The Robins of Iverhill – Chapter 10: Bedside

NOTE: the following story, which will be serialized on this blog, was originally written in 1985 as my senior project in creative writing at Hamilton College. 25 years later, it has been updated. New chapters will appear Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Previous chapters are listed with hyperlinks below.

PROLOGUE
CHAPTER 1 – THE NEW MAN
CHAPTER 2 – ROOMMATES
CHAPTER 3 – UNWANTED RETURNS
CHAPTER 4 – OPENING DAY
CHAPTER 5 – RESULTS
CHAPTER 6 – CONFIDENCE
CHAPTER 7 – BUS RIDE
CHAPTER 8 – ARRIVAL IN BARK CREEK
CHAPTER 9 – BRAWL

My name is Clete Olson, and I’ve been in this hospital for three days after getting beaten nearly to death by a player from Bark Creek.  I don’t know which one.

God, I can’t stand hospitals. You know, there’s something so artificial about them; so stark and cold. And everybody’s dressed in white, from the chief doctor down to the youngest candy-striper. And all this white, with the walls painted white, and the bedsheets of white, all this white, white, white, no wonder they like to cut people up, all the red blood must be a wonderful change from white.

They said I was lucky, apparently I just suffered a few bruised ribs from the fight.  They were concerned that whoever beat me up might have kicked me in the kidney or liver, but that didn’t happen, and I’m just in the hospital to make sure everything is fine.  I grabbed the Iverhill Sun newspaper that was on my hospital bed and started to read it.  Forget about how the mayor of Iverhill wants to increase school spending and all that other local townie news. I wanted to check out the Iverhill Robins scores.

Well, I guess I’m really not needed here, I told myself, after noticing Iverhill was on a three-game winning streak since the fight. They took the remaining  two from Bark Creek, then watched as Smokey pitched a three-hitter against Cherry Mills. I thought he had a bad arm.  I guess it wasn’t as bad as anyone thought.  Yeah, I remember that game. Some nurse had the radio station WIVR on, so I listened in.  I guess it is true what they say about Smokey Dulieau – he pitches until he doesn’t want to pitch any more, then he’s done for the game.

TAP TAP TAP went the glass-pane door to my hospital room. “Come in.”

In walked this pretty blond nurse, one of the few people I saw since the accident. Her name was Amy, and boy was she very sweet and friendly to me. “Good morning, Clete,” she said in a voice laced with satin.

I burbled out a sticky “hi,” immediately discovering my breath was loaded with three days of hospital food, plus two days of not brushing properly.

“And how are we doing today?”

Just fine, I suppose,” I mumbled.

“You do look quite healthy – how does that shoulder feel?” she asked, handing me a cup of water.

The cool liquid cleared my throat.  “Much better, thanks.”

“That’s good.  The Robins sent over a few letters you received while you were in our hospital, and there’s also a visitor for you, a mister – I don’t want to mispronounce his name – “Mauntmaurency?”

Monty’s here? “Send him in, please.”

Amy smiled, placed the letters on my lap, and left. Closing the newspaper, I then reached for the letter from Lancaster – from home. As I opened the gummed flap, Monty walked in.

“How’re you today, Clete?” he asked.

“Fine. What’s going on? I haven’t seen you since the Bark Creek game.”

“I tried to visit you earlier, but I couldn’t get to the hospital from the hotel. Nobody wanted to take me there, so I had to wait until today when the public transport started.”

“You took the bus to see me? The team isn’t out there with you or anything?”

“No. They’re all practicing or something. I’m on suspension – you probably know about that.”

“Yes, I heard – Hey, I got a letter from. home today. Want to hear?”

“Sure,” he said, reaching for a chair.

So I started to read the letter, bracing myself for the best news from home.

Dear Cletus:

Your father and I just got your letter last Thursday. Congratulations on your first win in the big leagues. If you can, try to get the ball autographed and save it – it will be a fascinating treasure for your children to own.  I hope you do well tonight against your other opponents – let me know how it turned out. Call us collect if you need anything. Your father and I are proud of you and hope you do well in baseball.

All our love, Mom and Dad

“Your parents are so proud of you.”

“Yeah, I know,” I moaned.

“Hey, I didn’t mean to get you upset about it.”

“No, that’s all right. It’s not your fault. It’s mine.  I shouldn’t get upset about letters from home.”

“Listen – do you want to talk about the whole thing?”

“I’d – no, I’d rather not. Nothing personal, Monty, but really – it’s personal.”

“It’s okay,” Monty replied.  “It’s always personal.  That’s part of life.  I can imagine that your father and mother are proud of you, and you want to do whatever you can to keep them as proud as possible.”

As proud as possible.  Somehow Monty had guessed – correctly, in fact – that I really did want to make my parents proud – it was better than them being disappointed in me.

“What other positions did you play, besides pitcher?  I’ve seen you bat, you’re a very good hitter for being a pitcher.”

“Well, I can definitely hit,” I replied.  “I just have trouble fielding.  My coaches put me on third base, in the outfield, I was a catcher for a few games, it never worked.”

“So who suggested you try pitching?”

“It was my father.  There was a tree outside our house, and my father built a little pitcher’s mound 60 feet six inches away.  He then painted some marks on the tree, right in the spots for a strike zone.  And he taught me to pitch at those spots, and if I hit those spots, I would win every game.”

“Were you successful?”

“I messed up as a starter, but then one of my coaches suggested I be a reliever.  He saw major leaguers like Hoyt Wilhelm come in and shut down the opposing team just as those teams were about to rally for a win.  He said I should be a relief pitcher, someone who can come from the bullpen and save the day.”

“It must have worked,” Monty replied.

“It did.  It worked in Legion ball, and then it worked in the amateur leagues.  If I came in the game, the other team didn’t have a chance.  Clean ’em up Clete, they called me.  They couldn’t hit me.  They couldn’t score against me.  But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a pitcher.”

Monty looked out the hospital window.  “Sometimes we’re not sure what our paths are.  I wanted to be a baseball player, and I became one.  But I don’t know how my life would be different had I not discovered baseball.”

I asked him, “What about your parents, what did they think of you playing ball?”

Monty quickly looked back at me.  “For someone like you to come all the way from Pennsylvania to play baseball, you must not have chose that for yourself.  It’s almost like there’s a trial period with you.  Are you here for baseball, or are you here for another reason?”

I couldn’t get the words to come out straight, maybe it was the three days in the hospital bed, maybe it was the dry mouth and the antiseptic smell of the hospital room.  “I made a promise to my father.  I needed to play one year in professional ball.  And if I didn’t think this was my proper choice in life, I could go back to school and learn a true profession.  I always wanted to be a doctor, maybe that’s my calling.  Who knows?”

He looked at me, then turned and looked out the hallway. After that examination, he closed the door and remarked, “I hope nobody comes in.”

“Why?”

“Listen, son, to be honest, I’ve been watching you for years.  Even back in your time at Legion ball.”

I was confused. Monty scouted me?

“I saw you play ball in Lancaster. I saw the no-hitter you threw in the amateur leagues.  Or your sort-of-a no-hitter. I’ve been watching you ever since you started to pick up a ball and hit it instead of teething it.”

“Talk sense. I don’t understand a word you’re saying.”

“Well,” Monty’s voice trailed off as his gaze shifted from me to the outside window. “I really can’t tell you everything, but someday, when it’s all over, you’ll understand everything.”

“Everything? I’m worried about understanding anything right now.”

“Never mind. Listen, can you drink things?”

“Sure.  I’ve got some crushed ice and cold water over here that the nurse brought in.”

“Forget that.  Ice is good for mixed drinks.”  He pulled a silver flask out of his jacket pocket.  “Drink some of this.”

I took the bottle and tasted its contents. I couldn’t consider myself a connoisseur of fine liquors, I’ve maybe had a beer once or twice at home, and I did have some church wine at Sunday services, but I did know that as I swallowed some of the mellow brandy in Monty’s flask, that it tasted sweet and warm, as if it had mellowed for years. “This is good stuff,” I murmured, forgetting my questions about Monty.

“That brandy tastes a lot better when it’s as aged as I am.”

I took another swig.

“You know, Monty, I’m not sure what you are or what your game is.  But at least you’ve been willing to stick with me.  Nobody else from the team has come to visit me.  Except you.”

With that, I took a big gulp of the sweet brandy, and my mind drifted to peace.

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The Missing “Star Wars” footage

It was May of 1977, and I remember where I saw it first. I was in line at the Cine 1-2-3-4-5-6 behind Northway Mall, waiting to see Star Wars for its first week on the big screen. I already knew some of the story; for the past three months the movie’s plotline had been serialized in a Marvel Comics comic book; and as the film began, I saw every scene from the first half of the movie replicated from those comic book pages. It was great, it was fun – and there were things missing.

See, because there was an approximately three-month delay between the comic book’s creation and its publication, there were scenes in the comic book serialization that didn’t show up in the movie. A conversation Han Solo had with Jabba the Hutt, in which Solo tries to convince the scourge of Tattooine that Solo will get him his money as soon as possible, was shown only in the opening pages of Star Wars comic #2, but wasn’t on the screen. In fact, Jabba the Hutt wasn’t even the huge slime lizard we’ve come to know and appreciate; he was actually a man.

Here’s the reconstructed footage of same.

And a generation after the film’s original release, George Lucas re-inserted the footage into the film itself – of course, he had to computer-generate the current version of Jabba the Hutt over the 1977 version. View this YouTube clip and compare.

But truly, the one scene I wished would be reinserted into the original film, concerned the character of Biggs Darklighter. There were scenes in the beginning of the film (and in both the comic book and the original adaptation paperback novel) that explained some of Luke Skywalker’s backstory, how he hung out with his friends at Anchorhead. The scene includes a long conversation between Luke and Biggs, who has told Luke he is joining the Rebel Alliance. The scene explains the frustration Luke feels about his farm-boy duties and the adventurous world of space. The scene occurs just after C-3PO and R2-D2 escape from Princess Leia’s spaceship.

Of course, in the version of Star Wars I saw in 1977, Biggs doesn’t even show up in the film until just before the climactic Death Star battle. And those comic book issues hadn’t been released at the time of the movie’s premiere. So I already knew how the first half of the film would play out – but not the second half, not the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi, not the battle on the Death Star, none of that.

Thankfully, these deleted scenes have been preserved by Star Wars fans and have eventually made their way onto YouTube and other fan-related sites. And with the recent news that the entire six-movie Star Wars series is headed toward a Blu-Ray release, I certainly hope that George Lucas goes back into the vaults, finds the old footage, and adds it to the DVD’s as new extra bonus footage.

If he does that, then maybe, just maybe, I can forgive him for forcing Jar Jar Binks on us.

The Robins of Iverhill: Chapter 9 – Brawl

NOTE: the following story, which will be serialized on this blog, was originally written in 1985 as my senior project in creative writing at Hamilton College. 25 years later, it has been updated. New chapters will appear Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Previous chapters are listed with hyperlinks below.

PROLOGUE
CHAPTER 1 – THE NEW MAN
CHAPTER 2 – ROOMMATES
CHAPTER 3 – UNWANTED RETURNS
CHAPTER 4 – OPENING DAY
CHAPTER 5 – RESULTS
CHAPTER 6 – CONFIDENCE
CHAPTER 7 – BUS RIDE
CHAPTER 8 – ARRIVAL IN BARK CREEK

My name is Clete Olson, and I’m a relief pitcher for the Iverhill Robins.  I’m relaxing in the bullpen, while Smokey Dulieau takes the mound.  Nobody relieves Dulieau unless he wants to go out of the game.  I saw him pitch an 11-inning complete game three weeks ago against Cherry Mills, and he waved off McCarling every time she came out to get him to take a rest.

It’s great being a reliever in the Intrastate Baseball Association.  I don’t have to worry about coming in at all, unless we’re behind. McCarling has total control over the pitching staff, and that’s just fine by me. So, if we’re losing, then she’ll call me to save the pitcher’s rear, and that’s when I go do my job.

But, today was different. We were playing the Bark Creek Stars on the road, and for reasons other than God could explain, we were tied, 3-3 going into the 8th inning.  Gene Raveler had two hits today, one of them a solo homer. ‘Bout time Raveler got into the swing of things. Now, if he spent more time with that bat and less time with that girl Treasure of his, held be better off. Much better off, I think.

Then Smokey Dulieau threw the first pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning – and when the catcher threw the ball back to him, Smokey started shaking his pitching arm as if there was a twinge in it.  I knew what was coming – McCarling would give me a call and tell me to save Smokey’s game. Just what I didn’t need.

The phone, acting like it knew what I was thinking about before I did, rang immediately. As I picked up the phone, all I could cough out was a meek “Hello?”

“Olson? Get warmed up. I need you right now.” Click.

Well, now comes the problems. Forget Opening Day. To be honest, even though I’ve got a good record, I’m scared of pitching.  Especially in pressure situations.  I really work better when there’s no pressure. And my changeup isn’t changing, my fastball won’t even break the speed limit, and my curve works best when I’m here in the bullpen. What else is there?

Well, I warmed up, then grabbed my satin ROBINS 49 coat and walked the three hundred and some feet to the pitcher’s mound. Why me? I could have been a nice young doctor or a lawyer or something – if it hadn’t been for that one game in the amateur leagues, that one game, I’d be much happier.

Anyway, I got to the mound, and there’s McCarling briefing Virgil Trunks, our catcher. When she finished with him, she turned and looked at me.

“Now look. There’s three batters there. Just throw your best changeup at Pisani.  He’ll go down swinging, and it’ll be smooth sailing from there. Got it?”

“Yes, coach.”

“Good. Remember, you could get another save out of this.”

I smiled, remembering that last sentence as she turned, heading for the dugout.

Then, I remembered what Monty told me about the curve inducer. I didn’t get a chance to use it during the Corbett Falls game, because it was packed in my suitcase. But, I’ve got it now, in the back pocket of my uniform pants.  I thought about slipping it on, just like he told me to, the ring over my middle finger, the rubber piece in my palm. But I left it in my back pocket, untouched – saying quietly to myself, “I’m not afraid to pitch.”

So, who’s this Pisani guy, anyway? Here comes my first pitch, a nasty changeup that –

Boy, he hit that changeup, all right, and it went into shallow right field. Both Raveler and Tierney dove for it, and both crashed into each other. The ball dropped between them. Base-hit single.

Fredericks was up next.  He lives on fastballs.  I fired an off-speed pitch at him. He didn’t take.  Ball one.

Then, the next pitch was low and inside, almost tripping him up. Ball two.

Oh, I threw a fastball down the pipe, nicking the outside corner for a strike – but Pisani  took off toward second base! Trunks caught the ball and fired it over my head to the second baseman, but Pisani beat the throw by a mile.

I looked at Trunks for the signals. Trunks signaled for a curve ball.  I fired a sharp curve towards the inside corner.  Fredericks rapped it into deep right. Tierney caught it, Pisani tagged up and reached third standing.

Runner in scoring position. One out. Bottom of the eighth, Andres Martinez at bat. Trunks is signaling curve ball at me.  I thought Martinez had trouble with fastballs, but the last time I second-guessed Trunks it allowed Pisani to get into scoring position.  So, I tried another curve ball, Martinez smacked it to right. Tierney caught it on the fly.

At that point, I expected Pisani to head for home and win the game, but he wasn’t going anywhere! The ball came back to me from right field, almost dropped it, I was so shocked.

As I settled in for the next pitch, the crowd started to roar. I didn’t know what was happening – was my fly open or something? Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I could see dirt flying around third base. Monty and Pisani were in a fight!

As Monty took about three of Pisani’s head punches, I watched in disbelief as thirty players came out of the dugouts, looking for someone to punch.  From the distance I could hear McCarling scream, “I’M FINING EVERYBODY IN THIS FIGHT!”

Silly. She can’t make that stick. Mr. Wilson would overrule the decision anyway.

So, I watched as two batches of angry men started tearing each other to pieces. Oh, the crowd was enjoying this like you wouldn’t believe. They cheered as Monty was battered by three different players – as Raveler was battering three other players – as McCarling was screaming at the umpire, using words I didn’t think were proper for her gender.

Meanwhile, the umpires were screaming “OUT OF THE GAME!! OUT OF THE GAME!” to Bark Creek and Iverhill players alike. Not wanting to get involved in it, I tried to leave the field unnoticed.  I tried.

Now, I don’t know the name of the Bark Creek Star that hit me from behind. All I felt was a sharp stinging in my non-pitching shoulder, like somebody hit me with a log. I still had the baseball in my glove, so with my glove wrapped tightly around the ball, I swung around, my arm outstretched with centrifugal strength. Now, if only I hadn’t had missed him by an inch…


My name is Genvieve McCarling.  I’m the coach of the Iverhill Robins, who are right now in a fight with the Bark Creek Stars.

Pisani was on third, ready to steal home and make Olson look terrible in front of a large crowd. I didn’t want him in there, but there was no choice.

All I could hope was that Trunks could force Pisani off the plate when Pisani made that dash for home. I started to tell the batboy to pick up our bats and put them in the bus when their guy Martinez, their top hitter with men in scoring position, hit the ball.

Easy pop fly. But Pisani didn’t run. The ball came back to Olson, who bobbled it a little, then stuffed it in his mitt. Pisani stayed on third, although it looked like he was about to head home – wait a minute, what’s this?

Monty was right behind Pisani, putting his hand around the runner’s belt and holding him so he couldn’t get a jump!  So that’s why Pisani’s still on third! Oh Christ – that’s what that dream on the bus was all about – Monty and the pants! I remember now! In that dream, he was holding King Kelly’s pants so he couldn’t run – and now it’s happening again!  I was frozen solid by the strange occurrence of events – and then it all happened.

Pisani swung at Monty.  Monty ducked, or I thought he did – and then came the deluge of players from the bench. “I’M FINING EVERYBODY IN THIS FIGHT!” I screamed, hoping this time Mr. Wilson would understand and not rescind my fines. Monty was seeing Stars all over the place – Bark Creek Stars, mind you – Pisani was getting his cage cleaned, and I was seeing red. Which made umpire Ronald Godfrey’s visit not so pleasant.

“Miss McCarling.”

I saw him enter the dugout, this large mound of a man who called my name. Why was Godfrey in here? There’s a bloodbath going on out there – if it weren’t for the fine I’d get for joining a fight myself, I’d really rip some of those sonofabitches apart, lady or no lady.

“Either call your players back into the, dugout or you’ll forfeit the game.”

Oh Christ. “Just go away now, will you please?” I said to Godfrey.

“What was that you said to me?” he asked. I wondered if my ears were fooling me, because I didn’t feel right about his question. It was like he expected me to be this sweet, demure little coed who wouldn’t get her nails dirty to break up this melee.

“I said ‘go away,’ you jackass, MONTY! GET IN THIS DUGOUT NOW!”

“Why don’t you go in there and get him, lady? Or don’t you want to muss your hair trying?”

Oh boy… here we go again.

“Listen,” I said, “Help me get this fight to end.  If it means that much to you, we’ll get on the bus and forfeit the game.  Just get out of the dugout and stop hassling me.”

When I warn an umpire, I usually mean it. “I’m not leaving until you get your players off the field.”

“YOU help me get those players off the field. Earn your goddamn salary for a change.”

“Don’t talk to me like that – you’re out of this game!”

“What game, jackass?  There’s a war on the diamond – go do something!”

I was so angry at this umpire that I was about to give him a Benson and Hedges – when I took my gaze off the umpire and scanned the field to see who was beating on whom. Monty and Pisani were still fighting, Raveler was holding his own against three Stars without losing face – but Martinez was kicking a fallen player on the mound.

At first, I didn’t know who it was. Then, I saw a bloodstained 49 jersey, and I got sick.

“Clete!  Hold on, I’m on my way!” I screamed, pushing Godfrey out of my way, and dashing towards the field – oh, Lord, why did Olson have to get involved in all of this?

As I passed the Battle of Third Base, I screamed at Monty, “GET IN THE LOCKER ROOM NOW!”

Olson was on the ground, Martinez simply kicking him in the side like Olson was a bag of dirt. Since the other players were not around to help out, and the umpires were nowhere to be found,

I grabbed Martinez from behind, shouting at him, “STOP! LEAVE HIM ALONE!”

“Punk pitcher,” Martinez snarled, giving Olson another kick.

I looked around.  Something had to get Martinez’ attention off of Olson and onto something else – at least for a moment, until someone could get over to the mound and protect my reliever.

Something.  I knew what that something had to be.

“Hey, Martinez!” I shouted.

Martinez looked up.

“You want some of this, stud?”

With that, I grabbed my uniform blouse, ripped it open so that the buttons were flying all over the infield, and Martinez became the first player in Intrastate Baseball Association history to ever get flashed by the manager of an opposing team.

It worked.  Martinez stopped concentrating on beating Olson and started concentrating on me.  Or at least my bra.

“Yo, baby, I heard you wanted some of me,” he said, walking over.  At that point, he was gang-tackled by Phillipstern, Trunks and Hunter, while Olson continued to lay like a heap on the bloody mound.

Now here comes umpire Godfrey, who probably got a running start from the dugout to the mound.  “Button up that uniform, McCarling, or it’s ten games suspension for you!”

I buttoned one of the two remaining buttons on the blouse, covering up as much of my modesty as I could.  “Give me a hand with Olson. He’s hurt bad.”

“Why did you show your chest to that player?”

I couldn’t believe it. I felt like a kid who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. “What difference does it make? Give me a hand with Olson!”

“Forget it. I’ve got to go stop your animal center fielder from ripping apart those three Stars.  Your guys aren’t worth my trouble.  You’re just from Iverhill.”

With that, the umpire headed towards Raveler, who, if Gene didn’t get a Gold Glove for his fielding, might get some Golden Gloves for his uppercuts.

I just wiped my face with my sleeve, trying to keep from letting anybody see me cry. Feeling some maternal instinct at the moment, I sat down next to Olson, cradling his head in my arms, shielding him from the harsh violence of the sport he signed up to be in, shielding him from the six hundred and so people in the stands who were not feeling any compassion toward him, who were tossing beer cups and wadded hot dog cartons on the field.

Then, over the loudspeakers, I heard a voice that cut through my body like a bolt of grimy lightning: “Would Genvieve McCarling please come to the Bark Creek press box? Genvieve McCarling, please come to the press box.”

With my eyes stinging from dirt, I cried, “NOT UNTIL SOMEBODY HELPS OLSON!”


In the stands, a conversation.

“How do you mark that fight?”

“Well, Pisani was interfered by Mauntmaurency, and he couldn’t run.”

“Yeah. They should get rid of that Mauntmaurency – oops!”

“Now look what you’ve done – we’re terribly sorry, sir. My friend didn’t mean to splash beer on you.”

“Ahh, why didn’t he look where we were going, anyway?”

“We’re sorry, mac. My pal doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“That’s all right. May I see your scorecard for a moment, please? I need to see what happened on that last play.”

“Yeah, here. Nothing much – Mauntmaurency started a fight last inning and the game’s delayed.”

“Mauntmaurency… hmm… he looks like someone else I might know.”

“No, he just joined the team this year.  He’s a bit of a kook, but he’s a good player and the fans love him.”

“Thank you. i appreciate that information.”


My name is Warren Brown.  I write for the Iverhill Sun newspaper.

In our little town, there are two reporters.  I cover the Robins for the Iverhill Sun, while WIVR-AM covers the Robins on the radio.  We don’t have our own dedicated television station for this area, any television we do get either comes from Albany or Plattsburgh or Vermont.  That’s all the news coverage in Iverhill.

So, since I already knew Rick Heidrich from WIVR, he waited up for me to get to Wilson Field. All of us knew what was going on.  WIVR-AM covered last Sunday’s game and brawl with Bark Creek, so this news conference Coach McCarling was calling had to mean something was up.

As I parked my car into the stadium parking lot, Rick was already there.  “How’s it going, Warren?”

“Not bad,” I replied, turning the car motor off. “Did you bring the audiotape of the game?”

“No. Left it in the station – sorry.”

“Don’t worry.  I’ll stop by WIVR and pick it up after the conference.”

Getting out of the car, I asked if McCarling was around.

“No, she should be here at eleven o’clock – it’s only ten of.”

“Well, let’s go in,” I joked.

The corridor to McCarling’s office was long and dark. There were only two or three uncovered light bulbs hanging from the ceiling – it was like a cavern. There were jokes around the newsroom about this “embryonic chamber” to McCarling’s office.  The Sun’s beat reporter from last year, Ben Wilkinson, once joked that McCarling didn’t want to leave the idea of bearing children far behind from her work, and that the Robins were like children anyway. Finally, we reached her office door.

Rick knocked.

“You’re early, but come in anyway.”

We entered. McCarling sat behind her desk, still in uniform. I always wondered what she looked like if she were in an evening gown – or a negligee – or even a fig leaf. Oh, forget the fig leaf.  I wish I was at that game in Bark Creek where she showed Martinez her chest protectors.

So there we were – her and the three of us – Iverhill’s version of a press conference. Don’t laugh – this is big news when you call in the newspaper and the radio station.

“I suppose you know why you’re here.”

“Coach, what is the effect of the suspensions on the team from the fight at Bark Creek?” Rick Heidrich asked, putting a microphone to a cassette recorder on McCarling’s desk.

McCarling spoke into the microphone. “Well, we didn’t do ourselves any favors. We have an upcoming series with New Providence that will really test our men, and any thoughts of us sweeping the upcoming series with Cherry Mills will have to be rethought.”

“I’m sorry, coach, what were the suspensions anyway?”

“Monty Mauntmaurency is suspended for ten games for an illegal play and interfering with a baserunner. Mark Hunter is suspended for five games for being the third man on the field in the fight. Eugene Raveler is suspended for ten games for hitting an umpire. Everybody else in the fight is fined two hundred dollars each.”

My chance now. “Ms. McCarling, is it true that Monty Mauntmaurency’s erratic play on the field is attributed to marijuana use?  There’s this whole thing about him claiming to be a ballplayer from 100 years ago, that’s got to have something to do with drugs.”

She cut me off. “Tell me your name again.”

“You know me, Jenny. I’m Warren Brown from the Sun.”

“Probably should be black and blue from the Post,” she quipped.

I made half-hearted giggle. It wasn’t that funny.

“I don’t need rumors like that being spread around. I run a clean locker room. Monty Mauntmaurency’s just a little – er – eccentric.”

“Yes, but, were you in the locker room when they get dressed, to make sure they’re not taking any drugs?  Do you check them for any sort of illegal substances?  Maybe make them strip in front of you so that nothing’s concealed?”

With that little joke, I was able to get Rick laughing.  I mean, it was getting quite chilly and stuffy in here.

“Mister Brown. This is your first year covering the Robins, isn’t it? Wilkinson’s not coming back?”

“Yes, Coach, Wilkinson chose to write the horse racing reports, said he was tired of covering the Robins.”

“Okay then,” she said. “Mr. Heidrich, please turn that machine off.”

Heidrich pressed the STOP button on the cassette recorder.

“Let me warn you now – do not force me to call your editor. I don’t want to cause a scene – you know how it is, don’t you?”

“Nope. I don’t – I’ve never seen a woman in a locker room before.  But then again, I never saw a manager stop a bench-clearing brawl by ripping open her shirt and getting everyone’s attention.”

“Mr. Brown,” McCarling said to me, as she rummaged through her desk.  “Would you like a Benson and Hedges?”

I did forget my cigarettes, and a nicotine fix was starting to kick in.  “If it isn’t too much trouble, could you kindly give me one?”

She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. Closing the drawer, she got up and walked around to where I was standing. She pulled out one of the cigarettes and handed it to me. I put the cigarette in my mouth, waiting for the light.

As McCarling started to flick the lighter, I felt a sharp pain in my groin. It felt like somebody slammed a pipe between my legs. McCarling had kneed me between the legs!

I doubled over in agony, lurching for a chair. The cigarette fell from my open mouth onto the floor – every nerve in my body was screaming PAIN PAIN PAIN right at my crotch.

“That’s a Benson and Hedges. You know… the broken cigarettes in the ad.  If you don’t want a second one, I’d suggest aiming your questions more towards the team and less towards any insinuations you might have towards me. Is that clear?”

All I could do was nod my head – my voice joined the rest of my nerves.

“Good. Now, as for the team  Olson is on the 15-day disabled list, and while he’s there, we’re stuck without a good reliever…”

I couldn’t ask another question – I just let Rick do all the rest of the talking while I prayed that any damage McCarling did to me was only temporary.  Owwwwwwtch.

Photographing an Exploding Basketball Backboard

It’s a moment everybody wants to see, but nobody knows when it’s coming.

In March 2008, I was photographing the Premier Basketball League finals between the Rochester Razorsharks and the Arkansas Impact at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.  During the first quarter, Rochester’s Keith Friel tried to hit a three-point jumper, only to have the ball bounce off the rim.  His teammates, Sammy Monroe and James “Mook” Reaves, both went up to put the ball in the hoop – both held onto the rim – and BOOM the backboard exploded.  Shards of tempered glass flew all over the joint.  The game was stopped for about 45 minutes while the medical staff tended to James Reaves – some of the tempered glass shards slashed his face and came dangerously close to his eyes.  Rochester eventually won the game and their first PBL championship.

Would you like to see the basketball backboard go boom?

Thanks to YouTube, you can.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the photo of the backboard exploding. Three other cameramen got the shot – I was in the wrong position on the court and it just wasn’t my time.

I cursed myself all the way home, cursing my camera and cursing my equipment and cursing like Hit Girl fighting the bad guys.

But my time would come. And one year ago, on April 19, 2009, I got my chance.

Again, the PBL finals were held at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, as the Razorsharks hosted the Battle Creek Knights in a one-game winner take all battle. I still had my Nikon D70 camera at the time, but I had added more lenses and had learned to control my shots with more accuracy.

And sure enough, in the first quarter, Sammy Monroe stole the ball from Battle Creek’s Kenny Langhorne, and with nobody between him and two easy points, he went for a reverse dunk.

Again, here it is on YouTube.

I was under the Battle Creek basket at the time, and I had my f/2.8 80-200 telephoto lens on my D70 at the time.  I aimed at Sammy Monroe, figuring I’d get a great dunk shot.

Sammy Monroe before the Backboard BLAM!!

That’s Sammy going in the air.

Basketball Backboard BLAM!!

And that’s the exploding backboard.

Again, the backboard tempered glass flew into a million pieces. Meanwhile, I was running back to my laptop computer and hoping against hope that the shot I saw on the tiny little LCD screen on the D70 was indeed an exploding backboard.

It was. I quickly uploaded it to the PBL website so that everyone could see.

Rochester won the game, defeating Battle Creek soundly for the Sharks’ second PBL championship trophy.

Of course, immediately after the game the conspiracy theorists went wild. “Oh, Rochester’s backboard broke again in the finals, what are the odds of that?” “Oh, they must have rigged or jimmied the backboard to explode, how dare they put players and fans in danger like that?”

Okay… first of all… backboards are not supposed to break. That’s a given. And they’re not supposed to break with any sort of frequency.

But Darryl Dawkins broke two backboards in the span of 30 days in the NBA, to the point where they had to re-design the backboards and rims. And in 1978, a CBA game between Anchorage and Wilkes-Barre was held up for a couple of hours when both teams’ players broke the backboards – in pre-game warmups.

So, although it is a rare occurrence, it has happened with some frequency.

Some time later, I found out why those backboards broke. They weren’t jimmied, they weren’t rigged – they were just old backboards. They had probably been in service for decades and no one ever thought that a professional basketball team would put them through such a workout; they were more often used for high school or college games.

Besides, why would anybody jimmy a backboard to explode – and endanger the lives of their players, the opposing players, and the fans in the stands? It’s crazy.

Still, it was a stroke of luck to even get those photos at the right time. And if I had pressed that shutter button just a millisecond sooner, I would have gotten the backboard in mid-break.

That’s why I have a D700 now. So that, if that day comes and I’m photographing a basketball game and it looks like someone’s going to tear the rim off the backboard and keep it as a souvenir, I’ll get that photo again.

Barring that, I’ll just get another photo of a way cool dunk.

The Cheeziest Pop Songs of the 1970’s

Fellow TU poster J. Eric Smith has a blog post about songs you should really hear.  In the blog post, he mentioned a Bee Gees song, and someone responded about how they enjoyed the Bee Gees song “(The Lights Went Out in) Massachusetts.”  At which point J. Eric mentioned that it seemed incongruous that the song would mention that the lights went out in the entire state.

Which got me to thinking, for some odd reason, about some of the goofiest pop hits of the 1970’s.  Yeah, it’s easy to bust on Fly 92 because all they ever play is Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas and Kesha, and my generation says “Hey, we had much better music back in our day, we had Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac and Big Star and the Sex Pistols and Boston.”  Yes we did.

Unfortunately, we also had –

  • “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace.  Great song from the 1970’s.  Especially that lyric “Daddy was a cop / on the East Side of Chicago / Back in the U.S.A. / Back in the bad old days…”  Okay, there’s a North Side of Chicago and a West Side of Chicago and, if you’re a fan of Jim Croce, a South Side of Chicago – but where is the East Side of Chicago?  In Lake Michigan?
  • “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods.  Yeah, Paper Lace (see entry above) was a one-hit wonder in America, but they actually recorded the original version of this “boy goes off to war and girlfriend tells him to stay safe and he gets killed anyway” song.  Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods covered it, and actually took this song to #1 on the pop charts.  Classic lyric: “I heard his fiancee got a letter / that told how Billy died that day / the letter said that he was a hero / she should be proud he died that way / I heard she threw the letter away…”
  • “Run Joey Run” by David Geddes.  This one’s a classic.  Guy gets his girlfriend pregnant, her dad finds out and is looking for boyfriend – and is packing a gun.  Father’s about to shoot the boyfriend, girl gets in the way, takes the bullet – and dies.  And it went to the top 10 on the pop charts.  Classic lyric: “Daddy please don’t / it wasn’t his fault / he means so much to me / Daddy please don’t / we’re gonna get married / just you wait and see…”
  • “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees and his Cast of Idiots.  I don’t know what’s worse.  The fact that this song has one helluva funky groove if you don’t listen to the lyrics – or the fact that it gave Rick Dees a #1 pop hit.  Yikes.
  • “C.B. Savage” by Rod Hart.  There were several songs based on the popular citizens band radio devices of the 1970’s (“Convoy”, “The White Knight”, “Teddy Bear”), but this one was the gooniest.  In the song, Rod Hart pretends to be a gay truck driver, enticing truckers to speed as there are no cops around.  Then suddenly his voice changes, and gets less effeminate – and more stentorian, as if he was a state trooper, who trapped truckdrivers into going over the speed limit.  All I remember is that WPTR played the bejeebers out of this song for weeks.  It was one of the reasons I stopped listening to WPTR for a while.
  • “One Tin Soldier” by Coven.  Probably the preachiest “message” song of the 70’s, this told the story of a peaceful people who were willing to share their treasure with another tribe.  The tribe killed the peaceful people, only to discover the treasure wasn’t what they had expected.  Classic lyric: “Go ahead and hate your neighbor / Go ahead and cheat a friend / Do it in the name of heaven / you can justify it in the end…”
  • “All By Myself” by Eric Carmen.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love me some Eric Carmen and the Raspberries.  But it was this song, complete with a poached melody from Rachmaninoff, that just wallows in self-pity and malaise.  Plus it gave Mariah Carey and Celine Dion the chance to expand their vocal ranges by hitting super-high glory notes when they remade the song for their albums.  Classic lyric: “When I was young / I never needed anyone / and makin’ love was just for fun / Those days are gone…”
  • “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” by Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond.  It was bad enough when these signers recorded the song – as separate songs – on their own albums.  Then some enterprising disc jockey stitched their vocals together as some sort of “Edelweiss” mash-up.  Next thing you know, I’m hearing Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond warbling together on the radio.  MY EARS! THEY”RE BLEEDING, OH GOD THEY’RE BLEEDING!!!!
  • “Telephone Man” by Meri Wilson.  Two minutes of pure Velveeta.  It was a classic double entendre song about having a telephone installed in a new house.  Or was it?  Classic lyric: “I got it in the bathroom and I got it in the hall / I got it in the bedroom and he hung it on the wall / I got it with a buzz and I got it with a ring / and when he called my number up I got a ding-a-ling.”  Which brings me to…
  • “My Ding-A-Ling” by Chuck Berry.  The incongruities of rock and roll are so vast, that the man known for such 1950’s rockers as “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Johnny B. Goode” and “Maybelline” and “School Day” scored his only #1 pop hit with a double entendre song about a toy he played with called his “Ding-A-Ling.”  Classic lyric – “Then I went off to grammar school / But I snuck off to the vestibule / Every time that school bell’d ring / Catch me playing with my ding-a-ling-a-ling.”
  • “The Streak” by Ray Stevens.  It was a toss-up between this and “Everything is Beautiful,” and I couldn’t in good conscience put the latter song on this list.  But I did put this song about a guy running naked through the grocery store, naked through the gas station, naked through the basketball game… Classic lyric: “Don’t look, Ethel!!”
  • “Float On” by the Floaters.  This group had a #1 song in which they spent the entire song introducing the audience to every member in the band, their zodiac sign, and what they look for in a woman.  And by the time they finished introducing themselves, the song was over.  Wowie.
  • “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers.  That’s right… “S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y … NIGHT!  S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y … NIGHT!”
  • “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone.  I still can’t believe this song was #1 on the pop charts for ten weeks.  TEN WEEKS!  If you have never heard this song… consider yourself blessed.

Anyone else want to add to this list?

The Robins of Iverhill: Chapter 8 – Arrival in Bark Creek

NOTE: the following story, which will be serialized on this blog, was originally written in 1985 as my senior project in creative writing at Hamilton College. 25 years later, it has been updated. New chapters will appear Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Previous chapters are listed with hyperlinks below.

PROLOGUE
CHAPTER 1 – THE NEW MAN
CHAPTER 2 – ROOMMATES
CHAPTER 3 – UNWANTED RETURNS
CHAPTER 4 – OPENING DAY
CHAPTER 5 – RESULTS
CHAPTER 6 – CONFIDENCE
CHAPTER 7 – BUS RIDE

My name is Eugene Raveler.  I am the starting center fielder for the Iverhill Robins, and one of its top hitting stars.

Monty Mauntmaurency’s stories were bugging me all night on the bus trip to Bark Creek.  Not only was he still throwing bull about playing for Baltimore in the major leagues – and 100 years ago, to boot – but now he was telling these foolish stories about how he played with all these old guys from the history books. These stories were so spooky I got nervous at times, so I wrapped my jacket around my shoulders for warmth.

The road trip to Bark Creek was too much for me to take.  I heard Mauntmaurency’s stories on nearly every road trip, and each one was more fanciful than the last.  This one, however, took the cake.

“Now, a few years ago, we had a team that decided they were going to have something to get women into the stadium. This was called ‘Ladies’ Day,’ all ladies could get in the park for ten cents, instead of those outlandish fifty cents that team’s owner used to charge.  We took the field – and I swear, I never saw so many women in my life! Just like somebody had started a suffrage rally, and there they all were.  So many women stormed the park that some of the players got a bit scared – including me – and to top it all off, Curt Welch looked in the stands and there was his girlfriend – his mother – and his wife, all sitting in three seats in the same row!  Boy, did he hear about that when he got home from the game.”

I sat back in my seat, mumbling numerous curses towards the window. Publicity stunt or not, this guy was really getting on my nerves.  All these stories about playing in the old days, he must have one hell of an imagination.  Must make up for his shortcomings with women, I thought.

But I wanna know how Monty got away with some of the junk he pulled off this year – the goofy trick plays and his flaky demeanor on the diamond – and still McCarling keeps him in the lineup?  Was he giving our female coach a little “batting practice” on the side? Nah, that’s impossible. Jenny still won’t admit that she loves me, so why should she try anything with this addle-brained reject?

We arrived in Bark Creek, just as the sun began to rise. I caught some sunshine in my eyes, enough to sting, but I’ve seen worse in catching a fly ball.

As the bus pulled into this motel, I got off my seat, grabbed my suitcase above my head, and pulled it down to my side.  Other players started doing the same thing. I looked at Monty – he carried this dingy duffel bag that always seemed full of everything. He lifted it from the rack like it was a feather.

One by one, we left the bus, Jenny going first. Hey, wonder if she’d be willing to do something tonight – well, I’ll just have to wait and see if there’ll be a sign.

“All right men,” she called as soon as we were all off the bus, “I’ve got some changes in the room assignments. Trunks, Tierney, you’re in a quad with Hunter and Phillipstern. Smokey, you’re with Monty and Olson. Raveler, you’re in a single.”

There’s the sign! I ain’t rooming with Smokey and his snoring self any more. I got a single for this trip – the perfect privacy for Jenny and me!

“Get some breakfast, men, and I’ll be back around ten this morning for batting practice.”

The rest of them started towards the hotel. But not me. I had more important things to do. “Hey,  Jenny!” I called.

She turned and looked at me.

“Look, thanks for giving me the single. I know it might be a bit compromising with you, me, and Smokey in the same room together.”

“Grow up, Gene,” she snarled at me.

Not the answer I was hoping for, but maybe she was just acting tough so that the rest of the team won’t know that she loves me.

“But don’t you want to get back together with me Jenny?  I mean, we can have lots of fun – like we used to have – you know, don’t you?”

“Yes, I know. I’ve been hearing about it since the season started! You’re in a single because nobody wants to room with you, cause all you do is blather on about Monty Mauntmaurency and all.  And that includes our top pitchers, who’ve put up with you for years – and it also includes me.”

With that, she grabbed her suitcases and headed up to the hotel.

“Jenny, wait,” I called to her.

She put her suitcases down. With that cutting voice of hers – like when she’s angry – which she is now, she said, “How many times? How many times will it take to get through your thick head? How many times am I going to have to tell you you’re an insensitive, uncaring, simple-minded little wart before you’ll leave me alone? How many times, Eugene? How many times? Because I’m sick of repeating myself.  I can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep yelling at you – my throat’s still hoarse from the last time I yelled at you!”

I stood there, totally dumbstruck, while Jenny kept on.

“You know what, Eugene, when I was playing softball in high school and I was the top player in all of Otswego County, and I went to Robins games, you were my favorite player.  I would get the game program and tack it up on my bulletin board, and I was there the day you hit the bullseye sign in the outfield – twice.  I found the baseball from the second dent you made in that bullseye sign.  I saved it for years.  And I grew up loving baseball, and wanting to be a great baseball player like Eugene Raveler.

“And when I was in college, playing softball, I tried to bat like Eugene Raveler.  And I used to hit like Eugene Raveler.  And when I got out of college, and the Wilsons asked me to take over as manager of the Robins, and I agreed to do it – the only reason I took this job, not because of the pay, not because of the publicity, not because of anything – was because you were still here.  My favorite ballplayer was still with the Robins.

“And Eugene, it took me all of three games to realize why every other manager quit this job.  They didn’t want to work with you.  You’re lazy, you’re conceited, you think you’re God’s gift to the female gender, you think you’re Henry Aaron and Mickey Mantle all rolled up into one.

“And every freaking day, I had to listen to you treat me like I was some potential conquest.  Some little fantasy.  I saw what you did with every other girl in the stands who caught your attention.  And every girl you’ve been with from Bark Creek to Corbett Falls to New Providence.  Not to mention the ones when you went to Boston.

“I’m sorry, Eugene.  Maybe once I did have feelings for you.  But they’re probably still attached to that home run ball from ’69.  And I lost that ball about a year ago.”

She grabbed her suitcase again. At that point, I went for broke. Grabbing her arm, I called out,

“Jenny, I love you. Please don’t leave me.  I know I’m not the greatest guy in the world, but I can make it up to you.”

She looked at her arm, which had my hand gripped on it.

“You like Benson and Hedges cigarettes?”

That wasn’t a come-on.  I knew what that meant.  I relaxed my grip.

There were white marks on her arm where my hand once was.  She then turned away for the last time and went into the motel lobby.

Yeah, I was depressed about the event.  She still didn’t care. Well, I still had Treasure back home in Iverhill, but she wasn’t the same as Jenny.  The girl I really want to spend the night with just headed into the hotel, and she’ll lock the door behind her because she knows very well I’d follow her up to her room, and beg to come in until I get tired of getting nothing for an answer.

Week 9 of the 2010 Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

Thanks to the attendance rule, in which one must show up for 75% of the 16-week tournament in order to qualify for the finals, there’s really no way my Street Academy team won’t make the cut.  At this point, it’s just show up, order food, and play.

But I’m tired of just showing up and hoping I can earn bonus points.  I need to make sure that I can do well in the finals.

What does that mean for me?

It means bringing in reinforcements.

And those “reinforcements” are the members of my Monday night Brown’s Brewing team, Jeremy and Alexis. How smart are they?  Jeremy’s an accomplished physics professor at Siena; Alexis is a chem major at RPI that could recite the entire Periodic Table of the Elements without using any Tom Lehrer-created melodies.

They arrived at Elbo Room last night after playing in an Ultimate Frisbee league over at the UAlbany campus.  We were ready for battle.

In fact, we picked up the halftime free pitcher by holding the lead, and stayed at or near the lead throughout the night.  We nailed questions about what card game has a championship called the Bermuda Tournament (bridge), on what continent could you find the Orange Free State (Africa), and the names of the two lead actors in the upcoming film The Wrong Guys (Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg).

As the final question rolled in, we were only 18 points off the lead.  The final question, 21st century music was the category.  “Rolling Stone magazine voted a song by what group as the best song of the decade?”

This one was out of our ballpark.  There were so many possible answers.  I started to write down Coldplay, Jeremy and Alexis both said that’s not the answer.  Jeremy suggested U2, I wasn’t happy with that answer.  Alexis thought maybe because of their popularity, that the Black Eyed Peas might have had the song of the decade.  I liked the answer, considering that the Black Eyed Peas are not only on the cover of Rolling Stone this week; they also have songs that have spent entire months at #1 on the Billboard pop charts.

What the heck, we wrote down the Black Eyed Peas and handed it in.

The answer was “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day.  Some teams did get that answer correct; not us.  In fact, Woo Hoo a Go Go also thought Coldplay had the song of the decade, while Da Bears thought the song of the decade came from Gnarlz Barkley.

How obscure was that question?  Big Red Machine picked up a playoff point for third place by betting no points for the final question, as other teams wrote down answers like Staind and Creed.

So I don’t feel so bad that we missed that final question.  In fact, outside of not picking up some points on some of the bonus answers, we did quite well up until that point.  What we did do was work together on answers, skipped when we weren’t sure, and hit the right questions at the right time.  Good teammates are hard to find, and I’m glad I’ve got some for this tournament.

So after nine weeks, here are the standings.  I’m not going to list teams that haven’t shown up any more; I will still keep the attendance list going, however.  Twelve black stars (one star for each attendance) earn you a green star, meaning you have fulfilled attendance requirements (to be in the finals, you must attend 75% of the qualifying weeks). If your team has a “red star” next to your name, you are in danger of being disqualified for not showing up for the requisite 12 out of 16 weeks to qualify for the tournament.

Elbo Room Trivia Standings – Week 9
Trivia Team Points Totals Attendance
1 Skidmarks 18 ★★★★★★★★★
2 Con-Fear-Acy 3 17 ★★★★★★★★★
3 Stern Fans 5 15 ★★★★★★★
4 Da Bears 11 ★★★★★★★★
5 Woo Hoo a Go Go 9 ★★★★★★★★★
6 Big Red Machine 1 4 ★★★★★★
7 Touched by an Uncle 3 ★★★★★★
8 Street Academy 2 ★★★★★★★★★

Seven weeks left to go.