Tag Archives: writing

A Few ‘Graph Stories

I’ve got some time to kill on this chilly Northern California morning, so why not dig into the ol’ cigar box and tell some ‘graph stories? As you may know, my brain is a repository for worthless baseball stats, history, and mythos. Also, please keep in mind that these cards have a very strong and luscious scent of cigar stank that has slowly permeated the cardboard and will now follow them everywhere in perpetuity.

Most people envision Astrogate and the 2017 trash can-banging WS “Champions” when they think of AJ Hinch. I, on the other hand, will always remember him as the starting catcher for the 2000 Sacramento RiverCats. This was an amazing time in the Capitol City as we hadn’t had a professional team since the Rangers-affiliated Solons (AAA) went the way of the dodo in 1976. The unveiling was a dream come true in every facet because our cultureless little burg had baseball again and they were an Oakland affiliate! Heaven. I showed up on a soggy and gray opening day (the stadium hadn’t even finished being built) and watched the starting pitcher warm up in the bullpen with his battery-mate Hinch as I stood there, drenched and confused about my emotions. I should be having the time of my life, I thought, but I’m just cold, and even worse…wet. I’ve been to many, many games since then and am still an avid fan of the team even though they switched affiliations to the hated cross-bay Giants. There are just way too many debaucherous 2 dollar beer nights, and sneaking into VIP boxes to speak of. Precious moments. 

***

Canseco was close to divinity in my neighborhood as a kid, and his cards were hoarded like Scrooge McDuck hoarded gold. (The A’s were a powerhouse then, and if you were alive the last time they won a WS–it’s time for a prostate exam) My grandfather took me to a card show st the time, and we met the superstar and had him sign a ball for 20 bucks or whatever the price was. Now I just think of him as a guy who blew his finger off while cleaning a gun, and maybe even the hombre who saved baseball from eating itself. (Brady Anderson anyone?) A tarnished man, but relatable and simply human–albeit, a human whose reach far exceeded his tenuous and fingerless grasp.

In his book, Canseco exposed the hypocrisy of MLB–and maybe even the hypocrisy of capitalist and empirical grifting entities as admired cultural signifiers in a sort of off-hand, metaphorical way–consequently spitting in the face of naive fans who romanticize “fair play” instead of seeing the Selig Era as a money-making, numbers institution at ALL COSTS. Canseco simply wanted to say, everything you know is a lie. George Carlin summed up my feelings astutely on the matter when he said, “Bullshit is the glue that binds us together as a country.” The only problem is that some people actually like the bullshit and will oppress and belittle anyone who even remotely tries to debase their fantasy.

***

Alyssa Milano of Who’s The Boss fame has banged many, many baseball players…and at the height of his career, Barry Zito was one of them. I sent this card to him when his baseball life was all but over and he was chucking horsehide for the A’s AAA affiliate in Nashville. At this stage in his journey, he was playing for the love of the sport and was cynical and dismissive about the money-making machine trappings of fame, sports cars, and chopping lines in Hollywood bathrooms with supermodels.

Zito had found religion and started creating his own music, essentially taking it back to humble beginnings. That’s something I can really stand by. I am not a religious man by nature, but the worship of money and status can’t be all good and it was refreshing to hear that from someone who had experienced the fast lifestyle and then proceeded to rise above it. His last Coliseum outing was against Tim Hudson and the Giants and everyone in the joint knew that this was their hardball swan song. The mound masters still had remnants of youthful vigor, but now with an essential veteran powder keg of wisdom and tricks. Alas, two-thirds of “The Big 3” didn’t have their “stuff” and got shelled that day, but it was a wonderful time and both left the field to a standing ovation. Pure nostalgia dopamine.

Oakland, hola de nuevo

I hadn’t been to Oakland in almost a decade due to living in Los Angeles for what seemed like a lifetime. This visit reminded me that I once knew a girl who lived here with short, blonde, finger-wave style hair done with a sort of Mae West flair… a precious time of pre-internet and seemingly pre-insanity seen through the lens of a murky jar.

This girl lived above an Ethiopian restaurant on Telegraph Ave. and the smell of the food permeated the hallways. The memory must have happened in 1999 because I remember being kind of tipsy in her room while she was at work, and the A’s were playing on a broken, tiny black and white TV she must have found in an alley. (This was common for the young and destitute in the 80’s and 90’s) There was a babyfaced phenom rookie pitching named Tim Hudson, and I watched him toss a colorless complete-game gem before I dilly-dallied the 15 blocks or so in a rainstorm that was vertical and polite to the record store where she worked. Floating and ignoring beggars with dead eyes and an empty, automatism hustle, while mingling with the outlandish and counter-cultural. The break-up happened soon thereafter and was concluded quickly and quietly with a mutual shrug.

We remained friends after breaking up, but I haven’t seen “Mae West” in about 15 years after inevitably drifting apart. We both grew older and created new myths, and reflecting and jotting these moments down on paper is a state of autobiographical surrender to the void. Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’… Thanks, Steve Miller Band…I’ve always liked that song.

I now have horizontal creases on my forehead that I noticed beginning to develop years ago but only recently started to recognize as the onset of my inevitable material decline–as such, the sensibility of myopic, youthful indifference has been liberated and humbled. We spend our time in a dream, don’t we?

Tigers, Trees, and Oiled Bleacher Creatures

“To me, the golden era of baseball is whenever you were 12 years old.” –John Thorn

Lazy Sunday. There were men outside my house audibly cutting a tree into pot belly stove-sized pieces and annoying me in the process. The massive tree had fallen in the night, destroying 3 cars, and almost killing a neighbor who was standing nearby, which must have been quite tempting to the tree. She ended up going to the hospital with only minor head wounds and escaping relatively unscathed. What better way was there to toast the cruel, cold universe and its magnificent indifference for a fleshy speck in the cosmos than by cracking open some cheap, tasteless beer, scarfing down some pretzels, and watching a ball game?

Since the latest incarnation of the Oakland Athletics has stumbled through the throes of helplessness and confusion, and could possibly be the worst in team history. (challenging the 1979 team–who went 54-108–a distressing cross to bear) I decided to take a pass on that dumpster fire and sashay down memory lane, instead choosing to embrace a time when a young boy’s love for the game was genuinely all-encompassing and untarnished. The talisman from the past with horrible picture quality and incipiently watched in a room with cheap wood-grain paneling? A’s vs Tigers, May 3rd, 1987. 

This was an afternoon game where every fly ball was an adventure with fielders losing their regular big-league swagger and desperately shielding their eyes while staring into the blistering light-blue void…completely helpless. The A’s end up scoring twice–once on a manufactured run that started with a Ron Cey single (“Stan Javier pinch runs for Cey, and The Penguin waddles off the field.”) and the second on a Canseco bomb to left-center that scattered a sea of shirtless, oiled, and clearly intoxicated sunbathers who fell over themselves while inadvertently knocking over their buzzing radios and wax cups of beer. 

                                                                    ***

Well, yours truly has finally been published…actual ink on paper. Albeit, it’s just one short story in an anthology of 100’s, but I’m still pretty excited to have a tangible piece of evidence documenting my madness, and even more elated that I didn’t have to deal with agents or manuscripts–no song and dance–in order for this to be actualized.

Backyards to Ballparks has a simple concept behind it, asking authors, “What is your favorite memory connected to baseball?” The stories are all different, but the heart and soul of the book are the same. What these “distilled snippets” all have in common is that tribute as to why baseball remains the American pastime–how it connects friends, families, and communities. These memories, often more human interest than play-of-game in nature, all have baseball as a setting, but speak to how The Great Game provides joy and anguish, nourishes family traditions, creates friendships, and can profoundly affect the ambrosia of the mind.  

Huston Street Is a Street

She just bought some bitchin’ clothes/Tosses her head/And flips her hair/She got a whole bunch of nothing in there–Valley Girl, Frank Zappa

I used to live on Huston Street. I’m not shuckin’ and jivin’ you here–look it up, it’s an actual street.  It’s a quiet and unassuming stretch in North Hollywood right off the 101 freeway, and it’s pronounced hyoo-ston just like the former ballplayer. I always had a hunch that it was named after Walter Huston, who had won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1948 for his role in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Huston was considered one of the top character actors of his era–but I couldn’t state as a fact that the street was actually named after him, it’s just a half-baked theory. 

world-famous!

The temperature is hotter and the architecture is sun-bleached and dull on the north side of the Hollywood Hills, which is generally seen as a cultural wasteland by the denizens of Los Angeles proper, and depicted as dusty, marginalized, lacking stimulus, and utterly hopeless in movies and pop culture. Lame. I mean, shit, the Bad News Bears were from the San Fernando Valley, and wasn’t coach Buttermaker considered an alcoholic has-been? Wasn’t the film narrative rowdy, working-class, profane, and consciously avoiding the cheap theatrics of a triumphant finale? The perfect metaphor for a place that breeds and exports scumbags with reptilian instincts for self-preservation. America in delirium.

Despite the negative reputation and mockery from friends,  I loved that street. I lived two blocks away from a gorgeous park filled with “brown-bagging” cholos with time aplenty, and trash-talking basketball players. There was also a tiki bar a block away that had a time-worn, paint-battered sign saying, liquor up front and poker in the rear that apparently had never been thought to be re-touched. Proud of its crumbling state was a tiny fish and chips stand next door for conveniently sopping up the booze and chatting with girls when the bar was too loud and bursting at the seams with out-of-work actors from bum-fuck-nowhere letting off some steam. Another favorite of mine was the dark and smelly comedy club on Vineland Ave, and sometimes the patrons standing out front, and even the comedians themselves would give you cigarettes or free drink tickets as you sauntered by, searching for the next sliver of excitement in the humid jungle.

Although I haven’t been back in many years, the Valley will always make me think of lime and salt Tecate, the most beautiful, iridescent, smog-choked sunsets, getting drunk on Boone’s Farm in skate parks, greasy junkyards, double-D bottle blondes in their 60’s, book stores with cats, screaming schizophrenic bums in a Ralph’s parking lot, and Mexican street parties with illegal fireworks and cumbia pouring from the speakers when the LA Lakers won the title (Kobe’s last)  And, of course, Huston Street.

Gibberish, Nonsense, and Baseball Cards

Every night, around 10:00, I swallow melatonin and then turn off my phone. Soon after, I jump in the shower so the melatonin has some time to set in. After the shower, I lay in bed and do some light reading–nothing that requires active thought or making difficult conceptual connections (in this case it was Stephen King’s son who goes by the nom de plume Joe Hill) as the goal is to wind down. Yet despite this fickle routine, sleep eluded me and I tossed and turned all night before finally deciding that it just wasn’t going to work out. I resolved to watch some Japanese baseball and it was a moment of perfection as the Chunichi Dragons and the Yomiuri Giants were headed into extra innings. Watching baseball seems to liberate me from the emotional tangle of subdued melancholy and the long-ago forgotten past that is so scratched up that it skips when played, always materializing to haunt me in the witching hour when one should be dead to the world and swimming in the abstract. Ultimately, the Dragons pulled it out 3-2 in 10 innings as the players felt compelled to run choreograph routines while clutching stuffed animals and bowing to the fans in a light-hearted and victorious fashion. What’s the point of all this? Nothing. Just….nothing.

My buddy Mark over at the impeccable Retro Simba sent me a bunch of 1970s Oakland A’s baseball cards in the mail, and I had the right mind to send one out to Darold Knowles to be autographed before receiving the cardboard beauty back 3 weeks later. The highlight of Mr. Knowles’ career would probably be the World Series in 1973 against the Queens borough Mutts (I can still hear the echo of esteemed baseball writer Roger Angell in my head, resentful about Willie Mays’ exit from the Giants and condemning him in a NY pinstriped, double-knit polyester uni) in which he became the first pitcher to appear in all 7 games and had a sparkling ERA of zero. That’s pretty good stuff right there.

Knowles was on the mound for the last out, (retiring Wayne Garrett on a looper to Campaneris–his only batter–with the tying runners on) relieving Rollie Fingers and earning the save. Other notables: Clint Eastwood threw out the first pitch, Lou Rawls sang the National Anthem, and the number one hit was Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia.” In another strange twist– while researching this piece, I was jolted into remembering that I met the loser of this game, John Matlack, 30 years earlier when he was a pitching coach for the now-defunct Las Vegas Stars. I still have that autograph, permanently pressed onto a flimsy 1981 Fleer, stashed away somewhere.

Summer 2009

We lounged almost daily on Santa Monica Beach, preferably on the less touristy north end of the pier, and we more or less happily stayed on our small parcel in this big, enigmatic galaxy of a city. What I remember from that summer is that she would always fall asleep around 3, a little tipsy, gliding carelessly from an imagined world into the subconscious one with a paperback on her face in a dreamy malaise. I could be wrong, of course, because memory has a way of outstripping reality, but before me is a scene that is somewhat framed and ready to bring to light.

When I begin liking someone I suddenly become concerned and aware of the mushiness effects of my words, she said, and it’s bad luck to whisper that you’re happy. That club last night was too dark. I bet it was to hide the seediness and the shit on the floors, although I suppose it makes people look more attractive if you can barely see them.

It wasn’t out of the ordinary for her to slide into fragmented speeches without the slightest indication of topic change or beat of silence–it was as if she needed to blurt it out before it was forgotten forever. She was also very modern, which is to say a whip-smart, curious, and handsome bottle-blonde who embraced quasi-mysticism as a form of rebellion against technological overload and a generally uncaring world. Her psyche was thoroughly more contemporary than mine–awash in magical-thinking and new-agey nonsense without a hint of cynicism, whereas mine was sober-minded and open to hard truths. The makings of an impractical, doomed relationship.

She was lying on her stomach and clinging to the revolving earth on the day I fell in love, assumably because she got the high score on the Mrs. PacMan machine tucked away in the very back of the costly Mexican restaurant (amongst ogling busboys who made off-color jokes about gueros.) at the very back end of the funky-smelling pier–even though I probably shouldn’t have given in so easily. She bought me a newspaper because I love the texture of the archaic things people derive pleasure from but never talk about. The newspaper told me that a baseball team had drafted Grant Green, passing up the modern-day Mickey Mantle whose name pays homage to an oily fish that grizzly bears love to bite the heads off of and is particularly tasty with garlic butter. It certainly didn’t seem odd at the time.

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, as I was left to my own devices, fortuitously discovering a piece to the puzzle while creating soon-to-be-clouded, timeworn memories in that long-ago, uncoddled, and unsupervised foreign land known as the 1980’s. 

There was very little small 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 afternoon 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 while the ushers smiled with approval) gathered around what resembled a murder scene. She was battered and bloodied in the aisle, and it looked as if she had been 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 slippery and pungent world that seemed to encapsulate the sporting event as a proletarian undertaking.

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 incomparable, 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. A stock portfolio. The “suits” have seemingly crystallized everything I despise about hyper-capitalism and formulated a shabby squad 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. Bush leaguers perpetually in flux. 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 modest, pleasantly aromatic (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, and I was re-learning that I didn’t need every moment to be a psychological revelation instead of understanding that simply dwelling leisurely in time is a luxury.

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 as hell felt as free as that screwball eagle at that very moment.