I am in the far-flung recesses of my mind, probably contemplating throw-away culture or how the scope of time is too vast for humans to comprehend when I stumble upon the fly strewn corpse of a baby raccoon. My eyes immediately shift too a rather large, honey sweet black woman in stained sweatpants; a mother, and she is giving her child a tongue lashing for being a malcontent. She has a beautiful smile and a confident demeanor, she transcended simple tackiness and wore it well.
“The world needs structure! Without structure there would be chaos!”
Why was this profound? Is baseball chaos, structure or both? I’ve heard arguments for both the former and latter but I can’t seem to argue the contrary– and how did this short walk turn into mental digressions and glorious abstractions? Do I need to see a pharmacologist to ease this mental psycho-babble?
I suddenly trip on the curb, my modus-operandi quickly shifting from faux-philosopher into incoherent boob. The mother chuckles. “You need to look where you’re going kemo sabe, it’s not good to look like a klutz.” I appreciated her simple candor, and she had no idea how profoundly I connected with her simplistic berating of a young ankle-biter. I made sense of the fog for a moment–I was a “klutz.”
“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan… The only Church that truly feeds the soul, day in and day out, is the Church of Baseball.” —Annie Savoy in the film “Bull Durham.”
Those who’ve paid any attention perceive that taste, values, ideas, style and behavior are dispensable criteria of class. Donald Trump is an instructive specimen in this regard. Overall, class structure is one hell of a thing. It defines who we are from the cars we drive, the television shows we watch, the clothes we wear, the neighborhoods we live in, even the food we eat. I thought nothing about these things as a child, hell, who does? You wake from a slumber, go to school, come home, eat some macaroni and cheese, play baseball until the sun goes down, and then repeat…ad infinitum. ( you can throw a few ass whippings in there for good measure; i was a rebellious spirit)
And like every other red-blooded American boy, I idolized baseball players, never questioning the ethics or morals of my heroes. How could they be so “bad?” I knew nothing about drug use, (Darryl Strawberry, Josh Hamilton) D.U.I.’S, ( Miguel Cabrera, Coco Crisp, Adam Kennedy) wife-beating, ( Milton Bradley, Alberto Callaspo, Brett Myers) tax evasion ( Darryl Strawberry, Pete Rose) or even murder ( Julio Machado, Ugueth Urbina) These things were done by OTHER people who weren’t associated with me and my family, and never the twain shall meet. I learned quite quickly through the buying and trading of baseball cards about the true nature of the human condition. (of which my parents weren’t exempt) These little pieces of cardboard had taught me deceit, unfair business practices, price manipulation, collusion, restraint of trade, extortions, pay- offs, bribes, plagiarism, and false hype. Soon thereafter, as I entered my early teens I started to understand privilege, advantage and wealth as the Yankees had started to define it in ways that were bigger than the world of baseball: my life consisted of old, out of style clothes, pot pies for dinner and late night parental arguments over bills.
I would like to thank baseball for teaching me these valuable lessons. The beautiful game is rich with juxtapositions and historical aspects that go beyond stats, OBP’s, WHIPS, and World Series titles. It is a game that teaches you to slow down, as it can be played in the mind as well as on the field. It is a game of anticipation, a game that erupts in a sudden explosion of action, then slows down again, giving us time to savor what we have seen, and to give us time to think about what we are going to see. It shows you that you are not perfect, and that you don’t have to be. It also teaches you to enjoy your lot in life whether you be a HOF er or a .220 hitter. It teaches you that no matter how much you think you know, you should always learn MORE. It teaches you to love and cherish something that was loved and cherished by a father or grandfather, and that you love and cherish in return. I have long since stopped putting these guys on a gold pedestal, and it has enriched my life in ways no home run ball, autograph, or season ticket could ever match.
I’ve been to 100’s of baseball games in my life, but perhaps the “miraculous strangeness of life” came into play recently as I recently attended a minor league AAA game between the Sacramento River Cats and the Reno Aces. (both teams are affiliated with a N.L. team, I am unpledged to any N.L. team except the Dodgers.)
It was Sunday; there there were hordes of annoying children and even more annoying non-baseball fans out for a sun drenched day–unable to simply figure out the Dewey Decimal system and standing around awkwardly with blank stares, metaphorically taking us back to the primeval seas as protozoa. Kudos to the drunk guy yelling “down in front!” to the yuppies, completely unaware that they had breached the unwritten baseball rule of finding your seat quickly and getting your ass out of the way.
Game facts: there was a grand slam. An event I can’t remember ever seeing live. I had also never come close to a foul ball, instantly disappointed as I dropped one, (bare and one-handed) that had such an unexpected force that my right hand was bee-stung for a few minutes afterward. I had to watch an old guy from the post-war generation two seats in front of me take a picture with my ball. That said, I still cringe when I see a grown man try to catch a ball and recoil like a coward at the last moment. I had just tidied myself with a 12 dollar beer in the 5th when the game was stopped because of a small snake on the infield. This is something I have never seen and perhaps will never see again.
Baseball season represents an infinite cloud of future potentialities, and as I walked in my door and flipped on the tube the Cubs and Yankees were playing an eventual 18 inning affair that broke the ML record for strikeouts in a game. This game has been played professionally since 1876.
Eat a dick, indeed.
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–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.”