems unaffected by home internet usage. Attractive people still roam its halls, from holy stench vagabonds enjoying yesterday’s news to the elderly with uncontrollable flatulence. There are comfortable chairs and tables. Loitering is allowed, conversation encouraged and everything is free.
I like a third floor window seat, especially when it’s summer outside. Feels like my own dirty secret as the world runs around half naked. There’s a younger man wearing a fur hat and there is no air conditioning or it’s not working. The combination gets me thinking of Russian fur coats and men standing tall and proud on snow covered fields, some with mustaches and some without, but no one ready to conquer a people, not with guns anyway, more of a Babe Ruth expression-a smile to sway a generation of Lapta players.
The first library was apparently in Sumer-Mesopotamia-southern Iraq-cuneiform on clay tablets-commercial transactions. I wonder what library first encouraged the modern day equivalent of typing in “functions of garlic skins” and 12 searches later, becoming mesmerized by how to build a birch bark canoe?
I like imposing a cave man lifestyle on myself, not to eat saber toothed tigers by campfire, but to let sun and shadows splash prison bars across my face and become warden of my own cell with sweat and toil as the daily ferry boat ride to the other side where the welcome mat is nothing but….
“What’s the goal today chief?”
“Say a few prayers and look for food, sing and dance.”
And the same tomorrow and the next day. Fear and shadows, survival makes for great inspiration. Then came the farming hoe, food storage and the Greek concept of school-skhole as in “spare time, leisure, rest ease.” More and more inspiration.
I don’t really remember getting lost in Tinker Toys, building a card house or playing with the family heirloom Erector Set, but according to my mom it happened. There were the Bowery Boys and Lone Ranger on Saturday morning TV followed by This Week in Baseball and the game of the week. I once saw Nolan Ryan pitch a no hitter on TV, in the Astrodome, against the Dodgers I think.
There were actual three dimensional baseball cards inside what was already paradise-the Kellogs sugar cereal fix. Ditto for Hostess and the beautiful panel of three cards lining the backs of its packaging. We gawked at the trio before even cracking open the creamy filled ding dong. A junkie starter kit for sure. I love life for letting me get lost like that. And when the sugar craze dried up, I caught the bug for ancestry, wanting to know if there were any legends in our family and there weren’t. My aunt sobered my search anyway by saying, “You’re from Milwaukee and that’s all you ever need to know.” And when I learned that Al Simmons was buried in Milwaukee and raised there too, I figured my aunt was maybe right. Inspiration feels like a vapor transplanting onto new things and beings.
Marco Estrada. Experts still say he has no place in the major leagues, that some high school pitchers throw faster. And maybe they do, but once upon a time there were no radar gun gods.
Marco stands on the mound like a man squeezing into an old phone booth, the ones with accordion doors. His back is super straight, hand and ball tucked inside his glove and all of it hidden and looking like a hijab the way it covers his entire face, except his eyes which are beady lasers looking in for the sign. He’s breathing in and out. Nice compact wind up, the pitch and no batter ever knows-fastball or a change-up because Marco never wavers from the details of his physical ritual.
The Brewers claimed him off waivers back in 2010 from the Nationals and by 2011 he was making heavy hitters look foolish, swinging at change ups in the dirt. He quickly became my favorite Brewer mostly because he did whatever they asked-long relief, mop up, spot start.
Estrada was traded to Toronto last winter so his career as a Brewer lasted only five seasons and yet he has the lowest WHIP-1.169 of any pitcher in the history of the franchise and the second most strikeouts per nine innings with 8.447.
We called them gulls because there was no sea, just a big lake and a lot of dirty rivers. We used to get real close and open our palms to impress both the gulls and Mr. Sphere. “Question of crayola and contrast,” he would say.
We never understood what the hell he was talking about, but we liked the free rein. “The gull carves invisible angles” said the smart ass among us, but Mr. Sphere knew our game, knew we wanted something from him and maybe we did, but we were too young to know what the hell we were doing. Smashing in sun roofs one night and pool hopping the next.
“A drunk pendulum, but in full control,” Mr. Sphere said and then lifted his glasses and let them get lost in that wild hair of his. I think that was the moment an invisible seance ignited within us. We felt all together like never before and were no longer interested in far away places or even next towns. We watched gulls much closer from then on, especially their kamikaze nose dive missions toward one of our abandoned brown paper bag lunches. We felt kindred watching their cadaver dance, pecking away like an oil rig and looking up every now and again, in between chews and swallows as if to say This is our town. This is seagull planet earth. We rule your endless human ruins, junk heaps and piles and mounds.
We made a pack to be like gulls and defy our own gravity and webbed feet. It was one thing to be a hawk, falcon, or eagle soaring from one mountain majesty to another, but to be a gull and dumpster dive and scrounge through frat boy vomit. That was the simple cement to us all, the stuff to build our future, the back alleys, utility infielder, heave and hoe of our soon to be anonymous 8-4 lives.
We sat everywhere together, but no place felt more like home than the dugout. It was partially below ground and would probably be called a semi basement if it were an apartment in the classifieds, but it was public space so we lived there for free, three times a week anyway, when our baseball teams played. We were in senior league. Weird name since none of us were seniors, but we were too old to reach Omaha’s Little League World Series so we were washed up I guess and they called us seniors-aged 13-17.
But who needed little league anyway! We played on real regulation diamonds. Pitchers had mounds that looked miles away from home plate. Bases were 90 feet apart. We could psyche out the pitcher and steal like Henderson and Raines, head first slides if we had the guts and most importantly we had dugouts. We arrived early and left late, loving to loiter in there long after the game, exploring all kinds of boundaries. That dugout was the closest thing to home other than our bedrooms and as we got older, only the dugout endured.
It was our fort and shelter and it felt ancient and essential when we found out about the dugout canoes used by Native Americans and Africans, Asians and Europeans too, all the way back to stone age peoples.
They renamed that diamond we played on. It’s now called Henry Aaron Field. It’s where the UW-Milwaukee Panthers play so there’s black and gold Panther colors everywhere and the dirt is a beautiful red and the grass is well manicured and what not, but I bet the corners of the dugouts still fill up with dry crunchy leaves.
The J line ran night and day and Storey Island sat in perfect darkness. There was also mom’s home-made soups andDad’s steel drums, but everything felt like an “incestuousprivilege” to Dirk Whipple; everything except riding that J line.
Mom knew a doctor; not the kind with a stethoscope, but one with a knack for palms and moon risings. Stelphus was his name and he and Momma Whipple mapped out a plan to seduce Dirk downtown with a burger and fries as bait. Worked like a charm. Dr. Stelphus sat at an adjacent table and didn’t say a word until Dirk’s mouth slowed down and he began pushing fries around his plate.
Only then did Stelphus make his move; striking up casual conversation and 45 minutes later, Dirk’s palms had been read and time of birth revealed. It was Momma Whipple’s turn now. She handed Dirk a 5 dollar bill and told him to “go and fetch some ice cream for him and his new friend.”
Stelphus put his hand on Momma Whipple’s. “Dirk may never show an interest in your soup or daddy’s steel drums,” he explained, “But don’t you worry about him riding that J train into the dark tunnel and out onto higher ground. All that in and out is good for the boy” and when Dr. Stelphus winked at Momma Whipple, she threw her arms up and raced to get Dirk; regretting she’d ever came.
It was on the J ride home where Dirk found a pack of unopened Topps baseball cards which didn’t arouse any excitement in him, but he opened the pack just the same, hoping one hundred-dollar bills might be inside, but there weren’t and so he flung the cards one by one onto the subway floor until one card sucked his eyes in. The player was kneeling down; looking like a sniper and aiming his bat at someone not even in the picture. Underneath it said “Ed Kranepool.”
“Maybe an assassin,” Dirk thought; excited to use a word he had just learned from the scarf dealer on Storey Island and less than a week ago too and now this picture? He flipped the card over and found a number in the upper left hand corner. It said 641. Dirk assumed all the cards had numbers for identification purposes like prisoners of war getting digits branded onto their wrists or forearms.
Dirk wanted to have more and more of these cards and collect them in a big pile and climb the fire escape of a big building and set them all free. He scanned the subway floor and counted six cards plus the ones still in the pack; “a good start,” he thought. The next morning Dirk walked to Clifton’s Pharmacy and began the ritual exchange of coins for cards.
That’s where he met Simmy Timpkins and learned of the 726 cards needed to complete the 1980 set. Simmy was big around the ankles and had all kinds of connections; stuck his nose in everybody’s business so when the time came and Dirk needed only one more card, Simmy stepped in like a pimp and promised him #217 Ed Halicki if Dirk would do him “just one small favor.”
There was an electric pole at the corner of Palisades and Avenue T and that’s where a gang of monk parakeets had taken refuge. Simmy’s little brother wanted one of the lime green critters for a pet and if Simmy didn’t get it for him than Simmy’s older brother would perform messy justice on Simmy.
Dirk made his way to Avenue T, spotted the hairy nest high above and just before beginning to climb, he said in a whisper, “screw it” and scanned the neighborhood for a pharmacy not named Cliftons. Dirk spent 40 dollars on cards that day; one pack after another and as luck or destiny would have it; he scored not one, but two Ed Halicki cards.
Dirk went home and gathered up all the cards, waited till dark and climbed the fire escape of Doogan’s Flour factory. There must have been over 3,000 cards he set free with all those doubles and triples flying every which way; some twirling like helicopter leaves towards the river and others nose diving into backyards and a few even slipping through open windows and onto a moving bus. One of them was Ed Halicki.
I can’t remember the sweaty palms of a first crush any more than scratching at the cement of our wall ball batter’s box, but we must have looked super small to nearby birds; standing there beside that big red brick wall and small spray painted square with an x inside; our all-knowing strike zone.
I did the Cecil Cooper crouch. Others went with a super relaxed Eric Davis. There were all kinds and no pitcher’s mound, just more cement. We took chances with no grown ups telling us what to do. I liked being Kent Tekulve; total submarine style; turned pitching into a dance and felt better on the arm.
The greatest moment was whacking one with that 29 inch aluminum bat and watching a deflated dirty yellow ball come to life like that, soaring over the fence and bouncing down an alley and disappearing. There were no bases so no home run trots, but a hell of a lot of flipping the bat, dancing and jumping around. Pissed the pitcher off just the same.
It’s depressing to think maybe I’ve already lived the greatest moments in my life, but maybe we’re not supposed to live very long anyway. There were no heart surgeons 200 years ago. Our ancestors performed rain dances, downed whisky, clenched their teeth and hoped for the best. No wonder Walter Johnson pitched so many complete games. Less to lose with death always a possibility rather than 40 years away, but then again Gaylord Perry pitched plenty of complete games and he lasted into the early 80’s.
Complete games may never return, but the wind pouring through an attic window hopefully will and kids will find a way past the mom or dad border guards and be there to take in the breeze and see the cobwebs all around and invent nightmare mythologies to last an entire childhood. May there never be a dull day.
The Brewers playing with three starters on the disabled list last night and Aramis Ramirez also not in the lineup. His replacement Jason Rodgers made a bad throw on an easy ground ball; potential third out of the third inning. but instead the bases are loaded and Jay Bruce goes Grand slam. Reds 4, Brewers 0.
The Brewers come to bat in the bottom half; a single and a 2 run homer by replacement catcher Martin Maldonado; a couple of doubles and a single and most runs scored in an inning for the Brewers this season-4. Game tied.
But Todd Frazier in the very next inning; bases loaded again and BAM; another grand slam. Reds back on top 8-4 and in the fifth inning , Zack Cozart hit his second home run of the series. I think the score was 11-4 Reds at that point and then 13-4. Brewers score a run in the sixth. and recently called up Elian Herrera comes to bat after three consecutive walks and BAM Grand slam. It’s suddenly 13-10 and Brewers announcer Bill Shroeder barks it out; Game On!
The Reds added some more in the top of the 7th. Votto hit another home run; final score 16-10 and maybe Jason Marquis pitching has me thinking with Marquis colored glasses, but Brewer bats seem to be heating up.
Not a dull moment at Miller Park last night; The two teams combining for 7 homers and 3 grand slams; must be some sort of record; but the Brewers still lost and are now 2-12.
And even if they keep losing; no two losses seem to behave the same; reverse spice of life I guess. Next up Johnny Cueto. The Reds ace set to face the Brewers new ace; Jimmy Nelson Wednesday night.
In this season of seagulls never running out of breezes and 52 cards fleeing the safety of decks; there’s nothing sadder than a golden Labrador limping across a field, but there’s a trapeze wire above our heads and squirrel and crow play “i got next game,” ready to taste each other’s blood for the first time again.
Two kids stand under the wire and take turns flinging a pair of abandoned shoes. The squirrel panics; darts east and west; looks up and down and finally surrenders; pushing off hind legs and soaring to a near by branch. The crow doesn’t blink.
The kids try 20 times to lasso the shoes onto the wire and fail; don’t even come close, so they ditch the tradition that brought them together in the first place.
I feel like an ice cube shut off from all this volcanic activity; the Brewers 0-4 heading into Saturday’s game against the Pirates.
One kid is small and he reaches down and grabs a coke can stuck between the bars of a sewer grate and pretends it’s a football and runs round and round in circles. The other kid is tall and does nothing and that’s maybe why the two of them are best friends. They need each other like an explosion needs an empty chamber. One serves, the other vollies and together they dream up an empress who never needed a country; just a river and sky.
The Brewers were the last team in baseball to reach the win column and Jimmy Nelson; what a win; struck out 9 Pirates in 7 shutout innings Saturday.
A black lab approaches; its nose twitching spastic across creation; an explosion of smells again and the dog chooses my hand so I’m sure its an elder saying “life sucked as a soberite” and the dog’s galloping paws are the rattling chain of a liquor store door and a beer or four more.
Last year’s 10 lap lead in mid May aroused too much expectation lust. I prefer the “I probably lost my apartment keys” mentality when suddenly there they are and life was nothing but a turnkey situation all along and I’m inside and the Brewers are leading the Cardinals in St. Louis; 2-0 and then 5-2 and Jeremy Jeffress is on to pitch the 7th inning.
He ignores a Segura throwing error and keeps the lead at 5-4 and Broxton in the 8th and Rodriguez in the 9th and that’s 27 outs and a win to spoil opening day at Busch and I wonder how many 8 x 12 prisons lean towards paradise?
Some loved their mother surrogate too much. Others were afraid to be alone. Either way, Mrs Z’s influence had to end. We sort of knew someone would replace her. Sort of because the feeling was vague like living in a fog but sure enough; into that unknown world swirled Darrel Porter and his highly respectable .371 OB% in 1975.
We first learned about Porter from our strat-o-matic baseball guru. We all had older brothers, but only he had a brother who ordered Bill James Baseball Abstract from the back of Baseball Digest in the late 1970’s. There was no Cain and Abel in their family. The brothers were too different, but they both shared a love for baseball.
One took a path of booze and music and the other computer programming, but they both celebrated on base percentage and our guru was generous with his wisdom. The booze warmed his heart I suppose and after Porter’s 1979 season with the Royals, a poster went up on guru’s bedroom wall and word got out real fast. It was no longer a secret. OB% was the key.
Our annual winter drafts were never the same. All the sentimental and emotional value was sucked out; replaced by stock market perusal of the previous year’s final stat page. No more Freddie Patek because he was small and Jose Cruz because you could say Cruuuuuuuuuuuuuuz every time he came to bat.
What mattered was walks and ob% and defensive range and throwing arms and the points on a pitchers card; a secret system invented by our guru that he shared with us too. Parity arrived to our league and Darrel Porter was our first cause and that carried extra weight in Milwaukee because Porter was the first player ever chosen by the Milwaukee Brewers.
In June of 1970, the Brewers selected him as the 4th overall pick and as it turned out, Porter enjoyed the most productive career of any player selected in that first round.
Porter had a drinking and drug habit and went to treatment in 1979. He also became a born again Christian. I don’t know which came first, but either way, his best years were behind him; both in terms of partying and production. Maybe he was just tired as he neared 30.
I was never sure if guru loved him for the booze or the exaggerated crouch of a stance; part Brett; part Cooper with knees bent even further or maybe he crouched more later in his career. Shocking either way and almost a miracle in that Porter was drafted as a catcher and remained a catcher. It’s tough enough to squat all day on defense and do it again at the plate! Maybe his body became a mold.
Porter attended Southwest high school in Oklahoma; same high school as Bobby Murcer and Mickey Tettleton; three future big leaguers from the same school; kind of unique but not out of this world. Porter and Tettleton were both catchers however and both rank in the top 30 all time; OB% for catchers.
Tettleton finished with a .3688 OB; good for 13th all time and Porter at .3539; 24th place. Porter was traded to Kansas City; not a very good trade for the Brewers; bringing in Bob McLure, Jim Wohlford and Jamie Quirk.
Then again McLure pitched 9 years as a Brewer; starter and reliever and won game 5 of the 1982 ALCS, but then lost two games in the World Series including the decisive game 7.
Porter only played four years with KC; signed with St. Louis and faced the Brewers in the 1982 series and won the MVP. Five years as a Cardinal and two more in Texas before retiring. He passed away in 2002 at 50 years young.
Our strat-o-matic guru loved Porter; that swing and crouch; the ob% and booze; him being a catcher and working so hard; a shot and a cold one at the rail of another long day. We named a cocktail after him; nothing fancy; just a glass of whiskey. We called it a Porter; to remove the baggage from our lives; for a few hours anyway.
The Padres were born the same year as the Expos; 1969. Both were ridiculed; not because they were bad on the field. That was expected for a few years anyway. It was the uniforms or eye sores according to people alive back then or maybe it was just the media or cold blood conservative baseball opinion.
The Expos with their red white and blue uniforms were considered a circus act and the hats and emblem just made it worse. No one understood the three letter curvy symbol and most people still don’t. If the Expos were fireworks, then the Padres were toilet talk with brown and yellow and well, kid baseball fans knew about Beethoven’s other movement…the bowel movement and …yeh.
The Expos are gone. The Padres changed their uniforms. And yet, the Expos and their uniforms are loved. I guess it’s nostalgia or something because the Expos seem more popular now than when they really existed. Weird or maybe not. Maybe it’s like insisting to attend a funeral of someone who you never talked to in real life. I never understood that. Why not talk to them when they’re alive?
Anyway, I see Expo hats all over the place in all kinds of colors. The Padres, on the other hand are not popular; not at all. I kind of keep track of the baseball hats and uniforms I see on the street and lots of Red Sox and Yankees and Dodgers and Mets and this year, more and more A’s, but over the years, very few Padres.
Neither the Expos or the franchise or the Padres has ever won a World Series. Not that it matters and not that the uniforms make a difference in any of this. Maybe that will change this year with the Nationals looking good and being in first place and all.
But The Padres always seem to be 10 games under .500 and always within striking distance of the division lead or wild card, but always too far away; so far away that no one really cares about them; not since Tony Gwynn. If Trevor Hoffman had played in New York he mighta been treated like the third coming. Poor old San Diego and it seems like such an attractive and calm city with a nice climate and the ocean.
Padres been in the playoffs five times; the most recent being 2006. They got swept in the World Series in 1998. I don’t remember that. The Only Padres playoff team I remember well was 1984 because I was hoping they would spoil the Tigers party in that year’s World Series. I hate it when a team begins the season 35-5 or whatever and cruises to the WS trophy.
Anyway, that’s a long time ago and the Padres these days are run by Bud Black and that makes them sort of like the Brewers and the Tampa Bay Rays and California Angles. All of these teams are run by former coaches of Mike Scioscia’s Angles and according to Tommy Lasorda, that makes all of them sort of Dodger people. I can’t get that thought out of my head. Kind of pisses me off, but not really. The idea of the family tree and influences trailing way back is interesting.
Run run run and good defense and starting pitching. That would be the Angel Mantra or the Dodger mantra in the 70’s. Screw that. The Brewers arrived to Petco Park last night; downtown San Diego and well they hit some long balls; Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun. Ten runs in all. Sixteen hits and six walks. Final score; Brewers 10, Padres 1. I fell asleep in the first inning. Lohse apparently pitched well.
No matter how sucky the Padres ever got or will ever get, I always hold a soft spot for a team that names itself after the wearers of brown capes, religious figures, padres or whatever they are?