Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Utility Player (Part II)

As I sat down at his kitchen table yesterday, I heard the most annoying song coming from a stuffed pink dinosaur over on the coach. I didn’t know what was more scary, a pink dinosaur singing about one big family or the fact that his little girl hummed the song almost note for note. Dallas scrambled to find a video to pop in the VCR and before I knew it, the stuffed pink dinosaur actually came to life on the television screen. The little bugger had his own video. And his daughter was glued to it.

Dallas then poured some water into an Oakland A’s mug and took several gulps. “So what do you want to talk about?”

“I’ll be frank,” I said. “I’ve driven close to 50,000 miles this year and nobody has thrown a 91 mile an hour cutter with that kind of break at the end. All I could think of was Mariano Rivera. Of course, his is more like 95 miles an hour but let’s face it, he’s a closer.”

The compliment didn’t impress Dallas. His face was stone cold serious. I decided to see if I could loosen him up by talking about his high school years. “I stopped by to see your high school coach Friday afternoon. He said you had a decent fastball but not much else.”

“Figures. He over-pitched me. In the final game of districts he left me out to dry. The ninth inning came around and I was over 130 pitches. He signaled the catcher for me to throw another fastball. I threw it right down the middle and gave up a three run shot. We lost. Season over. Just two days prior the jerk kept me in to pitch a complete game!”

I jotted down a quick note about the DeBary coach abusing his pitchers. “You didn’t play your senior year, did you?”

“I couldn’t play,” he said, pointing to his daughter. “She was born just two weeks after I gave up that three run shot. I worked nonstop all summer and ended up dropping out midway through my senior year so both my wife and I could work full-time. We did that for about 18 months. Now my wife is a manager at Wal-Mart making enough money for me to go back to school and play ball. But when my daughter’s sick, daycare won’t take her and I have to stay home. That’s why I missed practice.”

And here I thought he was kicking back in a lazy chair watching SportsCenter. “What about your parents, or her parents?”

“What about them?”

“Can’t they help?”

“Let’s see. My pop’s in jail. Haven’t seen my momma since I was five. Her family’s disowned her ever since she got pregnant. Besides, they’re worse off than us. And that’s not sayin’ much. So to answer your question-- no.”

We talked some more about how he was able to stay in shape over the last two years. He pointed to a dirt mound out back with a home plate 60’6” away. Behind home was a net tied between several oak trees to catch balls. A weight bench was in a shed behind the swing set but from what I could see, the plates were all rusted and the barbell looked bent beyond use. I asked if he had somebody coaching him during his last two years off. He simply pointed at himself.

I had to see him pitch again. He let me know that he was scheduled to pitch during an intra-squad scrimmage later this week and that he would try to convince the coach to keep him in for at least five innings of work. I told him not to worry and that I would personally call the coach to make sure of it. Fortunately for me, I was able to leave as the annoying pink dinosaur began his grand finale, “ . . . I love you . . . you love me . . .” Slam went the front door.


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