I sat with Mrs. Smiler watching the Spring Training exhibition between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles at the City of Palms Park in Ft. Myers, Florida. She decided earlier in the year to target a game in Fenway South a mere 200 miles from our home in Tampa. So we made the roadie.
I glanced about the park. There were many similarities to the vaunted cathedral on Yawkey Way sans a Green Monster and Fenway Franks. On the field, the BoSox played many of their front line guys while the Orioles had split their squad leaving their best troops, ironically, in Tampa for a night game against the Yankees. I was a bit disappointed since I’d come to see the Orioles but my wife got to see her guys and that did my heart good.
Surrounding me were cheery septuigents … rabid Red Sox faithful out for a lovely, South Florida spring day. Many of them gaped at me because I wore Dodger Blue … my Smiler Jersey that paid tribute to Cal Ripken, Jr. I thought my Brooklyn Cap with its Red Sox styled ‘B’ would be a disarming compromise. I wanted to be the only Dodger fan in attendance that day … a true, neutral, odd duck. Unfortunately, one of the people who shared the same third base box row as we did asked me:
‘Are you wearing the Duke’s jersey?’
‘Duke as in Snyder?’
‘Yeah. They said there was a guy with a Duke jersey roaming all over the park.’
‘No. Mine says the Smiler. That’s me.’
He sat down a bit disappointed. And I went back to watching the Red Sox pound the Orioles starter Chris Tillman like a rock giant squashing a one armed hobbit. I did not exactly mourn the recently deceased Duke. He was before my time and I only knew of him from the Terry Cashman song and Roger Kahn’s book ‘Boys of Summer.’ The book stayed in my mind the rest of the day. Probably because he brought the ghosts of Dodgers I would never meet to life with his stylish word craft. Every team should have as talented a writer to devote a ball club’s history to immortality. I wished that I could emulate that kind of writing in my fiction and non-fiction.
Elizabeth sat on the other side of my wife (both in the first picture above) fresh from the Red Sox minor league camp. For those of you living under a rock, Elizabeth keeps a tremendous chronicle at MLBlogs entitled: The Future Blog of the Boston Red Sox which features a heavy emphasis on “future”. She knows more about the nuances of the farm teams then perhaps most paid pro scouts. In fact, people in the row in front of us mistook her for a scout. Elizabeth took it all in stride continuing to take photos of her minor league interests and score their progress.
Serendipity brought us all together. Chance had it that Elizabeth was going to observe this game and camp practice for her Portland Sea Dog coverage and when I found out about it, I emailed her suggesting a rendezvous. It was a cool thing knowing she and my wife could rap about the Red Sox and I could rap with her about writing. I waited between innings when she was less busy. Roger Kahn was still on my mind … the hard knock Brooklyn guy who wanted to be a newspaperman. So did I once upon a time. And so did this intrepid youngster. I dared a question.
‘Elizabeth, have you read Roger Kahn’s: Boys of Summer?’
‘Not yet.’ She answered.
‘He brings a bit of poetry to his baseball writing craft that sets him apart from the white noise of the field. Sort of like Ray Bradbury brings to prose.’ I replied feeling like an old man with some kind of crazy need to give advice. I added ‘And I think you have that kind of talent. Keep at it.’ She does. She’s good.
Elizabeth thanked me. Then in addition to Red Sox banter, she and my wife struck up a conversation about how the City of Palms ballpark might be lacking in Cracker Jacks, but they more than made up for it with divine lemonade. They were right.
But I quietly continued to ponder the Duke, the Dodgers, Roger Kahn, and my own lack of devotion to the writing craft. The ball players were on the field against a back drop of competition in the minors that served as a type of white noise. All these guys had just enough talent or they would not be there. They needed to make their mark to stand out … to attain a shot in the Show and an even longer shot at being bronzed in Cooperstown.
You would think a writer would have it easier. You would think after 36 years of which two decades have been devoted to the holy craft of writing that I would be more disciplined. That I would go through the reps like the ball players were doing in practice and like Elizabeth did in her reporting. Instead, I was the Kansas City Royals … always rebuilding. Or, I was Grady Sizemore … talented by injury prone … my injury being an impairment of the creative muse. I sighed my discontent, apparently a bit too loudly.
‘Are you having a nice time?’ Mrs. Smiler asked, turning to me. ‘Are you having fun?’
‘Yeah, sure. I’m enjoying this game.’ I told her. ‘This has been a nice time.’
And it was. The Red Sox beat the Orioles with a walk off single that everyone in the park KNEW was going to happen. Moments later, Elizabeth made her farewells with my wife and me and we left with a new friendship. And on the ride home in the dying sunlight I kept thinking that despite my doubts and misgivings that I want to still be a writer when I grow up even if my prose never makes it to ‘The Bigs.’
Today is my birthday. I turned 36. Duke Snider died. He was 84. It’s sad that Spring Training begins with such a somber passing. I was looking forward to truly enjoying Dodgers games out of the gate and following the Orioles as my favorite AL club this year. And I suspect that I will eventually put the passing of the Duke to rest and prepare for the 2011 season. But today’s entry will pay homage to Snider by featuring Terry Cashman’s classic song that mentioned the Duke so prominently.
Until next time folks … then we’ll discuss happier things. But for now:
Talkin’ Baseball by Terry Cashman
The Whiz Kids had won it,
Bobby Thomson had done it,
And Yogi read the comics all the while.
Rock ‘n roll was being born,
Marijuana, we would scorn,
So down on the corner,
The national past-time went on trial.
We’re talkin’ baseball!
The Man and Bobby Feller.
The Scooter, the Barber, and the Newc,
They knew ’em all from Boston to Dubuque.
Especially Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.
Well, Casey was winning,
Hank Aaron was beginning,
One Robbie going out, one coming in.
Kiner and Midget Gaedel,
The Thumper and Mel Parnell,
And Ike was the only one winning down in Washington.
We’re talkin’ baseball!
The Man and Bobby Feller.
The Scooter, the Barber, and the Newc,
They knew ’em all from Boston to Dubuque.
Especially Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.
Now my old friend, The Bachelor,
Well, he swore he was the Oklahoma Kid.
And Cookie played hooky,
To go and see the Duke.
And me, I always loved Willie Mays,
Those were the days!
Well, now it’s the 80’s,
And Brett is the greatest,
And Bobby Bonds can play for everyone.
Rose is at the Vet,
And Rusty again is a Met,
And the great Alexander is pitchin’ again in Washington.
I’m talkin’ baseball!
Like Reggie, Quisenberry.
Carew and Gaylord Perry,
Seaver, Garvey, Schmidt and Vida Blue,
If Cooperstown is calling, it’s no fluke.
They’ll be with Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.
Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
It was Willie, Mickey and the Duke (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
I’m talkin’ Willie, Mickey and the Duke (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
Say Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
© Copyright 1981, 1983, 1988, 1992, 1996 PKM Music
c/o Publishers’ Licensing Corporation
P.O. Box 5807
Englewood, New Jersey 07631
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
I’m taking a break from horror fiction prose these days to focus almost exclusively on baseball related fiction and non-fiction. Not so much poetry, but more exploration into baseball’s history and current events. I’m sort of at a loss exactly where I’m going in my literary life but I think that much of my effort will be devoted to The Dugout.
In the spirit of the literary nature of this page, I leave you with the first poem of the 2011 season. Carl Sandburg wrote about the gruff and gritty world of Depression era Chicago. I was surprised to learn he wrote a baseball piece.
Hits and Runs by Carl Sandburg
I REMEMBER the Chillicothe ball players grappling the Rock Island ball players in a sixteen-inning game ended by darkness.
And the shoulders of the Chillicothe players were a red smoke against the sundown
and the shoulders of the Rock Island
players were a yellow smoke against the sundown.
And the umpire’s voice was hoarse calling balls and strikes and outs and the umpire’s throat fought in the dust for
Here’s my thoughts as to why I feel the Dodgers are pursuing Albert Pujols even though I probably have more jack in my moth ridden wallet than Frank McCourt.
Ned Colletti must be going out of his mind trying to figure out a way to bring instant offense and credibility to a franchise that recently sold its soul to Mannywood and has been ravaged by two years of horrific press. And in myunhinged scheme, he can do it by getting rid of this dead weight, ‘up and coming’, talent the Dodgers have been clinging to long past their prime.
An example of such talent … J. R. Martin. The Bums jettisoned Martin a couple years too late and could’ve had Francisco Cervelli in a failed trade to the Evil Empire. But they gave him his walking papers and received nothing and the Yanks got Martin anyway. The Dodgers have Rod Barajas (I’m a fan) and ‘Da Quitter’ Navarro. All things equal, it’s all wash. But it’s a subtle acknowledgment that this ‘talent’ (aside from Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw) may not be as desirable as previously believed.
But we’re talking Pujols! PUJOLS!! How to get the King Maker??
Here’s my sinister plan. It’s ambitious. Possibly ridiculous, and unlikely to transpire:
Trade Chad Billingsley (you have to give up something to get something) and Jonathan Broxton (who’s lost his MoJo) to the Cardinals and their guru pitching coach Dave Duncan could be an equitable start. The Dodgers can then give the presently superfluous Vincente Padilla a starting role to replace Bills and let Hong Chi Kuo or that Jensen kid duke it out for closer.
It works. But it’s not enough.
The Redbirds would need a first baseman. Well, they have Lance Berkman who fits the bill (The Cards SAY they intend to stick Fat Elvis is the outfield but I suspect they signed him knowing they couldn’t retain Pujols … but I digress …) but give them James Loney anyway. Throw in Casey Blake who can play outfield and third base (both needs for the Cards) and you dump salaries and aquire Pujols. Or, you keep Blake and the Brox and sub in Matt Kemp. I don’t care. Make it happen. Those four are worth trading for a decade’s worth of Pujols.
No one is worth the ducats Albert is asking though I suspect it’s more about the Players Union pressuring him than his overall demands. If I were Colletti, you take the gamble leaving everyone but Ethier and Kershaw as expendable. If I were Frank McCourt, I’d be thinking about the gate receipts.
At the end of the day, I think St. Louis makes it happen for Big Al and fiscally frustrates their franchise in the process. But it doesn’t hurt to dream.
I can’t remember if it was Steve Colbert or Jonathan Winters or what rum funny chap actually sat down in front of a mirror to interview himself. In my opinion, it takes a very special and conceited kind of psychotic attention “ho” to giddy up for that shtick.
Add me to the list …
INTERVIEWER: Why the Smiler? Where does it come from?
WILL: I needed an online moniker. It was as good as any since I’m a troubled boy who doesn’t smile much. But I borrowed it from Jimmy Durante’s character who took a dirt nap in the old ‘It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World’ movie.
INTERVIEWER: It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World?
WILL: Isn’t it?
INTERVIEWER: You seem to be a bit … reluctant to commit to a baseball team. Your page seems to indicate you follow the Dodgers, than it was the Mets for like, a day, and then the Marlins. Would you like to clear the air here?
WILL: All of the above. I can explain. I love the Dodgers. When I got back into baseball after a decade away, I bought the Extra Innings package and I kept staying up late to watch them. This was before Mannywood back when that tool Jeff Kent still played. I delved into their history, adopted LaSorda’s diet, and they’ve been in my blood since.
INTERVIEWER: Then why did you switch so much?
WILL: I live in Tampa and work early. Hard to stay up for West Coast games. But I still love them. I follow the Mets because I started with them and I think Sandy Alderson will turn them around soon. I also like the Red Sox because of my wife and the Orioles because of the players on their team. And the Fish because I was there when they started and they’re local and upcoming.
INTERVIEWER: But not the Rays?
WILL: They’ll always be the Devil Rays to me … and this year they’ll prove it.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have a favorite current and former baseball player?
WILL: I’m a pitching geek. Always have been. I love cats with swagger and cannons for arms. But they have to have an odd personality to boot. That’s why I think Nolan Ryan will always be aces in my book. Begging people to charge the mound? Raucous! He’s not my favorite though. Pete Rose is because of his tenacious nature. His tragedy of character. I always dig the hero with flaws. Hemingway calls them code heroes. Wounded types that try to figure out the world. Pete is kind of like that. I would much rather see him bronzed then the steroid cheaters. I wouldn’t think twice about it.
My current fave is knuckleballer R.A. Dickey who has the stones to rock the initials, feature the knuckleball, and was an English major. I’m delighted he got his payday.
INTERVIEWER: English major. Sort of like the theme of this site mixing baseball with literary emphasis. I suppose this was a deliberate angle?
WILL: Definitely. Unless you’re a hell of a writer with zealous team passion like my friends Emma, Elizabeth, Matt, Mike, and Julia here at MLBlogs, anyone else risks being so much white noise. Well, when I started this page I was still trying on teams. I wasn’t passionate about any of them yet … and I’m still not.
But I enjoy the intangibles of the game and the quiet literary history behind it. Much poetry and prose has been devoted to baseball. As a writer/novelist/poet, I elected to combine both worlds.
INTERVIEWER: What do you write?
WILL: I try to write Gothic Horror or Dark Fantasy only I don’t think I’m very good. My best poetry comes when I’m sufficiently sauced. All of that seems to percolate when I’m depressed, but a writer cannot forever stay depressed and expect their craft to blossom. Even despondent hacks like me need to take a ball game in now and again just to acknowledge the sun still rides in the sky.
INTERVIEWER: Except at the Trop. Can’t see the sun in there.
WILL: People seem to hate the Trop. It’s quirky fun. It’s like playing baseball in a jungle gym. People don’t get bent about the weirdness at the other orange juice pad in Houston with its centerfield hill and ill placed pole. I happen to like both stadiums.
INTERVIEWER: What was the last Baseball book and last non baseball novel you read?
WILL: I’m in the middle of reading The Machine by Joe Posnanski. It details the Cincinnati Reds of the 70’s and is very nicely written from a literary standpoint. And I’m trying to learn a bit more about Pete and Sparky. The present novel I’m reading is The October Country by Ray Bradbury … a collection of horror shorts that have little to do with Reggie Jackson. And Ray Bradbury is an underappreciated genius of a writer.
INTERVIEWER: Who’s in the World Series this year?
WILL: It won’t be the Yankees or the Red Sox. For all the bluster, the Yanks will dive into 3rd behind Toronto and the Red Sox will learn that their pitching staff isn’t as solid as they think. I can see Cincinnati if they install Chapman as their closer. Oakland as a dark horse wouldn’t shock me either if they manage to win with small ball.
INTERVIEWER: Favorite baseball movie?
WILL: I loved The Natural and then I grew up to adore all the one liners in Bull Durham. Costner belongs in every good baseball movie made. Oh wait, he is.
INTERVIEWER: What can we expect from The Smiler’s Dugout this year?
WILL: Hopefully more consistency, more poetry, more baseball news of the weird. I may try to insert experimental writing. It’ll be a wild as a Carlos Marmol save opportunity but hopefully every bit as intriguing. Go Dodgers!
Navarro is a quitter. And I’m not. I’ve been away because of … personal trauma … but I’m back Smiling again. Smiling like the sad clown that I am.
One thing that makes me smile, sad or happy, is excellence in writing. This means bullet biting brevity and creative turn of phrase. Another is Baseball wrapped up in a tidy ghazal. That’s right. Baseball is the most literary of sports. Poems have been written about the Old Ball Game and novel ideas creep into the heads of people that have been given free tickets to an Indians and Royals game in August.
So where can these two galactic forces that drive the impetus of my tick tock collide? Here at the Dugout.
This page proves the most successful when I spotlight literature and dare to fiddle with a bit of my own. There will be more of that than my take on the ‘excrutiating minutia’ of what transpires in any given game. I’ll bludgeon the Dodgers while extolling their virtue. Poets are complicated types that hide criticisms in metaphor and pat themselves on the back for it. And I’m a complicated poet who deals better in the free verse of knuckleballs, chalk, and stardust than the rigid expectations of similie.
You are welcome. Writers especially. And yes, so too is Dioner Navarro.
It’s good to be back. And for my friends who stuck around through the team schizophrenia that mirrored my unsteady soul, I thank you and appreciate your readership. So is it Spring Training yet?
Darrell looks at me, hesitantly taking the last nacho chip out of the bowl. Together we both are draining our favorite chilled beverage and watching Marlins baseball. Darrell lost a bet so I got to choose the game today, but I assured him that his Reds would beat the Cubs. Yeah, like I believed my own words.
Evidently, he didn’t believe me and scrolled through the nearby laptop.
‘You’re lucky the Reds are winning, punk.’
‘Told ya’, I said.
‘I can’t believe we’re watching this Marlins crap.’
‘Next time don’t bite off more than you can chew. I mean, you can still mow the lawn if you like. That was the original wager, you know.’
Darrell looks out the den window, squinting and grabbing for his first bottle.
‘Nah. Looks like rain.’
‘Yeah right.’ I answer. Outside the sky was bright and blue. Inside and on the screen, Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson went to sit down from where he waited in the on deck circle. He was due to bat against Braves pitcher Derek Lowe before he even threw his first pitch. The Marlins were feasting on Lowe. It was a good thing. But not for Darrell who squirmed in his seat.
“Will. Be reasonable. The Fish aren’t even in playoff contention. C’mon, let’s watch the Reds, dude. Quit being a butt.’
‘A bet is a bet. Besides, I’m doing research.’
‘For your Marlins blog?’ Darrell laughed, ‘No disrespect to your writing talents, my friend, but do you even have one person who cares to read about that team?’
I cock my head to the side, ‘One, for sure. Maybe even two. But that’s not why I do it.’
He nods. ‘I know. I know. You do it for the poetry. You do it for the history of the moment … or some other horse crap like that. But we’re talking Joey Votto, here … at Wrigley Field! A pennant chase!’
‘I don’t want to miss Josh Johnson’s skill here, D.’
My timing couldn’t have been worse as Eric Hinske rocks a hit into the outfield green. Omar Infante scores. The Braves trail only by two. Johnson is out of gas and has been for the last month. I knew it. I’m sure the Marlins brass knew it. And Darrell knew it.
‘Will, listen. Johnson’s gassed. I benched him on my fantasy team today. I’m starting R.A. Dickey over him today.’
I rolled my eyes, ‘Dickey is a good pitcher. A mercurial guy who is said to want to be a writer and was an English major. And he throws the knuckler.’
‘Well your jab at Johnson using Dickey as some sort of perceived weapon lacks venom, pal. Dickey is good anyway. I dig him, you know that.’
‘Then let’s watch the Mets instead. Or the Dodgers. I’ll even watch the Dodgers despite the fact that you were once such an obnoxious Dodgers fan that you made me hate them in spite of you. And now even you don’t like them anymore.’
‘They’re not playing yet and that’s just not true. It was a time zone issue that brought on the change. And I felt the Marlins were underrepresented and unloved. Plus as a native of the Sunshine State, which you are blessed NOT to be; I feel like I needed to root for Florida’s first team.’
‘So you alter your entire blog to feature a team that no one cares about?’
I shrug. He was beginning to annoy me. But Darrell is the only guy on the block who knows anything about the game of baseball, beside my wife who is working today. One makes do with what one has around them.
‘Some people do.’, I answer, ‘I do. And my blog is more about how baseball oozes its way into my everyday life. How it compliments my affinities for history and literature. It’s about how baseball saved me from complete despair, as mental and corny as that may sound. It keeps me writing when nothing else inspires me. Baseball, Darrell, is really the only sport that can capture all of these things into a tasty burrito of significance. And the Marlins are my main team. Deal with it.’
‘Burrito of significance?’
‘I’m craving Mexican grub, so shoot me.’
On the screen, the Marlins are dropping baseballs as if they were live grenades and the Braves were mounting a threat. Yet somehow, Johnson gets out of the inning. Darrell lunged for the clicker, but I held it over my head.
‘Will you quit already? You’re not paying for the cold ones, so relax. Try to enjoy the diversity of the game by appreciating other teams for a change, jeez!’
‘That works if you root for about a half dozen teams like you do.’
I sighed and finished my drink. ‘The Fish and the White Sox, the rest I watch for passing interest. There is much more to baseball than the Cincinnati Reds.’
Darrell sat back in the couch. ‘Alright. Sports Bar. A half dozen TV screens. You get your burrito. I get to watch something other than the Fish. My treat. And that should square the bet. Deal?’
‘Fine’, I reply getting up. I’m tired of his whining. ‘I just don’t know what I’m going to write about for today’s entry.’
Darrell springs off the sofa and reaches for the keys to his candy apple red Ford Ranger … a ride he calls ‘Sparky’. He laughs walking out the door donning his Reds cap.
‘You could always mention how your jerk of a neighbor forced your reclusive butt out of the house today and into the lovely aroma of a smoky sports bar. It’s not a bad thing, trust me. And I’m sure it won’t hurt your readership any. If anything, your audience might expand.’
I shrugged and closed the door behind me. ‘Nah. I don’t think so.’
It’s Trade Deadline Day! The most exciting day in baseball and at this writing there is just about 3 hours left. Already, there have been bogus trades. Oswalt to the Phillies … an unnecessary move of an overhyped, over the hill, pitcher. Dan Haren to the Angels makes more sense for next year. The Yankees acquired Austin Kearns and Lance Berkman. Why? Do they need more offense? They have money to blow and the Astros are probably glad to be rid of all their baggage.
There have been other moves too minor to discuss. The rumors are flying. Will the Rays or White Sox get that impact bat? Will it be Adam Dunn or the crazier rumor of Manny Ramirez. The Dodgers should move Manny if they can get decent prospects that would offset eating the salary. Will the Giants or Mets make a move? Exciting Stuff!
Happy Bastille Day! Now that the World Cup is in the grip of the team that I predicted to win, (my only bracket prediction to be correct) I generally shift back into Baseball mode. Thierry Henry is a Red Bull. Sort of like when Jose Canseco became a Ranger. A lot of bluster over nothing, but then again soccer sadly goes that way when the U.S. is booted. But I digress.
Without a poem, I have opinions to offer. George Steinbrenner passed. And so it goes. This convoluted kingpin not only ran the most storied franchise in baseball, but he also had a huge presence locally in Tampa. In many ways, it was damaging in the sense that the Rays fan base suffered due to split loyalty from northern transplants. I don’t really have a problem with that as a Tampa native myself. This area was starved of baseball for years, with clubs like the Giants and White Sox perennially threatening to uproot from their cities due to a more lucrative offer in central Florida. The Trop was lucrative in those days. But that locale remained empty even when the Marlins came to Florida. The locals often embraced the Yankees or Braves as alternate clubs until the Devil Rays were born.
Steinbrenner was a decent enough guy, I suppose. I always enjoyed his parody on Seinfeld. Other than that, I knew very little about him aside from his temper.
Other things? The Dodgers cut George Sherrill loose. That move was coming. He was awful in L.A. and I attribute it to him NOT creasing the bill of his cap. That’s gotta screw with dialing into the strike zone. The Dodgers are poised to fade though. When they didn’t trade Loney or Martin to grab a shot at Cliff Lee, they deserve to fade. I’m so agitated by the Bums because they are at the threshold of greatness and can go either way.
The Mets and White Sox have to prove to me that they are both true contenders. I tend to think they both will be fine if they can add an arm. The Mets need Carlos Beltran to return to form. The ChiSox need Dan Haren.
I mentioned that I have no poem. I may be phasing them out in favor of book and article reviews. Or should I? Opinions on that are welcome.
I’ve always thought that catchers are the most unappreciated position in the game. Most of you know that Joe Mauer is my “Mancrush”. I also am appreciating Rod Barajas and the Yankees’ Francisco Cervelli more and more. Jason Kendall and Greg Zaun are unheralded warriors and Pudge Rodriguez would be a solitary Pudge in Baseball perpetuity if not for his predecessor Pudge Fisk.
ESPN sports writer Tim Kurkjian has a new piece out honoring catchers in all their tortured lack of limelight. He spotlights old timers from Doug ‘Eyechart’ Gwodsz to the crux of the article … John Baker of the Miami Fish. Kurkjian’s story is sound and also fulfills this blog’s literary requirement of the week. Read on!