I’m writing this as my wife and I return from our first parental spring break. It was wonderful to escape the harshest winter of our lives, and prepare for warmer times. For me, warmer times always includes baseball. I don’t remember that last time a beach vacation did not include chats with strangers about the game, at least one baseball book, or a live game. This trip was no exception.
On our flight to Ft. Myers, an older and very twitchy guy was sitting next to me. He saw I was reading “The Cocaine Seven”
. This book is about six Pittsburg Pirate fans, and one Pittsburg Pirate mascot, that took the fall during Pirates Drug scandal trials of 1985. The Dave Parker
snip-its are worth the read alone. Mr. Twitch, we’ll call him, was not interested in talking much about the book. He was interested in talking about his son, a college player, and the impact Dominicans are having on the sport. Twitch didn’t have much good to say about the “Dominican Influence”.
“They have nothing else to live for. Baseball is their only ticket out of their horrible lives. Pro ball clubs can pluck them from those baseball factories on the cheap. You think those baseball factories they call “academies” would fly in America? No way Jose! Mommy and Daddy ain’t sending Chad and Hunter off to baseball boot camp.”
There’s plenty of meat on those bones, but my favorite part was his decision to select “Chad” and “Hunter” as his white, suburb, stereotyped names. He went on.
“They have no desire to learn the language. They don’t want to assimilate. They just want the meal ticket out of their poverty. They won’t change for the game. They will change the game.”
Twitch’s words are simply echoes. Echoes from thousands of scared, mid-century conversations had by white men about black men playing baseball. I do know Twitch is right about one thing. “They” will and have changed the game. I am so grateful “they” have.
Twitch’s kid is a division one ball player. Twitch is frustrated because the new coach clearly wants to see his recruits ascend . Twitch’s kid is one of the last players left who was brought on by the old coach, and is getting screwed. Twitch gave me his son’s numbers from him freshman and sophomore years as a starter, and swears up and down his son’s play in the field has not gone south. He certainly wouldn’t be the first father to see his kid’s playing career with a skewered lens, but it was an up and close reminder about how much luck and timing can have to do with a player getting a shot at turning pro.
I highly recommend John Feinstien’s latest book. “Where Nobody knows Your Name” chronicles the journeys of several baseball players, an umpire, and even touches on some broadcasters. It painfully and laboriously articulates how thin the line is between AAA and the Big Show. One of the players the book focuses on is Brett Tomko
. The day I finished reading the book, the Royals gave a minor league contrac
t to Brett Tomko.
Tomko’s story was one of the most interesting in the book. Tomko has played for ten major league teams and made over 15 stops at various minor league clubs. He almost hung up his cleats after the 2012 season. Tomko was on the wrong side of forty, and his phone wasn’t ringing with major league offers. There was a change of heart. This quote is directly from the book.
“I’m not completely crazy. Every time I call a team this winter I said the same thing: “Look, I want to play right now, but I know it won’t be for much longer. Whenever I’m done, I’d like to coach or manage. If you’re looking for a guy who has experienced everything from top to bottom in baseball, I’m your guy.”
He finally hooked up with York Revolution in 2013.
As a Royals fan, I don’t hope to see Tomko in the rotation this year. As a human being fan, I would love to see him called up for a September rain out induced double-header. He would gut his way through 6 and a third, hand the lead to the bull pen, and keep the Royals a game ahead of Detroit in the central.
I did steal away for one Spring Training Game. I went solo to see the Twins play the Pirates at Hammond Stadium
. Even though it opened in 1991, it has a simple, happy, throw back vibed soul. The 17,500 seat place was jammed, and I was lucky to sit next to an old-time Pirate fan named Dan Saylor. Having just read about the “We are Family” Pirates, I was able to have a very fun, detailed chat with Mr. Saylor about one of his favorite teams. The best part of the day was simply listening. I listened to him talk about what a Willie Stargell
home run sounded like. I listened to him talk about Roberto Clemente
’s grace. I listened as he told me how his dad took him to game seven of the 1960 World Series. He saw one of the greatest moments in baseball history
, when Bill Mazeroski
went deep to win the series.
“I was a senior in high school and dad took me to game seven. Standing room only, boy. I actually lost track of the ball when Maz hit it. Yogi Berra
was in left field
then, you see. Yogi, who had killed us all day, looked like he was tracking the ball…..like any fly ball. It wasn’t until he pulled a u-turn at the wall. Then I realized that Bill Mazeroski had just won the god-damned world series on a home run! The place went crazy. The town went crazy. You have never seen anything like it in your life. Don’t tell my wife…..but that was the greatest day of my life.”
After Dan finished, he sighed. I turned away and kept my mouth shut, so he could hang with his wonderful memory as long as possible. I then looked at the bluest sky I had seen in months, took a bite out of my first brat of the year, and realized I was having a pretty great day myself.