Damon lived a few houses south of us, on the other side of the street. 6136 was the address. We never talked, not until he mounted what looked like a skeleton on his leather jacket shoulder. Then I suddenly wanted to know him and so I did whatever any 13-year-old kid would do; I struck up a conversation, my curiosity fueling my social bravery. He told me he had a cat and she killed mice and would leave the skeleton on their back porch, as a token of its appreciation for taking care of it and that he mounted the skeleton on his shoulder in appreciation of his cat. I liked that.
We talked about music. He had an older brother named Mitchel who had a record collection that snaked around his room. We immediately liked the Clash and the Psychedelic Furs. It was our entry point into the massive family tree of music. We used to hang out in his basement and listen to records. We cut our hair off with a sewing sheers. We drank Port Wine, three dollars a bottle. Mitchel bought it for us. We kicked over garbage cans and fences and collected expired candy and chips from a trash bin behind the 7/11.
It sucked when Damon went away to summer camp. It was a Jesus, religious camp. Weird because he wasn’t the last bit religious. In fact, he used to mock his mom when she would barge in on us, early in the morning sleeping off a port wine night and say, “Today is the day the lord has made.” Damon would roll over and tell her, “Yeh, but he’s gonna make tomorrow too so let us sleep.”
He went because of a girl – Sandra Boyce. I knew her. She had black hair. She walked pigeon-toed and liked music too, comic books, cars, even baseball. She loved the Cubs and the White Sox because her father had moved to Chicago after the divorce and took care of her every summer so they would go to a lot of games. I could understand how Damon got smitten or whatever by her. Sandra invited a bunch of us over to watch boxing matches on pay per view tv and she didn’t even make us pay! Her mom paid. But to follow a girl to a Jesus freak camp? It struck me as kind of desperate. I was jealous.
Anyway, he sent me a few postcards, funny ones in his patented sarcasm, “Had 20 cents to waste so I though I’d send you this card.” The summer went slow, really slow. I was bored and it was 1981 so there was no baseball in July. The strike was on. I remember how stupid or cruel it all seemed, that word, “strike.” I had grown fond of the Brewers Rollie Fingers knack for throwing strikes that first half of the 1981 season and now that word STRIKE. I didn’t even want to play little league anymore.
But like a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, all things, good or bad, come to an end and so the baseball strike ended and Damon came home from Jesus camp and he had changed, not physically; he still had those bowl cut bangs and long hair in the back and still had the mice skeleton mounted on his leather jacket shoulder, but he was smiling a hell of a lot more and that laugh of his. It was loud and lasted a long time. I told him it sounded fake and he said I was right, that it was fake, that he was faking it until making it. That was his new expression – “Fake it to you make it”
Damon wound up hosting a radio show on the far left side of the FM dial. We lost touch. I wonder if he married Sandra Boyce or if he goes to church? I doubt it. But I’m glad I met him, glad he went to Jesus camp and than came home and I’m glad there was a baseball strike and then an end to the strike. It instilled in me hope that tomorrow might be better.
I wasn’t alive in the spring of 1969 but if I was, I like to think I woulda been 17 and woulda had a big crush on a girl with olive-colored skin, black hair and dark eyes, so dark that I could see the world reflected in them except at night. Then it would be downright spooky and my crush on her would grow. She would lead me all over town in say Brooklyn. Yeh, I would be living in Brooklyn, not too far from the Greenwood cemetery. And I would know that Henry Chadwick was buried there and I would know that Chadwick created the first baseball box score and that he questioned the thinking that lots of errors equaled “bad fielder” because it might just be a case of a defender having greater range, getting to more balls = more chances = more errors. I wouldn’t be 100 percent sure of all this because I would have overheard it from a conversation a bunch of old men with hats would have been having at the local pharmacy.
I would follow my beady-eyed babe over the black wrought iron gates of Greenwood cemetery in the hopes of a kiss. It would be amazing to just clear the spiky tops of the fence, and I would make it and she would hold my hand and then let go and I would run after her and she would hold my hand again and then run away again. I would eventually get tired and pass out and when I woke up she would be gone. But I would have a brother and we would be really close, really different, but really close. He would be a weed smoker and the occasional dropper of LSD and he would go see bands and he would have a massive music collection and I would be a baseball card collector and I would like astronomy and baseball and that would be about it. I would have a lot of friends, but not many dreams other than liking it when winter was over and spring came and baseball would be starting again. I would go to a lot of Mets and Yankees games with my friends. I would like the Mets better, but I would also like to see American League teams and their players and anyway the subway and bus reached both Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium so I would go to both. And I would like 1969 because there would be talk of men going to the moon and there would be four new teams in baseball and they would be all over North America – Montreal, Seattle, Kansas City, and San Diego. And at some point I would get wind that Jim Bouton would be pitching for the Pilots in Seattle and that he had been assigned a task – to chronicle his 1969 season and I would think that was really cool because his chronicle would be like a diary and that would be like gratitude for living, an appreciation of every day, good or bad, drunk or sober, proof of a life lived, a sort of a thank you note to God or whoever. I would want Bouton’s Pilot’s baseball card, but there would be a problem. Topps would issue its cards in spring, but they would be for the previous season so the 1969 set would be about the 1968 players. There would be no Jim Bouton Pilot’s card that year, but it was right about that time that my brother would invite me to some concert in upstate New York. He would say things like, “You gotta go and don’t worry, I know exactly how to prepare you for the event.”
He would sit me down and hand me a small piece of cardboard, much smaller than a baseball card, much much smaller, and he would tell me that it was LSD and that I should put it on my tongue. He promised that it would make me want to hear music, to go and see live music. I would be kind of innocent and gullible, but it would be my brother and I would trust him. Nothing would happen at first, but then I would start noticing things that were always there, but they would be different like the colored shapes of the floor tiles and the turquoise colored ceiling. There would be rainbow colors around the light and my brother would put on an album and it would be Canned Heat and he would tell me about the origins of the name canned heat and we would be like holy crap – “How could anyone drink that!” and I would get to thinking that maybe there was a little magic in all of this and that maybe I should go with my brother to this music concert he called Woodstock which would be the town where the concert would be and maybe it was the LSD talking, but I would wonder and then really believe that there would be a Topps baseball card maker at Woodstock and that he would be making cards from the back of his VW bus, that all the players who would be playing in that 1969 season would have cards including Jim Bouton on the Pilots!
We would hitchhike, my brother and I from Brooklyn to Woodstock and along the way we would eat some more of these LSD cardboard tabs and I would start thinking about time being made up, about it being man made and that all that mattered was the sun and moon, night and day and I would feel even more excited about there being four more teams in baseball and when we would get to Woodstock, I would meet an old man with a radio, an AM transistor, and he would tell me that the Pilots were playing the Orioles in Seattle that weekend and I would know that and he would offer to drive us to Baltimore, that he had a Dodge Dart and we would listen to the game on the radio in Baltimore in his one bedroom apartment and it wouldn’t feel that weird or creepy because it would be Woodstock and I would trust everyone. And when I would say yes, he would say, “Maybe Bouton would pitch.” And it would feel so bizarre and magical that this old man would say such Bouton things, like how would he know that I had come to Woodstock to find some Bouton baseball card magic, but it would be really happening so I would tell my brother and thank him and he would understand because he would be a great brother and he would know things and we would get to Baltimore, me and this old man, on Saturday and the magic would just be starting because Bouton would pitch in Saturday’s, August 16th game and yeh, the Pilots would lose 16-3 and yeh, Bouton would give up three earned runs in two innings, but I would have heard Bouton’s name said over and over and I would imagine what he might do later that night and how he would paint the experience with words in his soon to be book and I would be excited about one day reading it. I would not remember how I got back home to Brooklyn, but when I would get there I would be more sure than ever that I would get that dark eyed girl to kiss me and I would still not know her name.
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.
*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.
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.”
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.”
She came from a place no one had ever heard, from Crapshoot, meaning “in memory of the risks we once took,” she explained in her native Crapshootian tongue.
The local geography maven, Spencer Guinness, sat at the rail every night. He rattled on about Siberian hills and Madagascar waves and small towns in Nebraska and parks and streets in their hometown of Springfield. Now Spencer stood up, pitcher of Blatz in his hand, and waxed on about Crapshoot, about its mountain peaks and views and tent town under the Steeltoe Bridge beside the Ruminate River. There were singers there, strummers and students too and retired insurance salesmen and folk who talked about the people with the long necks. Spencer liked to hear that name Crapshoot so he said it often and bought everyone beer too and this inspired them to learn more about the lady from Crapshoot….
…so tall and yet legs so short, arms so long, and her neck, jetting up like a giraffe’s causing people on Springfield’s east side, home of the local university, to talk about a hybrid birth – half human/half giraffe and this had geneticists and biologists and sociologists and all kinds of “ists” concluding that she came from lands where giraffes walk, that she was from Chad or Somalia so they named her Chadalia. It was all over the papers and the local bar patrons liked the name Chadalia too.
Chadalia didn’t know about bars and didn’t read the papers and yet, she swung her hips like she was playing Hula Hoop and she walked and walked and ran out of breath at the LastStraw Saloon’s front door so she went inside and talked with the nice bartender who was its owner too. His name was Jack. They talked about traffic lights, specifically why there were only three lights and not four and what color would the fourth be and what would it cause people to do. They talked about parking tickets and stop signs. Chadalia loved cars, especially ones from the the 1950’s. She never left the bar. She sat down, her long neck almost touching the X-shaped ceiling fan. She liked the dark so when the lights went on, she ducked her head and slipped downstairs, to sleep in a small room, compliments of Jack the bartender.
Jack hadn’t felt so excited since Grimpy the Drifter recited all that Irish poetry by heart. He announced a walk-off seance, a beer and booze binge fest to welcome the new Chadalia to town, for everyone to walk-off their jobs for a day or a night if they were graveyarders, to drink for free, to dance, sing, argue, fight…
“Like 5 cent beer nights,” exclaimed Jack the bartender.
Hank Cavanaugh knew about walk-offs, from “Small Mouth” Watson’s walk-off bunt in the pre-civil war game, back when it wasn’t even called baseball; he knew about Aaron Pinterest’s school yard walk-off walk at Sunday Church baseball in Boise, Idaho and he knew about the regular season not so memorable names who hit walk-off’s. There were even a couple of wild pitch walk-offs and of course he knew about Bill Mazeroski and Chris Chambliss and Joe Carter post season walk-off home runs. He’d never actually seen one in person, but he had a friends with old VHS tapes and he read about others from books, the way everyone enjoyed some collective euphoria and how sometimes stadiums actually swayed. Hank invented his own play-by-play calls. He never had a mother or father to read him bed time stories so he sang the walk-offs out loud at night like some roll call lullaby prayers to help him sleep, but he seldom slept. He was too excited.
Hank once stayed awake for 97 straight hours. He walked all over town and ultimately ran out of breath at the LastStraw Saloon’s front door, exactly like Chadalia had and he too went inside. And Jack’s bar wasn’t too big so Hank eventually met Chadalia. And Hank didn’t waste any time. He began reeling off one walk-off moment after another and this impressed Chadalia, the sing song, lilt in Hank’s voice.
“Walter Johnson was nicknamed “Big Train” and Rube Waddell liked his booze and once upon a time there were no batting helmets,” said Hank, causing everyone in the bar to whip their necks around and stare at Hank because he was no longer reciting walk-offs.”
“And Tony Phillips walked 132 times in 1993,” continued Hank and “Maury Wills played 165 games in 1962.” Hank couldn’t stop; he didn’t want to. There was baseball data that needed to be downloaded into Chadalia’s mind.
“Drafts are more than wind gusts sneaking under blankets,” said Hank. “And Pie Traynor helped Larry Doby get a footing in the outfield and Fernando Valenzuela’s eyes and Bill Buckner almost catching Hank Aaron’s 715th home run or at least climbing the wall and trying. Chadalia didn’t know a pitcher’s rubber from a fungo bat, but she knew a one track tornado and she asked Hank to dance. Hank had never danced before.
“Cocktails on the house,” sang Jack.
And with that, Hank stepped away from his stool and extended his arms and open hands and began to sing about “infield hits and suicide squeezes and he had more fuel in the tank. Chadalia grabbed his hands and spun young Hank around and Hank felt something old arouse inside him.
Thea Bannister didn’t like her first name. It was too close to tea and tea reminded her of China and she was afraid of Chinese people, especially old Chinese men because of the hair growing from moles on their naked arms. She had read in one of her mom’s Readers Digest magazines that Chinese mole hair symbolized wisdom. Thea was afraid of wisdom and perfection and power. She preferred gutters and drains and hunchbacks in corners talking to themselves.
Thea didn’t like her last name either. Bannister. Kids at school called her TB and Thea was no Einstein but she knew the TB were her initials and that to Thea was like cancer and not because she was born in the astrological month of Cancer, in July, like Andre Dawson and Mario Soto and hundreds, maybe thousands of other baseball players, but because TB upset people, got them whispering about boils, malaria, leprosy, polio, mumps, measles and how the world was suffering and that pissed off Thea. She didn’t want people to be upset and death was ok to her. She liked cemeteries; she liked the quiet and the sound of leaves on trees rustling from the wind and she liked frogs too. She saw one down by the swamp. No one believed here, especially her dad. He said there was no swamp in their town and even if there was, there would be no frogs in it, but she knew; Thea knew; she’d seen a frog and she never forgot the way it sat still for so long and those big eyes.
Thea’s dad said they had a great family name, that Floyd Bannister was the name of a former big league pitcher, a pretty good one too, not HOF good, but good enough to win 134 games and pitch 15 seasons, including one with the “winning ugly” White Sox 1983 season and daddy Bannister had dozens of them games recorded on old VHS tapes from that season and while he watched and cheered on the Sox and Bannister, Thea dreamed of becoming a sniper or a mercenary or someone who panhandled up enough change to fly to the Amazon and go searching for frogs.
Thea did share one thing in common with her father. She was drawn to the basement of their two bedroom house. It was humid down there, perfect for a frog and six feet under. Her dad liked it too. He built himself a makeshift bar and collected bottles and drank at night and sometime in the morning too. Thea grabbed one of her father’s middle age replica swords one late night and brandished the sucker high above her head like she was being yanked by a drunk kite, but she was in complete control as she slid her feet, sword still above her head, slid towards dad’s Hartland baseball statues lined up along the bar rail. There was Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn and a bunch of other Milwaukee Braves players. She wasn’t gonna do anything to them, just scare her dad and hopefully get him to go upstairs. She knew all the player names because when she was a toddler, they were her dad’s sweet lullaby equivalents, a roll call of Braves baseball players to help her sleep and yeh, she fell asleep, out of boredom, but now she was older and she practiced ways to get under her father’s skin and it worked. He did go upstairs the “night of the sword. Thea had the entire basement to herself, but it was late so she went to sleep and she had a nightmare of being chased down an alley by kids wearing Milwaukee Braves uniforms wielding baseball bats and mitts, cornering her under street lights and threatening to steal her milk money.
There really were boys at school who stole her milk money so this was no nightmare fantasy. This was reality and these boys were smart boys who always made Thea feel stupid in English class because she could never remember the prepositions and the teacher, a Mr. Edwin Hanover always called on Thea to sing the preposition song, “Aboard, about, around,” and so on and it wasn’t that Thea got tongue tied or suffered a brain freeze, she just didn’t know and that damn teacher used to raise his upper lip to his curled down nose and inhale heavily and shake his head at Thea.
Thea didn’t want to lose her milk money or get mocked by the teacher, so she didn’t go to class that day. She walked in the other direction of school, far away, to the other town whose name Thea always forgot, but she knew a man that lived beside the railroad tracks in a shanty with a blue plastic tarp. She had never seen him, but she had heard him. He spoke with an accent from inside the shanty. Well, on that day, he appeared and she watched him. The old man ran a hose through a fence and towards a wall and fastened it to a spout or whatever you call the place where water flows. Thea thought that was a nice thing to let the man have water like a restaurant or drugstore that leaves a sign in the window that says, “if you’re gonna sleep in the doorway under the awning, it’s ok, but when you gotta piss, use the empty bottle beside the window. Thanks.”
Thea walked closer to the man. He was small, smaller than Thea, and he looked Chinese and without any formal, hey, how you doing greetings, the Chinese man said, “DURING the storm and AFTER the war and ABOVE the clouds and Thea thought that maybe these were prepositions and she wondered how this old Chinese man knew and then he added, UP and DOWN, more prepositions, thought Thea and then it hit her and she wondered how she hadn’t known before, that voice, that broadcasting voice on one of her father’s VHS tapes, the voice of Chris Berman saying, Floyd “up and down” the Bannister and as she thought, this the Chinese man indicated with his hands UP and DOWN. He raised them high above his head and then brought his hands way down low and Thea didn’t know if this old Chinese man had mole hair, but she didn’t mind him at all because she mighta been barely 16, but she knew plenty about up and down.
Thea walked home slowly and the next morning she woke early and made coffee for her father, but she couldn’t remember if he liked milk or sugar in his coffee or both or nothing at all because she had never made coffee for him so she asked him and before he told her how he’d like his coffee, he told her about Eri Yoshida, that she once played in the Arizona Fall League and Thea had one question after another and so she asked them and her dad answered and they talked about Yoshida worshipping Tim Wakefield as a kid, about her wanting to one day throw a knuckleball like Wakefield and Thea drank the first cup of coffee in her life. She didn’t need any sugar.
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…
Billy Tourniquet tried his hand at pool and pinball. He rode the rails and clipped coupons. He worked with migrants up and down the California coast. He completed a plumbing program. Got certified too! He learned about fiduciary matters. He handed out beer to homeless people. He sang in midnight Christmas church choirs. He befriended young ladies and they trusted him and so they drank coffee together, at fast food restaurants, outside. They watched people. They talked.
But there was one thing Billy Tourniquet couldn’t do. He couldn’t dance. He took all the courses too…..courses in Tango, Polka, Samba, Salsa, Hip-hop, even break dancing, but he was too stiff. His back hunched. But then over at the bazaar, the Climkin’s weekly bazaar beside the horse stables, he bought a mystery box and inside were baseball cards and there was a crescent moon that night. He studied the backsides of the cards and learned about the acronyms – ERA and HR and SB and he got smitten and did some research and the wick ignited into a flame and soon a baseball forest fire in his mind. He hit up used book stores and bought baseball books and read about shifts and reserve clauses and Ted Williams and the more he read, the more he got that wanderlust. The locals said it was on account of there beings no clock in baseball and the the potential for a ball to travel into outer space.
Billy walked along the highway shoulder with crows waiting to pounce on road kill and those crows weren’t afraid of Billy and Billy wasn’t afraid of the crows and one of the crows said something soft to Billy and he felt encouraged so he walked and walked and walked some more. He toured towns and took a vow to keep on moving until he reached a baseball diamond and there were plenty of golden McDonald arches and Pentecostal churches and traffic lights and then finally, there were was a diamond and that very night a game and he watched one batter, the number nine hitter peruse the infield before stepping into the batter’s box and then he hit the ball where there weren’t any fielders and Billy listened as a few members of the crowd, older gentlemen all said, almost in unison, “that a way Wee Willie, hit ‘em where they ain’t.”
That very same night, Billy Tourniquet wandered into the woods, picked up a stick about the size of a baseball bat and before stepping into the imaginary batter’s box, he impersonated that batter, that number nine hitter. He perused the scene. He stared at the trees and birds and squirrels and then he stepped in and took a few pitches and then poked one between short and third and then he ran and when he reached what he thought was first base and the umpire signaled safe, Billy rolled his hands around in a circle and hopped on one foot and then jumped up and down and as he did, he felt pleasure on the bottom of his feet and the sensation lingered; it moved like acupuncture jolts up his spine and into his mind and he thought about trades and free agents and suicide squeezes, but he didn’t want to commit suicide. He wanted to bat again and there was no shortage of sticks for bats and space for a field so he batted again and again, for both teams, inning after inning, rolling his hands around in a circle and hopping on one foot and jumping up and down after every at bat.