Writing

An excerpt from the book about baseball:

Spring Training

A fungo bat is long and skinny and used to hit ground balls at infielders. Coaches get one standard issue at spring training and then tape it, and tar it, and mark it with a Sharpie, and once it fits its new owner it gets slung over a shoulder and paraded around spring training like an M14 around Parris Island. Between drills coaches absentmindedly cradle and clean their fungos. They complain when starting pitchers borrow them during batting practice, and once borrowed, God help the pitcher if he leaves an amateur spray pattern up the barrel or introduces an unwelcome dab of pine tar.

Jim Horne sat on his fungo and no one knew how it didn’t disappear up his ass. We stood in our stretch lines in state of the art stances, dipping and laughing and running our hands over the bellies of our hamstrings, easing ourselves into lunges and squats–and each of us stole glances at Jim and wondered about that fungo. He sat on the bat as if it had a flat surface to hold him, but it did not. It had a knob you couldn’t balance a baseball on. No one, especially an old man who’d surely lost the vibrant elasticity of his youth should be able to sit on a fungo like that. If Jim once had a prolific sphincter those days were behind him. He was ancient and tiny, an old second baseman from an era before monsters. Any one of us could eat him, and yet we were nobodies, and Jim was a legend.

His title was special instructor, but he was on staff just to have him around. He was a lifer–a walking monument, a living almanac who’d forgotten more than we ever knew and he never once had to tell us. He was a baseball mainstay, the kind of guy who knew Maury Wills and had been around before the Red Sox desegregated. But as revered as he was amongst ballplayers, his stats weren’t nearly prodigious enough to have vaulted him into the collective memory. In fact his stats weren’t even average. Jim played in a time of gonads and hustle–back when striking out was disgraceful and the coffee pot was half greenies. So Jim was an industry secret. To outsiders, he was another name, lost and unremembered, buried among the others in our Iliad. But to us he was a well of importance. He was a place to draw old knowledge from, a blind prophet who’d tell us things about hitting that haven’t been said in three decades and no one would flinch to correct him. He could tell a first rounder to switch hands and hit blindfolded and the brass would stay quiet. He was more important than any one player or any one coach. And maybe he did hold old secrets–secrets forgotten in the pursuit of advanced analytics and Ivy League metrics. Maybe he was a check against hubris, a battered old bulwark holding back evils as they creeped into baseball disguised as TV deals. He remembered the days baseball players went home and worked jobs in the offseason. He remembered the first million dollar free agent. He remembered westward expansion. He’d listened to the Dodgers play in Brooklyn on a radio with germanium transistors. He’d seen the game change so much maybe he knew what the game really was. Maybe when he spoke in vague baseball-isms, he was speaking around truths yet revealed to us. Maybe his old sayings were stanzas from a lost incantation that coaxed out base hits and helped us find gaps. Maybe he was an old man who sat on a fungo and told us to throw our hands at the ball.

I leaned back with my hands on my hips, stretching my extensors and flexors and I drew a diagram in my head. A 140-pound man sitting on a fungo propped at a 65-degree angle. I was frustrated I’d forgotten the equation for this, but I knew in my gut it was enough force to give Jim an unwelcome, splintery enema. The man clearly held secrets.