Fastball John is an Amazing Book!
You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that
it was the other way around all the time ~Jim Bouton
Perhaps the best description of life as a professional baseball player from a players perspective since
Ball Four. John D’Acquisto and Dave Jordan have done a wonderful job of bringing the remarkable events of John’s career to life. A career in professional baseball is a journey, and the path to the major leagues is a precarious one. Obstacles abound. Temptations from all seven of the deadly sins surround you. Only a few of those who are chosen will make it as far a the major leagues.
John’s remarkable story is about his transition from the joyful innocence of high school baseball, to the business of professional baseball, and his return to life as a civilian. Professional baseball is more than just a game–it is a cut throat business. For John it was more than just a career, it was a way of life.
John’s stories are captivating, because they are real life experiences. His involvement in a mafia run restaurant, the fight with Bob Gibson on an elevator after beating him on the mound, betrayal by one of his best friends: The “Count” John Montefusco, and his legal problems after baseball are riveting.
I don’t have the affection towards Jeff “Shark” Samardjiza that I do for other former Athletics–he simply wasn’t in a Oakland uniform long enough for me to care, netting only 5 wins for the Green and Gold. Besides, once you slip on the pajamas with San Francisco stitched on the chest all bets are off. Affection can burn away as quickly as a love affair in a cheap Tijuana hotel room after coitus, an early morning coke hangover and a head full of regrets. I slop mustard on my hotdog and wash it down seconds later with carbonated, gut-wrenching goodness.
This is game 2 of the NLDS.
Samardjiza, long and lanky with long flowing hair akin to a 1980’s Sunset Strip hair metal band, the archetype of a “tall drink of water,” sauntered with that loose and easy gait toward
the bump with mythic and ghostly dimensions whispering through the ballpark–1908— and this former Notre Dame football star was standing in the way of mental and historical catharsis for Cubs faithful. Their celestial recognizance hanging in the balance of a 5 ounce sphere with a Catholic boy twirling it; their fathers and grandfathers never getting to see what they are hoping to see in the near future: a homo-erotic dogpile on the mound (say that once again without innuendo) and a lifting of the gold trophy.
Their collective vision crystallized after 6 months and 2, 106 games. Babe Ruth and his “called shot” be damned.
Samardjiza’s line: 2 innings, 4 runs, 6 hits, 1K, 1 BB…a clunker, a stinker, a garbage pile. Ex Red Sox pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee used to say that sex robbed you of your stamina: “If you let a woman drain away your life’s essence you’ll never be able to go nine.” Does this mean Samardjiza had spent too much time in a Tijuana whorehouse? or was it simply that he couldn’t getting his breaking stuff over?
Top 4th: Baseball giveth and baseball taketh away. Starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks has to leave the game with forearm stiffness after an Angel Pagan (this is the best example of a dichotomy in the baseball universe. Both names butting heads against each other with the former in a perpetual battle for the souls of the denizens of earth and the latter practicing polytheism and prancing around the forest in their birthday suits.) line drive nails him. Travis Wood, the reliever, proceeds to hit a home run in the bottom half of the inning. Baseball giveth again. The rest of the game is filled with a menagerie of relievers shutting down the Giants dreadful lineup, shots of Bill Murray chuckling and partying with fellow fans, and Bob Costas struggling for a heart-felt metaphor. He even mentioned beloved (well, excepting Pete Rose) commissioner Bart Giamatti’s “elegant” poetry at one point.
I absolutely loathe doing these sort of things–analyzations and grades are usually the penchant of a scout or a small town newspaper hack with a deadline. Let us take a cursory
examination on the dog end of a wasted season; one where the fans’ patience was tested, and “Brad Pitt’s” alter-ego was seen, though not necessarily exposed, as a no-nonsense charlatan rather than wizened guru. It is with queasy optimism that I bring you…
Marcus Semien: The seed of talent has become a full flower. Unburdened by his fears with the leather (thanks to Ron Washington) he has flourished with the bat.
He has become the best slugging SS in Oakland history behind Miguel Tejada and a favorite of this blog. Addison Russell who? B+
Stephen Vogt: The revolution has remained underground. “Vogter” is the most underrated catcher in the league, and is the absolute heart, soul and entrails of this team.
The most beloved catcher in Oakland since Terry Steinbach; he is the Crash Davis for the young pitchers on this team, giving them advice and “howling at the moon” on occasion. Cerebral influence is a necessity that doesn’t show up on the back of a baseball card–an absolute gamer, and if you don’t harken that term with any baseball
relevance than you probably shouldn’t be reading this. B-
Ryon Healy: Healy grew up in Encino, Ca. most famously noted in the movie Encino Man, an early 90’s flick which follows the exploits of 2 high school nerds and
the caveman that they dig up in the protagonist’s backyard. Showing flashes of brilliance, he will mature into one of the better hitters in the lineup until being traded to the Yankees
or the Dodgers. B+
Khris Davis: He hit the most taters in Oakland (40) since Jason Giambi and has the power of about 20 drunk Jeremy Giambis jumbled together. A necessity and brilliant front office move yet ultimately an A.L. player because of his weak arm and average defensive ability. A-
Danny Valencia: His career has been as confusing as a yin and yang tramp stamp. He has been on 6 different teams in the past 5 seasons, and has shown great ability and power one day while flailing at junk and looking court jester the next. There was the strange move to right field although he was a more than adequate third baseman. There was the “infamous” scuffle with country-bumpkin degenerate Billy Butler over, cryptically, cleats or some such nonsense which lead to the media claiming he was going
to be released. It never happened. Valencia’s career up to this point begs the question of a famous Buddhist koan: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” C
Yonder Alonso: Led the team with 32 doubles, played great defensively, yet only batted .255 with minimal power. He is as solid as a brick wall yet as quiet and unassuming as that brainy girl who would always sit in the back of the class that you didn’t realize was attractive until your Senior year. He’s like your son-in-law: get used to him because he’s gonna be here for a while. C+
We unload off of the BART train like a herd of cattle and enter the dingy station with a mixture of part excitement and part bovine expression. The afternoon glaze was the perfect California day in the mind’s eye of a dreamer from Detroit during a December snowstorm. Shorts and tank top weather. We cross the bridge en masse and in the distance a towering block of cement surrounded by barbed wire looms. This place doesn’t look like anything the Romans would build and is more akin to the prison Tim Robbin’s innocent and charmingly rebellious accountant had to face in the Shawshank Redemption. There are musicians trying to make a quick buck, and “vendors” wearing dashikis hawking unlicensed merchandise for both the working class parents who can’t afford the “real” thing and the renegade who has a predilection for quirky hand-screened memorabilia; both the former and latter seeming to be a Oakland tradition harking back to the radical, working class pamphlets of the late 1960’s. This is the embroidery of the Oakland Coliseum.
The conversations that rise above the herd can be astounding.
“Elvis didn’t steal black music, man. Music belongs to everybody.”
“Drinking decaf is like being shot by a government death squad.”
“What did people do before the internet?”
“I’m not sure why he didn’t come to work today. I had a low-grade hangover and I showed up.”
Marijuana smoke fills the air and an older couple complains loudly. Obviously the signals between the generations are irrevocably jammed and covered with goo. It makes me feel good, however, when I curl up to read a book at night knowing that people have some sort of right to use a substance that has been worshiped, degraded and used as racist propaganda,”media poisoned” and finally seen as medicinal and taxed throughout its modern existence in the social structure.
We have come here to see the flawed product known as the Oakland A’s: a team with a menagerie of flawed cast-offs, miscreants, and starry-eyed, fresh-faced youngsters.
When the June heat swooned and the losses mounted we were more hypersensitive to the terrible ownership than ever before and perhaps even felt ill about our place as fans. 11,000 and change entered the turnstiles this afternoon, perhaps echoing that disconcerting mood. On this day, however, baby-faced rookie Jharel Cotton dazzled the Halos by pitching a two hit gem through 6 in his ML debut–the only blemish being a home run by C.J. Cron, one of those modern-day, perpetually uninspiring and average hitting first baseman. Cotton left to a standing ovation, walking along the freshly painted football lines and doffing his cap. Sure, this was a lineup with the notable absences of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but it was also a feather in the cap of the downtrodden, a feast in a month of famine for the homeless and forgotten.
There is nothing like the sensory pleasure of falling off a surfboard into the cold Southern California ocean as you tumble under a wave unmercifully for what seems like an eternity and surface gasping for air. I dragged myself across the sand, chest heaving heavily and amazed to still be in one piece.
“Did you know that most “friendships” are only reciprocal 53 percent of the time?”
A friend had brought the New York Times, a large umbrella and a bottle of vodka. She was definitely not going into the water and apparently this article had caught her attention.
“Hmmm…is this a modern phenomenon?” I asked, still gasping for air.
“I’d say yes, considering it was a modern study.”
I sat for a minute quietly thinking about my own life and the relationships that had come and gone. I supposed that I had never seen any sort of friendship as “forever” because of my own abandonment by my father. Because of this thought, and the anxiety of the inevitable, perhaps I never put the time or the effort into friendships that I should have. I simply exhausted all avenues and then quietly moved on with little care.
“Looks like your favorite player was traded,” she said.
Those bastards, I thought, they went and did it. Well, at least he went to the Dodgers. They’ll love him
here in Los Angeles.
Echoes of the past rumble through my head as I stared at the waves crash in deadly syncopation. I dragged
the surfboard slowly to the water and the thoughts disappeared as suddenly as they came. I didn’t like
re-visiting the past–and the way the waves were looking today perhaps I didn’t have a future either.
I watched an A’s game for the first time in over a month yesterday; valiantly attempting to push aside the oozing slime of human conduct from leaking into my baseball brain. Why, you ask? Well, let me put it simply: in the past 25 years income has gone down for 18-35 year olds and student loan debt is at an all time high. We had 3 trillion in bailout money, income inequality and the homeless problem are greater than ever and the general public at large feels scammed by the political system. We, as a country are facing a financial and social crisis and sometimes all we have is a few leisurely hours of escape watching the game that we love–and as Oakland fans even THAT was taken away.
We as A’s fans have been reduced to watching a downsized and dispossessed baseball team. Our hopes are pulverized, our ambitions starved because of despicable ownership, led by Lew Wolff, who have no interest in giving us respite from the social ills that I have spoken about above. This is not only an inferior product, but one molded by the hands of the elite in order to maximize profit. They laugh all the way to the bank while we blindly pledge allegiance. You can see this as holier-than-thou ballyhoo or an insidious prediction on our future, nevertheless I leave you with the immortal words of Joe Strummer, singer of The Clash as a message to Athletics’ ownership, “Go straight to hell, boy.”
In case you haven’t noticed lately, some girls are all about that “dad bod”. I hadn’t heard about this body type until my roommate mentioned it. She was attracted to guys she claimed had the beer belly. After observing the guys she found attractive, I came to understand this body type well and was able to identify it. The dad bod is a nice balance between a beer gut and working out. The dad bod says, “I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink a lot of beer on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.” It’s not an overweight guy, but it isn’t one with washboard abs either.
Matt Stairs was a fan favorite in Oakland and made no apologies for his love for pounding beers and baseballs–the Canadian hit 122 home runs in 5 seasons with the Athletics. A veritable beer keg in motion; Stairs is best known as a pinch hitter, designated hitter, and corner outfielder, but he actually played every position except pitcher, catcher, and shortstop at some point. He also has the most pinch-hit home runs in MLB history. Edgar Allen Poe could have been speaking of Stairs when he wrote this poem in the late 19th century:
Filled with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain.
Quaintest thoughts, queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away.
What care I how time advances;
I am drinking ale today.
I see him almost everyday hanging out in front of the taco stand. He is an old man, probably around 70 years old with a funky sort of style. Today he is wearing gold crushed velvet pants and a fluorescent orange cowboy hat. When I first saw him I thought he was homeless, but his wardrobe is much too vast for that to be true. He defies authority and that is a beautiful thing.
“That Oakland ball-club has been kicking the Giants ass,” he said.
I was a little taken aback–I had never spoken to the man besides a “hey” or a slight nod of the head. I suppose he had seen me wearing the green and gold on numerous occasions. Apparently I wasn’t the only person that noticed small details.
“Sure has,” I said and gave him a smile.
Sure, the A’s still have a terrible record of 35-44; but we made the Giants look foolish in a 4 game series and I can take respite in that.
“Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air.”–Georges Bernanos
I had what can be called a perfect summer evening last night: I watched Star Wars on a 60 foot screen on top of a 6 story building with the stars twinkling brightly above while drinking a wicked batch of sauvignon blanc.
These are the kind of nights that summer is supposed to represent: everyone is dressed casually and comfortably as they enjoyed a night out with friends and family and no cares in the world at that moment. After the movie my acquaintance and I returned to her house for some champagne and a light snack of falafel balls. The great ball of fires close vicinity to the Earth couldn’t ruin this perfect evening and perhaps even enlightened it with its creamy layers of cosmic beauty.
We had small talk for a moment about science fiction novels before “the acquaintance” slides in a DVD of Easy Rider and comments, “Boy, your baseball team sure does stink this year; it must be difficult to find things to write about on that blog of yours.”
“I’m not hypersensitive to it. Perhaps I’ve even given up–which makes me enjoy watching the fiasco all the more. It’s not as if I’m pulling my hair out; there is a sense of calm in losing. Now I know how Cubs fans felt all those years.”
“I find that hard to believe,” she said as she softly tossed her cat off the couch. “Ughh, don’t ever buy anything that eats.”
“Besides, why would I care so deeply about a bunch of millionaires running around in pajamas when I can think about how insignificant my own life is relative to a world that is filled with injustice?”
“I think a lot of the experience of being an adult is: what am I even complaining about?”
“Exactly. So I can be positive and talk about how Danny Valencia and Khris Davis are absolutely raking this season. And Daniel Mengden is a pretty exciting rookie.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Neither do I,” I said as the opening credits to Easy Rider spread across the screen. I really do like Dennis Hopper in this movie I thought.
Say what you want about Mr. Jackson and his brash attitude and high strikeout rates, yet without my grandfathers’ fondness for the man I would have never found my love for the game of baseball and the Oakland Athletics.
This page before you would have never existed.
To me Reggie was ALWAYS a legend, and a mystifying one at that since he was retiring just as I was learning to love and appreciate the game. He was a Ruthian figure; and honored by someone who I loved– which made me open my eyes to try to figure out just what made this guy so special.
When my grandfather died I watched from a distance, sadly, as his children argued and bickered over his possessions. I decided then, because of their behavior, that I didn’t need an earthly remembrance of this man who was the biggest father-figure in my life. A couple of months later my grandmother came to me and handed me an autographed Reggie Jackson ball. I knew it well as it had once had the most prominent spot in the case where he kept his baseball memorabilia. It was the gem of the collection.
“I saved this for you,” she said. “grandpa would have wanted you to have it.”
I love when the baseball existentialists come together to sing their anthems of praise about the serene rhythms and mystic qualities of the game. It gives me a warm feeling. And as much as I love and adore the game, sometimes I feel as if these are all illusions because of a time and an innocence that I miss and cherish — and that I’ll never see again.