brewers baseball and things


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the little i know about samurai

I’m not much of a movie buff, but i love movies. I love being swallowed into one, really escaping. Then when the credits roll and the post movie music quiets down, I have to face the other music…the crud in the corner of the kitchen, cobwebs on the ceiling above the bathtub, that annoying co-worker, work in general, anxiety, depression, then a smidgen of joy, bills, writers block, the thought of dying, of having to be there when we die, the thought of family members dying, of having to endure that. This brings me to my point or to that movie – Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

At some point during the film, it says something to the effect of imagine your being eaten by dragons, falling off a cliff plunging to your death, being hit head-on by a speeding train….imagine any other assortment of tragedies, …this is apparently the way of the Samurai. You go beyond being ready to die; and actually die, sort of, I guess, I don’t know or maybe it’s only a movie? But I like it.

His name wasn’t pencilled into the line up card. He wasn’t even listed on the roster. One of his cleats was missing. There was spray paint on his locker spelling out “stupid faggot.” There was a notice to see the manager. He was being sent down to A ball, not AAA or AA, but A ball, to work out some issues with his swing. Things would be reassessed in September when rosters expanded.

Vegetables were where his jock straps usually were. His suitcase smelled like a compost bag. He took the bumpy bus ride to Hammy Point, but the manager there knew nothing of his reassignment. He had no space for him on the roster and kindly asked him to leave the premises. Hammy Point had outlying farms, mostly apples and pumpkins, good timing for the season neared. He walked close to 15 miles, not that anyone was counting. He had time on his hand and as he walked, he shed his previous dreams and aspirations and stared out at all the nothingness.

 

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pop corn seeds and Eric T

A few weeks ago when the Brewers non-tendered Chris Carter, I think they became the first team in major league history to non-tender the previous season’s home run champion. Carter hit 41 bombs in 2016 to tie the Rockies Nolan Arenado for the National League lead.

A few weeks after dumping Carter, the Brewers did something even weirder. They signed Eric Thames to a three-year contract. Thames spent the last three seasons playing in Korea. I listened to the press conference welcoming him to Milwaukee. Manager Craig Counsell admired the journey Thames had taken to play baseball and looked forward to his journey continuing in Milwaukee. Thames said the pitching in Korea was a lot slower and that it would take some time to adjust to major league velocity.

The transaction was very inspiring. I was almost tempted to drag my bat to the nearest batting cage and rig the machines late at night when no one was watching, take some swings, get up to snuff and try out for the Brewers first base job, but instead I’ll just dedicate the next two paragraphs to Eric Thames and his new life as the Brewers first baseman.

The grapes were bigger that summer. The newspapers blamed it on too much rain. Mr. Crimkins said it was all the dogs licking trees and bushes, spitting nutrition into the fruits, he insisted. Eric T stuffed a handful in his pockets,braved the steps in three monster leaps and stole away into the basement. That’s where he enjoyed the next few months of his life, sitting down there among a bat collection. He had all kinds of bats – yellow birch, hickory, ash, maple, all sizes too and all kinds of players – Lyman Bostock, Ned Yost, Pepper Martin, and Rob Picciolo, just to name a few.

Eric T entered into a zone after leaping down those basement steps. It was like incense fumed in his head or a siren sounded. It was a call to attention –  to work out the kinks of his stance – Cooper crouch or spastic Morgan twitch or maybe both and that holy trinity of medicine – spit, swing and swat grapes and popcorn seeds every which way.

Yes, he had popcorn seeds in his pockets in addition to grapes and he spit them both out his mouth; hit them hard too, so hard, that Eric T dreamed up wine and popcorn afternoons, but more importantly was the repetitive motion. It quickened his wrists and smoothed his hip tango gyrations.

Eric T. rose from the basement into the full bloom of the 2017 season and in early April showed signs of swat and being selective too. His on base percentage hovered near .400 for a while and little by little, Brewers fans forgot all about Chris Carter’s 41 home runs.

 


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half way home

It wasn’t so much the history as the hair – Nabookar’s hair. That’s what the boy loved, and if anyone asked, he told them “Nabookar was a chief with the wildest curves of burgundy.”

Kids in the neighborhood grew curious. They gathered in the early morning, to be there, when the boy pulled the curtain cord. He never did at the same time, but he always did the same thing. He stared at nothing in particular, for 20 minutes sometimes. Then he would wiggle off the chair in spasms, like he had been tasered and slip gracefully into a somersault of however many rolls it took to reach the window, poke his head outside, look left, then right, then left again….a cuckoo bird escaping the clock.

Kids grew spiteful. They heaved all kinds of vegetables at him, some fresh, some not so fresh. He changed his name to Arooooooon and turned every taunt into fuel. Then he screamed “vrooooooooom vrooooooooom goes Arooooon, to the thicket on the outskirts of town.”

Mom and dad figured all the fleeing would end with the arrival of arm pit fuzz, but it didn’t. After Mom kicked dad out, she kept right on figuring, that the fleeing would end when Arooooon poked around under the hood of his first jalopy, but there never was a jalopy. There was only Nabookar and Arooooon’s course.

“Some course!” screamed his mother. “You’re nothing but drift wood.”

“Vrooooooooom vrooooooooom goes Arooooon to the thicket on the outskirts of town.”

He changed the walls of his bedroom or not the walls, but the posters he pasted on them. He removed the tidy animals of pleasant looking fur – all the bunny rabbits and guinea pigs that surrounded that wonderful head of Nabookar’s hair and replaced them with centipede legs and scorpion stingers.

But he never messed with Nabookar.

And suddenly he was no longer a kid and then no longer a teenager, nor a twenty something-er either. In fact, he was 33 years young and neighbors, not school kids scrunched a wicked grimace when Arooooooon walked by. He kept his vow and recorded each and every taunt on a notepad. He stored them under his pillow in the same bedroom he slept in as a child. 

It was a few hours before sun rise, on the eve of Aroooooon’s 34th birthday when his mother mustered up the courage to finally make a run for it – to the bus station – for a one way ticket – 2700 miles away – to be free of what she had created – her only child.  

The father smelled the mother’s escape exhaust because he rose above the thicket where he slept on the outskirts of town. He stomped single-minded to the home he had built with his own hands and braved the smells that sparked all the memories, of being kicked out, not so much for sloppy drinking, but for failing to light a fire under their boy’s breast.

 “Make him a captain of industry, a singer of Psalms,” his wife would scream, “Something! anything!” 

But she was gone now and as the father rounded the final corner, he whiffed an island of spruce and spotted the black shutters of his boy’s room and sighed. Another chance, he thought, to put an end to the boy’s aimlessness.

Pops still had a left over from the previous night’s drunk so he fell right at home slipping through the cat crawl space into the kitchen. He wondered out loud to his boy of 33 years young about circuit boards, the mechanics of a lawn mower, and the intricacies of a ceiling fan. He seemed to be getting somewhere too because the boy stacked toothpicks on the table in the shape of what appeared to be a log cabin.

There was Echo bowl later that same afternoon. They weren’t exactly attached at the hip, more like a locomotive and caboose with a million box cars in between, but the beer, balls and pins falling was a start. Pops flashed a few hand signals to the bartender. A liter of Wiser’s Whisky arrived. He gulped and so did his 33 year young son. The son stomped outside. Now the father followed to under the overpass where the brightest of Bazaars was always under way. A black market filled with beautiful wild-eyed drunks, louts, scums, and serendipeteers laying out their worldly wares onto the naked earth, from pinball machine parts to baseball cards to paper clips, porcupine statues.

Aroooooooon eye’s became like microscopes there.


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blueprints from the wind

A toilet, tv, and a place to sleep was always enough. Throw in a cardboard box for cushion and Johnny Redd let out heys and hohs of gratitude. Skoogie and Muddy flipped over pickle buckets and banged away. Tyrone hummed. Timba danced. Sister Crop Science swayed hands above her head like wheat stalks enjoying a breeze. And Muggy Doodle? Well, he just stood stiff and silent, like an observation tower, until that one summer afternoon when he couldn’t hold it in.

Humid as hell that day and Muggy loved heat. Said it lubricated his bones. Put him in the right rhythm. They roamed around; searched through trash for treasures. It was Muggy who first spotted the railroad ties or the first to shout about them anyway…. four stacked one on top of the other. Muggy insisted they drag them back home, “to build a shelter” he said. They had never heard Muggy sound so certain; never heard him sound at all.

Inspired obedience into everyone. 

They gathered one tie at a time and walked like pallbearers back and forth across Cranish County’s back roads, dusty and old where no car ventured anymore. It took a morning and afternoon and along the way, Muggy spotted an abandoned Yapayah Pharmacy sign. He insisted they drag that home too, “for the shelter’s eastern wall” and so they did.

The neighbors wondered how they had pulled so much weight, but the the pickle bucket raft and lily pad crab catcher were still fresh in their minds, all that promise, but in the end, nothing to show for it, just another vision aborted; so even when Muggy and his friends arranged those ties like a batters box and poured cement inside, the neighbors waved their hands with doubt. They were right too because Muggy and friends grew tired or bored, maybe both or maybe gadgetry and fickle fashion ruled them like it ruled nature. A moon never lasted in a night time sky. A caterpillar gave up and surrendered to wings and being a butterfly.

Only the 8 x 12 floor and foundation remained, and no rain was gonna wash that away any time soon.

The neighbors flashed their middle fingers. They screamed and threatened to dynamite the eye soar and the friction worked wonders. Inspired Muggy to speak some more, about tree houses and it being time. A refreshing moonshine breeze. Shut the neighbors up because this was Cranish County, where Weeping Willows were everywhere and tree houses were a normal part of growing up……expected. 

Those neighbors smiled as Muggy and friends nailed wood slabs to the tallest willow in the yard, one rung after the other, higher and higher they climbed, hoisted that Yapayah Pharmacy sign into a v-shape of branches. A floor. Then walls. A celebration. Muggy sat on his back down below and stared up at the branches.

He remembered his father flop jacking change to pay for rot gut vodka and how he sometimes asked him to do the panhandling.

He remembered how he and old man Muscovitz at the Dicker Five and Dime counted out the change and how Muscovitz put the flask in a dark bag and winked.

“But my dad never beat me,” Muggy sang in a slur to the others up above. “And a little drop of nectar turned his breath into song,”

Muggy knew about kids walking on hot coals, catching fish with their hands, and chanting ancient texts. He figured panhandling for his pa was another kind of  ‘nitiation’ and he felt good in his kin and skin.

He remembered his great Uncle Blue up north and sang some more, about him…..”knowing rivers like truck drivers today know roads, back when people walked alleyways thinking about nothing in particular, in towns with animal names like Buffalo and Chinchilla.”

No one knew if the stories were true and no one dared or cared to find out. They needed them like a set of dentures needs sauce to soak in at night, to rest and revive, to be ready to recite at the edge of the bed come sunrise, “yes, i want to live.”

Muggy took off one day. No one knew where, but he left a note under a half can of moonshine or not really a note, just his name scribbled in wavy drunk letters….M uggy Doo dle

No one expected to hear from him again, but the postcards started arriving a few months later, of baseball stadiums – Sick’s in Seattle, then Isotopes Park in Albuquerque, each one with the city name stamped in a circle at the top. There was a new one almost every month.

No one ever knew he liked baseball.


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update on Dreaming .400

Great news! My book of short stories – Dreaming .400 is now available as a paperback. Thank you for your patience!! Already there are two reviews on Amazon, one from our very own Glen Slater. Thank you Glen!

I also want to let everyone know that my Facebook Author Page is up and running. There you will find reviews of Dreaming .400 and hopefully in the near future, discussions about the characters, plots, etc, of the various stories. Please stop by and like the page.

When the current whirlwind from the book’s release and what not quiets down, I can resume regular writing activities.

 

 


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“Illuminating the Joe”

The artwork for Dreaming .400 was initially going to be a baseball field with fans flocking to it in every imaginable way, by boat and canoe, stage coach, train, and good old fashioned one foot in front of the other.

But like anything else, plans and designs are meant to be changed. I remember hearing about a subway system in Seville, Spain that was partially built. The jackhammers had ripped up cement squares; a few building had been knocked down when uh-oh, the underground area was said “to not be conducive to excessive drilling” so they patched it up like nothing had ever happened, jewel thieves in the night.

But what the hell, it lowered unemployment for a while, a sort of New Deal in an ooops sort of way,  Maybe not a bad idea in today’s world. Maybe in northern Canada, just below Nunavut, they could build a massive amusement park and put to work all of these refugees pouring into Europe from Syria and Lebanon before realizing that the cold harsh northern climate was “not conducive to an amusement park construction.”

Canada would then be stuck with thousands of refugees and maybe that’s not a bad thing, immigrants tilling the frozen soil-making something out of nothing? Or maybe I should keep my day job since I’m an immigrant too. I work at a hospital, delivering things and it’s warm in there, but back to to the cover the art. The publisher and I both noticed it on line without either of us knowing what the other one was doing. I think that’s a biblical occurrence or a proverb or something? Ya know, like not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing or maybe I’m mixing up apples?

skinnyAnyway, Judy McSween is the artist and the painting  is called “Illuminating the Joe.” I love that name. Love the painting too. Looks like a dream which goes well with the title of the book-Dreaming .400. She’s a teacher and mother of three or four kids.

The painting is a sunset falling behind Joseph P. Riley Jr. Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina. Joe Riley – the person – was a big player in the stadium’s construction back in 1997. The stadium is currently home to the Charleston River Dogs of the Class Single A-South Atlantic League (New York Yankees affiliate). I sort of cringed when I found out the Yankees were involved, but I don’t really care. I love the Yankees just like I love Darth Vadar and all the forces in the universe that inspire me to stand taller and fight.  

Anyway, the Charleston River Dogs were previoulsy an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. And before that-the Rangers, Padres, and Royals. Different masks, but same beautiful baseball going on.

The stadium is also home to the Citadel Bulldogs.


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all my messiahs

After completing the final edit to Dreaming .400, I had no choice, but secretly wished Bill Lee`s phone number would not be available. He scared me. I had met him once before, here in Montreal, but as part of a small group outside a book store. It was safe and Mr. Lee broke up the coffee clutch anyway and escorted us to a bar. Bill Lee was unpredictable, never said a commonplace thing, equally at ease with baseball nerds and those who know all the “right“ bands and books.

I never saw Bill Lee pitch and never read one of his books, not until a few years ago, but after meeting him, all the baseball stripped away. He was and still is a guru to me because he enjoys life. I’d be content watching him tie his shoes or fasten the velcro. I must have sounded like a nervous chicken when he picked up the phone the other night. I had to do most of the talking, to seduce him into reading my book of short stories and providing an opinion, some praise to be published on the back cover.

Well, he agreed and when I said, “By the way, don’t be deceived by the title. The stories include plenty of pitchers.“ Bill laughed. “Don’t worry, I dream .400 every night before bed, but wake up hitting .200“ and then he laughed again. So did I.

This story – “All My Messiahs“ was written with the other night and Mr. Lee in mind.

A quick peek at the neighbor’s dog did it. That quivering nose reminded me there was much more happening than I could ever imagine. I wandered outside for a good while, slipped through some bush and stripped down to my shorts and eased my way in, lay flat on the St. Lawrence riverbed floor.  Most people warn me. They say it’s dirty, infested with pollutants, but what do I care. I grew up splashing in the dirty Milwaukee river and would like to better understand the language of birds, fishes and trees.

I could only sustain the séance a short while. My mind wandered. I came up for air and sat on a cement slab, probably an old fishing pier. I closed my eyes and let the sun do its thing – dry me off. I was freezing and so I escaped, back to the Ding Dong days when Hostess was more than a wafer and body of christ at St. Pascal’s. It was a holy trinity panel of baseball cards that sparked all kinds of conjuring, of tip toeing down the basement steps and digging out my father’s imaginary Elmer Fudd hunting cap. It was the summer of 1977. The hat fit me well so I changed my name to Pierre and began to hunt, for baseball cards that is, not the most manly of hunts, not in my father’s eyes, but Pierre senior-that was my father. He had already passed away in this daydream so Pierre junior – that’s me. He was free.

And so he scrounged for coins in the cracks of couches, raided Mom’s penny purse, even hocked Dad’s war medal for a couple of bucks. He lost all sense of right and wrong, obsessed by O-Pee-Chee baseball cards and as a collection gathered on his shag carpet bedroom floor that feeling from his father’s death – that amputated limb feeling. It disappeared.  

The writing on the backs of cards was in both French and English, some sort of language law, but Pierre cared more about the language of trees, of lumber and how bats were made and anyway, he had a magic fortune-telling eight ball under his bed and it flashed three names not known to Pierre one hot summer 1977 day. He swears he saw them appear out of that eight ball blue liquid, “looked like names chiseled on a tombstone”  he said. “Dawson, Cromartie, Valentine” and no one believed Pierre, not until a few months later when Gary Roenike was traded to Baltimore.

Same Gary Roenike who hit .285 with 14 homers for the Quebec City Carnavals in 1975, earned the Eastern League MVP, but was considered “expendable” and traded, probably because of those same magic 8 ball words – “Dawson, Cromartie, Valentine.“

For the first time, Pierre felt daddy`s death in the gut. Made him cry too. Change came quickly. Strange coincidences. Two more Quebec minor league teams were being eliminated. Death was everywhere.  The Eastern League had dropped Thetford Mines in 1975, shortly after Pierre senior passed away and now Quebec City and Three Rivers were being booted from the baseball solar system. Only the Expos remained.

Thetford Mines was more inland and would require some portaging of the canoe and maybe the water between Three Rivers and Quebec City suffered some rapids, but Pierre was determined to trace a triangle and barnstorm. He didn`t know why, but he did it anyway.

The stadiums were empty. The grass was in need of cutting. A few stray newspaper pages flew in and out. There was the sound of wind. The words came to Pierre, words he could never say to his father, simple words like “thank you.“ 

The sun had done its thing. I was dry. I could hear trucks in the distance, maybe a dog barking. I put my shirt on, climbed up the hill and walked home.