Thursday, March 31, 2011


Wow, it never gets better than this,
With a mustard smile on my face,
A hot dog, a beer, on opening day,
When every team’s still in first place.

Now is the time for extravagant dreams,
'Cause nobody wants to remember,
All the bad hops and bobbled balls,
That broke our hearts last September.


Monday, March 28, 2011


Every baseball family has a story.  In our case, instead of catching a foul ball behind first base, we caught a first baseman.  And like any out-of-work writer, I got it all down on paper way back then, and now it reads like a bit of Dodger history.  It started when my son the Little Leaguer asked me for a stamp and the address of Dodger Stadium.  He had a fourth-grade pen pal assignment, and since all his heroes were Dodgers, I could see where this was going.  I cautioned, as mothers do, against high expectations since the 1965 Dodgers were in a tight pennant race and I assumed they’d be pretty much wrapped up in their work.  Sure enough, he struck out first with Sandy Koufax, then Don Drysdale.  So he said the heck with pitchers.  The Dodgers, after all, had a Gold Glove first baseman.  So he wrote:  Dear Wes Parker.  My Little League team is in second place.  I play first base and sometimes pitch.  How can I get to be a bat boy on the Dodgers?  Sincerely,  Don.
Two weeks later a letter arrived, addressed in southpaw handwriting with a Dodger logo in the corner.  Dear Don, it said in the writing that leaned toward left field.  Thanks for your letter.  Nice going in Little League.  You could find out about the bat boy job by writing the Dodger front office.  Sincerely, Wes Parker.

Of course, he thought that was the biggest thing ever!  And he sure was peeved when I made him turn off the radio and go to bed during the third inning -- whining about how he had a friend on the team.   And he even had a goofy dream about the Dodgers.  He said they were standing along the third base line, looking heroic in white home team uniforms while they recited in unison what sounded suspiciously like the Little League pledge.  And those villainous Giants jeered from the visitor’s dugout the whole time.

So he worried the Dodgers through the final days of the pennant race, and right into the 1965 World Series!  I think my son the Little Leaguer was nervous for his friend the big leaguer who was playing in his first World Series.  Little League had taught the kid that baseball provides unlimited opportunities for a guy to screw up while a whole lot of people watch.  But if you look it up, you’ll see that his Dodgers won the series in seven games over Minnesota and his pen pal, Wes Parker, batted .304 and performed flawlessly at first base.  What’s more, the following season, the big leaguer fielded every letter the Little Leaguer mailed his way.  Evidently using his time on the road for letter writing, he replied once from Pittsburgh and once from Atlanta.  Overwhelmed by this response, my son recklessly decided to take this pen-pal thing to the next level.

And that’s why, a couple of weeks later, we were waiting in the smoggy, late-afternoon sunshine in parking lot number six in back of Dodger Stadium.  We waited a long time at the bottom of a ramp watching some big glass doors at the top.  A few people had come out, but no Dodgers.  I noticed there were very few cars left in the lot.  One of them, we hoped, belonged to Wes Parker who had promised to meet us here.  I said don’t worry, he’ll be here, but it sure had been a long time since the game was over, and the kid was fretting and mumbling that he wouldn’t know what to say to a real, live big leaguer, anyway.

But there he was!  I remember so well how the tall, blond figure in the yellow sweater took on a golden luster as he stepped out into the sunlight.  He started down the ramp and as soon as he saw us, he called out, “Hi.”  But my son the Little Leaguer was too busy grinning to reply.  Then they were shaking hands, and he needn’t have worried about what to say, because before he knew it, the Little Leaguer was telling the big leaguer about his one-hitter and about how he had started a triple play.  And then there were people around them with autograph books, and the big leaguer smiled and signed while he and the Little Leaguer kept talking baseball.  And when the people were gone, Wes Parker – the real live Wes Parker – told my son how he had hit only one home run in Little League, and my son told how he had hit the fence once, but had never hit one over.  They discussed pick-off plays, switch-hitting, practicing on your front lawn, and paying for broken windows.  I noticed that, as they talked, they were moving slowly in the direction of a small, red sports car.  The Little Leaguer told the big leaguer about his funny dream and about having to go to bed during the third inning, and I remember how Parker laughed about that and clapped him on the shoulder.  Then they were alongside the red sports car and I remember thinking: I’ll bet the  kid is having fleeting thoughts of inviting him to dinner, or asking to meet him at the park for catch.  Anything to keep from losing him.  But he didn’t.  He just shook hands and smiled.  And the last thing Wes Parker said before he drove off was,  “Did you ever find out about the bat boy job?”  And my son said, “No,” and they both grinned because it didn’t matter.

And when we drove out of the empty parking lot, the man who opened the gate for us asked if we got lost inside.  My son the Little Leaguer, trying his best to be cool, said, “No, I‘m a friend of Wes Parker’s.”


Monday, March 21, 2011


It’s only ten days to OPENING DAY!  Some whimsical philosopher once said that baseball is the belly button of our society.  I wonder…is that because there’s lots of time between bits of action to gaze at the waiting infielders and ponder life?  Or because it is the funniest part of the American sports anatomy?  Basketball and football are not funny…baseball is funny.  Jim Muray pointed out that at the ball park a screwball could be either a pitch or a person, stealing is legal, and you can spit anywhere you like except in the umpire’s eye or on the baseball.  Rick Monday said of Phil Niekro’s knuckleball that it actually giggles at you as it goes by.  Bob Uecker, who was a catcher, remember, said that the best way to catch a knuckleball was to wait until the ball stops rolling and then pick it up.  Curt Simmons (who ought to know) said that trying to sneak a pitch past Hank Aaron was like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster!  Or…as I’ve heard Vin Scully say…a pork chop past a wolf.  Funny!  But there are two categories of funny.  There’s funny (ha ha)…and funny (peculiar).  As every fan knows, baseball, more than any other game, unfolds slowly enough that you can see disaster looming from quite a distance.  And on another note, Philip Wrigley said baseball is too much of a sport to be called a business and too much of a business to be called a sport.  I have faith that no matter how fat our American society gets, the belly button will never completely disappear.                   

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


There seems to be a rule that
well-behaved women never make history. 
Bessie Smith taught me that.

In a maximum conformity suburb,
I was serving sixteen to life.
This cruel sentence was loosely defined
By two forks and a butter knife.
Famished by life at that genteel table,
I was starved for a real-life bite.
When I heard Bessie sing “Gimme a Pigfoot,”
How could I eat turkey on white?

So I’ll slip into the dark,
I’ll ask the devil to dance,
I’ll take a dive into decadence,
And try to atone for my past.

I’ll laugh all the way to the river,
I’ll welcome its wayward force,
I’ll chase down my rowdy roots,
And find my natural source.

Monday, March 7, 2011


It's been said that, properly trained, a man can be dog's best friend.  Of course, we all know that the other way's automatic.

During my misspent youth as an itinerant musician, I had a tendency to make four-footed friends in far-flung places.  Flash back to Anchorage, Alaska where our band was stranded and I found myself driving a cab.  Old John was a huge, brown wooly dog who owned the Red Cab office on Fourth Avenue.  He would lie in the doorway and grin at everyone who stepped over him going in and out.  The old sourdoughs in the Union Bar across the street told tourists that he was part Kodiak bear, and some believed it – he was that big and wooly.  Every morning he’d walk down the block to the coffee shop and look through the glass door, tail a-wag, until someone gave him a donut (always wrapped in a paper napkin) so he could bring it back to the office for our coffee break.  About once a week we’d give him a couple of dollars and he’d mosey down to the mom and pop grocery where they’d give him a bag of kibbles in exchange for a couple of drooly dollar bills.  The sight of Old John poking along the sidewalk carrying the bag of dog food home to the office caused commerce on 4th Avenue to pause while everyone watched and smiled.  (His picture made the Anchorage Daily Times for that.)  He also knew that if he stood outside the Anchorage Grill looking hungry he’d get a bag of scraps and steak bones for dinner.  Frequently, traffic on 4th Avenue (the main drag) came to a standstill while John strolled leisurely across the street.  Occasionally, he’d sit down halfway and slowly scratch an ear.  Drivers were willing to wait, knowing that Old John pre-dated any sort of traffic regulations.  During the summer, John liked to ride along with his head out the cab window, and the drivers knew he was good tourist bait, so cruising for fares with John in the passenger seat was a popular thing to do.  The trouble was that sometimes in the shuffle with multiple passengers and lots of luggage, John got left behind somewhere on the outskirts of town.  He didn’t seem to mind.  He’d wander around, make a few new friends, then sit by the road and wait for a cab.  Once when I was coming back empty from the airport, I got a call, “Car 45, John’s out on Fireweed Lane near I Street.  Pick him up and bring him home.”  There he was, waiting.  He hopped in, put a muddy paw in my lap, licked my face once, and settled down for the ride home.

© 2008

Friday, March 4, 2011


8kppHQ2fHall of Famer Duke Snider died last Sunday.  The star center fielder for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers was a key member of Roger Kahn’s “Boys of Summer,” who beat the Yankees in the ’55 World Series.  He didn’t quite make it to his 84th summer. He led the Dodgers to two World Series wins, one in Brooklyn and one here in L.A.  To me, as a Californian, he was a symbol of the transition from my dad’s 16-team Eastern baseball to the Westward expansion that made for a truly national pastime.  My dad grew up in Cleveland, so here in California he had to follow his beloved Indians in 6-point type in the newspaper box scores.  I learned to love baseball from my dad’s tales of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig.  My dad…my very own father…was present in the bleachers to see the only World Series triple play unassisted by Bill Wambsganss, Cleveland second baseman in game 5 of the 1920 Series against Brooklyn.  (The Indians won.)  How could you not love a sport which rewards a little patience with such memories.  When Walter O’Malley blew up the Eastern baseball establishment, and fragments of it landed in San Francisco and L.A., then I had baseball too.  Koufax and Drysdale were not yet stars, but we had the Duke!  I saw him play in the Coliseum and at Dodger Stadium.  If he was not the best center fielder of all time, he was close to it.  He had the last home run in Ebbets Field and the first base hit in Dodger Stadium.  All of that, and we can also brag that he was a local boy, who also retired here.  The story goes that he advised rookies to “Learn to hate Halloween.”  Why?  “GIANT’S colors!”