“Nobody grew up wanting to be a Jew Jersey Jackal,” says Brooks Carey. He’s sixty-five and what you’d expect from the manager of a baseball team. He’s drunk from last night, liver spotted and sunburnt and loosely religious. He’s got a boyish haircut and a beer gut. He’s loud and theatrical–not like the Ken Dolls they let manage these days, the guys who look good on TV and can talk analytics when they have to–He’s old guard. Like Lou Piniella but taller.
“Ain’t that right Marte?” he asks, spitting tobacco sludge into the grass. “You grow up dreaming about being a New Jersey Jackal?”
“No,” says Marte.
“Hell no,” says Brooks. “You wanted to play over there, didn’t you.” He points at the Bronx, 13 miles east of us in Little Falls, New Jersey.
“How bout you, Conrad?” he asks. “You dream about playing here?”
“No, you didn’t. And I didn’t want to coach here either. But guess what, we’re here. And some of us won’t even be here this season cause I’ve gotta make five cuts. And some of you guys are gonna make it no matter what. Some of you have a pedigree. You got a pedigree Conrad?”
“You making the team Conrad?”
“Damn right you are. But some of you aren’t. And I know it’s horseshit we only get ten days to make a team. But that’s how it is.”
He goes on a tangent about how hard Marte works, even though he doesn’t rightly have to. Marte played in the big leagues, and he could be a son-of-a-bitch if he wanted, but that’s not who he is. Who he is is he’s an example for the young guys. He’s a grinder. He’s doing everything he can to get out of here. The rest of us should follow suit–work hard and get out of New Jersey, get picked up by a real team. Get plugged back into a farm system. “It sucks here doesn’t it, Stocky,” he asks me.
“It sucks,” I tell him.
“You’ve been here the longest, tell them what it’s like here. Tell them what your brother did to get out of here.”
“He threw really hard,” I tell them.
“He won ballgames,” says Brooks. “How many games you win the year your brother was here?”
“Sixty-two out of a hundred. Scouts don’t like losers, do they Stocky?”
Brooks tells us about winning. He says he’d take twenty-two winners over twenty-two All-Stars. He says a bad attitude can kill a clubhouse. Selfish motherfuckers who want to hit .300 don’t win baseball games. The stuff he says feels like he’s said it before, but it doesn’t feel practiced. It feels like he’s decoding his beliefs in the order they come to him. “You don’t want to see me get red-assed,” he says. “You got a problem with someone on the team you better figure it out.” “Winners get out of here.”
I don’t quite believe it. I want to, but I don’t. I think about the Jackals who played with my brother who never made it to the big leagues. Johnny Hellweg came the closest. He went to AAA and then to the Japanese Big Leagues, but not the Big Leagues. Gonzalez became a cop. Sandoval had a kid in French Canada. Martin had a kid and got into disc golf. Bladel got signed by the Red Sox, went to AA, then retired. Vaughn made it to the Atlantic league, the big leagues of indie ball. Art Charles found a job hitting homers in Mexico. Jimmy got a job with the Yankees front office. Loosen blew out his shoulder and works in a warehouse. Newton tried writing a book. D’vo had mental health episodes and isn’t playing anymore. Cruz is pitching in Puerto Rico. Jose Jose is on our in-state rival, the Sussex Miners. And I went back to school and got my English degree. And then I came back.