Last Men Out

In Search of the Love of the Game

“FIST CITY” LYRICS (partial)
If you don’t wanna go to Fist City
you’d better detour round my town
Cause I’ll grab you by the hair of the head
and I’ll lift you off of the ground.
I’m not sayin’ my baby’s a saint cause he ain’t
And that he won’t cat around with a kitty.
I’m here to tell you gal to lay off of my man
if you don’t wanna go to Fist City.

We are in the clubhouse, the heart and soul of any baseball team. Beat-up sofas and Barcaloungers, a fuzzy flat-screen TV, Black and Decker coffee maker on the mini fridge. Inside it, two giant cookies and a single remaining Doggie Style Pale Ale.

CLUBHOUSE RULES
1. Don’t ever quit while you can still play.
2. Tip well when you can, and take care of your rookies.
3. That said, rookies double up on the bus. Even if seats are available.
4. If you’re gonna drink a beer, bring a beer.
5. No cock in the spread. Translation: Please do not approach pre- and/or post-game spread of sandwich meats with your danglies unholstered. Or, per JO, the team manager: Don’t be a spreadkiller.
6. You can’t say “That’s what she said” to your own comment. Rely on your teammates.
7. Spit all you want in the dugout, but for the love of all that’s holy put the gum in the trash, lest the whole team get cobwebbed on a hot day.
8. You only need two pairs of jeans. One gets mustard on them, wash those and wear the other. Even if you have three, you’re not gonna wear the third pair because you like the first two better.
9. Don’t walk back to the clubhouse alone, because then everyone thinks you have no friends.
10. No pooping on the bus.

We are here in this clubhouse for a very good reason. Because, some time ago, before the baseball season even began, before the first early hopes of inveterate fans began to flicker or the beat writers began forecasting champions, a reporter was dispatched with a very different mission: to somehow recapture, in its purest form, the love of the game.

MAINE’S TESTIMONY
I would live in the woods if I could. By myself. No tent no nothin just out in the woods. Eat the forest creatures. I’ve eaten a cockroach before. At a bar. I’ve eaten someone’s pet goldfish. He’s like, Hey I’m leavin’, I need these things gone. This was at a party and I ate ’em. Like 12 of ’em. I ate a earthworm right outta the ground. They’re not bad. They’re a little slimy at first but once you get inside’em they’re not too bad. All the girls ran screaming. It’s a good way not to get laid.”

Here another player steps in. This would be Cody Eppley, righty pitcher, age 30. Eppley has played with the Yankees, and is more of a regulation player than Burres, who has a kind of buccaneer swagger. But he’s also host to some classic baseball tics. A highly ritualized sequence of mandatory behaviors governs his performance on the mound, for instance. And he showers at least five times a day.

SNYDER’S TESTIMONY
I can’t explain how happy I am to be here. Of course you wanna be in affiliate ball, everyone does. But to have the chance to come here and love the game again, like I do right now? It’s been a complete 180. I can’t wait to get up to go to the field. And be around guys with experience like Burres and Nellie and Freddie. Where you gonna get that experience other than in like triple A? And most of the guys in triple A are just kinda bitter they’re there.”

To the right of Les is Carlos Gonzales, righty shortstop, age 23. Carlos doesn’t speak a lick of English except the one word, Remember, which he repeats as he shows you pics of all the baseball greats he keeps on his phone. Gonzales will be gone in a day or two, traded to the Frontier League, along with the rookie with the 100mph fastball that he can’t control.

SALT LIST (Things you can learn from a salty player)
1. Yeti makes a damn fine coffee mug.
2. Memory foam mattresses are the play. When you get a contract, get a memory foam mattress. You will wake up in the same position you fell asleep in. No pressure points. Soaks up the drool pretty good, too.
3. Instead of hitting the bars, stay home and play video games. It will prolong your career.
4. Only buy flags made in the USA. Duh.
5. Don’t blow your per diem playing cards with Burres. Especially Booray, a trick-based game with a $1 ante. He will own you.
6. Do not under any circumstances eat scrapple. Not even to be polite, because then someone will ask if you want more.
7. It’s “hold.” Not “hole.” A player is on deck or he is in the hold. The derivation is nautical.
8. Worst place to pitch: Colorado. The air there is so thin they’ve got special humidors to soften up the balls so they won’t travel as far.
9. If you do pitch in Colorado, wet a little corner of your jersey before you head out. The high altitude sucks the moisture right out of you, and you might not be able to lick your fingers.
10. If you’re a lefty, and you really do need to go 165 on the freeway, don’t wear a seatbelt. It will fuck up your shoulder something fierce when you crash.

Les can advise on most things baseball, like how to get by on an $18 per diem (a roast chicken from the local supermarket will cover two squares), how to negotiate a salary (ask for double what you think your worth), and of course how to pitch.

SNOD’S TESTIMONY
It’s something that kids enjoy doing. And a lot of us still have that childlike mentality of loving the game. So why would I stop doing that if I don’t have to? I can always go get a job and earn a paycheck. So as long as I still believe that I can pitch in the majors and contribute and fulfill that dream I’m gonna keep playing because that’s always been what I’ve been driven to do my whole life.”

“This stuff is good,” says Snyder, chomping.

BASEBALLER’S ROAD GEAR (in order of price)
1. Playing Cards, $3
2. Silver Sharpie, $7.79 (for signing black bats)
3. Combination Knife — Bottle Opener, $10 (“The knife is for if someone tries to take your beer.” — Burres)
4. Olaf Stuffy, from the movie “Frozen,” $12.79 (the ideal bus pillow)
5. Collapsible Laundry Hamper, $16 (makes all the diff)
6. 20 oz Yeti Coffee Mug, $20 (keeps coffee hot up to 4 hours)
7. Coleman 48 Quart Chest Cooler, $20 (good for beers, icing your elbow, or playing Booray on the bus)
8. Hair Clippers, $26 (great way to make friends)
9. Hot Dog Roller, $40 (that hot, meaty odor perfectly compliments the Ben Gay reek of any clubhouse)
10. Four-piece Tupperware Set, $40 (keep your chicken fresh)
11. Birch Bat, $70 (combines the hardness of maple with the suppleness of ash)
12. Gaming Suitcase, $343 (never be bored at an airport again)

Several hours later the bus pulls up at the York clubhouse and the players pile out. The clubhouse looks much the same as the Crab clubhouse, with open lockers, a few pieces of jumbo furniture, and Catwoman playing on a fuzzy TV.

TOP 5 MILLION DOLLAR IDEAS (Straight from the dugout)
1. Custom V-neck tee with built-in chest hair
2. Automated drive-up coffee kiosk
3. Ball picker upper ALREADY DONE
4. Combination lint roller-muscle massager
5. Tapeworm diet pills

Les does not consider stripping an option. “Sometimes you just know what you’re not good at,” he says, saltily.

JON LEICESTER’S TOP 6 BACKUP PLANS
1. Car mechanic specializing in custom rebuilds
2. Coach with the Elsinore Storms (right down the street from his home in southern CA)
3. Host of a car rehab TV show
4. Medical equipment salesman
5. FBI agent
6. Firefighter
7. Rallycross driver

“Why would I bring in this guy who has to be on, all day every day,” Les says, channeling scout-think. “And even if he does he’s going to give us, what, a year? Two years? When I could bring in this other guy who’s 26, and if he can just figure it out he could be a hall of famer.”

HOW TO EAT SUNFLOWER SEEDS
1. Pour a palmful of sunflower seeds into your hand.
2. Pop the seeds into your mouth, and hold them all in one cheek.
3. Move one of the seeds into the chewing chamber and use your incisors to pop the shell.
4. Spit out the shell halves, retaining the seed.
5. Eat the seed.
6. Repeat.
Note: If the seeds go soggy try starting with fewer seeds.

“Keith where’s your hair?” says Eppley, calling over to the opposite dugout.

TOP 5 BASEBALL MOVIE QUOTES
1. “Why does he keep calling me meat?” (Bull Durham)
2. “You’re killing me, Smalls!” (The Sandlot)
3. “I shoulda been a farmer. Since the day I was born I shoulda been a farmer.” (The Natural)
4. “Has anyone ever told you that you look like a penis with that little hat on?” (League of Their Own)
5. “Forget about the curveball, Ricky. Give’im the heater!” (Major League)

The Keith question resurfaces, ensnaring several additional players, including Joe.

BEST BASEBALL MOVIES (PER JON LEICESTER)
1. The Natural (Unlike the others, there is no disputing this. Sorry Burres.)
2. League of Their Own
3. Mr. Baseball
4. Bill Durham
5. Major League
WORST BASEBALL MOVIES
1. Major League 3
2. Mr. 3000
3. Summer Catch
4. Love of the Game
5. Bad News Bears (the remake)

The third out is won. The players rattle in from the field. Snyder steps up to the plate and sends the ball loping over a small white cloud. When it goes some little piece of you goes with it. There’s an intake of breath, a lightness in the chest, and the hope that it might fly just a little bit further than most people think possible.

BEST BASEBALL BEERS
1. Allagash White
2. Yuengling Summer Wheat
3. Port City Optimal Wit
4. Blue Moon Belgian White
5. Guinness Blonde
6. Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy
7. Mirror Pond Pale Ale

“You don’t feel nothin’?” says JO, from the front.

SHOUTOUT LIST (Big league players who treated their rookies well)
1. Jamie Walker: Bought custom Elevee suits for all the rookies on the team.
2. Carlos Silva: Bought iPads for all the rookies on the team.
3. Aubrey Huff: Took the rookies out for dinner at Tao.
4. Brian Wilson: Bought Rolexes for everyone in the bullpen.
5. Glendon Rusch: Took Les to Joe’s Stone Crab the day after Les got sent down, and then out for a night on the town.

Every player comes from somewhere. And usually they’re not too happy at the thought of going back. As Nellie puts it, “You wanna go back to being an intern again? You want to go from making $30,000 to $2,000? Excuse my language: Fuck no.”

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Oliver Broudy is the author of The Sensitives, published in 2020 by Simon & Schuster. Currently, he is at work on a book about the labor movement.

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Oliver Broudy

Oliver Broudy is the author of The Sensitives, published in 2020 by Simon & Schuster. Currently, he is at work on a book about the labor movement.