Tag Archives: writing

An Ode To The Coliseum

“As a friend once said to me about getting old: what a strange thing to happen to a little boy.”–Paul Auster

The soon-to-be-extinct “piss trough.”

My grandfather took me to my first baseball game at the tender age of 10. There was no literal hand-holding, strategic explanations, or silver-spoon procurement. That just wasn’t his style. If I wanted to figure out the game I had to do it myself. If I wanted some food, well, here’s some money and go fetch it. There was Darwinian Law in effect here, and as far as I know, no child had ever been abducted at a baseball game. The law of averages were on my side, and I was discovering a piece to the puzzle while unknowingly creating creaky memories in that long-ago foreign land known as the 1980’s. 

There was very little talk and every so often the solitude would be broken by the snap of a Bic lighter touching a Marlboro cigarette. This was a time before the fancy new novelty stadiums with their retractable roof, craft beer, gourmet food, and yuppies making corporate deals in skyboxes. One time a woman was nailed in the head by a foul ball and a group of freedom-loving, scurrying, rat-children (who would hang around the opposing bullpen before games to brutally heckle the starting pitcher) gathered around her. She was battered and bloodied in the aisle, and it looked like she was shot in the forehead. There’s nothing to see here, said her husband. 

When I eventually had to go to the bathroom I was astonished as men were herded in like cattle to a room that smelled like beer, cigarettes, and vomit, all the while whipping out their dongs publicly to pee in what can only be described as a “large rectangular sink.” I would rather die than make a side-glance. Your very life depended on staring at that tiny pin fragment of wall in front of you. You had to embrace yourself in the warmth of your own microcosm for a moment before the vigorous shake, shiver, and hasty exit. Never acknowledge another’s hose/existence while in this pungent world. 

I’m going to miss the Oakland Mausoleum when it’s gone. It’s exactly what I look for in a baseball stadium. A classic feeling, a potent memory, and a working-class nostalgia. A piss trough in a dirty bathroom, hustlers selling unlicensed knockoffs in the parking lot, a hotdog on a stale bun, overpriced Budweiser, the faint smell of marijuana, broken plastic seats, and a field open to the high blue sky and blazing Northern California sun. 

Just as my grandfather used to watch games.

Random Baseball Stuff

Joker, smoker, midnight toker.

– Every so often a publisher will send me a book in the mail to review, and I usually flip through it quickly and then absentmindedly set it on my bookshelf. If I’m too busy or uninterested, the book makes a home there, snug amongst the “serious literary fiction”, and gathering dust until I just happen upon it while searching for other things, which in turn brings upon pangs of guilt. I’ve waded through a malaise of baseball books–hundreds in fact–and I usually enjoy them more often than not. I must have been in the middle of reading one (I’m usually reading, or grazing multiple books at one time like a maniac) when I tucked in a baseball card moonlighting as a bookmarker. What a pleasant surprise to see the all-time greatest thief staring back at me with sun-blasted squinty eyes, the square jaw of Zeus, and an air of don’t fuck with me. Many years had passed, and I recalled that I had last seen this alluring piece of cardboard when I was going through a “my own worst enemy” caveat and floating through a listless existence of fast food, an unfulfilling job, innumerable cocktails, and memories of a failed relationship. 

– The Angel Hernandez fiasco will bring up more hyperbole (baseball fans are incessant complainers) about needing robotic umpires, but the conversation should turn to MLB and its incompetent hiring practices and institutional/generational standards. (amongst other amateurish discrepancies) I’ve watched Japanese baseball (NPB) for many years now, and it’s very rare that they miss a call at the plate. Perhaps they have more astute hiring practices? There’s nothing more frustrating than the American way of doing things–which is to call a pitch a strike that is a foot off the plate–and the announcers calling it a “pitcher’s pitch.” In many cases, you would need an oar to hit one of these things, and frustration just turns to laughter as the strike zone becomes more abstract than a Jackson Pollock painting as the game matures. Welcome to the theatre of mediocrity known as MLB. 

– Franklin Barreto, aka the biggest bust in Oakland A’s trade history and Billy Beane WonderBoy is batting a cool .200 with a .624 OPS for the Asterisks’ AAA team, the Sugar Land Space Cowboys. You can call him the most highly touted pinch-runner–and there have been many–in A’s history, just don’t call him Maurice–because he doesn’t speak of the pompatus of love. (yes, I am showing my age here)

P.S. please check out Hugh’s Atlanta Braves-based blog Cheap Hill 44 if you get a chance!

Who Needs a Beer?

Love unrequited

What’s a guy gonna do? I went with my normal routine of a quick-paced afternoon walk before stopping at the local rec. center to shoot some hoops. (My follow-through is a bit rusty, but coming along nicely) I knew I only had about 30 minutes to goof around before proceeding to walk the 6 blocks home. Today was Opening Day, and as Jerry Seinfeld so astutely said, “You’re not rooting for players, you’re rooting for laundry.” And in the end–I’m not convinced that this is a baseball team rather than a Ponzi scheme. The “suits” have seemingly crystallized everything I despise about hyper-capitalism and formulated a baseball team that epitomizes unchecked greed before the inevitable crash. Of course, the fanbase gives a collective yawn, indicating that they’ve been through this routine before.

So, what the hell…let’s put my slavish devotion to the test. You know, sometimes disaster porn can be fun. Is your temperature rising too? Well, buddy–pop a few Xanax, have a drink, and let’s get angry!

 I couldn’t look away. I had to indulge and examine how this bunch of ragtag misfits (I am not going to say lovable quite yet) were going to fare against a “pretender” like the Phillies. If I have to be pragmatic with myself, I felt like it was going to take a 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey-like effort to win one of the games in this series–no doubt the only historical reminder of most of these guys’ benign, hardball careers will be represented on a single baseball card that no collector will bother to safeguard in one of those plastic pages, inevitably ending up battered and pissed on by vagrants in a random 7-11 parking lot. Alas! The Phillies come out of the gate with a 4- run lead which felt insurmountable, even in this cheesesteak bloated, Santa-Claus-hating, bandbox.

The human equivalent of a facepalm, Elvis Andrus attempts to pull everything, and I usually just scratch 6-3 on my scorecard before the facade is over. When he finally grounds out to the opposite field, (4-3) A’s fans rejoice. This front office should have known something was amiss when the Rangers implored, “PLEASE take him off our hands….we’ll even pay half his salary!” The second half of that sentence predictably made owner John Fisher’s nipples rock hard as he undoubtedly daydreams about 100-foot yachts and “ladyboys” in stale-sheet-smelling Thai bedrooms amongst other slimy antisocial transgressions only the insanely wealthy seem to enjoy. (Did someone say modern art tax-write-off?)

It’s all about the little things, right? Who am I kidding? There just isn’t anything to be optimistic about unless you’re the owner’s accountant or a naive homer. The only saving grace/mental resolve is knowing that this team (or the league for that matter) isn’t going to pry one filthy nickel from my grubby hands this year or anytime in the foreseeable future.

Are you bored yet? My apologies for being one of those fussy saps that love to shoehorn their unparalleled virtue into any scenario–it appears that this affliction was satisfied (once again, as this primal scream seems to exemplify) by howling into the abstract abyss known as the internet, composing even more agonizing and just plain stupid first-world problems in these supposed apocalyptic times. Sigh…who needs a beer?

Whiskey and Baseball

Lucian-Hamilton Field

Summer is slowly creeping into the room, and I’m starting to wear tank tops and abandoning a blanket at night. I ran out of coffee and now I’m getting a headache. The cats are moving a little more slowly, seemingly without agenda, and sleeping more often as the sound of spring training baseball fills the afternoon air. The announcers are speaking to no one as I go about my daily tasks, and when I finally watch for a while they feign excitement for a team that exists for no other reason than for its owner to extort money from the fans, the league, and perhaps even the city they play in. I love this team but feel pandered to as they try to sell me a bowl of shit and tell me it’s chocolate ice cream with sprinkles on top. (What…no cherry?) There’s a sucker born every minute, and I suppose I’m the jive-ass mf’er P.T. Barnum was referring to when he uttered those words that are soundly more American than apple pie and a lobotomy–thrust into a blender that would be deemed irrelevant in mere minutes and dumped in a landfill. 

I went for an afternoon walk and decided to stop by the small (supposedly haunted) Catholic university near my home to watch a bit of baseball. The St. Edward’s Hilltoppers are a division 2 team, with a well-kept playing surface, a view of downtown Austin in RF, and a large awe-inspiring, red-topped, Gothic castle–simply called “Main Building” and built-in 1888–that can be seen for miles around slightly left of the diamond. There was purity on the field that day; an anachronistic system rooted in the previous century that had been missing as players chirped back and forth throughout. Talk of the soil. Distant were the absurd contracts, overpriced merchandise, and owners who had graduated to my drop-dead list.

Distant was the soulless institution of MLB as I took nips of whiskey from a flask that I had bought from a man in what can only be described as “barely a gas station” in some stink-pit outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. There was a turquoise, sort of abstract eagle on the front of that magical flask, and I’m not sure if it was the booze, the heatstroke, or the hoodoo placed upon the pewter–but I sure hell felt as free as that screwball eagle at that very moment.

Happy Halloween Ya Scumbags!

As I’m making my coffee in the morning my cat routinely comes into the kitchen and stands next to my legs to greet me, lightly brushing with his tail every so often. I pick up the little critter and set him on the bar to stroke his orange coat for a bit before giving him a few treats. After gobbling the morsels, he then runs outside on the deck to get some fresh air and to harass random chattering and angry squirrels simply trying to access their mythical, hidden cache. This is part of our routine, something that promotes health and wellness. It’s a great thing to be a wild and crazy guy, but we also need routines to settle our brain so the messy bugger is able to compute correctly. What is the significance of this? Nothing. Just another day…except today is Halloween!

I tried to watch a bit of the World Series last night, but it’s difficult to be attentive as I don’t have a dog in the race. No doubt, this has to be the mostMerica Fall Classic of all time as you have a crew of trash-can-banging cheaters from a state that instituted fascist abortion laws, essentially reverting humanity and women’s rights back to the Vatican of the 1300’s, (still up in the air if we can burn a hussy at the stake) or you can root with an assortment of redneck menagerie eating processed nacho cheese out of a pork barrel and periodically switching off on chanting the “tomahawk chop” with the bass intro to a shitty White Stripes song the whole goddamn game. On occasion my subconscious was discombobulated and I had to stop for a moment and assure myself that I was watching a baseball game and wasn’t mysteriously transported to a klan rally by aliens via Jewish space lasers. My friend overheard the chanting from the other room and said simply, “stupid,” and I just chuckled as I polished off my Budweiser and smashed the can against my forehead. I’m no paragon of virtue either, obviously, but it was a superb game in the end despite the psychic fallout–Braves won 3-2.

There was an article in some mainstream-newspaper-fish wrap where the hack stated that the rubes (the fans) must enjoy baseball in the present moment on grounds that  the dissolute prima-donnas will be striking next year. “You must savor every inning as if it’s your last.” I thought, who gives a toss? I refuse to give in to the effete demands of millionaires and billionaires and their nihilist institution! In addition, my team will be a shit show next year anyway, and if I need my junkie fix I can always watch Japanese baseball (NPB) or go check out my local sandlot team. I heard the Austin Grackles are supposed to be pretty good, and they sport some sweet ball-caps. I guess you could say that I’m entering my end of the year, cynical “baseball sucks” neurosis routine until spring training starts again, this time without Bob Melvin for the first time in over a decade. No doubt, I’ll probably read a few books about players and seasons from the past over the winter and let out a prolonged sigh. 

I got tix tonight to see John Carpenter’s original 1978 classic, Halloween, and I’m excited to see it on the big screen for the first time. It’s a typical slasher trope that teenagers are killed for having pre-marital sex, but one of the characters is strangled for casually thinking about banging her boyfriend on the way to pick him up in her 1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Ain’t that the way it goes? Life sometimes just ain’t fair. I’ve also decided that I’m taking a break from this crusty ‘ol degenerate blog and wont see you guys again until April. Until then, stay well and warm, don’t eat all the kid’s candy, leave the “bag snatching” to the teens, and when you start seeing double it’s time to leave the bar. 

Turn Out The Lights…The Party’s Over

Viva Las Vegas?

I had no misguided delusions of this team winning the division at the beginning of the 2021 season. The past few days I have read various comments comparing Sergio Romo to a white flag, but you’ll see that I wrote on this very blog some months ago that I saw the Romo and Elvis Andrus acquisitions as a white flag with no implications of competing before a single ball was hurled or a single bat was swung.

It was simply lipstick on a pig.

It’s not practical for a team that is tip-toeing the paper-thin line between “good” and “average” to lose two All-Star caliber players (Marcus Semien, Liam Hendricks) and supplant them with two decrepit, below average players who are barely ML caliber. Who was relegated to pick up the slack? Because no one on this roster did–or was even capable–and the numbers to be replaced were insurmountable. The fact that either player stepped on the field wearing pajamas with Oakland stitched on the front was a middle-finger to the fans. A ruse. The same tired and time-honored baseball front office hoax of getting the fans interested by virtue of a recognized player who “did it in the past” rather than the ability to put up numbers for your team today–and the uneducated, fringe fans fall for it…every…single….time.

We as fans are supposed to “trust the process,” but where does a team go with a 29th ranked minor league system and zero ability to sign high profile free agents? Are we as Oakland fans to forever wish upon a star with the likes of Skye Bolt or a myriad of AAAA players? To dig through the trash to find somewhat capable players with obvious flaws and then leave it to management to disguise said flaws? Make no mistake about it, the contention window has closed with this current team, and with the threat of a move to Las Vegas imminent, these are times of high anxiety for fans of the green and gold. We are staring into the void of the baseball universe and having an existential crisis while the front office is trying to prove their craftiness by playing a glamorized version of Strat-O-Matic. Dare I say the Devil Rays have surpassed the A’s at their own game in this respect? A World Series appearance, the best record in the AL, and a stacked minor league system tells me…. hell yes.

Humbled and surpassed at our own Moneyball game as a billionaire con-man (John Fisher and his tasseled loafers can burn in hell) hiding behind the scenes uses the team, the city of Oakland, and MLB in order to extort and develop hundreds of acres of publicly owned land posing as a “stadium project.” In the end, this team we root for is just an asset for real estate development–the franchise itself is entirely immaterial to the bottom line.

These are disparaging times with no foreseeable reprieve.

Author Almost Swallowed by the Pacific on a Perfectly “Sonny” Day

Pirates Cove, Malibu

I remember that day well. I had almost drown while surfing in the hidden cove. The waves took me under and I was thrashing around at the bottom and had no idea which way was up and which way was down. It didn’t matter, as I was being pummeled mercilessly and told myself not to panic or I’d start sucking in water.  I suppose there are worse ways to die, but while it’s happening you are never really ready to concede no matter the aesthetic. It’s like a surprise birthday party in all the wrong ways. 

There is nothing like the sensory pleasure of falling off a surfboard into the cold Southern California ocean as you tumble under the surface for what seems like an eternity and surface gasping for air. I was reborn as I violently broke the surface–blind luck and another bullet dodged in a moment of equal measure grandeur and folly. I dragged myself across the caramel-hued sand, chest heaving heavily and astonished to still be in one piece as the sky was making that brief transformation that comes every evening at twilight.

“Whats new, pussycat?” I asked, still gasping for air.

My girlfriend had brought the New York Times, a large umbrella, and a few adult beverages. She looked amazing in her bikini, and I was jealous of the sun glistening off her light-brown cocoa skin like a forbidden sanctum while my own pasty coating was sucking up skin cancer like a flophouse on future consignment. My lust was transparent. We were hanging out mere feet away from where Charlton Heston filmed the iconic scene with the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes. It was well known to locals, but you had to climb a small stack of sharp, craggy boulders to enter the VIP room. 

“Did you know that most “friendships” are only reciprocal 53 percent of the time?” said the scantily-clad, toasted confectionery treat as she emerged from stray thoughts.

I sat for a minute quietly thinking about my own life and the relationships that had come and gone–always cutting deceptively dark and deep. 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. Shadows of the past. Funny how that happens–one minute you’re dying, and the next…disastrous self-scrutiny

“Looks like your favorite player was traded,” she said.

“Sonny Gray!?”

 “Those damn dirty apes,”  I thought. They went and did the inevitable –so how could I be shocked or angry? “They’ll love him in New York for about, oh, 15 minutes.” (Gray was 15-16 over the lower part of 2 seasons before being exiled to Cincinnati for a package of hot dog buns)

Echoes of the past rumble through my head as I gazed upon the murderous waves crashing in deadly syncopation. I loved to tempt the laws of probability as a reaffirmation of existence. I dragged the surfboard slowly to the water and the previous thoughts disappeared as suddenly as they came. I didn’t like revisiting the past– and the way the waves were looking today, perhaps I didn’t have a future either.

An Interview With Oakland A’s UK

Although much of what I do here is the literary equivalent of digital fish wrap, I recently decided to go a different direction and did a cool and very interesting interview with Matt from Oakland A’s UK. I despise long intros, so I’ll let the interview do the talking…also, do yourself a favor and check out the link above if you get a chance! Enjoy.

1. Let’s start with the genesis of this love affair. How did you discover baseball in a football-obsessed country, and why did you choose the Oakland A’s as your favorite club?

In the late 1990s and early 2000s two MLB games per week were shown live on British TV in the early hours of the morning. As a big sports fan, I thought I would give baseball a shot and so I recorded a game and was hooked straight away, despite not having much of a clue what was going on at first. My first game was in mid-1998 so I lucked into the whole drama of the ‘Run for ‘61’ (slightly tarnished in retrospect!) that season and also quickly gained a healthy dislike of the Yankees due to them being annoyingly good in that period!

I thought it would be more fun to have a team to root for, but had no geographic or family reasons that might pick a team for me, other than not wanting to jump onto the bandwagon of the usual big-name teams. In the end, it came down to the colors. I come from a small city called Norwich and our soccer team plays in yellow and green, so when I saw the A’s green and gold caps that was as good a reason as any.

I’d say I’ve properly been following the A’s since 2005, as that was the first year when MLB.TV was really starting up and I was able to watch or listen to lots of games rather than just reading up about them online. 2005 really isn’t all that long ago, but the way MLB.TV has developed over the years since, and streaming in general, is pretty remarkable. Add on social media and wherever you are in the world you can now feel like part of the fan base. We’ve been incredibly lucky that so many A’s fans have been so welcoming towards us, both online and on visits to the Coliseum, and I think that speaks to the unique spirit that A’s fans have.

2. Considering the time change, you and your crew have to rise at ungodly hours to watch these games. How do you suffer through it?

We are 8 hours ahead of Pacific Time so day-games are our friend! A typical 12.37pm or 1.07pm start in Oakland is 8.37pm/9.07pm here in the UK, and that means most weeks there are at least 2 if not 3 games we can watch live at a convenient time.

The night-games are usually a 2.40am or 3.07am start for us. With the best will in the world, watching those live every day, combined with a full-time job and other commitments, often isn’t feasible. So we don’t tend to watch ‘working week’ night-games live and instead either just settle for watching the highlights or watch the game back ‘as live’ the following day. That’s been made easier over the past 18 months due to Covid lockdowns and the increase home-working where we can have it on in the background! 

The other silver lining of the Covid period has been the wide adoption of Zoom calls as a way for us to watch games together despite living apart, in different parts of the UK and also friends out there in the States joining too. That helps to get us through late nights when the game is dragging on a bit.

3. Are you invested in the decision regarding the Oakland City Council and the A’s potentially leaving Oakland?

Definitely. We don’t come from a sporting culture of franchises and the very idea of picking up a team and moving it somewhere else is completely abhorrent to us whoever the team is, let alone the one we love. I know the A’s moved from Philadelphia and KC to get here, but the team has been in Oakland since 1968 so by now I think everyone has the right to consider the A’s as being Oakland’s team. I guess Fisher and Kaval see the Vegas flirting as standard business practice for US franchises, but it’s just the latest kick in the teeth for a fanbase that has been treated terribly for years and deserves so much better. 

Clearly the Howard Terminal plan is complicated, but it feels like it has got further along the line than any other plan for a new ballpark in Oakland, so I view it all with cautious optimism. All of us in the AUK group would struggle to follow the team to a new location, especially one out of the Bay Area, so we all desperately hope that everything works out and Fisher and Kaval actually come good on their ‘Rooted In Oakland’ talk.

4. Who are your favorite players and most hated? (Any Jim Johnson hate would be appreciated)

Jim Johnson certainly is on the bad list, with Billy Butler being the other name that comes up most in our discussions of recent flops. 

In terms of favorites, I think I loved everything about Coco Crisp, from his name to his batting stance, and he was a rare player who stuck around for quite a while. Cespedes was like a comet who shone with us briefly, but he felt like a star player when he was here, and one who genuinely seemed to enjoy being in Oakland. 

Most recently, Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks were players you had to love because we saw their struggles and how hard they worked to become excellent players, and again both had a lot of respect for the A’s fan base. That made the past off-season really hard, but there are always new players to emerge or existing ones to step up. Right now, my vote would be for ‘the starting rotation’! I love the way that they clearly enjoy being in each other’s company and drive each other on. Here’s hoping they can keep performing as well as they have up to this point.

The ‘Fro goes to a Baseball Game

Round Rock Express vs Springfield Isotopes

To everyone’s shock and surprise, yours truly was apparently persuasive enough to wrangle a few media credentials recently for a AAA game on a hot, sticky Saturday night in Round Rock, Texas. My baseball buddy (the female version, not the one that looks like Cheech) had a good laugh at this and was comparing me to the baseball writing equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson.

“They’re going to be wondering, who the hell is this guy affiliated with?” she said with a snicker, glaring at my cut-off jean shorts and general casual appearance that bordered on “depraved homeless guy” entangled with a little “divorced dad who stopped giving a shit” vibe–the only thing missing was the cigarette holder and flask of vodka in the breast pocket.

I assured her that this wasn’t the old-school baseball writing world of cigar-chomping old guys wearing Hawaiian shirts with an Olivetti typewriter tucked beneath their arm. No, my friend, these weren’t newspaper and media hacks who didn’t use nuance or subtext and who hadn’t read anything remotely literary since the ink on a copy of The Old Man and the Sea was fresh. These were modern, good ‘ol All American tech-savvy baseball promoters with hipster haircuts, toothy smiles and finely trimmed beards looking to climb the ladder in a billion-dollar industry by foisting fake opinions for clicks and sponsors.

“Wow, now you look even worse.”

All the internal hype was for naught. (This was, alas, the minor leagues) I was asked, indeed, what outfit I was with, but the overall Press Box atmosphere seemed sort of relaxed and lethargic. A nice man, Leonard, answered a few questions, told us we couldn’t go into the TV room and gave us some tickets for free tacos. There was a snack spread and we took a few bags of chips and soda and decided to go down and find a few empty seats on the first-base-line with the rest of the fans: we needed that feeling of symbiosis that had been missing since our weakened empire unequivocally turned divisive politically, went mentally unhinged and rehearsed a zombie apocalypse drill. I was also told that under no circumstances could someone media affiliated receive the Nolan Ryan bobblehead giveaway that night. Well, shit.

Isotopes win!!!

Overall, it was a humid, syrupy, sweat-inducing pleasant time. The atmosphere was lively (the crowd sang “Deep In The Heart Of Texas” during the 7th inning stretch) and my new favorite player, Curtis Terry aka “Scary Terry” hit 2 massive dingers while my baseball buddy made a sugary mess eating a funnel cake. A major highlight was the hilarious stampede for dollar hot dogs when the “Hot Dog Batter” struck out in the bottom half of the 7th–a kindly older gentleman felt the need to wildly instruct everyone in our section of this fact while other fans returned triumphantly with ghastly amounts of their pink, mustard-laden prize…I love minor league baseball.

Final: Isotopes 8 Express 6

Interview with poet, baseball writer and Brewers fan, Steve Myers

Steve was one of the very first (if not the first) individuals to post a comment on this blog, and we’ve been “internet friends” ever since. 10 long years later, we are both published and still banging away on our keyboards–what a strange, wild, wacky world.  I recently contacted him to chat about his book, Dreaming .400: Tales of Baseball Redemption. 

Let’s start at your formative years. Talk a bit about where you grew up, how you gravitated to the game of baseball, and who were your favorite players?

I grew up in Milwaukee, but to say that would be kind of a lie since I was raised in a suburb of Milwaukee – Whitefish Bay… people around town called it “white folks bay” for obvious reasons. There were no bars there either, but there was a city bus line…the number 15 took us down to Milwaukee’s east side and elsewhere, to eat at diners, slip flasks into laundry mats and drink at bars which was always a scary self-conscious venture, for me anyway. I don’t know what initially triggered my interest in baseball but my dad took a bunch of friends and me to a doubleheader at County Stadium against the Red Sox. I don’t remember who won. I think it was in 1977? I woulda been seven at the time. I also remember my dad bringing home a pack of cards in 1975, all those colored Crayola explosion borders. I remember one of the cards – Jim Brewer, probably because I knew the Brewers played in Milwaukee, and yet, here was this pitcher with Brewer for the last name and he played for the Dodgers? It was confusing. I was no Einstein.

My favorite player was and will always be Harold Baines. I first saw him on WFLD channel 32 Chicago in the early ’80s. I don’t know what it was about him…maybe because he was an outfielder and so was I…maybe because he batted left-handed and so did I or maybe because he just seemed so mellow and humble or maybe it was the way he lifted up his front foot when batting?  I later got to meet him in Sarasota, Florida where the sox trained and where my grandpa lived. He was standing with an Amish family. I waited my turn. He didn’t talk too much to me, but he sort of smiled and signed the ball I handed him. I later learned that Baines was from St. Michaels, Maryland and that there are a lot of Amish there. That explained that. Anyway, the contrast of Baines in his uni and the Amish family in their unis stuck with me in a whole lot of democracy happening on the urban street corner sort of way.

I have a nice baseball card collection, nice as in large. When I was a kid, I was a sucker for the rookie cards, thinking I would make a money-killing future. I bought tons of Dwight Gooden rookies in 84 and then a few years later, John Kruk and Kal Daniels and Barry Bonds and Barry Larkin, McGwire, all from that wood border 87 Topps set. I did score a 1968 Nolan Ryan rookie at a card show for 10 bucks which I’ve since sold for 500. I wish I wouldn’t have. it’s the only card I’ve ever sold. I did it to send money to my kid’s mom. I should have talked my way into postponing alimony.
I also got a Johnny Bench rookie, the same year, 1968. I still have that one. I still collect too. I’d like to one day have every Brewers card ever made or at least every Topps Brewers card. Seems doable since the Brewers are not that old…51 years. So am I. I like knowing that I was born the same year the Brewers were. I haven’t been too loyal. I spent many years away from “The Crew,” but they always welcomed me back…a forgiving family.
I played Strat-o Matic baseball as a teenager and into my adult life. The awesome thing about our strat-o group (there were five of us) is that one of the players was Craig Counsell, former MLB player and current manager of the Brewers and another guy was Galen Polivka, bass player for The Hold Steady. It’s awesome because their dreams came true!!!….Craig became a big leaguer and Galen became a member of a rock and roll band. The Hold Steady just came out with a new album too so they’ve been together for a good stretch. Anyway, I’m happy for them both and a little jealous too, mostly because I hate my job. I work in a hospital, in the warehouse, delivering supplies all over the place. too heavy. bad for my back. I’m freaking 160 pounds and not strong, but there is that team dimension that’s kind of interesting like a dugout with all the ages and personalities, plus I don’t have a boss breathing down my neck so it does award me time to jot down notes for my blog posts and stories. I’m currently working on a second collection of short stories which is supposed to be out in September or October 2021 but these dates always change which is cool because deadlines suck. I like the extra time and freedom to further develop characters, clarify themes, and whatever else to make a story more compelling.

 

  • You have an interesting and unique writing style. Who were some writers that influenced you, and who are you reading at the moment?
I didn’t do much reading as a kid, only baseball books and one book about pro quarterbacks in the NFL. I knew all the quarterbacks in the early ’80s and weird, I still remember them…Jim Plunkett, Steve Grogan, brian sipe, and on and on I guess the shit from our early teen years stays stuck in our mind somewhere. I took a beat generation class at UW-Milwaukee in the early 1990s and that rocked my world, from narrow stretches to the wide open. The teacher – James Liddy was from Ireland and a poet, the kind of guy who looked under your hood and provoked, brought us closer to ourselves.  He encouraged us to hang out at bars and really demonstrated how to live a happy, single life, a life of drink and friends. Kerouac is definitely an influence, maybe Huxley and Hesse too. I read a bunch of their books. I also liked Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella. that’s probably an influence too since I write short stories with baseball references sprinkled about. And then there’s my fellow bloggers like you, Gary…I love your rants and creativity and excellent writing so somehow I’m sure you’ve influenced me too. I’m currently rereading Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl…a book about a psychiatrist stuck in Auschwitz and other concentration camps and how he put to use psychology he had developed prior to the war. It’s called it logotherapy — and in summary, seems to say that if there is a meaning to our lives, we can endure any circumstances. The psychological terms are a bit boring and hard to grasp, but the narrative from his time in the camps is fascinating. I love the metaphor of prison life…I often feel like I’m a prisoner at work, even worse, since, at work, I have to deal with so many people and in prison, you get some time alone or maybe most of the time is alone or with the bunkmate or whatever. I tend to be a hermit which is kind of good since writing fiction is one of the main reasons I wake up in the morning and to do that requires time alone, lots of it….and getting down? depressed? writer’s block? those things happen but talking to my psychiatrist or an afternoon whisky helps. It’s a good thing I live in Canada. my doctor doesn’t cost me a penny. not to go on a tangent, but I think socialized medicine helps individuals from feeling estranged, knowing that a government cares a bit about them. the other book I’m reading is Journey To The End of the Night by Louis Ferdinand Celine. I’m only a few pages in but he strikes me as a badass, a hardcore cynic, a massive critic, and a great writer. I learned about him from an interview with Kerouac way back when. At work, on my lunch break, I read Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller. I like the way it flows and the low-life beautiful characters he creates or chronicles. I’m never sure if it’s autobiographical or fictional or maybe both?  And the book I just finished was Adventures of Wim by Luke Rinehart. It took me a while to know what the freaking thing was about but when i did (it was a long book) I dug it. the concept reminded me of that Kafka book – The Castle…if I remember right…something about knocking on a door and hoping to get “in” when in fact, there is no ‘” in” with the trick being to keep knocking? That longing is the secret to some sort of happiness or a reason to wake up in the morning or afternoon…or ride around in a hearse…whatever you like.

 

 I’ve read your excellent book Dreaming .400: Tales of Baseball Redemption, and I was wondering what your writing process is like, and when did you realize that you wanted to partake in the life of the scribe?

I wrote my first poem in that beat class I took back at UW-Milwaukee so I guess that’s when I thought about writing when I started to take it seriously or not seriously but having that ambition, that vain desire to be published. The poem went something like — “didn’t catch the train but beats blow fresh air my way… the Ferris wheel begins.” I remember Liddy, the teacher liking it and that made my day or my year or my life since I still remember him liking it. I wrote hundreds and hundreds of letters, back and forth with three friends, in particular, Liddy too, so they probably influenced me as well. I’m not sure what my process is other than the story idea comes in a specific moment like a flash of light with a lead sentence, a good sentence, a provocative one…and that sentence is like a miner’s light that shines through the whole story. I don’t really have to try to stay on subject because that first sentence guides me subconsciously or if it doesn’t, I make changes where necessary. I very rarely sit down and write a story in one sitting. I work and rework sentences and like my theme to be somewhat invisible so the reader has to do some connecting dots and thinking on their own, but not too much… I don’t want the reader to be confused. I think my writing is simple and straight-forward, probably because I’ve become simple and straight-forward. I think I used to be more confusing because I felt confused. Now, more than anything, I’m pissed off. One other thing about my writing process…I often take long breaks from stories, to let characters and plots marinate awhile in my mind. But there’s a danger in that because if i neglect a character, he or she won’t speak to me, not literally. I don’t have hallucinations, but speak to me in the sense of giving me ideas of things for them to do, things so the reader can get a better understanding of who they are…same with plots…I have to focus on it, give it attention. then the miracle can happen, that breakthrough that links the first paragraph to the last one. And as far as length goes, I find that a 4-page story is sometimes too long and a 14-page story is too short. Reading helps my writing.

 

  • Do you have any Brewers predictions for 2021?

I didn’t watch many games last year, but the word was that second baseman Keston Hiura stunk up the place so what do the brewers do this off-season?  they signed Kolten Wong and moved Hiura to first base… a brilliant move, not that 1b is so easy to play…in fact, all that footwork strikes me as very challenging, not quite “spinning nine plates at the same time,” but easier than picking grasses in left field. Having a middle infield of Wong and Arcia….gonna be fun to watch. i’ll say 90 wins and another trip to the playoffs or maybe I’m too optimistic, unlike my dad who is from Boston. He knows better, being a Red Sox fan all those years before BIG PAPI and Manny and Pedro strolled into Bean-Town. Kind of a laugh in the face of Yawkey Boston tradition, if my history is right since Boston was so late to integrate. Thanks for having me on the FRO!!