DFA: A BLOG ABOUT LIFE ON THE BASEBALL MARGINS: March 25, 2008
DFA, chapter 19: Somebody Owes Me Ten Minutes of Fame
The day of my appearance on Larry King arrived. I admit it, dudes, I was so nervous my entire body froze up. I felt like I was outside of my body and could only make it move by giving it explicit orders.
Astrud called and told me that Larry was shooting that week in New York City, so I wouldn’t have to fly to D.C. or L.A. She said I should arrive at least three hours before the show started, so I could go through makeup and get a pre-interview with one of Larry’s assistants. She would give me the questions that Larry planned to ask me. This made me feel slightly less anxious. It was like getting a cheat sheet the night before the algebra final. She also told me that I would be Larry’s first guest that night.
A pleasant but harried-looking woman with mousey brown hair tied back in a bun and a blue business suit – one of Larry’s producers – shuttled me into the “green room” and told me to take a seat along with the “other guests.” There were two of them: a middle-aged man who looked like a Southern deputy sheriff – he wore blue jeans that had a “comfort fit” to accommodate his belly, a walrus moustache, hair that went every which way like a crowd scattering after a bomb went off, tinted glasses and a T-shirt with a drawing of a cow being beamed up to a flying saucer – and an even doughier guy who had chins within chins and who wore a cowboy hat and a blue gas station attendant uniform. They gave me a friendly hello and we went back to flipping through magazines. Then the sheriff said, “They’re here, you know.”
The gas station cowboy looked at the sheriff as if to tell him to keep quiet. They went back to their magazines – the gas station cowboy’s was called “Modern Bear Hunting” and the sheriff’s was “Today’s Holstein.”
The gas station cowboy said, to no one in particular, “They don’t even give you san'iches. I come all the way from Stephenville, and not even a san'ich.”
“Hell, even the airlines give you a snack,” said the sheriff. In a few minutes the producer called them out of the room for their pre-interview. Then it was my turn. She said that Larry was going to ask me why I was in Venezuela, what happened with the gamblers, and about my “dramatic” escape. Between Astrud and Rick, I had rehearsed answers to these questions, so I reminded myself to be calm and that there would be no surprises.
I returned to the green room and about ten minutes before the show was supposed to start, I began to get psyched. I went into my visualization exercises, like I’d do before a game. I’d review the opposing hitters and the sequence of pitches I would call. I’d visualize setting a perfect target, my pitcher throwing no-hit stuff and me executing a textbook block should a pitch get away from him. Coming up out of the chute, cocking my arm, making a quick release, pick-off throws behind the runner, blocking the plate, making the tag.
So now I envisioned myself on the set, Larry King asking me the question, and me answering it perfectly natural. The producer stuck her head into the room and said, “Sixty seconds till air.” I stood up and did some deep breathing exercises that Astrud had hipped me to, waiting for the producer to lead me onstage. But instead she pointed to the sheriff and the gas station attendant and said, “O.K., guys, it’s show time.”
“I thought I was going on first,” I stammered.
“Oh, didn’t anybody tell you? Larry changed the order.”
My stomach fell. The sheriff looked back at me and shrugged his shoulders.
Then I heard Larry’s voice over the intercom.
“Tonight, the UFO controversy. Did a spaceship visit Texas two weeks ago? First denial by the U.S. Air Force, then official acknowledgment that something dashed over the skies of Stephenville, Texas.” Spooky sci-fi music played. Larry went on, “After that, a story of baseball, gambling and heroism as minor league drifter Ric Grieff [he pronounced it “Griff”] tells us about his close encounter with vicious drug gangs in Caracas.”
Drifter? He made me sound like I was some skid row bum.
Larry’s opening segment was about a bunch of UFOs that were seen in a small town in Texas, and the sheriff and gas station attendant – who under the makeup and camera looked green, like aliens themselves – were local yokels who claimed that they saw the spacecraft. Also chiming in were an Air Force colonel who said he had inspected a UFO that disabled his nuclear missiles back in the day, and a couple of UFO skeptics who were beamed in by satellite.
I sat back down and did a speeded-up version of my catching visualizations. I pretty much had collected myself when Larry broke for a commercial.
“If you’re having trouble moving around, you need a HoverBound chair,” said the announcer, over shots of old people riding around the mall in these motorized wheelchair things, like in some senior citizen bumper car ride. Beach Boys-type music played on the soundtrack. “Go, go, go in the HoverBound!” You know, with the falsetto voices and cheesy organ. Like these people who could hardly walk were suddenly going to get up and go surfing! The guy who was hawking these things said his name was Tom Cruse and he was a “nurse by profession.” And he promised that if you called up and ordered one now, you’d also get an “all-purpose grabber.” There was a shot of this woman holding this long plastic stick with a claw on its end and grabbing some item from the top shelf of a bookcase.
I thought one of those grabbers could come in handy when handling a wild pitch, and chuckled to myself.
Back on the monitor, Larry was talking to the sheriff and the gas station cowboy.
Larry: So, Bobby Jack Teagarden, you saw the UFOs in Stephenville?
Sheriff: No, I’m not saying I saw a UFO. But everyone tells me I did, so apparently that’s what I saw.
Larry: And how about you, Marshall Redmond?
Gas Station Cowboy: Larry, one night I was out tending to my llamas – I own a llama farm in Stephenville – and suddenly these two spacecrafts came right across the sky, two blocks from the courthouse and across the street from the memorial to the five people who were killed by the escaped inmates back in '74. Then they hovered right overhead, took off, stopped at a red light, made a quick left – down a one-way street, I should add – and headed for the Hampton Inn. They were humongous, glowing red and dead silent.
Larry: We’ve got to break for a commercial.
And so I watched and squirmed, as the segment went on and on, the skeptical guys and UFO-ers throwing digs back and forth, and then they went to call-ins, and one caller said she knew the gas station cowboy and he was a total lush and didn’t own no llama farm, but worked as an assistant to some taxidermist. And they started cussing each other. Finally, Larry wrapped things up and the producer escorted me to the studio. I looked at the clock and I saw that I had hardly any time left.
“There’s only five minutes left,” I said to her.
“Well, sorry, but it’s better than being bumped. Larry’s booked solid; you might have to wait for weeks otherwise.”
As we entered the studio, a cold, clammy feeling came over my body. I realized I’d been sweating like a steam bather and now was plunged into this frigid air conditioned studio. My nerves started to tingle and my mouth felt like it was full of cotton balls. The producer miked me, reminded me where to look and sat me down opposite Larry, who was turned away and talking to someone through his headset. I heard someone counting down to the return from the commercial break, and Larry was looking down at his notes. “Five, four, three, two, one and –“
“Now, a ballplayer’s brush with gambling, drugs and money south of the border.” Larry finally looked at me and all I could think of was his giant cardboard head. I laughed out loud, which Larry ignored.
“My next guest is a former nobody who has become a possible somebody, but almost at the price of losing his life. Ric Grieff—.” Again, he pronounced it “Griff.”
“Grieff,” I interrupted.
“Grieff,” he said correctly. “I must be confusing you with Ken Griffey.”
“You’d be the first person to do that,” I said, with a fake-sounding laugh that caught in my throat.
“Ric Grieff is a minor league baseball player,” Larry went on. But pressed for time, he cut short his introduction and said, “He is the subject of an article in ESPN the Magazine this month about how he made a dramatic escape from some a gang of drug dealers in Venezuela. So Ric, how did you end up in Caracas, how did you get mixed up with drug dealers, and, well, what happened? We’ve got three minutes.”
This wasn’t how Astrud had drilled me. I felt pressured and didn’t know where to begin.
“Well, Larry, I went down to Venezuela--”
“Where you met Hugo Chavez. Tell me about him.”
“Well, he’s a big baseball fan.”
Larry kept glancing at his notes, and skipping pages, which made me more nervous.
“So is Castro. And they’re both dictators.”
“Actually, they’re both pitchers,” was all I could think to say, remembering that I shouldn’t get hooked into a political discussion (not that I had the background for that, anyway).
“So, according to the ESPN story, you got involved with drug dealers --”
“Gamblers. Not drug dealers. I mean, they might’ve been drug dealers, too--”
“You mean they were recreational drug dealers?”
I remembered that I had to stick to Sanabria’s script; I couldn’t very well contradict what he had written, even if it was made up.
“Yeah, O.K., I guess they were drug dealers, too.”
“So you got involved with them--”
“They got involved with me. At least, they wanted to. They wanted me to throw a taco--”
“I mean a game. They wanted me to throw a game.”
“For our non-sports fan viewers, what does ‘throw a game’ mean”?
“Uh, it means to deliberately lose a game by playing less than your best. Or winning a game by less than the spread or the over/under.”
“For our non-gambling viewers, what is ‘the spread’”?
“The spread. What is the spread? The spread is the number of runs the oddsmakers figure a team will win or lose by.”
“O.K., and these guys wanted you to lose a game. I mean, you’re the catcher. How do you throw a game? Let balls get by you? Tip the pitches?”
“Uh, I guess --”
“Well, our time is up,” Larry said. “If you want to find out about vice and corruption in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, read the blockbuster story, ‘Yankee Go Home: One Prospect’s Venezuelan Brush with Gambling, Drugs, Cannibals and Crocs,’ in the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine.”
I was flummoxed. I didn’t have a chance to tell my story or even the reason why I was in Venezuela in the first place. I remembered the Yankee honcho, my NRI, and just blurted out, shouting over Larry’s “good night”: “The New York Yankees had nothing to do with drugs and gambling!”
Larry said, “Good night, and see you tomorrow,” then looked at me like I’d lost it.
“What the hell was that?” he barked at me. “And what the hell were you laughing at?” Then as the producer came in to remove our mics, he yelled at her. “Who prepped this guy?”
“I’m sorry, Larry.”
“Sorry! We had ‘em with the UFOs, and then this idiot comes on--”
“It was a great show,” the producer said, stroking Larry’s back like an exotic bird owner stroking the ruffled feathers of an agitated parrot that I saw on the Discovery channel.
Afterward, she came up to me and apologized. “Sorry we had to squeeze you in at the end, but you did great.”
Everything was great … until the next morning, when I saw the headline – it wasn’t on the front page and it wasn’t very big but big enough – in that day’s New York Post that somebody had left in the bathroom: “Yankee Farmhand: Team Not Involved in Caracas Drug Ring.”
I saw my dreams of playing in the major leagues vanish in the steam shooting out of George Steinbrenner’s ears.