The Adventures of A Baseball Vagabond
by Bill Lee and Richard Lally
HAVE GLOVE, WILL TRAVEL
The Adventures of a Baseball Vagabond
I rest my feet on a worn rubber mat, coal black in parts but faded to dusky gray at the edges. Dull wooden slats lead out the door to a colorless hallway. This room smells of stale sweat and camphor. I sit on a wobbly red bench whose legs some large razor-clawed beast must have recently used for a scratching post. My uniform clings to my body even though we have yet to play. Perspiration has soaked through these double knits. Our team has appeared in thirteen towns in the last fourteen days; we live out of a bus and must cram our clothes into duffel bags immediately after each game and the fabrics never get an opportunity to completely dry. As I walked from the shower a few days ago, a teammate pointed out a growth on my left calf. It resembled a small chanterelle. A closer look revealed that I had contracted a body fungus, the price for continually playing in a mildewed uniform. A doctor prescribed Lamisil tablets for this condition. The fungus uses them for after dinner mints.
Breath hovers above me in a wreath of fog. It felt so cold when I walked through the door, I expected to find a side of beef hanging from one of the clothes hooks. Except it could never fit in here. Unlike the spacious big-league clubhouses that allow players to spread out, this room is cramped. My teammates and I sit huddled in front of our lockers, facing each other as if we were attending a consciousness-raising group. All we need to complete the setting is for Tony Robbins to appear clapping those big ham hands of his and exhorting us to go for it. With the mood I’m in, though, the only thing I would go for is his throat.
Actually, the close confines count as a plus, since the body heat we generate staves off frostbite. Some of the older players sitting near me claim we are lucky. They recall how as teenagers they sat around smudge pots to keep warm when they played in outdoor venues farther north of here. That comes as a surprise. I didn’t think you could get any farther north of here without being south.
Clearly, this is not the major leagues.
We are visiting the town of Port Hawkesbury on Cape Breton, an island separated by the Strait of Canso from the Nova Scotia mainland. The locker room sits in the back of an old minor-league hockey arena the community built during the 1950s. It resembles an oversized Quonset hut constructed from concrete rather than aluminum. A Canadian promoter arranged this event for the Tour de Hockey Legends Team. No, I have not adopted a second sport. You might say I act as the team’s halftime show or mascot. It was the promoter’s idea to stick me on the bill, his way of increasing ticket sales. I have never played hockey and have no connection with the game in the public mind. That does not matter. This promoter would have booked acrobats to soar above the rink while a SWAT team took potshots at them if he thought people would pay money to watch.
In an hour or so, the team will trot me out between periods of tonight’s charity hockey match between the Legends and a club composed of players from the 1978 Junior League champions of Nova Scotia. I might skate a bit at first. Not a particular skill of mine. Maintaining my feet on the ice while standing or moving at moderate speed hardly presents a challenge, but once I accelerate, stopping poses a problem. The only sure way I can halt is to slam into a wall. Shortly after the collision, I will remove my skates and wobble up a long red carpet to a portable plywood mound at the center of the rink to demonstrate “trick” pitches—curveballs, sliders, palm balls, screwballs, knuckle curves, perhaps a spitter if my saliva has not frosted over to ice—for an arena filled with ravening hockey carnivores who consider baseball to be as macho an athletic endeavor as knitting.
It should all be quite classy, like a minstrel show at a KKK rally. I will perform the same function as some carny geek who bites off the heads of live chickens for the deranged amusement of the paying customers, most of whom will be wearing plaid.
You are wondering how I got here. Funny, I just asked myself that same question.
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Lee and Richard Lally