He played the game, but went no further than Little League, where, as is the wont of Mairkans, they made him take a pledge:
I trust in God
I Love my country
And will respect its laws
I will play fair
And strive to win
But win or lose
I will always do my best
Even when he was a kid, it never sat well with him, this pledge taking. He would mumble the words, gazing at his cleats, sheepishly glancing left and right to see if anyone was observing his intransigence.
Whenever it’s read on a baseball diamond the Little League Pledge is followed immediately by the words ‘play ball.’ Growing up in and around Pittsburgh in the 1970s, Rodney Decroo never once mumbled those words. “PLAY BALL!” he would yell, bursting onto the field.
I trust in God?: if he ever did, it is highly unlikely that he still does. God has mocked him by giving him a precious gift and then marooning him in a place and time where and when few recognize his brilliance, let alone appreciate it.
I love my country?: He doesn’t really have one. He was born in Mairka, Pittsburgh to be precise, but left the land of the free and the home of the brave a long, long time ago. He has lived in Canada for more than half of his life, but Canada has never been his home and native land. There’s still a lotta Bubba in the boy from the ‘burgh.
And will respect its laws?: He long ago realized that almost everything Hitler did was legal, and almost everything Gandhi did was illegal. He has broken a few laws over the years, and loses no sleep over that fact.
I will play fair?: Although he’s never been caught, he’s been known to stack the deck, in his favour, on occasion, and he’s not above doing so again. In fact, he’s constantly contriving to conjure a winning hand for himself – who isn’t in this word? – but almost inevitably his sure thing turns into a bad beat on the river.
And strive to win?: Does anyone ever strive to lose?
But win or lose?: “Just one win,” he prays to a God he probably does not believe in. “One win. Today,” he pleads, afraid to add that he really wants a win today to be followed by seven more in this long awaited BUCtober.
I will always do my best?: At this moment, a couple hours before the first pitch is to be thrown in the National League’s one-game Wildcard showdown between his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds, he is doing his best to find a place to watch the game. It is Tuesday October 1, 2013. Being the first day of the month, he’s just forked over the rent. He’s loaded up on groceries, enough to last a couple weeks, at least. Despite the fact that, just two weeks earlier, he finished a great, ten day run for his one-man show, Allegheny BC, at the local Fringe Festival – drawing rave reviews, standing ovations, and sold-out shows – he has precious little money left. He lives in the most expensive city in Canada.
A BENIGN OBSESSION ON A POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS DAY
He has listened to every Pirates game this season, all 162 of them, on Internet radio. He’s been pirating his neighbours’ WiFi to do so. He’s made several attempts to watch games on pirated broadcasts, but has never been able to draw enough bandwidth away from any of his neighbours (he’s cracked most of their passwords) to catch more than a couple innings. And that’s not gonna do today, when the Pirates make their first post-season appearance since 1992.
Two days ago, he asked, on Facebook, if any of his friends were planning to watch the game. He got no response. He pledged to behave himself. His far-away and long-ago brother scoffed at the very idea that he would, indeed, behave himself. Apparently, no one else believed him, either.
Wait: he did get one response. From a girl. A girl who has zero interest in baseball. A girl who has ‘wannabe groupie’ written all over her. He did not get back to her. He knew better. He learned, the hard way, to stay away from groupies.
A half dozen years ago, following a show somewhere in Saskatchewan, a beautiful, young blond girl purchased one of his CDs and asked him to sign it. When he asked what she would like him to write, she replied, “How ’bout something nice, like, ‘Thanks for sucking my cock!'”
She was all of 19. He was 20 years older. She was a single mother. He lived 2000 kilometres away. She had no job, but loved to smoke crack. He fell in love with her anyway. It did not end well. She mangled him. He barely survived.
So, when he got the invite from this latest wannabe groupie, he convulsed for a moment, and he heard, Danger! Danger! Danger! STAY AWAY! STAY AWAY! STAY AWAY! No, he does not want to watch the game that badly. But good God, does want to see the game.
He considered, for a moment, opening an account with the one Internet service provider that he does not owe money to. But even though he immediately labels the thought heresy, he nonetheless has to admit that BUCtober may only last one game, and he can ill-afford the luxury of shelling out precious shekels only to watch the Bucs bite it today.
He frequents several of the coffee shops on his street, but he knows that none of them will play the game for him. His neighbourhood is not exactly overrun with baseball fans. Once upon a time, before he arrived, it was the city’s Italian and Portuguese enclave. Then came the other immigrants. Along with them came the artists, the Bohemians, the lesbians.And the place crawls with hippies
Of late, it’s been overrun by Yuppies. A dozen or more coffee shops cater to all of them, but not to baseball fans. If one of the shops did agree to turn the game on, the indulgence would not extend as far as sound. He’d still be surrounded by people taking all sorts of shit that he does not want to listen to. Inevitably, one of yappers – politically correct tot he point of idiocy and not understanding the gravitas of this game – would decide to challenge him as to why he is wasting his time watching baseball. He doesn’t need that kind of bullshit. Not today. He just wants to watch the fucking ball game, damn it.
He’s been a dry alcoholic for more than a decade. Popping into a bar to watch the game is not a good idea. If ever he is going to be unable to resist the temptation to have just one, it just might be today, win or lose. But he desperately wants to watch this one, not listen to it, so he grinds his back teeth and walks into St, Augustine’s. It’s a little after four pm. First pitch is set for 5:06. The bar is almost empty. Although he’s not sure he should, he is confident that if he wants to run the risk he has found a place to watch the start of what will surely be a long, glorious and victorious BUCtober.
EVIL CANUCKISTANI PUCKHEADS
He asks the bartender if he would be so kind as to set one of the bar’s fifteen TVs to the baseball game. “This is a hockey bar,” says the bartender. Today is also the first day of the NHL season. The oldest feud in hockey, the Leafs vs the Habs, will be renewed today, starting at 4:03.
“Sure,” says the baseball fan, struggling to resist the temptation to punch the asshole bartender in the face and keep punching him until he drops the remote control. He;s had anger management issues when he was a young man.
Blood on your shirt
you got blood on your jeans
you don’t know what you did
but you know you caused a scene
your hands are cut up
and your feet are too
you stagger to the highway
’cause that’s just what you do
A couple years ago he one-punched a drunken asshole neighbour in his apartment building. It was self defense. The cops who came to the scene congratulated him on his restraint. This asshole bartender is a test for him. He’s not going to lose it, no matter how much of an asshole the bartender is. He smiles, and tries one more time, “But you have fifteen sets in here…”
“We’re a hockey bar,” repeats the bartender.
“I’ve seen you advertise football, soccer, UFC, boxing… ”
“I’m going to buy dinner…”
“Okay, but you’e not watching the baseball game here.”
Canada is not his home and native land.
Mairkans and others may not believe that Canadians are capable of such cruelty, but there you have it.
The Bucs fan wanders back up the street, toward his apartment. He glances in the windows of every watering hole and eatery, hoping to see the MLB pregame show on a TV screen, a Pirates jersey or hat on any inhabitant, any sign of hope. Welcome to baseball Hell, Bubba – abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
Back inside his apartment he vents on Facebook, “Jesus, mother of fracking christ, what is a pittsburgh pirates’ fan supposed to do in this fracking city. can’t find anywhere to watch the playoff game. vancouver, you suck!” He shares the tale of his rejection at St. Augustine’s.
After trying, unsuccessfully, to get a decent stream of the TV pregame show. he resigns himself to listening to the game. He pulls up KDKA-FM, Pittsburgh sports talk radio. He is not a happy camper.
Then, an epiphany. He laughs and goes to Yuotube. He watches the World Series scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
a half dozen times, laughing so hard that he is on the verge of crying. Fucking Hell, he wants to watch this one, but he’s living in a city where Nurse Ratched seems owns every TV set, every remote control.
Unlike Randle Patrick McMurphy, Decroo doesn’t have eight other mental cases to watch the game with him in his own little personal insane assylum. He doesn’t even have Byron, his three legged cat, who was crazier and more dangerous than all the loonies in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest put together. And that’s probably for the better, because the cat would have had a big yellow P painted on his black ass during the All-Star break back in July. He misses his dearly departed cat. Byron would be watching the game with him, and cheering. Byron was a Bucs fan
He giggles, and smiles, picturing Byron with a yellow P on his black ass. Once more, he watches Nicholson’s ‘Mac’ looking up at a blank TV screen and screaming, “Here comes the great Mickey Mantle now. Here comes the pitch, Mantle swings, IT’S A FUCKING HOME RUN!”
“It’s a fucking home run,” he hollers, a second after he hears the call of Marlon Byrd’s blast over the left field wall in the Pirates’ half of the second inning. He jumps out of his seat and repeats the cry, “It’s a fucking home run,” and again, “It’s a fucking home run!”
He imagines that somewhere in PNC Parrk there is at least one other crazed Pirates fan screaming the same thing. ‘Probably a bleacher creature’ he thinks to himself, laughing, before catching himself and remembering that in Pittsburgh they’re all bleacher creatures.
Or, at least they were in the Pittsburgh he remembers. But he hasn’t been in the Steel City since the mid 80s. Things have changed, according to a Globe and Mail piece he posted on Facebook, a couple days ago. He confessed to his Facebook friends that the Pittsburgh reported on in the Globe piece is a long way from the Pittsburgh he remembers.
Good God, he’d love to be there. Preferably at PNC Park, but anywhere in Pittsburgh would be infinitely better than this soggy city, where the name Abner Doubleday means nothing to anyone. No matter how much his hometown may have changed, he is certain that he would find hundreds of Bucs fans jumping around and screaming, IT’S A FUCKING HOME RUN! on every street corner.
He’s still dancing around his living room, dreaming of a long BUCtober when Pirate catcher, Russell Martin, comes to the plate. The crowd is taunting Reds’ pitcher, Johnny Cueto, “KWAY-TOE!” they howl “KWAY-TOE!” The pitcher feigns nonchalance. But then he drops the ball on the mound. The crowd burSts into laughter. They know they’re getting to him, and the howling gets louder, “KWAY-TOE! KWAY-TOE!”
Martin goes yard on the next pitch. “It’s a fucking home run,” Decroo screams again and again and again.
It’s only a two nothing lead, it’s still in the second inning, but he already knows his Bucs are going to St. Louis to play the Cardinals in the NLDS.
As he’s about to scream, “It’s a fucking home run,” one more time, his phone rings. Instantly, he comes back down to earth and remembers where he is – NO FUN CITY. In NO FUN CITY, it is not beyond belief that his neighbours would be calling to complain about his outburts, even if it’s before 6 pm. Hell, it’s not beyond belief that the NO FUN CITY police force would rap on his door and tell him to settle down.
He looks at the screen of his phone. He does not recognize the number. He answers, cautiously. “Hello?”
“Hey, is this Rodney?” says an unknown voice.
“It is, but I’m kinda busy,,,,”
Before he can say another word, the voice on the other end asks, “Did you find a place to watch the game?”
“Did I what? Who is this?”
“It’s Terry, at the Cannibal Cafe.” Decroo is puzzled. Silent. He waits. “Word has reached us, via Facebook, that you can’t find a place to watch the Pirates’ game. If you still haven’t, come on down, we’ll turn it on for you.”
He cannot believe it. First, Russell Martin, born and raised in Toronto, puts the Bucs up two nothing. Then, he gets a call from someone he doesn’t know, someone named Terry, who works in a bar he’s never set foot in, and this Terry fella invites him to come down and watch the game. Canada may not be so Canaduh, after all.
“Terry, I love you! i’ll be right there.” he says, hanging up.
He sticks around until the end of the Bucs’ at bat, cursing as they strand two runners on base. As 40,487 Pirates fans rise to their feet to give their Bucs a standing ovation, he bolts out the door, down three flights of stairs and onto the street. He sprints the block and a half to the Cannibal Cafe. Along the way. while keeping an eye out for the NO FUN CITY police, he skips up in the air and pumps his fist a few times, quietly enthusing, “It’s a fucking home run! Pirates win the World Series!”
Look at that 12 year old kid run!
WHO ARE YOU? WHO WHO? WHO WHO?
For at least the past couple years, it’s been obvious to anyone who knows him well that he wants to get home, to Pittsburgh. A good deal of the stories he tells in his songs and poems are rooted in Pittsburgh, or the nearby coal mining towns that he also called home as a child. His one man Fringe Festival show, Allegheny BC, a fusion of music, poetry and story telling, is a spellbinding series of memories from his childhood along the banks of the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania, and his adolescence in British Columbia. He’s never planted both his feet in Canadian soil, preferring, perhaps subconsciously, to draw creative sustenance through his Mairkan roots.
He wants to get back to Pittsburgh, not to live, but to… well, who knows? Why would anyone want to go to Pittsburgh? He doesn’t want to move back to Pittsburgh. Despite all the things he finds annoying about Canada and Canadians, he’s become comfortable. He’s become too much of a Canadian to be a Mairkan But still, there’s something in Pittsburgh that is singing his name like a siren.
It’s not as if he had a childhood of never ending sunshine and lollipops. He’s quite open about the fact that he was abused as a child, and that he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder because of it. What, then, does he want in Pittsburgh?
He gives us part of the answer in a piece he calls A Boy’s Prayer of Stones:
I try to remember the small boy I once was.
There’s evidence that he existed,
photographs, home movies, my mother’s stories,
but I can’t lay claim to even a single, authentic memory.
So, what does one do at three a.m.,
full of self pity,
as the body goes to shit,
lonelier than Hell
and worst of all,
unable to remember who I once was?
There’s more to it than that, of course. He’s far too complex for anything so important to him to be so simple. But, yes, he does want to remember who he once was. Who he was before he he became who he is. Who he was when he still had what he thought was a perfectly reasonable dream of becoming a Pittsburgh Pirate and leading his team to a World Series victory in front of everyone in the city. He wanted to show everyone, especially the ones who had hurt him, that he was stronger than them. That they could not break him.
He bursts through the doors of the Cannibal Cafe and immediately looks for the screen that is showing the Bucs game. There are only two TV sets in the bar. One is showing the Leafs/Habs game. He plops himself down in front of the other and takes a quick look at the menu as a commercial plays. “You must be Rodney,” says his smiling waitress.
“He laughs, and replies, “Yes, I am. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
The girl laughs, “You’re welcome, welcome, welcome. Are you hungry, hungry, hungry?”
“Do you know what you want, yet?”
He looks back at his menu and thinks. But then the commercial is over and his eyes are drawn back to the screen, his mind to the game. He has not missed a pitch. He instantly starts analyzing the situation in his head. The Reds have gone down in order in the first two innings, so it’s the tail end of the line-up coming to bat. He is no longer even aware that a charming and beautiful girl is in his presence, waiting to grant him his second wish.
“I’ll just come back at the end of the period,” says the waitress.
‘Period?’ he thinks, coming out of his statistical stupor. The girl was perfect until she displayed her baseball ignorance. Oh well, it’s not like he’s on the hunt for a wife, anyway. “Yeah,” he says, looking at her as she turns, still smiling. “I’m sorry,” he continues, “I’m just a little….” he pauses, suddenly struck by her incredible beauty. He’s awestruck. His mind has shifted, suddenly and violently, from baseball to babes, and he’s stuck.
“Obsessed?” the waitress offers, taking note of his transformation and being somewhat pleased with it.
“Obsessed? Yes, that’s the word,” he says, smiling.
“Enjoy the game,” the girl says, “I’ll be back,” she adds. Then, with the utterance of two words, he falls in love with her, “Go Pirates!” she says, heading back to the bar.
Fransisco Liriano looks twelve feet tall on the mound, as he retires the Reds, in order, for the third straight inning. The waitress returns and he’s ready to flirt a bit. But the bar has gotten busy with the after work crowd. She has no time, he’s blown his chance and suddenly she has the smell of sour grapes to her,
so he orders the smoked meat burger and goes back to analyzing the game.
Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto is off his game. Those two solo shots in the second have gotten into his head. Trying to get back into a groove, he opens the inning pitching from the stretch, instead of the fill wind-up. “He’s rattled,” Decroo growls. “Let’s get him!”
When Pirate center fielder Andrew McCutcheon beats out an infield single to open the bottom of the third, and the crowd at PNC Park start chanting MVP! MVP! MVP! , Decroo picks up the rhythm “MVP! MVP! MVP!”
‘Cutch’ advances to third before scoring the Bucs’ third run on a Pedro Alvarez sacrifice fly. Forgetting his vow to not disturb the bar’s other patrons, Decroo lets out a yelp, which prompts an impromptu chorus of yelps from amused imbibers. He curbs his enthusiasm, looks around at those who were getting a chuckle out of his boyish boisterousness and smiles at them. He is grateful that the hockeyheads were not offended by the fact that he was using 50% of the bar’s TV resources to watch a baseball game on the first night of hockey season. Still, he wishes he was n Pittsburgh, where the whole city would be going crazy with him.
He pulls out his shit-kicked laptop and starts checking ticket prices to Pittsburgh.
The siren’s song has not been alluring enough to draw him back to his hometown, so the Pittsburghian necromancer that wants him back sent two of his temptresses
to visit him, all the way out there on the west coast, all the way up there in Canada.
He was strolling down the street on a sunny summer Saturday, close to the All-Star break, when he spotted two girls wearing Pirates jerseys. He just happened to be wearing his Steelers jersey. They could not have missed each other if they’d been blind.
The three of them spent the afternoon eating, drinking and blabbing. The girls were charming. Adorable. Alluring. When they parted company that night, he sat and pondered whether or not the encounter was chance, and if not, exactly what it meant.
Those girls were on his mind, two days before the Wildcard showdown with the Reds. He checked their Facebook pages and they were all about BUCtober. The thought of spending what might be the last BUCtober of his life in NO FUN CITY bothered him greatly. The fact that he was going to have to pull another one of those magical money rabbits out of his magician’s hat just to make it through October troubled him even more. God was mocking him. Again.
He considered launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to spend BUCtober in Pittsburgh. He wouldn’t need much – airfare and food could do it. He could bring his guitar and busk. Sleep in the parks, if need be. Surely, he reasoned, there have been more bogus Kickstarter campaigns. But he couldn’t bring himself to it. He has his own code. It’s carved into Pittsburgh steel that was forged in the fires of the Hells he’s lived through, where shame and pride were luxuries he could neither afford nor comprehend, and all he knew was pain – Pirates don’t beg (and Steelers don’t steal). So he did the next best thing.
He went to Facebook and announced that he was making his entire six album catalog available to anyone for anything they cared to pay. They could pay nothing, for all he cared. Those albums, cranked out over a period of ten years, have received the kind of critical acclaim that would make an unworthy man uncomfortably proud. He’s been compared to Bob Dylan. Some say he is the payment of Mairka’s debt to Canaduh for stealing Neil Young away from the true north strong and free.
That’s dangerous talk. Accolades like that can swell a man’s head. Even if it’s all true, which it is, talk like that can echo around in a man’s mind and drive him insane as he scrambles to make the rent at the end of every month. In Decroo’s head, those comparisons boom and bounce around until he wisely demands that his ego shut the fuck up and get back in its room. Scorned, his ego slams the door and pouts while Decroo informs it
You ain’t Steve Earle
you ain’t Neil Youndg
you ain’t Bob Dylan
you ain’t no one
And no one
no one’s gonna write a book about you
no one’s gonna make a movie ’bout you
Just another twisted idiot
another fuck up
out of luck
out of money
and out of love
As soon as he makes it big in Mairka, Canaduh will claim him as its own. Until then, Canadians will, for the most part, ignore him.
For the moment, he doesn’t give a damn about any of that. All he wants is to be in Pittsburgh when they raise the Jolly Roger.
The Reds land runners at first and second, with just one out, to start the fourth inning. Brandon Phillips, the Reds All-Star second baseman comes to the plate. Phillips finished the season with 103 RBIs, fourth best in the NL. Against the Bucs in the regular season, he went 9 for 17 with runners on. Bubba is gnawing on his tongue. But Phillips flies out, and Bubba relaxes a bit.
Cincinnati scores their first run of the game on a two-out single to left by Jay Bruce. The Reds still have men on first and second. Todd Frazier steps to the plate and hits a monster shot to left field. Decroo jumps to his feet, puts his hands above his head and starts windmilling his arms to the left, willing the ball to fall foul, the same way Carlton Fisk willed his 12th inning shot to stay fair in game 6 of the 1975 Word Series against the Reds.
When the shot drifts to the left of the foul pole by a few feet a cheer erupts behind the Pirates fan. He turns to see a dozen or so kids, apparently into their cups enough to become instant Bucs fans. When Frazier strikes out on the next pitch, another cheer comes from the boozy bleacher bums in the Cannibal Cafe.
The kids bid him join them. He instantly rejects the invite in his mind. This is not a lark. It’s serious shit. He doesn’t want to listen to them blabble. If there’s gonna be any talking today, it has to be baseball and he knows ain’t one of them could distinguish between a sacrifice fly and a suicide squeeze.
He likes that he’s infected them with his energy but that energy may turn ugly if the Reds mount a comeback. Everyone wants to jump on a bandwagon when it rolls, but real fans get crushed when the wheels come off. You don’t want to be around a real fan when their team loses. The answer to every question you ask of them, the response to everything you say to them is an unequivocal and emphatic “FUCK OFF.” If you’ve never been a real fan, trying to figure out why they are so crushed is like trying to bunt a 90 MPH knuckleball. Best to just leave them alone.
No, he’d rather hang with Reds fans than a pack of beer swilling kids who don’t really give a fuck one way or the other, so he smiles, thanks them for the invite, gets them started on a quick chorus of GO BUCS GO, laughs when it occurs to him that they don’t know why he’s yelling GO BUCS GO! instead of GO PIRATES GO!, then turns his eyes to his laptop and pounds away on the keyboard, sending a friendly subconscious signal to the kids that they should bother him no more.
WE ARE FAMILY
The kids in the Cannibal Cafe make him pine for Pittsburgh even more. Damn, he wishes he was in the Steel City, right now. In the Steel City he’d be able to stop any Bubba or brutha in the street and talk BUCtober baseball. And every Bubba and brutha would know WTF he’s taking about.
He was there when Vancouver’s Canucks went to the seventh game in the Stanley Cup finals in 1994 and 2011. Two months of mirth and madness, insane roller coaster rides for the usually subdued citizens of the soggy west coast city. Both of those incredible runs concluded in million dollar riots when the ‘nucks lost. He saw it all but he was never a part of it. He wanted the ‘nucks to win, but he didn’t really care when they didn’t.
As the Bucs prepare for their half of the 4th and commercials roll across the TV screen, he’s remembering the last time they won the World Series, way back in 1979. The 1979 Bucs duplicated their 1971 victory over the Baltimore Orioles with another classic seven game series win. He’s watched the documentary of that triumph twenty times since the All-Star game. If the Pirates go all the way this year, he’ll watch it another twenty times before Halloween.
He was 12 years old in ’79. His life was one fucked up drama after another. Schoolyard brawls, petty crimes, running from the cops, a menacing fundamentalist mother, mired in poverty, huffing glue, well on his way to having BROKEN stamped on his forehead. Every day, in every way, it was a swirling, cynical circus of psychos. And then came October.
The Pirates opened the NLCS in Cincinnati on October 2. The Bucs won game one 5 -2 on a three run, upper deck home run blast by future Hall of Famer Willie Stargell in the 11th. Fifteen days later the Bucs were World Champions for the fifth time. Even the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh were oblivious to the fact that that Mother Teresa had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier in the day on the 17th, because they had been obsessively sticking pins into voodoo dolls of Orioles’ game seven starting pitcher Scott McGregor.
During those 16 days in October Pittsburgh became a magical kingdom, especially for 12 year old boys. The Pirates’ theme song that year was the Sister Sledge hit We are Family
Dressed up as 39 year old, African American Willie Stargell, 12 year old, white boy Bubba Decroo was still singing the song when he went trick or treating that year.
Pittsburgh had become one big family in October of 1979. It’s the only time, before or since, that Decroo has felt like a member of a family. The incessant, rancorous squabbling, at home, at school, on the playground, everywhere, stopped.
There were no calls to the Pittsburgh police between October 2 – 17. The wolves played pepper with the lambs, the leopard shagged flies from the kid, the calf warmed up the lion in the bullpen. It was Heaven on Earth.
Well… maybe not quite Heaven. He never got to nail Nancy Nutall ‘neath the neon of the Nickleodeon Theatre. Now that would have been HEAVEN, at least for the 22 seconds it would have lasted. But, on the up side, he didn’t throw a punch for a month. Didn’t need to. Didn’t even want to.
Staring up at the screen while he munches on his second smoked meat burger, he begins to feel tense. His team came within two feet of being on the bad end of a 4 – 3 scoreline a few minutes ago. He’s reminded of the old truism that a baseball game is a nervous breakdown divided into nine innings.
As nine inning nervous breakdowns go, this one’s pretty good, so far, and it’s about to get better. Starling Marte drills a hanging slider that bounces off the left field umpire for a double. It’s the last pitch that Johnny Cueto will throw tonight. Bubba serenades the Dominican as Reds manager Dusty Baker takes the ball from him, “KWAY-TOE! KWAY-TOE” The kids behind him join in the salute, “KWAY-TOE! KWAY-TOE!”
Pirates third baseman Neil Walker scores Marte with a stand up double and the clueless kids in the Cannibal Cafe taunt the Reds again, “KWAY-TOE! KWAY-TOE!” Bubba smiles, shakes his head, shrugs his shoulders, turns to face the kids and picks up the chant, “KWAY-TOE! KWAY-TOE!”
Cutch draws an intentional walk; Justin Morneau works a walk to load the bases; and Walker comes in from third when Brandon Phillips gets handcuffed by what should have been an easy 4-6-3 double play ball to end the inning. The camera comes in tight on Phillips and the the Bucs backers in the bar taunt him, “KWAY-TOE! KWAY-TOE! KWAY-TOE!”
With a 5 – 1 lead after four innings he checks his Paypal account. Not much in the way of new sales. He could buy himself another couple smoked meat burgers with what he’s earned since he walked into the Cannibal Cafe. Those are some fine burgers, but two is enough for one day. Maybe something else? He looks at the menu. He looks at the waitress. She’s very pretty. And very nice. “I’ll come back at the end of the period,” she said. Sheesh. She doesn’t know a damned thing about baseball. He wants to go to Pittsburgh, where the nice, pretty girls know who Roberto Clemente was.
He sighs, closes the menu, and types greyhound.com into the address bar.
He’s read it, of course. He’s a very literate man, this troubadour of ours. He knows You Can’t Go Home, Again. He knows, “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame.” But there’s something very powerful inside him that says that’s bullshit.
Thomas Wolfe was not a baseball lover. Thomas Wolfe would not have understood what Vin Scully, a word wizard in his own way, said about baseball. Scully, who has been the play-by-play man for the Los Angeles Dodgers since 1950, when they were the Brooklyn Dodgers, once said that baseball is a bridge to the past that unites generations.
Not a baseball lover, Thomas Wolfe would not have appreciated the incredible gravitas of what Scully said. Nor could Wolfe have fully fathomed what another baseball broadcaster, Joe Garagiola, said of the game, “Baseball is a drama with an endless run and an ever-changing cast.”
Tom Wolfe, however, understands all that. Tom Wolfe, not to be confused with Thomas Wolfe, is a baseball lover. Tom Wolfe played two years of minor league pro ball and would have happily kept his iconic white suit in a beat up suitcase with a beat up typewriter if he’d been good enough play in the bigs.
If Thomas Wolfe – who died at the age of 38, in 1940 – had lived long enough to befriend Tom Wolfe – who was born in 1932 – the younger Wolfe may have been able to sell the older Wolfe on the merits of America’s game. Old Wolfe may have come to grasp the truth of what Scully and Garagiola said about baseball. Old Wolfe may have come to understand that maybe, just maybe, baseball is a strong enough bridge to the past to support the weight of a grown man carrying the baggage of his life.
Thomas Wolfe may have marveled at the sight of this black clad Pirate trying to cross the bridge that separates him from his childhood. Old Wolfe may have even cheered as the Pirate throws all that crushing baggage off the bridge into the molten lava of the River Styx that runs between the innocence of childhood and horrors of real life.
Wolfe the elder may have implored the Pirate to ignore the gargoyles and ghouls of real life that mercilessly mock the man and his mission, barking, “Don’t you know? You can never go home again, Bubba.”
And maybe the Wolfes would high-five each other and sing along when they hear bridge-crossing Bubba Decroo – out on the edge with a matador’s heart, when it’s getting so lonely and it’s getting so dark – throwing it down to his grim and ghastly tormentors:
Well you said I was a fool
you stuck your knives in my back
but you’ve never been where I’ve been
and you’d never make it back
BRING IT ON!
Pirate starter Francisco Liriano is a chronic underachiever in the minds of many baseball pundits. He shows Cy Young promise for a while, then looks like he should be riding the buses in the minors. But today, the Dominican is pitching like a man on the road to Cooperstown.
Liriano gives up a lead off walk in the 5th but the Reds send only two more batters to the plate before reaching for their gloves and taking to the field.
The Reds tag Liriano for a double in the 6th, and another in the 7th, but neither of them reaches third base.
When Russell Martin steps up to the plate to start the Pirates’ half of the 7th, Bubba says, “C’mon you fucking Canuck, go yard again!” Martin digs in… swings at a 96 MPH fastball… connects… It’s going, it’s going, it’s…
“IT’S A FUCKING HOME RUN!” Bubba screams. The Canadian backstop has smashed it 407 feet, well into the left field stands where Buc fans are going out of their minds.
The Cannibal Cafe’s bleacher bums sitting behind Bubba yell, “IT’S A FUCKING HOME RUN!” Bubba looks around, afraid that management might be pissed about this foul-mouthed outburst. But before he can spot a manager, the rest of the bar’s patrons start yelling, “IT’S A FUCKING HOME RUN!”
As Martin struts around the bases, the patrons of the new home of Pittsburgh Pirates fans in Vancouver are going cuckoobananas. They’re all celebrating as if they’re life-long Bucs fans. They’re laughing and high-fiving each other. And they’re drinking! Management cannot be displeased.
The Bucs then go down in order, but that doesn’t stop the taunting in The Cannibal Cafe, “KWAY-TOE! KWAY-TOE! KWAY-TOE!”
The Reds claw back a run in the 8th, on a solo homer by Choo Shin-soo. PNC Park falls silent. A 6 – 2 lead is not insurmountable. Then, Ryan Ludwick hits a ground-rule double into right. Joey Votto, the Reds first baseman comes to the plate. Votto is a four time all star. He was the NL MVP in 2010. He’s a career .314 hitter. He’s averaged 96 RBIs and 29 homers in his seven seasons. He’s a Canadian, born and raised in Toronto.
“Eat shit and die, you fucking Canuck,” Bubba mumbles under his breath, not wanting to offend anyone in the bar. Tony Watson, who came in to relieve Liriano at the start of the inning, winds amd fires the ball. Votto knocks it straight to the Buc’s Canadian first baseman Justin Morneau for an easy out. “Good Canuck! Good Canuck!” Bubba laughs loudly.
Ludwick has advanced to third on Votto’s ground out but he is stranded there when Brandon Phillips also grounds out to first. The Bucs are three outs away from going to St. louis.
A BRIDGE TOO FAR?
Hall of Famer Bob Lemon was not known for being nearly as wise and witty as his fellow Cooperstown inductees Yogi Berra, Casey Stengal and Dizzy Dean, but he uttered the most profound quote ever spoken about baseball. The first time young Rodney Decroo read Lemon’s zinger, he didn’t yet know what it meant, but he knew it was true all the same. The words have stuck with him all his life. He wants to go back and find that kid he used to be and tell him exactly what Lemon meant when he said, “Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up. Just like life.”
He’s triggered an amber alert that only he’s aware of, and he’s set out on a one man mission to find that kid who got lost in the madness and misery that’s called growing up. He wants to tell that kid, “Forget the Little League Pledge, just PLAY BALL!”
But it’s a potentially perilous mission he’s on. Going back to Pittsburgh could open up a Pandora’s box filled with five hundred flavours of unbearable pain. Then again, this could be the Bucs’ year. And he is not afraid
Well I talked to that angel
we talked all night
and he held me up
and he said I’d be alrighT
SO BRING IT ON!
The Pirates’ closer, Jason Grilli takes the mound for the 9th inning. Grilli is a journeyman pitcher, having played for seven teams in the bigs. In 2013, however, Grilli finally found his grove. At the age of 36, the right-hander became a bona fide star.
Grilli strikes out two time all star Jay Bruce to start the ninth. Then Todd Frazier flies out to left. “C’mon, old-timer,” Decroo yells, “Just one more and we’re going to St. Louis!”
At PNC Park 40,487 Bucs fans rise to their feet and chant, “Let’s go Bucs!” At the Cannibal Cafe about 50 more Bucs fans, only one of them a long-suffering fanatic, do the same
SING A SONG WITH ME, KID
If he makes it to Pittsburgh, he will find that kid. And somehow, he will be in the park when the Bucs win the World Series. Oh, how he wants t be there when they raise the Jolly Roger, and with it the banner that declares the Pirates WORLD CHAMPIONS for the sixth time.
There’s only one thing he wants more than that.
He wants to sing a song with the kid