Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Wright and Wrong Report: Could It Be....?

...A sweep?

It is the five letter word I associate with Turner Field, and the Braves doing it to the Mets. I can't imagine doing it the other way around. But when Kaz Matsui has an eight game hitting streak, anything is possible.

And how about Cliff Floyd for a Gold Glove?

And how about getting some run support for Tom Glavine? I'm happy the guy blanked his ex-team, but still, somebody needs to hit for him at some point.

Sweep? Really?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The M&M/W&W Report: On All Cylinders

Being Mets fans, we're trained always look for the negative. But after last night's game and some morning reflection, I can't find anything negative with this big win at Turner Field. Look at the good things that happened:

--Kaz Matsui kept up his offensive and defensive rebirth, especially by saving David Wright another error on a throw to second.

--Pedro Martinez was, well, Pedro-like. Except for the homer by Larry Jones, he was masterful in his duel with John Smoltz.

--David Wright broke out of his slump with two home runs.

--Julio Franco got one of the classiest receptions I've ever seen from Atlanta fans when he pinch hit.

--Billy Wagner's fastball hit 99mph as he got out of a jam to save it in the 9th.

--Jose Reyes and Paul LaDuca did some textbook manufacturing of an extra crucial run in the 9th.

--and finally, Endy Chavez kept making good defensive plays, and avoided the world's largest flying bug during his last at bat.

If Glavine continues his recent resurgence against his old team, this could be a great weekend.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The M&M Mets/The Wright and Wrong Report: Late Night, Late Afternoon, Late Comebacks

The two games in the past 18 hours have proved to me that perhaps there is something different about this edition of the Mets. They've got guts. Heck, Kaz Matsui got a two hits Tuesday night, and then drove in a run (giving him a hit in every game he's played so far) and made a fine catch Wednesday afternoon, so we all know that this isn't the 2005 Mets. Soon I might even forget Anderson Hernandez. (Probably not, but who knows--I've already forgotten the name of the guy that was supposed to be our starting centerfielder. Supposedly a decision will be made about him on Friday. Why oh why has the front office waited so long to put the 117-million dollar man on the DL?)

Tuesday night Steve Trachsel showed why he should be called the third starter by shutting the Giants down--and challenging Barry Bonds even though the fat old man hit a home run off of him early in the game. I'm still not sure why Willie Randolph pinch hit for Trachsel with Jose "Ofer's Are My Middle Name" Valentin when Trachsel had thrown less than 80 pitches.

Wednesday afternoon's win was--as a co-worker said to me as I started typing this--bittersweet. First, the sweet: they came back three times, finally winning the game in the 11th. Jose Reyes stole some key bases and the 87 year old Julio Franco proved yet again he was worth that dubious two year deal. And how sweet was it to see Barry Bonds' fielding cost the Gioants the game, just a brief time after he tied it with his 710th home run off Billy Wagner. That blown save was not Wagner's fault, it rests on the shoulders of David Wright, who seems to be taking his slump with him onto the field. These throwing errors are starting to get a bit worrysome.

The bitter part of this game was Brian Bannister, who seemed to blow a hamstring trying to score the tie breaking run in the 6th. Losing a starter is something this team could ill aford, especially with a guaranteed loss every time Victor Zambrano pictches. What to do? Aaron Heilman back in the rotation? Jose Lima called up from Triple A? This will be a decision that will have a far reaching impact on the first half of the season. Good thing tomorrow is a day off so the team can ponder these decisions.

4-3 on the road trip so far. Coming out of Atlanta with 6-4 record would be a pleasant surprise.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The M&M Mets: No No to the No-No

Q: You know what happened at AT&T Park last night?

A: No, what?

Q: Kaz Matsui broke up a no hitter in the 6th inning! But he also botched two defensive plays that cost the Mets 3 runs!

A: Awesome! I knew we'd never miss Anderson Hernandez! Anything else good happen?

Q: Um, no. However, I promise to never make bold statements about Tom Glavine (6 runs in 6 plus innings) ever again.

A: That's a good idea, jackass.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Wright and Wrong/M&M Mets Weekend Report: I Still Hate One Guy...

...Victor Zambrano.

Seriously, when he pitches I always pencil in a loss. The team has gone .500 since its 7-1 start, and I blame Zambrano for all of it with his three starts. I can't believe I'm saying this, but if Jorge "Benitez Jr." Julio continues to improve, perhaps it's time to give Aaron Heilman the 4th starter role, move Julio into tighter game situations and DFA Zambrano. He's not going to get better. Everyone knows it. Admit the Kazmir trade was a big debacle and move on.

Other weekend thoughts:
--The 14 inning loss overshadowed one thing--this bullpen held up for a long time. I grow more confident about all the minor parts (Bradford, Oliver, Feliciano).

--Keith Hernandez might want to control himself once in a while. And not call Pedro Feliciano "Jose."

--The 2006 edition of Pedro Martinez is pitching like, well, the 2005 Pedro, except with solid bullpen help for once. Winning 20 games seems like a possibility, and hopefully Pedro won't get wore down by the stretch run.

--Kaz Matsui's inside the park job seems like a long time ago after his striking out with the bases loaded during Sunday's game. He better get hot by the time the Mets are back at Shea, or he's going to be in for it.

--David Wright seems to be working his way out of his mini-slump. I predict a big series from him at Pac Bell, or whatever they call it nowadays.

Road trip continues tonight in San Fran, and I think it's going to be another great start from Tom Glavine. 2 out of 3 would give the team a winning road trip heading into Atlanta, which is key, because we all know that they won't win that series unless Atlanta fields a team with Bobby Cox batting clean-up.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The M&M Mets: Um, Welcome Back!

An inside-the-park homer run?

Turning in a way above average double play with the bases loaded?

Um, who is this Kaz Matsui, and why does he only come out during his first game of the season?

And congrats to Julio Franco, who became the oldest player to ever hit a home run. Who thought 67 year olds could play that well?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Wright And Wrong Report: Uh-Oh

It's official--David Wright is in a slump. O-for-the series against Atlanta is bad. All of sudden I'm getting memories of 2005 coming back in--choking against the Braves, half the lineup out with injuries, etc. The high of last Monday seems long ago. The only plus out of today's 2-1 defeat is that once again Tom Glavine pitched like Tom Glavine. Alas, he still can't beat his old team.

Massive West Coast trip on tap over the next 11 days. I could see this team coming back at the .500 mark if some folks don't heal and break their slumps.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Wright and Wrong Report: Ah, the Comfort of Defeat

First things first: Victor Zambrano did not cost the Mets tonight’s game. Braves pitcher Kyle Davies won it. He was masterful in giving up three hits in his complete game 7-1 triumph.

That being said, when will Mets upper management realize that Victor Zambramo is a bust—and having him between Pedro and Glavine in the rotation assures no three game winning streaks. I know someone up there doesn’t want to admit defeat in the legendary Scott Kazmir steal (thanks for that one Al Leiter), but seriously, it’s time to give it up.

Unfortunately (with Floyd and Beltran out) David Wright is getting into a bit of a mini-slump, punctuated during his last at bat where he smashed his piece of lumber into the ground in disgust. The 23 year old Wright will come around—the 30 year old Zambrano never will. And the Mets can count on having an assured loss every time he pitches. "Zambrano's Time, Losing Team" should be a song a marketing company can write.

I predicted 2 out of 3 for this series—I’ll be happy with that if Tom Glavine’s hot streak continues.

Who's that Other Guy?

If you're a regular reader of the Zisk blog, you might be wondering, "Who the heck is Throm Sturmond, and why is he writing here?"

Well, Throm is a Cubs fan (we don't hold that against him) who wrote for Zisk #12--and is currently in Hong Kong working as a journalist. When he offered to blog his attempts to watch his team from half a world away, Mike and I couldn't resist. So you'll see periodic updates from him on his (so far) quixotic quest.

Next stop for Zisk, Mars, Rickey Henderson's home planet.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The M&M Mets: Pedro’s Record - And a Horrible Record

200 wins.

You know, there have been times that it took the Mets three seasons to total up that many wins. And now Pedro Martinez has reached that milestone. You could feel the electricity through the TV from Shea every time Pedro got to two strikes. Hell, it felt like September baseball against the Braves tonight, and even though Pedro isn’t into mid-season form yet, it’s obvious that this man knows how to rise to the occasion. It wasn’t a perfect 6 and 2/3 innings, but it didn’t need to be with the growing in stature every day bullpen combo of Duaner Sanchez and Billy Wagner. This is a game last year that Pedro would have left with a lead and someone would have blown it. Not this year.

(Hang on, let me go crack a beer in celebration. Ah, that’s better.)

10-2. Still the best Mets start ever. The first time any team has opened a 5 game lead in just 12 games, EVER. I haven’t felt this positive about the Mets since they beat St. Louis in the NLCS in 2000. But there’s something different about this team than the Leiter-Piazza-Alfonzo era. There’s a confidence, something intangible I get from watching these guys play. It’s that swagger and playfulness that Pedro had all last season that seems to have infected the rest of the team now. David Wright has his first off night (5 runs stranded)? No problem, Xavier Nady will get 3 hits and drive in 2. Carlos Beltran out with a hamstring issue? Carlos Delgado just about breaks the right field scoreboard with a 2 run shot.

And now being a Mets fan, I must look for the dark lining--besides Cliff Floyd injuring his rib cage tonight.


(Still thinking…)

Oh, yeah, Kaz Matsui is almost done with rehab, and he’ll be back on the roster soon. This can bring nothing but bad karma. And speaking of bad, check out the new Mets theme song: "Our Team Our Time."

I’m sorry, but this is even worse than the 1986 vintage "Let’s Go Mets." The production for "Our Team Our Time" might have been hip in 1990, but not in 2006. Only someone that works for a hundred-million-dollar company would think this song was worth bringing to the general public. If the Mets collapse after this great start, I will blame this song and find the jackasses that did it.

Oh, and Victor Zambrano goes tomorrow night, so I’ll still take 10-3.

Yeah, I don't know how to enjoy success.

TWIB Report: This Webcast is Balky

At this point, I was hoping to post a couple observations to Zisk about my beloved Cubs. While I had to give up my Cubs seasons tickets last fall for my new job in Hong Kong, I had high hopes about MLB's webcasts. A full season of nearly-live broadcasts, be it TV or radio, would stream into my apartment as I pedal away on my bike that's hooked up to a stationary trainer. If I couldn't enjoy Matt Murton's first full season in the bigs, Aramis Ramirez's mashing uppercuts and Derrek Lee's quest to prove he's for real - I swear, last season wasn't a hoax - I could at least follow them on the web.

Well, remember, this is something coming out of an office overseen by Bud Selig. On my Mac, the video starts, stops and sputters ever 3-4 seconds, rendering it unwatchable. Even the radio feed is jittery. Arrgh! Radio, which even the smallest public radio station can stream over the web pretty much flawlessly, but MLB apparently can't at least on my Mac.

I'm trying to get my Dell PC networked this week, so I can stream stuff through there, and hopefully all will be better. But please, if anyone sees Bud Selig this week, please throw your Ibook, your Ipod or any other Apple product at him for me. Not too hard, just enough to draw his attention. That's all I can ask.

The Wright and Wrong Report: Zambrano, Get Away From Bannister!

WFAN's Howie Rose summed it up best during the 5th inning of yesterday's game: "Brian Bannister's start today has been Zambrano-like." Lots of walks, bases-loaded twice, my head ready to explode from the stress--yup, it was just like every time Victor touches the ball. Yet there was a difference, a very big one. This Bannister kid gets out of these jams, and doesn't get"The Victor Face" when he has to do it. 5 innings and almost 110 pitches--hell, that's Leiter-esque. The game included another ho-hum day for David Wright, 2 for 4, 2 runs scored, still batting way over .400.

9-2. Best start in Mets history. Yet if the Mets are swept by the Braves over the next three games, it will mean nothing. If they win Pedro's and Glavine's starts (I already know Zambrano is a loss Tuesday), 2 out of 3 will put them 6 games up on the Braves already. If they win all three, then I might believe that this start is not a mirage.

And oh, I so want to believe. I really do.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Making Perry Proud, or Accentuating the Positive

My wife, six months pregnant, has entered the stage where she can see movement as well as feel it. It's amazing, or so I hear. Everytime she puts my hand to her belly, junior stops stirring. It's disappointing--I want to witness what I'm hearing so much about, afterall--but I try to put a positive spin on the situation, telling myself that junior's inactivity is due to my calming effect.

On a different scale, the same goes for the Mets. I've heard a lot about this 2006 Mets team--the impressive balance of hitting, pitching, and defense; the swagger that emerges with an 8-1 start--but prior to yesterday I hadn't been able to watch one of the games. Then my friend Jake called with an extra ticket to Saturday's day game against the Brewers. Steve Trachsel vs. Nationals castoff Tomo Ohka. This was a game an 8-1 team should win, I thought as the 7 train wound its way through Queens. Turned out to be a game where an 8-1 team got thumped 8-2.

Trachsel was flat, coughing up four runs over five innings. Cliff Floyd was dogging it in left. Beltran and Nady misjudged routine line drives in center and right, respectively. Wright looked overly aggressive, twice swinging at the first pitch with runners on base. And then there was the bullpen. Darren Oliver and Chad Bradford were all right, combining for one earned run over three innings, but in between their stints came Jorge Julio, he of 16.88 ERA. The only good thing about such a zeppelin-like ERA is that it's nearly impossible to raise such a stat. Plunking the leadoff hitter, as Julio did in top of the eighth, certainly helps. By the time Geoff Jenkins clubbed a 3-run homerun off the rightfield scoreboard, Julio had succeeded in raising his ERA to 19.64 (causing Omar Minaya to order one of his lackeys to check out for flights to Norfolk).

It wasn't just on the field where it felt like the Art Howe era, though. The fans were restless but inattentive. Sure, they booed Jorge Julio on cue ("Bring Back Benson!"), but it seemed like most of the energy flowing from the stands was spent critiquing various attempts at the wave (booing a wave that stalled out in the bottom of the sixth, for example, which may have been due to the fact that it was a 4-1 game and Wright was coming to the plate with Beltran already perched on second). I was waiting for a beachball to rear its ugly rainbow colored head.

But Jake, a White Sox fan in town from Chicago, was all about focusing on other elements of the game--the beautiful 80 degree day, the pinch hitting attempts by Julio Franco and Jose Valetin (the man whose moustache restored Jake's faith in baseball), the hitting display put on by the Brewers' Prince Fielder. My guess is that some of Jake's enthusiasm stems from the fact that his ChiSox are defending champs, but regardless, it's all about looking for the positives and if this was the 2006 Mets at their worst, we're in for a great summer.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Wright and Wrong Report: Can't Be Perfect All the Time

Oh, well, David Wright couldn’t hit in every game of the season. Yet the Mets still won, in a nail-biter of a game that last year I have no doubt they would have lost.

Best start (8-1) since 1985--when do I start getting nervous that something bad is about to happen? I mean, I am a Mets fan, we always look for the worst in our team.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Wright And Wrong Report: Let's Take Some Extra BP

Overheard in the visitor’s locker room before today’s Mets-Nationals game at RFK Stadium in D.C.

Carlos Beltran: (Looking at starting lineup) So I see Victor Zambrano is pitching today…

Carlos Delgado: (Looking up from his pitcher’s chart book) Yup, his first start of the year.

Cliff Floyd: I wonder how it’s going to pan out? Z had some rough times for us at the end of last season.

David Wright: You know how we can make sure nobody notices how he pitches?

Beltran: How?

Wright: Let’s all hit home runs and score at least 10. Then he’ll be relaxed and the bullpen will have a nice lead to work with when they have to bail Victor out, because you know they will.

All: Agreed!

This first seven minutes of this 13-4 Mets win were beautiful to watch, as everyone took Wright’s advice to heart and hit the ball as if they were taking batting practice in Coors field. Beltran got it rolling with another huge blow, but our man David really got things rolling with his 2 run jack. So Wright’s 8 game hitting streak is intact, and now he’s got a new RBI streak to start. He’s got 12 ribbies already and is batting .469, putting him in the Top 5 in the NL in both categories. This 7-1 start ties the Mets best start since 1985 and is the best record in the major leagues, and this current six game winning streak matches last year’s best streak. But it’s not yet time to get excited--most of these wins have come at the expense of the Nationals, who seemed destined to battle Florida for last. The next six games at home are the first true test of the year--the much improved Brewers and the evil Braves will be at Shea, and they’re not going to be pushovers.

Okay, now for the first Wrong report of the year. The best thing that cane be said about Victor Zambrano’s start is, um, well, he kept the team in the game. No, that’s not it. How about, he lasted 5 innings, which set up the bullpen perfectly to hold the 7-3 lead? Yeah, perfect. Zambrano 2006 looked just like Zambrano 2005--breezing through an inning or two, teasing us with his talent. Next thing you know, I look up from my desk at work and he’s got two guys on and he’s doing what I like to call “The Victor Grimace.” It’s when Zambrano’s face scrunches up and he takes his hat off, wipes his brow, and wishes his buddy Rick Peterson would pay him a visit. We certainly can’t expect the Mets to score 13 runs in every one of his starts, so I expect Wednesday’s day game against the Braves to be filled with boos after 3 innings. Especially if Jorge “I gave up a home run in my one inning and my ERA still went down by 6” Julio pitches in the same game.

Just to end on a positive pitching note, Darren Oliver looked really good in his two innings--and he made the Nats pay with his bases-loaded single. This bullpen might be better than we could have hoped for.

The M&M Mets: Who Needs to Pitch Inside?

So at the begining of the week Major League Baseball warned both the Mets and the Nationals about throwing at each other's hitters. Before last night's game at RFK, Pedro Martinez must have thought to himself, "Well then, if you don't want me to pitch inside, I'll just get all these guys out by using the outside corner--and that spacious centerfield." And that's just what he did. Jose Guillen had nothing to get upset about (well, except grounding into the well executed double play that got Pedro out of a bses-loaded jam). And Carlos Beltran got a workout with all the fly balls to center. (I think at least 8?) Overall, Pedro didn't have his top fastball, but he looked a whole lot more comfortable than his first start.

Oh, and remember that Kaz Matsui guy? Well, he might never come back from rehab in Florida if Willie Randolph has his way, just from what I've gathered listening to Gary Cohen on SNY (don't mean to rub it in Mike) and a lengthy discussion Richard Neer had about second base last night on WFAN. (By the way, Richard Neer is perhaps the most intelligent man in sports talk today. I wish he was on more.) It seems Randolph has had his fill of Matsui, and if Anderson Hernandez hits .240 the next two months, he and his great defense aren't going anywhere.

The Wright and Wrong Report: Watch Out Jose Reyes...

...David Wright now has as many triples (2) as you do after last night's game. But it was an off night for our 3rd baseman, as he didn't drive in a run for the first time this season. I guess we'll have to settle for him going 2-for-4 with the aforementioned triple, and once again led some very solid infield defense. The team's defense was certainly the key in the Mets 3 to 1 win--the double play with the bases loaded in the 6th was a thing of beauty, highlighted by the amazing spin-n-split of Anderson Hernandez.

Wright to Reyes to Hernandez--I think that's a combo I could watch for a decade.

Alas, today the five game winning streak will likely end with Victor Zambrano's first game of the year. I'm almost to afraid to put the game on at work--I might hurt my back more by yelling at the 6 walks we're bound to see.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

And Now for Something Slightly Different

I live in Putnam County, north of NYC, and televised Mets games have been blacked out of the entire county, treated with all the warmth of a Sandanista in the Reagan White House. Last Friday, desperate to unwind from the week by watching the Mets take on the Marlins, I called every bar in the area. I searched for one joint with a satellite dish. No luck. "The Mets have been blacked out of Putnam County," the bartender at Boomers told me.

I've tried to pick up games on WFAN, but radio reception in our apartment is painfully saturated with static. Meanwhile, on TV, we've been treated to a number of quality of programs in place of Mets games. On Thursday night, when the Mets/Nationals game was blacked out on ESPN, we got a halfhearted debate about the recently released 2006 NFL schedule. (No one--not Michael Vick, not any one of the Super Bowl champion Steelers, no one--cares about the NFL schedule in April. Not even the ESPN sports geeks could feign interest.) On Friday night, channel 9 replaced the game with an episode of "Will and Grace." It was the one where you think, if only for a moment, that Will is going to ditch that pesky homosexuality and finally get together with Grace, all while their friends sprinkle in catty comments. Classic. Saturday, however, was the clincher. Again, no Mets game. Instead an infomercial for a Dual Action Colon Cleansing program. I take the couch in hopes of a Tom Glavine/Dontrelle Willis showdown and find instead why I really need an all-natural pipe cleaning routine. Spring is the time of renewal and birds chirping and the invigorating feeling of sunlight on your cheeks as you walk out the door from work and, for those who pay $40 for cable TV each month, it is also the time when it is your right to watch the motherlovin' Mets each night. The bell tolls for those denied SNY.

The Greatest Video Game Ever

I know that this is spreading on the 'net like wildfire today, but I couldn't resist. If you're a baseball fan, and a fan of '80s video games AND of the Mets, these 8 minutes and 39 seconds will blow your mind.

Who remembered that Marty Barrett was the player of the game?

The Wright and Wrong Report: The Teammates Join In!

Our man David drove in yet another run today--in fact, it was the 4th Mets run in a row he drove in. Finally the rest of the team--even starting pitcher Brian Bannister--decided to get into the act in the 7-1 pounding of the Nationals. Carlos Beltran even hit a home run that I think went over the Washington Monument. Of course, these wins over the Nationals are what a team favored to make it to the playoffs must do to the subpar teams in their own division. It's the home series with Milwaukee and (shudder) Atlanta starting Friday that will be the first true test of these 2006 Mets.

Also worth checking out today: a fun Wright Q&A on the Mets blog done by New York Daily News beat writer Adam Rubin. Rubin has also written a great book about the 2005 Mets called Pedro, Carlos, and Omar : The Story of a Season in the Big Apple and the Pursuit of Baseball's Top Latino Stars. It's a perfect book for communting, as you can get a couple of chapters done during a 45 minute train ride.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Wright and Wrong Report: What Can't This Guy Do?

So the Mets win 3 to 2 over the minor league Marlins, and David Wright drives in all three runs. Seriously, these folks chanting "M-V-P! M-V-P!" at Shea might have something. Watching Wright bat with two strikes in the 7th yesterday, I wasn't uncomfortable. I wasn't tense. I thought to myself, "This guy is going to drive these two runs in." And sure enough, he found a way to do it. Now I don't expect Wright to drive in a run every single game, and I know it's only 5 games so far, but I've just got a different feeling about this team.

Of course, that could change once the first series with the Braves starts next week.

And here's something cool--David Wright has his own blog!

PS: Mike won't be posting that much on the blog the first month or so, since he can't see the damn games! The cable outfit he has up there in the burbs is in the middle being sold to Comcast. Once that sale goes through, SNY will be on his cable and he'll be back up to speed. So I'll also be writing the entries for Pedro's starts until further notice.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Wright and Wrong Report: Watching Makes You Late

Friday night was the first occurance of what I'd like to call the "Wright Seat Effect." I was at Jimmy's Corner in midtown Manhattan watching the Mets take on the Marlins, and I had to leave aat 8:40 to be at Town Hall by 8:45. But when I realized that David Wright would be coming up in the bottom half of the inning, I had to text my friend Moria and say I would be late. I had a gut feeling David Wright was due for a homer--and sure enough he was. Fans chanting "MVP, MVP, MVP" was a little too early, but who knows if the Mets keep winning.

Yesterday's rainout pushed back Victor Zambrano's first start of the season, which might mean he'll make his first start on the road. And that is a very good idea.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Wright and Wrong Report: Don't Mess With the 3B

I'd write a whole lot more about the crazy night the Mets and Pedro Martinez had during last night's 10-5 win over the Nationals, but since Mike picked Pedro when we started this year's blog experiment, I'll let him put it in his own words when he checks in. But man, I can't remember a third game of a season being so absolutely insane. 3 hours and 30 minutes which included 5 hit batsmen; one bat-wielding mound charger; both bullpens jogging to the first base line; a 69 year old first basemen playing peacekeeper (and making the most overpaid centerfielder in all of baseball take the dugout steps for a curtain call); an injured umpire causing a game to be delayed 20 minutes; and--perhaps most importantly--finding out that "Mr. Hit Me," Ron Hunt, caused Keith Hernandez to never drink Kahlua again after spring training of his rookie year.


And there in the middle of beanball war was The Mets third baseman, dodging two way inside pitches from Ramon Ortiz. I think the lesson that the National League should learn is this: don't mess with David Wright. After those pitches, Wright calmly lined a base hit to keep the Mets offense rolling. 3 for 4, 1 RBI, 2 runs--those are stats Mets fans can enjoy, even with all the craziness.

Oh, and I don't want to forget Mr. Wrong--Victor Zambrano is on track to start Sunday's game. I'll be cleaning my handgun this weekend just so I can shoot my TV when he walks his third batter in an inning.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Wright and Wrong Report: Is Victor the bullpen coach?

Victor Zambrano, you just might have caught a break. No longer will you be the worst guy on the 2006 Mets who came via trade. After tonight’s implosion by Jorge Julio (who the Mets received when they dumped the Bensons) fans will likely have a new whipping boy. Victor will be able to hold his head high--at least until he starts on Sunday.

David Wright delivered an RBI early in the game, but came up short when the team was down 5 runs in the 10th but had two guys on and nobody out. And you could tell Wright was pissed he didn’t at least get one guy home. The expression on his face when he got back to the dugout said it all

Oy, this could be another long season if Zambrano (and a hint of Looper) infects the Mets bullpen.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Zisk # 12 is on the way!

Just to let you blog readers know that Zisk issue # 12 is being mailed out as we speak! Everyone should have their copy within a week to 10 days.

Also, one of our veteran writers Jeff Herz has started his own baseball blog. It's definitely worth a read.

Zisk # 12

Publisher’s Note:

Our good friend Mike is a renown wine connoisseur. His refrigerated wine cellar is stocked with his favorite reds (he keeps whites on hand only for close friends). His credentials are impressive—he judges at the Villenave-de-Rions Wine Festival and contributes to California Wine Maker—but what’s most impressive is his wealth of knowledge of all wines; the ones he loves and the ones he loathes, he knows them all. Makes sense, right? Civil war historians don’t just study the people they admire, they cover both sides of the conflict—this is what separates the historian from the re-enactor.

We here at Zisk are forever in search of new ways to deepen our appreciation for the national pastime and more specifically our beloved hometown Mets. Last year on the Zisk website, we blogged (yes, we’re thinking it’s now a verb) the exploits of that 83-79 team each day. We learned a lot about those Mets—it was our very own 162-day afterschool special.

But how to top ourselves? How to maintain our creative interest while still pleasing our audience? Well, taking a page from the David Bowie/Madonna book of career reinvention: we fake English accents, put moles on our cheeks, and tweak the way in which we cover our Flushing favorites. Last year we followed one team. This year our initial plan was for each of us to follow one player—for Steve, it would be David Wright; for Mike it would be Pedro—through his ups and downs of the 2006 season. But it’s a given that we would have focused on those guys anyway, and that would have left us repeating what we did last season. Wright and Pedro are our favorites, our Grant and Sherman (though neither has taken office as an inebriated president nor has either of them torched Atlanta—hell, they can’t even defeat a guy named Chipper yet alone the entire city). But what about the Jefferson Davises and the Braxton Braggs of the Mets? The guys we want to see secede from the club? The players who will have us throwing our cats at the TV and going John Wilkes Booth on our loved ones? Couldn’t we learn from the travails of Victor “The Human Base on Balls Machine” Zambrano? How about Kaz “I’ve Got Roger Cedano on Speed Dial” Matsui? Logic says no, we say yes.

Our plan is to write about the Mets 2006 season with a strict focus on the endeavors of four players, Wright and Zambrano (Steve) and Pedro and Kaz (Mike).

Join us as we figure out whether the upcoming season is a vintage merlot or a big bottle of backwash-filled thunderbird. And enjoy the new issue.
—Steve & Mike

23 More to Catch the Yanks! A White Sox World Series Game 2 Report by Jake Austen

A Bandwagon Jumper's Guide to the White Sox by Jake Austen

Now These Were The Real Idiots by Throm Sturmond

The Case For Jim Rice by Josh Rutledge

Willie Wilson: The Fatest Man Alive by Tim Hinely

1975-2005: 30 Years Since Tony C Retired by Frank D'Urso

Rain on Tin by Jackson Ellis

Mighty Casey by Peter Anderson

23 More to Catch the Yanks! A White Sox World Series Game 2 Report by Jake Austen

I can’t fucking believe I got to go to the World Series!

As a longtime Sox fan, I thought I’d seen it all. I saw Greg Luzinski hit a moonshot over old Comiskey’s roof. I was there when Yankees’ hurler Andy Hawkins threw a no hitter that the Sox won on a series of 9th inning errors. I witnessed a twenty-minute brawl with the Tigers that featured actual kung fu kicks. But nothing remotely prepared for the wonder that was Game 2 of the 2005 World Series.

The first good sign after taking my upper deck seat was that I didn’t see a different crowd than usual. Despite $140 face value tickets (and I will never reveal what I actually paid for my ticket), this seemed like a group of regular Polish sausage-fed Sox fans. Fathers with sons, buddies drinking beer, people on nacho runs…other than a statuesque blonde Astros fan in a sequined cowgirl suit, these looked like the same folks at a Tuesday Sox/Royals game in May. Except they were 30,000 more of them and they were all giddy.

On a personal note, the baseball fairies rewarded my decades of believing that the White Sox would make it to the World Series every year by putting in my hands a ticket that may have not seemed spectacular (6th row upper deck two-thirds down the third base line), but was in fact one of the best seats in the house. Though rain poured down the entire game, the direction of the wind and angle of the roof meant that despite everyone in the lower deck, in the right field upper deck, and in rows 1-5 of section 548 were getting drenched, I miraculously never got a drop of water on me. In contrast with the incredibly tense, dense, uncomfortable vibe of the stadium during the Jack McDowell-era ALCS game and the Jerry Manuel-era ALDS game I attended, it felt completely joyful and easy to be at the park for this game.

Words can’t capture the pandemonium in the seventh after Paul Konerko delivered his first pitch grand slam. With our team trailing by two in the World Series, our most popular player did, without hesitation, exactly what every single one of us was visualizing. As 41,432 people (minus Miss Texas) jumped and screamed for a full five minutes it was obvious that if this lead held we had just witnessed the single greatest moment in White Sox history!

One and a half innings later the Sox’ Baby Huey-esque closer Bobby Jenks blew the lead and the single greatest moment in White Sox history reverted back to whatever it had been before (Carlton Fisk telling Deion Sanders to “run out the ball, you piece of shit?” Disco Demolition?). Now we merely were seeing one of the best World Series games ever. A half-inning later when wee Scott Podsednik did what not a single one of us was visualizing I found myself incapable of jumps and screams. For a glorious post-walk off homerun eternity I merely shook my stunned head back and forth, an orgasmic smile tattooed on my face.

New to the World Series business, Sox management wasn’t sure what happens next, so they just let us stay in the stands as long as we wanted. On the field players did interviews, the Sox furry green mascot Southpaw begged Podsednik for a hand slap, and catcher A.J. Pierzynski brought out his wife and infant so a photographer could take a family portrait on the Sox’ victorious World Series field.

It was a good move by A.J. After a win like this it seemed unlikely that the Sox would have to return to their home field this year. Behind me a pair of pals who had purchased a $5,000 pair of un-refundable scalped Game 6 tickets were hooting and high five-ing. Perhaps when the beer wore off the financial ache might hit them. But then again, maybe not. Perhaps winning the World Series means the beer never wears off.

Jake Austen publishes Roctober magazine and helps produce the public access children's dance show Chic-A-Go-Go. He has been to hundreds of White Sox games, his favorite player is Ron Kittle and he was a left-handed catcher in college.

A Bandwagon Jumper's Guide to the White Sox by Jake Austen

As the mighty 2005 Sox returned to the World Series for the first time since the Eisenhower era, and won their first since World War I, volumes were being written about the spunky current team. But this is of minimal help for the inevitable bandwagon jumpers who until recently barely acknowledged that Chicago baseball was played south of Addison. If you want to come off as a real Sox fan you’ll need to connect with the convoluted, eccentric 104-year history of the Pale Hose, so hopefully these bullet points will help:

Sox FansAnyone who sat near the back rows of old Comiskey’s upper deck in the 70s recalls the Cheech and Chong-like clouds of smoke. Well, despite a long tradition of drunkenness and cannabis-abuse, Sox fans also pride themselves on being knowledgeable and attentive regardless of mental haziness. There are rare occasions when things get ugly (most notably when William Ligue attacked a Royals’ coach in 2002 for no reason, his arrest leading to U.S. Cellular’s nickname, “The Cell”). But generally a Sox game is fun for the whole family, and a great place for kids to learn new cuss words. Note that though all good Sox fans disdained Ligue’s crimes, historically we have been more forgiving, particularly to Shoeless Joe’s posse...

Black Sox
After Sox players conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series in 1919, South Siders continued to support their dishonest heroes, and a local jury gleefully exonerated them. They occasionally threw games en route to the 1920 World Series, for which they had virtually clinched a berth when the big boss, Charles Comiskey, ignored their day in court, and canned, then banned, the cheaters for life. To ensure the game’s integrity the owners appointed baseball’s first Commissioner, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis. But don’t lionize Landis. A virulent racist, he blocked Bill Veeck’s 1943 purchase of the Phillies upon learning Veeck planned to stock his team with Negro Leaguers and break the color line.

The one-legged man-of-the-people (his phone number was listed) will forever be the most beloved Sox owner. He was a populist who sat with the fans, dressed like a Joe, and was legendary for wacky stunts, like having the team play in shorts. And though he never had a midget bat for the White Sox (that was when he owned the Browns) he did once have Fantasy Island’s tiny Hervé Villechaize take batting practice. More importantly to Sox history, he introduced the exploding scoreboard with its pinwheels and fireworks, the only design element that made the trip across the street from old Comiskey to the new park, which by the way…

New Comiskey Park…no longer sucks. When first built its vomit-colored façade walls crowned by a blue UFO was as incongruous a design as the awful Soldier Field update. Being inside the steep upper deck was dizzying, and due to poor craftsmanship, the concrete walkways were cracking before the first All-Star break. Since then the team sold a bit of its soul (or rather its name, New Comiskey is now U.S. Cellular) to finance an overhaul that included removing the highest rows, replacing the spaceship with classy iron awnings, and designing an area where kids can take batting practice and race against a robot Scott Podsednik. The only thing they couldn’t bring back was Andy the Clown, who not long after being banned from appearing in costume at new Comiskey died a heartbroken clown.

Andy the Clown
Andy may be the key to understanding the heart of the Sox. For decades Andy Rozdilsky came to the games in a homemade clown suit. In a voice bordering on asthmatic, Andy led fans in the not-particularly-imaginative cheer “Leeeeeeeeet’s gooooooooooo Sooooooox!” His big trick was to give a pretty girl a flower but leave her with only the stem. He then had to get the stem back from her, as he only had one gag flower. What could represent the South Side better than a ragged, dependable, working class clown. The Sox current mascot, Southpaw, is far less distinctive, and not too funny. For humor these days fans need to look towards the dugout at…

Ozzie Guillen
has spent the last twenty years as a South Side icon. As 1985 Rookie of the Year he was immediately accepted by Sox fans because he continued a tradition started in the fifties with Chico Carrasquel and Luis Aparicio of stellar Sox shortstops from Venezuela (though the organist frequently played “Mexican Hat Dance” as his theme music, and his rooting section “Ozzie’s Amigos” wore Mexican sombreros, but hey, those countries are only 2,200 miles apart, who wouldn’t get them confused?). The speedy slap-hitter was a joy to watch, chattering with opposing baserunners and clowning for the fans. As a manager he’s continued the Chicago tradition of nepotism, as the first blockbuster deal of his reign was acquiring Freddy Garcia who was engaged to one of his in-laws. As a player he also had an in-law marrying teammate, Scott “Rad” Radinsky, who moonlighted in the punk rock band Ten Foot Pole. This unfortunately led to Scott recording a heartfelt ballad entitled “Third World Girl,” but that’s not Ozzie’s fault. Speaking of Rad…

Rockin’ SoxThe Sox are the rock ‘n’ roll baseball team. Cy Young winning pitcher Jack McDowell fancies himself a rocker and still tours with his band Stickfigure, though his National Anthem singing won’t make you forget Marvin Gaye. More impressive was Arthur Lee Maye, the self-described “Best Singing Athlete that Ever Lived” who played for the Sox in 1971, and had a healthy r&b career that included singing on Richard Berry’s original “Louie Louie.” More gloriously historical is the work of Nancy Faust, the Sox organist who was the first to play rock music at a baseball game, including the introduction of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” to mock opposing players. More impressively she plays rock puns to introduce players (“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” for Pete Incaviglia). Of course, more disastrously historical was the infamous…

Disco Demolition Night
On July 12, 1979 thousands of under-the-influence youthful South Siders stormed the field and harmlessly ran amok in the wake of a radio station publicity stunt gone awry, leading to a Sox forfeit. While many critics would point out this event’s negatives, including its subtext of racism and homophobia, and that because of it Steve Dahl is still on the radio, ultimately this mess was classic Sox. It had a dollop of Veeck absurdity, a hint of Ligue danger, and a whole lot of ragged South Siders not afraid to express themselves.

The Case For Jim Rice by Josh Rutledge

When word arrived that Jim Rice had once again been denied entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I reached the immediate decision that some type of drastic protest was in order. Petitions weren’t going to cut it. Debate on Internet message boards was futile. Nothing less than a full-blown hunger strike could bring attention to an injustice of such an unprecedented severity. And in my case, I decided, the hunger strike was going to have to be a thirst strike.
Just as I have abstained from Wild Turkey bourbon for the past three years in protest against the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s failure to elect Twisted Sister front man Dee Snider, I knew I was going to have to give up a favorite beverage in support of Jim Rice.

So I resolved the following: I will not drink another drop of Coca-Cola until Jim Rice enters the Baseball Hall of Fame. And let the record show that I have no personal interest in Jim Rice. I am a diehard, blood-and-guts, religiously devoted fan of the Philadelphia Phillies. To have ever considered Jim Rice or any other non-Phillie a “favorite” player of mine would have been out of the question. But as a reasonable human being and a student of baseball, I’m shocked and appalled that the most dominant American Leaguer of his generation has been passed over for Hall of Fame induction 12 years in a row. And with Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. on the ballot next year, it looks like Rice will have to wait until at least 2008 to finally receive his due enshrinement in Cooperstown. And Coca-Cola, who in recent years probably generated at least one percent of their annual profits strictly from my purchases, will have to get by without me.

It’s been reported in the press that Rice’s Hall of Fame snubbing may be “punishment” for the way he treated baseball writers during his career. By all accounts, Jim Rice was a dick. But so was Steve Carlton. As was Eddie Murray. The pundits argue that the likes of Murray and Carlton amassed such staggering numbers that their prickishness had to be overlooked. I would argue the same in favor of Rice. Murray finished with a .287 career batting average and a .476 slugging percentage. Rice, on the other hand, finished at .298 and .502.

Granted, Rice’s career longevity (or lack thereof) could be held against him, and 382 career home runs just doesn’t sound that great. But let us keep in mind that hitting 382 home runs in 16 years back in the 1970s and ’80s was probably comparable to hitting 500 home runs in that same time span today. And if longevity is a prerequisite for the Hall of Fame, then why is Kirby Puckett in the Hall? Shouldn’t the true measure of a player’s greatness be not how long he did it, but rather what he did? And if we measure what Rice did, the stats are awe-inspiring. In a 12-year run from 1975-86, he appeared in eight All-Star games and hit over .300 seven times. Six times he finished in the top ten in the AL in hitting, and four times he finished in the top five. In addition to winning three home run crowns, four other times he finished in the top ten in homers. In nine of those 12 years, he finished in the top ten in RBI. Seven times he finished in the top five. He led the league in total bases four times, and five times he finished in the top five in MVP voting. He became the first player in league history to amass 35 or more home runs and 200 or more hits in three consecutive seasons. And his monstrous 1978 season is still the stuff of legend. His 406 total bases that year were the most in the AL since 1937. He also led the league in hits, triples, home runs, extra base hits, and RBI – and was second in runs scored and third in batting average. His career .298 batting average was a remarkable achievement for a power hitter. Compare that to the career averages of Hall of Fame sluggers Mike Schmidt (.267), Harmon Killebrew (.256), and Reggie Jackson (.262). Mark McGwire, who may be inducted into the Hall next year, finished his career with a .263 average.

In this age of steroids, small parks, and watered-down pitching, it seems that baseball observers have become more and more obsessed with gaudy statistics. Five hundred career home runs was a ticket to immortality in a bygone era. But today, averaging 32 home runs a year for 16 seasons doesn’t seem like such a lofty standard. Players like Rice and Andre Dawson, who were great stars in their time, may be victims of this new infatuation with giant numbers. And that’s a shame. A player can only truly be measured by how brightly his star shone in his day. And if we’re talking the years 1975 through 1986, I’d be hard-pressed to name a single major league player who was greater, more consistent, or more feared by pitchers than Jim Rice. Just as importantly, I remember what it was like to be a little kid in the early 80s and hold a Jim Rice baseball card in my hand. Even if you didn’t particularly like Jim Rice, you wanted that card. You’d trade a George Foster and a Dave Kingman for it – because Jim Rice was money year after year. The numbers on the back of the card didn’t lie. And the picture on the front of that card – well, you thought maybe it would come to life and kick your ass if you didn’t pay it proper respect. Something tells me that little kids of this decade didn’t feel the same about an Edgar Martinez card.

I’m tempted to imagine the absolutely sick statistics that a player like Jim Rice would have put up in today’s era, but such ponderings would require a serious Coke fix. And lord knows it could be a long, long time before I get another one of those.

Josh Rutledge is the editor of Now Wave Magazine and now exclusively drinks Yuengling Lager. He hopes the Phillies will finally make the playoffs this year but isn’t about to hold his breath. Every year, he wishfully predicts the downfall of the Atlanta Braves, so he’s picking the Mets to take the NL East in ’06.

Willie Wilson: The Fastest Man Alive by Tim Hinely

Willie Wilson—does anyone outside of Kansas City remember him? I do. He certainly wasn’t the greatest player of his era or even the best Kansas City Royal (George Brett or even Amos Otis would probably get the nod) but when I think back to the late 70s, early 80s and the games I watched as a kid, I remember no one more exciting than Willie Wilson, a perennial speedster who was a menace on the basepaths. In his prime the guy was just mercurial and I absolutely loved watching him on television (at least as many games as we could get in southern New Jersey).

Willie James Wilson was born on July 9, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama and made his major league debut the same year America celebrated its bicentennial birthday, 1976 (September 4th). No great shakes happened that year for Willie, though. He played in 12 games, and went 1 for 6. A mere three years later, in 1979, Wilson’s game began to come around when he hit .315 with 185 hits, 113 runs scored, 13 triples and 49 stolen bases. As mentioned previously, the guy could simply tear and he has more inside-the-park home runs than any other player in major league history post 1950 (13).

At 6’ 3” and 195 pounds he was a big, aggressive player and definitely big for a base stealer. The Royals team was getting better and better with the previously mentioned George Brett, Hal McRae, Amos Otis (one of the best names in major league history—in fact the Royals had a whole bunch of great names back then: Pete LaCock, Jamie Quirk, Bob Detherage, and of course, Dave Chalk) while on the mound they had 20-game winner Dennis Leonard plus Paul Splittorff. And out of the bullpen, king of the submarine pitch, Dan Quisenberry (r.i.p.). 1980 was the year Wilson put it all together. He had 230 hits in an unheard of 705 freakin’ at bats (a figure which boggled my 16-year-old mind and even now, in the era of Ichiro, still sort of does). He hit .326 and had 15 triples. With a year like that (and the Royals powerful lineup) the team was ripe for a strong post season. They pounded the Yankees in the ALCS and eventually went on to the World Series, losing to the Phillies (where Wilson struck out 12 times—is that a World Series record?). Man, what could have been.

Wilson had a solid run after that (and the Royals won that elusive World Series crown in 1985 defeating the St. Louis Cardinals) but his batting average continued to decline (even though he was always near the top of the heap in triples and stolen bases). In 1983, he hit .276 but his off the field exploits caught up with him. At the end of that year Wilson, along with teammates Willie Mays Aikens, Jerry Martin and Vida Blue pled guilty to use of cocaine and on December 15, 1984 commissioner Bowie Kuhn (speaking of nutty names) suspended these players for a year without pay (though later the suspension would be lifted by an arbitrator and they would be back in action by May 15 the following year). Keep in mind that even though this was the 80s and cocaine use was rampant, a lot of people still thought athletes were invincible and turned a blind eye to such things. It was the drug problem, more than anything, that had shattered the belief of the athlete as a larger-than-life hero in America (even Willie Stargell, my all-time favorite player, was accused in 1985 during the Pirates drug trial of that year of handing out amphetamines to his teammates ).

The most intelligent thing Willie Wilson could say during all of this (as quoted in Dan Gutman's Baseball Babylon) was, “All I signed a contract to do is play baseball and that’s my job. I didn’t sign a contract to take care of anyone else’s kids or to be a role model for anyone else." In a sense he’s right but Jesus dude, can’t you at least sound grateful. When I was younger I appreciated his attitude as punk rock (not that Wilson listened to the Sex Pistols or Ramones; Lou Rawls (r.i.p.) and The Commodores was more like it) but I guess as I’ve gotten older, I get a sense of these over-paid spoiled brats not having a bit of gratitude (hello Barry Bonds) and thus my diminished interest in pro sports. In Wilson’s day the douchebags were guys like Dave Kingman, Rick Bosetti, Bert Blyleven and, of course, his royal ass-holiness, George Brett. (Ol’ Georgie was known for mashing trash cans with his bat if things didn’t go his way and one time, after losing a game at Yankee Stadium, he threw a gallon can of paint against the wall and relished the sight of the subsequent explosion. I’m sure the maintenance crew didn’t appreciate that one.)

In the late 80s Wilson’s career sputtered out and he was traded to the A’s in 1991 and, eventually, to the Chicago Cubs. His final home run came in 1993 as part of a back-to-back-to-back (9/6/93 vs. Phillies). That’s a pretty freaky statistic in a career full of such anecdotes. In Chicago he played for two years before finally hanging up his cleats for good at the end of the 1994 season. After retirement Willie made my home state of New Jersey proud by becoming the owner of the King George Inn in Warren. If any of you are in the area stop in and shoot the breeze with a guy who was once the fastest and most feared man on the basepaths.

Tim Hinely has been publishing his own ’zine, Dagger, for 18 years. To see a copy drop him a line at: P.O Box 820102, Portland, OR 97282-1102 or via email at

1975 - 2005: 30 Years Since Tony C Retired by Frank D'Urso

Tony C (Conigliaro) is very much missed in Boston. It is sad that we are unable to share with him the still incredible joy we experienced with the final break through World Series victory of 2004. Tony witnessed the heartbreak of the ’86 World Series much like the Red Sox previous two World Series appearances in ’75 and ’67. Tony played a big part in getting the Red Sox rolling in the “Impossible Dream” year , only to have what would have been his best chance to play in the post season (and almost his life) taken from him.

Tony signed with the Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 1962, his father acting as his agent, signing the initial contract on the kitchen table in their East Boston kitchen. The St. Mary's of Lynn Spartan made his big league debut in 1964 and established himself as a slugger, hitting 24 homers his rookie year, 32 homers in ‘65, 28 in ‘66 and had 20 by the time of his accident in ’67.
He missed the 1968 season entirely, but battled back to almost top form in 1969 (20 HRs, Comeback Player of the Year) and 1970 (36 HRs). Battling back is a theme in Tony C's life and the Red Sox destiny. Tony was traded to the California Angels for the ’71 season and after a drop in his numbers (4 HRs in only 74 games) he was let go in the off season.

For me, the story of the 1975 Red Sox began with the signing and reclamation of Tony C on March 5 of that year. I was excited that the legend of Tony C was returning. I was ten years old and my hero who I had never actually seen play was making a comeback, he could finally answer all the “what if “ scenarios and the Impossible Dream season was back ON in the spring of 1975 when everything was new and fastened with Velcro.

Well, Tony gave it a shot, battled his way up from AAA Pawtucket and made the roster on a team jam packed with talent. He played 21 games and hit two more round trippers. He had a total of 166 Home Runs in what could have and should have been a Hall of Fame career. Tony C was the first to promote the center field seating policy that led to today's Major League ban on center field seating within the sightline of the batter behind the pitcher. His accident also promoted the standard use of batting helmets.

Perhaps subconsciously his 1975 teammates learned how short their opportunities could be, maybe they learned on some level how to play like champions, maybe some players were reminded of their earlier run at greatness, maybe a part of the Impossible Dream rubbed off on them all.

You know, maybe Tony C shared with us the wonderful championship season after all.

Frank D'Urso is a member of SABR and travels to Cooperstown every summer.

Rain On Tin by Jackson Ellis

The Red Sox-Angels game out in California had just ended after a 12-inning pitchers’ duel. Jon turned up the volume on the TV as highlights flashed across the screen, scattering colors around the otherwise dark room. He lay in the twin bed with the paisley, flowery hotel blanket pulled up to his armpits, and his farmer-tanned arms flopped out on top of the covers, the only part of his body exposed below the neck. It was so frigid in the air-conditioned room he could see his breath.

“Ha!—Ha ha! The Sox lost!” he shouted with glee. He looked over at Sean, who was in the other bed dozing off. Jon whipped a pillow at his head.

“Hey, bitch. Wake up. Your team lost.”

“What.” Sean blinked open his right eye and looked at the clock. The left half of his face was sunken into the down pillow. “Jesus Christ, Jon, it’s almost 2:30. What the hell do you want?”

“I said, Boston lost today.”

“Fantastic,” he said dryly. “Who threw?”

“Wakefield, but you know, he tossed a pretty good game. Didn’t even give up a run till the sixth and then he just got hammered. You never know what you’re gonna get with him when he throws. You just never know with knuckleballers.”

“That can happen to anyone. Shit. Did the Yanks lose?”

“No, they buried the A’s, like, 12-1 or something. Clemens got the win,” he added with a big grin and a single nod of the head.

“Dammit. What are the Sox now, five games back?”

“Yeah, and they could have pulled ahead of Oakland in the Wild Card standing if they’d won.”

“Pssh. Five games back and it’s only April. What a shit day.”

A low roll of thunder rumbled in the distance. Rain had drizzled all day and now it began to pour in thick sheets. Wind whipped fat droplets against the room window, a soft percussion that lulled Sean back to sleep.

“There’s that black cloud that follows us everywhere!” shouted Jon suddenly, sitting up and pointing emphatically out the window. “God is pissing on our team.”

“There is no God,” mumbled Sean, half-asleep. Jon slumped back down, defeated again. He looked at the sportscast on TV. They were showing the Mets and the Dodgers brawling.

With the club far out of contention, Sean and Jon knew this trip to Maryland would be it—the final games of their college careers, at least, on the road. The following weekend would bring Monmouth up to the Connecticut shore for a pair of meaningless matches, and that would be that. While the top teams of the Northern and Southern divisions would spend the month of May competing for the league crown and a trip to the championship series in Omaha, Sean and Jon would be out looking for jobs. They’d be relieved to hang up their Bears caps, grateful to put their final miserable season in the books.

“I can’t believe that in four years we never made it to the playoffs, not once,” Jon said while riding south on the chartered bus. They were somewhere between Newark and the Delaware Bridge, and had been sitting silently for nearly 45 minutes. “Fucking bullshit, man! That’s four years of bad coaching! We should’ve made it, at least once. We had talent. I swear, ballplayers come to this school to die—fucking coaches. It’s like, like—” and he shook his head and shifted in his seat.

“I don’t care,” said Sean, without looking up from his book. “Look around the bus, look at these assholes. It’s a few less weeks that we need to be around them.” He meticulously folded a page corner and slapped his book shut.

“Hmm.” Jon looked down and shook his head again. He shifted in his seat. “Yeah.”

It was cold in Maryland. The first game of the weekend was a single nine-inning battle on Saturday against Baltimore, and the teams struggled through late-inning rainstorms, patches of black mud, and sudden chills that often come with spring baseball—one minute it’s a bearable 55 degrees, the next a 35-degree wind is whipping into the tobacco-stained dugout, swirling dust about like dirty snow. Baltimore handled the Bears with ease, dropping them by a lopsided score of 17-4. Sean and Jon were handed mop-up duties. Jon tossed two-and-a-third innings and surrendered the last five Baltimore runs. Sean notched the last two outs in the bottom of the eighth, but not until a bases-clearing double allowed the three runners Jon had stranded to cross the plate.

Baltimore’s pitcher pumped his fist as he fanned the final batter in the top of the ninth on a curve in the dirt. The win sealed their place atop the Southern division. As the teams packed up their gear, a cheery voice announced over the loudspeaker:

“Please be sure to join us tomorrow at 12:30 for a double-header between the 5-32 Bears and your Division Champion Knights!”

The two clubs lined up and shook hands. Sean stared blankly, saying nothing, checking out girls stretching in the stands, the oriole on the backstop, his cleats scuffling dust.

Jon walked ahead of him, “Good game, good game, nice job, yep, guhgame,” he said to each player. After the last pleasantry he turned to walk back to the dugout. He adjusted the ice pack wrapped around his shoulder.

“Fuckers,” he mumbled under his breath, looking at the grass.

“Look at this, Sean. Sean—look,” said Jon, nodding at the television screen. “Man! Four weeks into the season, and the Mets have been in, what, six brawls?”

“Like two, maybe three,” replied Sean. “Hey, sorry I let your runners cross the plate. If only I’d gotten that first kid out, those runners you left wouldn’t have scored.”

“Yeah, well, Peterman’s a tough out. He’s, like, third in the league in average,” Jon responded, tugging his blankets.

“Still, that was a stupid pitch for an 0-2 count. Goddamned stupid! Fastball on the inner half of the plate, belt-high. I should’ve been low and away with a slider, see if he’d chase it.”

“Eh, he would’ve seen a breaking ball coming.”

“Well, you can blame me if your ERA got pushed over 8.00.”

Jon was briefly silent, mulling the statement before clasping his left hand to his forehead and saying, “Oh, fuck!” and he leapt from bed and headed to the bathroom.

“It’s damn cold in here. Aren’t you cold?” he asked when he came out, closing the door behind him, yet forgetting to shut off the light.

“Not really. It’s damn cold on that field all day, though. Even when the sun is shining I always shiver and I can’t figure out why. It’s as though my blood stops pumping. Remember three years ago, that freezing game on Staten Island? We stole coach’s jackets and wrapped them around our legs and hid the number on the sleeve so he didn’t realize it was his, and he pissed and moaned all game. Goddamn, it was so great!” he laughed. “I always think about that.”

“I always think about that game I had freshman year, I think it was my first game in fact—”

“Seton Hall, down at that Florida tourney.”

“Yeah…I was good, huh? Seven innings!”

“That really was something, Jon. Seriously, that was great. Too bad we still lost.”

“But man, I was on. It’s like, I came in to relieve when we were already losing by 10 runs, but I didn’t even care. It was like I could do no wrong.”

Sean turned over on his left side to face Jon.

“That was something. You’ve still got it, too. It’s just, something—something small has been off for you this year, and no shitty coach here will ever catch it, you know? It’s not your fault.”

“Well—” started Jon.

“And think about it, your first game,” continued Sean. “Shit! You remember my first one? I got lit up, and all the older guys on the team were so hung over from the night before they couldn’t catch a fucking thing.”

“Sam pitched well that day, though,” said Jon. Sean’s eyebrows relaxed; his brow unfurrowed. He paused and thought.

“That’s right—he did, didn’t he? I forgot about that. We both made our debuts that day.”

“Ha! Yeah, and he was so nervous, too!” laughed Jon. “He was always so nervous! I never saw a kid throw four wild pitches and four walks and get out of an inning unscathed. So fuckin’ lucky!”

They both laughed and went silent as the rainfall regained dominance of the room’s acoustics. They stared at the ceiling as they both realized that it had already been a year.

It was a Friday morning. Sean burst into Phillips Hall in a hostile whirlwind, late, as usual, head down. It was the warmest day of the year, a Friday, and the sun caught the back of his neck as the door swung shut. In retrospect, he thought, it was the warmest the sun ever felt, or would ever feel from that day forth. He got that familiar sinking feeling of trivial dread over his CJ 101 exam. Thirty feet into the building he caught the eye of his oldest and best friend at the school, who rushed up behind Sean as he turned to walk up the first flight of steps.
“Sean I don’t know if it’s true,” said Jon with panicked excitement as Sean placed a foot on the first step, “but I just heard this crazy rumor just now that Palmiteri didn’t wake up this morning.”
Some other guys on the ball team stood around, leaning against the wall, indifferently conversing, goofing around. Sean looked into Jon’s eyes, unblinking, silent.
“I don’t know what that means, man. What—what the fuck does that mean?”
Jon opened his mouth before any sound came out. “They found him in his bed this morning and he wasn’t breathing.”
“What, I don’t understand it. I don’t know what you’re saying. …They revived him, right?”
“No. Sam’s dead.” He shook his head and looked down.

Jon shut off the TV. The two boys lay shivering and silent, pulling their blankets up under their chins; their silent ruminations lingered heavily, as perceptible as the ghostly fog of their breaths dissipating into the blackness, made blacker still by the thick layer of steam coating the window, blocking the orange streetlamp glow.

“I remember the day coach cut him from the team, sophomore year,” said Sean, breaking the tenuous silence. “I skipped fall tryouts that day because I couldn’t be around to watch. I knew he had it coming. Coach had it in for him. I had to visit him that night.”

“It was ugly,” replied Jon, quietly. “Even he knew it was coming. I never saw anything like it. If he had lost any more of his composure, I swear he would’ve started crying out there on the mound. Every pitch he threw in the dirt, bounced off the plate…shit, he even let one fly to the backstop…” and his voice trailed off as he offered a sad “hmph.”

“It was,” said Sean, “like a premonition to everything that happened. I’ve never seen such shame as I saw in his eyes. He kept saying, ‘I’ll never face my father again, my grandfather, too, everyone’s going to be so disappointed in me. I can’t face up to them.’ The kid couldn’t face up to anyone. He couldn’t talk to girls he liked, always worried what the guys on the team thought of him.” Sean sat up and placed his hands in his lap, and stared at the wall. “I swear to God if you ever saw him look in the mirror, you could see the shame—he hated himself.”

“No, man, he didn’t hate himself,” said Jon. “He just couldn’t control the way he was. He wouldn’t have died if we were with him that night.”

“What he did was suicide!”

“No, he just didn’t know when to stop. He didn’t know any better.”

“It was like suicide…it was like he wanted to die. But he was unsure of that, too.”

Coach cut six eligible returning players in the fall of Sean’s sophomore year. The night after the news was posted on the locker room door, the six expatriates gathered at the field at midnight. They shattered the lock on the storage shed; a bucket of practice balls, home plate, and all three bases were dumped into the nearby river; the rolled-up field tarp was inscribed “Fuck You!” with a pocket knife; the batting cage was demolished with a rake and a spade. The L-screen was cut and a player was nearly killed a week later when a batting practice line drive rocketed off his skull from 35 feet. Someone took a shit on the mound.
“But that’s just how those guys dealt with it,” Sam explained the next evening. Sean nodded slowly, sitting in a folding chair in Sam’s bedroom. “All I could do was just watch, and even though I’m angry…and sad…it’s nobody’s fault but my own. What good would it do? It’s over. I feel like I’ve died.”
“Jon…after the funeral you pretended like Sam never meant a thing to you. Seemed like everyone at the school—all those assholes who didn’t give a flying fuck about Palmiteri—they all acted like he was their best friend. You didn’t even think about him.”

Jon moved uncomfortably under his blankets and kept his pensive gaze fixed to the ceiling.

“I think about him a lot,” he said, finally. “I didn’t like how thinking about it made me feel, so I shut it off. And, one day, I realized I couldn’t pretend any longer. I knew him well—I mean, I didn’t spend too much time with him the last couple years, but for a while it was us three…you know, until he got cut from the team.”

“Sad how those things go.”

Jon didn’t seem to hear.

“I really did know him pretty well. He stayed at my house in Brooklyn and I talked to him every time I saw him wandering around campus. I talked to him the day he died. I have dreams about him sometimes, and he’ll be the same old Sam, only I’ll know, in the dream, that he’s dead and that even though I’m talking to him—even though I’m listening to him—something is very wrong, and only when I wake up do I realize what it is.”

Sam couldn’t convince the pretty waitress to serve him a beer. Sean couldn’t care less. It was Sam’s idea to drive down to Milford for dinner, to try and take Sean’s mind off the girl who’d broken his heart that day. He sat silently ignoring Sam’s jokes and pointless chatter.
“You know, Sean,” said Sam, matter-of-factly, “when I first met you I thought you were a real asshole.”
Sean looked up, surprised. Sam finally had his attention.
“Yeah…the first week of fall baseball, out of all the new recruits, you were the last one who ever talked to me. You were always quiet and serious-looking and you never smiled. And I just thought, man, that kid is a total dick. You acted like you thought you were better than anyone else.”
“Hm,” grunted Sean.
“But then I got to know you…and you’re my best friend on the team.”
Sean slowly nodded, a sour frown frozen on his stone face. Sam continued, undeterred by his friend’s non-response.
“I don’t get it, man. I don’t know why she ditched you like that. I don’t understand why you have such a bad time with girls. You know…you’re a good guy. Not a scumbag like me. Not like all the guys I live with. You’re a nice guy, Sean. You know that. You’re quiet and smart, and, you know…you’re just a good guy,” and he spoke embarrassedly, looking downward at his fingers as they twirled a straw wrapper, visibly startled by his own candor.
Sean looked at him and nodded. “Fag,” he said under his breath, and the two quietly laughed, waiting for their plates to arrive.

Sean kicked the quilts off his bed and swung his legs over the edge, shivered, and inched toward the window to the air conditioner. He shut it off, violently flicking the switch. Jon didn’t notice. He had fallen asleep and breathed in a steady, even pace, oblivious to the hour of the night, the icy air, the puddling street water. Sean smeared his palm in a circle on the windowpane, wiping away the steam, and stared out into the early morning.

The city of Baltimore beamed in the distance; orange effervescence defying the sheets of water that fell by the tubful from the empty heavens. Rain everywhere.

We’re going to be trapped in Baltimore another day, thought Sean. The field is likely flooded through and through.

“Hey Sean, did you see Allie today?” said Sam with a sly grin. “Boy, she sure looked pretty. I wish I could talk to her.”
It was a storm that had engulfed the entire seaboard. That’s what they’d said on the news. At that moment, at 4:46 a.m., rain was driving into the Boston Harbor, pelting the Prudential Building and the Fens; it was glistening on the tollbooths in Delaware and the endless suburban tracts on the New Jersey coast; it was soaking cattle in Plymouth, Vermont and old farmhouses in Harrisonburg, Virginia; just miles away it engulfed the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, and beyond that the alleyways of Manhattan, and surely, surely it was crushing into a lonely, lifeless cemetery in Long Island, running down the length of the blades of grass that grew six feet north of Sam’s head, seeping down through the soft loam, lurking towards his well-dressed and stone-cold body.

Sam hated the cold. The time they stayed in Florida for the baseball tournament, all he could say was how much he hated Connecticut and New York, how great Florida was. But there was that winter weekend trip to Vermont. Racing together through the pine trees on snowmobiles, there was so much contentment in his face. The cold wasn’t the problem.
I can’t sleep, panicked Sean, and I feel though I may never sleep again. At that moment, a motion in the corner of his eye drew his attention to a utility shed in the back of the hotel parking lot. A mangy cat that he’d give a scrap of his breakfast sandwich to that morning was desperately circling the shack, searching for a way in to stay warm and dry. Sean noticed the corrugated cap atop the shed.
The tin roof! There is no sound like the sound of rain on tin. I’ll surely be asleep soon.

Sean ran his fingers along the bottom of the glass, trying to open the window so as to let in the hypnotic sound of rain on tin. The window was impressively soundproof and fully sealed shut.

Defeated, Sean breathed out a heavy breath and looked out the window, up to the sky; the jet black ink had faded to early morning navy, the first foretelling of the sunrise to come; Jon lay motionless, peaceful; Baltimore glittered silently and orangely and beautiful, motionless, sparkling wet; streetlamps reflected along the length of the shiny blacktop streets; the cold, unloved cat had vanished; the tin-roofed shed, plainly in sight, played a tranquil opus for no one to hear.

“I’ve got no one else to talk to, Sean,” cried Sam, shit-faced, on the verge of tears. “You’re the only person I can trust.”
Goddamnit!” moaned Sean, but his words were choked in his tense, convulsing throat. He leaned into the glass. Raindrops fell from the silver eaves of the utility shed like silent tears.

Jackson Ellis is a former Division I collegiate pitcher, a co-founder of Scissor Press, and is the publisher and editor of Verbicide Magazine. His work has previously appeared in Broken Pencil. He lives in New England and can be reached at

Mighty Casey by Peter Anderson

(Author’s Note: “Casey at the Bat” was written by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, and first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on June 3, 1888. The poem is believed to be in the public domain.)

It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood two to four, with but one inning left to play.

Old Harrison’s ledger-book was enduring as difficult a year as his Mudville squad was having on the playing field. The Mudville nine was losing as often as they won, despite the considerable sums he had spent during the previous off-season bringing in new players. The fans were attending sporadically, in large numbers in good weather and minimally in poor, their indifference reflecting the indifferent play on the field. He had over-spent on the players, that much was clear, and especially for that damned Casey, who could thrill one and all on one day with his prodigious clouts, and then sulk through a week of strikeouts and ground balls.

The club’s high expenses and erratic revenues had begun to tax the fortunes of the middle-aged merchant. He had gotten into this venture out of simple-minded civic pride, but one-upmanship soon overcame him, and now, after having spent at the level of wealthier clubs in larger neighboring cities, his business and livelihood had come under considerable distress. He and his team needed a long winning streak, with an attendant surge in revenues, but neither appeared to be beginning today. For it was two to four, in favor of Millersburg, in the bottom of the ninth frame.

So when Cooney died at second, and Burrows did the same
A pallor wreathed the features of the patrons of the game.

Cooney might as well be dead for the little good he's doing, Harrison thought as he sat in the back row of the grandstand. The imposing edifice was another expenditure he had come to regret. A former horse track, fallen from favor thanks to the efforts of moral crusaders, the grandstand was purchased at a higher price than was warranted—given its nearly complete lack of alternate uses—which combined with his expansion of its seating capacity had put him deep in debt with the local bank.

Cooney, that fool, was always pulling recklessly idiotic stunts, rarely stopping at first on soft hits, always getting thrown out at second. This will definitely be Cooney's last season with the club, Harrison mentally noted. Burrows knew how to reach base but thought far too highly of his running abilities, and here he was once again getting thrown out attempting to steal. In the ninth inning, down by two runs, with the heart of the order coming up. Harrison turned his head and spat in disgust over the back of the grandstand.

We could have had two runners on base with no outs, and Flynn coming up. Flynn, of the portly belly and spindly legs, who couldn't run to save his life. But he can hit the ball, thought Harrison. Despite this favorable assessment, however, he felt his mood darkening.

A straggling few got up to go, leaving there the rest
With that hope which springs eternal within the human breast.

On this bright sunny day, there were several thousand patrons in the grandstand, Harrison estimated, and now some were already preparing to leave. He could understand those who were departing, but not those who chose to stay. What compelled them to sit and watch this hopeless squad? His own presence was easily enough explained, as he had an investment to evaluate and protect. But these fans, as they came to be called—fanatics, indeed—why were they still here? Surely there were better things they could be doing, at their offices or farms, or with their families.

More than likely, their continued presence was due to their inexplicable infatuation with one Daniel Thomas Casey. Even if Casey had only one productive at-bat per week, and stranded runners by the score at all other times, they simply adored him. Certainly he was handsome, dashing, charismatic. But surely these fans should expect more than just good looks and personality. Their devotion would be better spent on a ball player of genuine talent, as would Harrison's cash. He had already decided to renew his search for quality players during the following winter.

For they thought: “If only Casey could get a whack at that.”
They’d put even money now, with Casey at the bat.

Part of the fans' attentiveness was due to Casey's baffling appeal, but also due to the large sums of money being wagered. Harrison saw money changing hands throughout the game, back and forth on the most insignificant of events. As he surmised, the bettors wouldn't trust others to relate the outcome of whatever they were wagering on, and thus stayed put to protect their investment. Somewhat like me, Harrison pondered, though he considered his investment a legitimate one, unlike theirs.

Gambling had clearly infected the game, staining the purity which had first drawn Harrison to it in his youth. It had gotten to the point that every unlikely loss, misplayed ground ball or untimely strikeout was met with suspicion. Rumors abounded as to whom was on the take, which games had been rigged. Several otherwise upstanding businessmen in town, men known to have dabbled in wagering, were said to have “contributed” financially towards their preferred outcomes.

Perhaps that explains Cooney's foolishness, Harrison suddenly conjectured. Cooney’s performance had weakened precipitously from the previous season, a decline which Harrison had previously attributed to resentment of his spurning of Cooney's contract demands. Now he saw the decline in a different light, and he certainly did not appreciate the illumination.

But Flynn preceded Casey, and likewise so did Blake
And the former was a puddin’, and the latter was a fake.

Fat, sloppy Flynn. A man who never met a meal he didn't like—steaks, gravy, fried potatoes, enormous desserts—and ate voraciously and gluttonously, disregarding its dire effect on his physical condition. Though his eye was still keen and his reflexes sharp, thus retaining his considerable skills as a batsman, his even more considerable girth prevented him from running any distance, regularly shaving one base off of every hit. Doubles became singles, and triples became doubles. At his present rate of decline, Flynn had only one or two seasons left in his lump of a body.

Blake was of little significance. While he covered a broad expanse of ground from his position in center field, his batting was barely competent. Harrison had argued the entire season, to no avail, against Berrigan's decision to bat Blake third in the order. Even if Flynn were to reach base, hauling his bulk down the base line like a wagon teetering down a bumpy country road, Blake's meager batting would never be enough to bring any runs home.

So on that stricken multitude a deathlike silence sat;
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.

Still, Harrison thought, just because Flynn and Blake were up to bat before Casey is no excuse for the crowd's utter silence. One would think it was a state funeral, not a simple ball game, by the way they sat mutely, on their hands. One has to support the entire club, and not just a single player, especially not a player so undeserving of their adoration. Flynn and Blake, for all of their shortcomings, were no less likely to prevail than was Casey.

As Flynn waddled toward the plate, moving as slowly and delicately as any self-respecting athlete dared, Harrison began to reconsider the entire issue of his ownership. What was he getting from it, after all, other than the daily sight of over-paid and under-performing ball players, which only brought him exasperation and—on those days when he had a particularly hearty lunch—indigestion? Harrison had to admit, despite what little as he thought of Casey, that the fans who came out did so mostly for the ball player. Casey, despite his shortcomings, was one of the few things keeping the enterprise afloat.

Flynn finally stepped into the batter's box, flicked his bat toward the mound a few times before resting it on his shoulder, and peered out at the pitcher. At any rate, Harrison thought, Casey's drawing power isn't nearly enough.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And the much-despised Blakey “tore the cover off the ball.”

Flynn clouted a mighty drive into left-center field but, true to form, was only able to bounce and wheeze himself as far as first base, ingloriously settling for a single. There was much sarcastic wonderment in the stands that he had made it even that far.

Harrison held out little hope for the game’s outcome as Blake stepped to the plate, amidst the jeering whistles of the long-frustrated Mudville fans. From the volume of the crowd, it appeared even those who had wagered on Millersburg were joining in Blake's derision. Blake stepped to the plate briskly, his wiry frame tense with anger. His physical tension was so apparent that anyone not suffering from myopia could see he would swing at the first pitch, doing so to either quiet the crowd with a defiant base hit or to quickly end the game with an out.

The pitcher could easily see Blake's intentions, but challenged him anyway. Blake responded by hitting a dart down the right field line, practically jumping out of his skin. He would have easily had three bases were it not for the lumbering Flynn ahead of him, the older man collapsing into third base barely ahead of the tag as Blake walked into second.

And when the dust had lifted, and they saw what had occurred,
There was Blakey safe at second and Flynn a-huggin’ third.

From his perch on second base, Blake stared scornfully at Flynn, who laid prostrate in the dirt, his arm barely reaching the base before the tag was made. There is vigor in Blake's nature; at least he's making an effort, Harrison thought while watching him shake his head at Flynn's pitiful display. But Flynn might not even have one season left in him.

Flynn slowly climbed to his feet, breathing heavily, looking as if each breath might be his last. Time was called while he composed himself, gathering up his failing strength for what could become a mad dash home. Flynn would have preferred the slow stroll after a game-winning home run, or even the blameless departure after a game-losing out, to a ball being put in play with Blake charging hard right behind him.

Fortunately for Flynn, he knew that Casey's two most likely outcomes would require no running on his part. Unlike that bastard Blake—him and his infernal line drives.

Then from the gladdened multitude went up a joyous yell—
It rumbled in the mountaintops, it rattled in the dell;

There they go again, Harrison muttered to himself. Mindlessly lauding Casey, a batter who was ten times more likely to strike out than to hit one out of the park. Either way, Casey would look grand doing so; he'd do it with style. And that, for some reason, is valued more highly by the fans than a batter who can put the ball in play every time, challenge the defenders and reach base more often.

The crowd had risen and was shouting itself hoarse, whistling, clapping and stamping their feet, all in adulation of Casey. He was Mudville's prized acquisition of the previous winter: bold a`1nd dashing, with sinewy arms, broad shoulders and a graceful stride; eyes of the deepest blue, a devilish grin revealing impeccable teeth under the shadow of a virile, reddish moustache. He was capable of hitting prodigious clouts, farther than anyone had ever seen, and they willingly forgave his empty-swinging failures for the hope of a long ball. Casey had been purchased for a hefty sum from arch-rival Freeport, and paid what was rumored to be the highest salary in the league.

It struck upon the hillside, it rebounded on the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

Mighty Casey, they were calling him, thought Harrison in disgust. What was so mighty about a man who couldn't succeed in the simple task of bringing home a runner from third base, so intent was he on hitting the ball over the fence? Measly Casey is more like it.

The crowd roared on, imploring Casey to deliver them to victory and bring them happiness for another day. He would come through for them, not to mention for their wagers. They still remembered that glorious day in May, when the overhead sun oozed radiant warmth for the first time all year, a sweetly fragrant breeze wafted toward the outfield, and Casey erased a six-run deficit in just the last two innings, with a three-run blast in the eighth and a two-out “grand slam” in the ninth for the victory. After the latter, Casey casually circled the bases, soaking in the crowd's adoration with a serene smile on his face, before crossing the plate into their welcoming arms. Their hero.

Harrison heard the May game referenced repeatedly in the excited chatter of the two fans sitting in front of him. May, he muttered, clearing his throat. Nearly three months ago. He steadfastly refused to be drawn in by the crowd's ardor.

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place,
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.

He strode slowly and calmly towards the plate, like a cat languidly rising from a nap in the warm sun, flexing and stretching his muscles as he went. He moved with supreme grace, effortlessly, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Some called it confidence, others arrogance; but everyone had an opinion of Casey, and he preferred even negative attention to being ignored. He needed the crowd, craved and fed off of its energy, and strove to channel their passion into a vicious slashing at the first fast ball he saw.

The cocky white-toothed grin never left his face as he came to a halt ten feet from the plate, feigning devotion to his calisthenics while, in reality, tarrying to make the moment last as long as possible. Soon the crowd would be silent, and he would assume intense concentration, transforming his body from relaxed ease to taut readiness.

Knowing the moment would soon be gone, he grasped at keeping it alive, just a bit longer, with a grand gesture which seemingly acknowledged the crowd but actually served to draw more attention to himself. Turning to the stand, his smile broadened as he removed his cap and bowed.

And when responding to the cheers he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Casey at the bat.

His self-serving gesture momentarily revived the crowd, which had begun to flag from the exertions of their applause. The doffing of his cap threw a new spark into the crowd, which flared up into renewed cheering. This latest round could not last, however, and the crowd soon hushed in anticipation, breathlessly, longingly awaiting Casey's next heroic feat.

Now he would step to the bat, and coil those muscular arms, and drive a pitch deep into the outfield, the fielders turning away in futile pursuit as Casey glided around the bases, smoothly and quickly as a doe through a meadow. Flynn and Blake would score easily with Casey dashing across the plate shortly after, and the win would be Mudville's. The fans could return home, gladdened in victory, still warmed from the afternoon sun and the fond memory of a moment of magic.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt,
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.

Every insignificant act of Casey’s held the crowd in thrall. Stooping slightly, he grabbed a handful of dirt, rubbed his hands together—the tiny clods sifting out and falling to the ground—and wiped the excess on his shirt. The crowd murmured approvingly as he grasped his bat and wrung his hands into the handle, ostensibly providing a better grip but in reality showing off his rippling forearms to the crowd.

At long last, his veiled theatrics completed, he stepped to the plate. He stared at the pitcher with casual disdain, maintaining an air of utmost confidence. This same pitcher had faced Casey numerous times that season, dispatching him with little difficulty, a fact which never crossed Casey's mind. Had he been asked, he would have attributed his previous lack of success to any one of several factors, including bad luck, glaring sun, persistent flying insects, or faulty equipment. The cause was never, ever, a lack of ability on his part.

Then when the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed from Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

The pitcher fluttered his arms outward, stretching not unlike a long-winged bird about to take flight, and stood grinding the ball into his right hip, summoning all of his abilities into setting Casey down once again, and gaining another victory for Millersburg.

Fifty feet away, Casey sensed the pitcher's ill will. Clearly he thought Casey would be short work, and anger began to build inside Casey in response to the pitcher's insulting posture. He glared right back at the pitcher, his lips tightening menacingly. Casey would make him pay for his arrogance, but he would be patient and do so on his own terms. He could wait for the pitch he wanted, and not be dictated by the pitcher, and would drive the ball as hard and as far as he ever had.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.

The pitcher wound and threw, and though the pitch was easily within Casey's reach, he let it go past with an air of indifference. Not quite to my liking, his posture seemed to say.

Recognizing that the pitch would be well within the strike zone, the crowd rose in anticipation. The situation was just so perfect—Casey hitting a three-run clout that snatched victory away from the jaws of defeat—that they would waste no time in starting their celebration.

Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped;
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.

Casey didn't like the pitch, but the umpire did. The old umpire had tired of Casey's antics over the years, particularly Casey’s persistent intimation that any pitch which he found unacceptable couldn't possibly be considered a strike. Casey's recurring acts of superiority offended the umpire as blatant signs of disrespect, and as such he had no misgivings in calling the pitches exactly as he saw them, independent of Casey’s assessment. More often than not, the umpire saw them differently for Casey than he did for any other batter. Even a marginal pitch, a ball to anyone else, might very well be called a strike, so intent was the umpire on putting Casey in his place. There was only one authority on the ball field, the umpire believed.

Although the batter muttered his disapproval as the ball sped past, the umpire raised his fist and emphatically called it a strike.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar
Like the beating of the storm waves on the stern and distant shore.

The crowd's bitter reaction was nothing new, the umpire thought. These Mudville people worshipped their ball players, and thought any affront to their unquestioned glory to be an invitation to violence. This ill feeling was prevalent in every town in the league, but was particularly vehement here. Last season, a beer bottle thrown from the stand had grazed his temple, drawing blood, and a few years earlier a fan punched him square in the jaw as he left the field after another Mudville loss.

Their fury built up slowly, the air seething with venom, their muttering voices threatening to explode at any moment. The old umpire had seen and heard it all, the angry threats and vitriol, in his thirty-plus years of calling these games, but all of his experience did not prepare him for what he heard next. He was instantly chilled to the depths of his soul as a single enraged voice tore through the crowd's simmering rumble.

“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

The umpire tensed, his body recoiling instinctively in self-defense even as his intellect told him the words meant nothing. This was simply going too far, he objected inwardly, and though the fear soon began to recede, it didn't leave him completely. The fear would remain with him for several days, lurking in the deepest recesses of his mind. You can never forget something like that, he thought with a slight shiver.

But his fear was soon replaced by disgust at the sight of Casey, once again showing off, raising his hand to the crowd to silence it. As if to say the umpire's decision was meaningless, that Casey thought it no more than a pesky gnat to be shooed away. Though the umpire knew Casey's attitude could reasonably be justified by his having two more strikes coming, the umpire rejected this rationalization, instead feeling only resentment towards Casey's slight.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult, he made the game go on;
Casey smiled broadly toward the umpire as if to say No harm done, but with his eyes narrowing into thin slits and then closing beatifically, he was unable to see the umpire's deepening scowl.
The crowd was becalmed by Casey's magnanimity, and remembering that their mighty Casey required only one great swing—thus rendering three strikes superfluous—their mood shifted from anger to one of resumed and heightened excitement. One swing is all it would take, and surely it would happen with the very next pitch.

He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”

Casey turned away from the crowd, his orchestration complete, and again faced the pitcher. He waved as if to say You may proceed, his haughty air only angering the pitcher further. The latter again ground the ball into his hip, summoning the fullest extent of his abilities before winding up and flinging another pitch.

As before, the ball flew directly toward the middle of the plate where Casey could easily reach it, with only a flick of his strong arms needed to send the ball hurtling out of sight. The pitcher immediately knew he had made a mistake, that he had put nothing on the ball but velocity, and he inwardly cringed in dread of the ball's imminently towering arc. This might very well have come to pass, but for the fact that Casey again stood with his bat on his shoulder, watching disdainfully as the ball passed by him.

Although the scowling umpire was prepared to vindictively call a strike on any pitch that didn't bounce, such generosity was unnecessary. It was unquestionably a strike, and he raised his fist and called it so.

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and the echo answered, “Fraud!”
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed;

Again the crowd exploded in anger, their shouts echoing through the rafters of the grandstand. Catcalls, some clever but most of them childishly vulgar, rained down from every direction.

The cries of "Fraud!" were what bothered the umpire the most. Though he might have been inclined to compromise his usual impeccable judgment at Casey's expense, that had not been the case here. Casey had let two perfectly good pitches go past him, without even attempting to swing. They can't fault me if he doesn't even try, the umpire complained to himself.

As before, Casey exploited the situation to deflect attention from his failures, turning to the crowd and glaring with a look which admonished Don't you ever doubt me. I don't need three strikes. The crowd, chastised, sat back down in silence, awaiting whatever Casey deigned to do next.

Harrison remained in his seat in the back row, disappointed as ever with Casey's performance but silently marveling at the power he held over the crowd. One gesture from him silenced them into cowering submission. He'd make a good preacher, it suddenly occurred to Harrison.

They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

Refraining from any further gesturing, Casey resumed his position in the batter's box, his face hardening into a ruthless grimace, his muscles steeling as he dug his spikes into the dirt and maintained a death grip on his bat. Never had he been more ready, nor had the situation ever been more ideal. His concentration was unimpaired, his mind emptied of every thought but the ball and how he would hit it.

His entire worth as a ball player, his validation as a true hero, all came down to this moment.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lips, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel vengeance his bat upon the plate;

But, suddenly, his steely concentration snapped. For in reality his preternatural calm, his supreme confidence, and his arrogant assuredness all masked an ocean of doubt and frustration. How could these people expect so much of me? What have I ever done to earn their adulation? How could I ever do anything but disappoint them?
His frustration finally boiling over, he broke from his stance and straddled the plate, pummeling it again and again with the barrel of his bat in a blind rage. The pitcher, understandably shocked, halted in mid-windup, and the normally unflappable umpire was so flustered that he neglected to call time, instead gawking at Casey, along with five thousand fans and both teams, all of whom stood in stunned silence.

As quickly as the spell came upon Casey, however, it was gone. He was once again calm, grinning, defiant, settling back into his coiled position and challenging the pitcher with the mere glint of his eye. Though Casey’s outburst was far from intentional, and was something he never could have explained, perhaps it would work to his advantage, giving the pitcher something to think about.

And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

But the old hurler had been through many such confrontations during his career, and to him this was merely one more. After Casey composed himself, the pitcher resumed his routine, wound up, reared back and flung the horsehide toward the plate.

A split second after the pitch was released, Casey knew it was his. Reflexes and physical strength were his best qualities as a batter, with poor judgment and over-eagerness being his worst, but he recognized this pitch as being quite generous, and instantly uncoiled his upper body, whipping the bat forward with unsurpassed force. The ball was coming rapidly from one direction, the flashing bat blurring from the other, and in anticipation the crowd let out a great collective gasp.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.

Baseball brought uncommon joy to hundreds of thousands of fans across America. The simple pleasure of seeing a ball in flight and swift runners circling the bases captured the country’s imagination, and the game was thought to represent its greatest attributes: democracy, physical vigor, the perfect combination of rugged individualism and collaborative effort.

Ball players were admired, revered, and treated like gods; their successes glorified and their failures dismissed. Each town had its local hero, its favorite son, whose glorious exploits made the sun shine brighter, the air feel warmer, and life itself seem better. Celebrations would often continue long after the game had been won, late afternoons and evenings filled with music, laughter and good cheer.
But on this day, no such cheer would be felt by the people of Mudville.

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

Casey’s great swing failed to connect. The ball deposited itself into the catcher’s glove with a loud thwack, and the umpire called the third and final out. Casey’s strong body went limp, the bat falling from his hand to the ground as he turned away, slump-shouldered and staring downward. He shuffled away from the field, listlessly, passing the Mudville bench without a word as he began the long walk home.

The crowd, drained and silent, similarly filed out of the grandstand, leaving Harrison sitting alone in the last row. Bemused and thoughtful, he had already made up his mind. There were plenty of others in town sufficiently enamored of athletic feats and respectful of civic duty, upstanding men who would still consider the Mudville nine to be an attractive investment. Parsons the banker and Drummond at the sawmill had each expressed keen interest, and Harrison envisioned being out from under this shadow by the turn of the year. For him, the coming months would improve upon the disappointing summer just passed.

The Mudville nine, alas, would not see a championship that year. The air would soon turn cold, the memories of glorious summer rapidly fading away. The deflated fans departed, sighing at the thought of the long months of winter ahead.

Peter Anderson is a rookie fiction writer, with his first story publication appearing recently in Storyglossia, and a lapsed Cubs fan. He is a devoted family man (husband to Julie and dad to Madeleine) who lives in Joliet, Illinois, the one-time home of the Jailbirds.