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Everyone's happy with the Padres in Arizona

A sense of Yuma

“Having the San Diego team do their spring training in Yuma is one of the best things to happen to this town.”
  • “Having the San Diego team do their spring training in Yuma is one of the best things to happen to this town.”
  • Image by Ellen Barnes

Don’t ask how I got into this situation. I’m driving an old VW bus, owned by a man who calls himself C.R. Gregory — the C.R. standing for “Credit Risk.’’

Al Heist, Dick Phillips. On the team bus. Heist oversees the card game called Pluck

Al Heist, Dick Phillips. On the team bus. Heist oversees the card game called Pluck

“The nicest thing about driving from Phoenix to Yuma is that you get to go through Gila Bend,” C.R. said about eleven miles east of the Gila Bend city limits, as he tried to find a radio station that wasn’t playing Pink Floyd’s latest paean to stupidity (“We don’t need no edge-u-kay-shun”).

Dave Cash: "I’m thirty-one now, and I’ve got to work harder to condition myself."

Dave Cash: "I’m thirty-one now, and I’ve got to work harder to condition myself."

“What we need is a driving song, like ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ by the Eagles,” C.R. said and continued his search. “Song like that’d get us plum to Dateland in no time. ” Suddenly C.R. noticed that the Volkswagen was almost out of gas, running on empty through an arid wasteland.

"C’mon, Winfield, give that ball a cobra slap!”

"C’mon, Winfield, give that ball a cobra slap!”

“Hey!” he nearly shouted, “lemme drive this sucker. Sign we just passed said Gila Bend ten miles. I’ll get us there. They got a Cory’s station right at the edge of town. I’ll do it. You just find us some good music on the radio.”

Willie Montanez: "In the beginning of the season, the travel is beautiful."

Willie Montanez: "In the beginning of the season, the travel is beautiful."

So C.R. got behind the wheel and started driving the car five miles an hour, just creeping the thing along, half on the road, half in the soft shoulder. We moved as if we were knee-deep in linoleum.

After a few miles, I noticed this hitchhiker up ahead of us, standing by the roadside with two pieces of luggage and carrying a sign that said, “Yuma.” He saw us coming at him — crawling is a better word — down a small incline we crested maybe a hundred yards back. The hitchhiker smiled, gave us a big, friendly wave, and reached down to pick up his suitcases. Then he began walking toward us, beaming broadly.

Doc Mattei:  “Remembah . . .keep saying 'off de ree-cud . . . off de rec-cud.’"

Doc Mattei: “Remembah . . .keep saying 'off de ree-cud . . . off de rec-cud.’"

But old C.R., looking straight ahead and with both hands clutching the wheel, went right past the guy — at five miles an hour — muttering, “I’ll get us there. We can make it.”

Eric Rasmussen, Mark Lee

Eric Rasmussen, Mark Lee

Later I asked C.R. if he had even seen the hitchhiker, if he had witnessed the guy’s smile metamorphose into ever-increasing twists of confusion as this beat-up old VW rolled up to and past him in slow motion, out of the Twilight Zone, with a possessed maniac at the wheel. “Nope,” C.R. replied. "Never saw the dude. Where was he headin’ for? Yuma? And he was mad at us for not stopping? Shoot. He musta had no sense of Yuma.”

In my more medieval moments, I tend to regard events such as the above in an allegorical light; they begin to represent structures quite other than their own. For example, let’s assume — for the sake of allegory — that the old VW is the San Diego Padre team, a team given an offseason overhaul, with several new sparkplugs added. One might wonder if the tune-up has put the vehicle in proper shape for the upcoming race. One can also speculate about the new driver of the car, his methods, and his ability to manage under these circumstances. Then there is the hitchhiker, who felt sure the car would stop for him. Could he not be the Padre fan, who has waited patiently in the desert of previous Padre seasons, hoping that this year he will secure a winning ride out of the dust?

Given this kind of a referential reading, a lot hinges on whether or not C.R. and I made it all the way to the gas station in Gila Bend. I choose not to reveal the outcome; I would rather leave this allegorical ramble, with the questions it raises, open-ended. A little special knowledge, especially in a mind with medieval leanings, can be a dangerous thing.

At any rate, I recently found myself in Arizona again, this time shuttling by bus between Phoenix and Yuma in the company of the Padres, who were preparing themselves for the season — and keeping an eye out for any hitchhikers.

Palm Ball

Third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez carries his glove into a coffee shop. A local policeman asks him what team he plays for, even though “San Diego” is printed boldface across Aurelio’s uniform.V Smiling, Rodriguez answers, “L.A.” The policeman, displaying the first flattop haircut sighted since the death of the wet-head, says, “That glove’s important, huh?” Which is a little like asking Orville Reddenbacker if he likes popcorn.

Curve

Members of the press from visiting newspapers rate the various teams they must interview in the Cactus League. The Padres rank high on all such lists. “San Diego players and coaches even invite you back for follow-up interviews, if you need more information. This is unheard of in other organizations,” commented Tom Powers, who writes for a Mesa, Arizona, newspaper. “Another thing about the Padres,” Powers added, “is that they sometimes break up the usual form of an interview, which is question/answer — a monologue — and turn it into a dialogue, actually seeming to take an interest in you as a person, and not simply as a question machine.”

San Francisco and Chicago rank fairly low in availability. “Well, some are okay in Chicago, but then there’s always Dick Tidrow, relief pitcher for the Cubs, and his famous line, 'don’t know nothin about nothin.’ ”

The tough outs, understandably, are usually tough to interview. Dave Kingman of Chicago, for example, is a notoriously mute interviewee. Of course, one can hear the same question only so many times before one experiences a roaring urge to put on headphones and drift away. “Without question,” Powers contends, “the roughest team to interview is the California Angels, the whole starting line-up, in fact. Trying to interview one of them is like attempting to carry on a conversation with a beached whale.”

“Having the San Diego team do their spring training in Yuma is one of the best things to happen to this town,” said a woman called Ruth, as she wheeled her linen cart to the next unoccupied unit. She is about forty, married, with three children, and she watches soap operas on TV as she changes the linen and cleans the rooms of the Ramada Inn, where the Padres stay in Yuma. She times it so she can move from room to room between commercials, which is difficult to do if two or three units in a row are still inhabited. “Ah. darn,” she’ll utter with a crackling laugh, serrated by the dust of many summers. “Got to find out if the operation was a success or not.”

Ruth says that since the Padres started coming here in 1968, the town has grown considerably, especially in the area around Desert Sun Stadium. Now they’ve got three practice fields plus the main stadium, and even a greenbclt area, Caballeros Park, named after the Caballeros de Yuma, which is sort of like the chamber of commerce.

Ruth moves to the next unoccupied unit and turns on the television.

“What is it like working around major league ballplayers?”

“Not so bad. It’s like any normal day here. You get your neat people and you get your not-so-neat ones. Most of the Padres are so young, kids almost. The only thing that makes me upset is when one or two of them will say something really disrespectful about the town here. Some do this, not all. They say things like there isn't much to do here, or that it’s in the middle of nowhere. Thing is that these are some of the reasons why people live here in the first place. In a way, this town chooses its own. All desert towns do that. If you don’t like 115-degree heat, you’ll know soon enough. Now. I’m not saying Yuma is better than any place else. Nothing like that. It's just . . . it’s just the way I like it to be. Where you from?”

“San Diego.”

“San Diego? Lots of fog there?”

“Every now and then, I guess.”

“Must be hell some days.”

Hard Slider

Willie Montanez, new first baseman for the Padres and the man signed to bat behind Dave Winfield, has had the reputation of being, we shall say, unique. He earned this sobriquet in part from his flashy habits at first base, which include thrusting his glove at an oncoming ball, catching the ball (which he does sure-handedly), and then swinging the glove around in a wide half-circle, as if it were the muleta, the small cape of a great matador. A spirited man, Montanez is constantly emanating enthusiasm — giving “cobra slaps” (also known in some circles as the “high five”) to the deserving, urging teammates to “kick hard,” and greeting players with the expression (phrased as an exclamation, not a question), “You ready now!” When I talked with him. I learned that he not only marches to a different drummer, but to a different kind of music altogether.

“Salsa is a combination of the music from Puerto Rico — where I come from — Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. ”

“What sort of music is it? Like a hot sauce?”

“Oh yes. It is very rhythmic, very full of life. You don’t hear too much of it in San Diego. A lot in New York, but not much here.”

“Speaking of New York, describe travel to me. I've had a hell of a time just trying to keep up with the team from Phoenix to Yuma and back again.”

“Travel has two faces in the big leagues. It is always tough. But in the beginning of the season, the travel is beautiful. Your first time in each city makes them seem brand-new, and there is an excitement about the new season, too. Then, toward the end of the season, around August, you have a different thing. The travel becomes tough, and you have to kick hard to keep going. The cities are hot and old to you now, and the travel is something you just have to get out of your mind.”

“How do you do that? Do you play a musical instrument?”

“I wish I could play the congas, but I am not very good at all.”

Now surely there must be someone in San Diego who could teach this man how to play the very drums to which he marches.

Ball Four

Umpire Ron Luciano, who has a few toys in the attic, explained to a group of reporters how umpires keep their hats on: “We wear clips on the back of our hats to hold them on our heads.”

Reporter: “Isn’t that dangerous? Couldn’t they draw blood?”

Luciano: “Umpires don’t have blood.”

Passed Ball

Major league scouts Bill Werle (Baltimore) and Chet Montgomery (Cincinnati) coned themselves under umbrellas during a Phoenix shower and talked about their duties.

"We check to see who’s ready to play,” said Montgomery. “Who’s injured, stuff like that. We also watch the young ballplayers closely. All this is done with an eye toward possible trades right now. We give management a breakdown on frontline players, especially if one is injured and the club he plays for is using him as bait. The management should know his true condition. Also, we keep an eye out for good back-up players; we might be able to have one thrown in on a deal for frontline players as an extra. Sometimes you might pick up a good one that way.”

“Are you also scouting the opposition in your league right now?”

“We don’t do what we call ‘advance scouting’ at this time — like how to pitch a player. We’re mainly concerned with trade possibilities and keeping our management up to date on who we believe are good prospects.”

“Do you guys ever compare notes over drinks at a pub?”

“Never. ...”

“Never. ...”

"All our work goes into finding the best prospects for our team,” said Werle. “Comparing notes would be like a detective turning over his discovery of the villain to a competing agency. Scouts usually differ in their evaluations anyway. Joe Blow may think a kid’s great, while Montgomery or Werle think he hasn’t a snowball’s chance. Also, keep in mind that each scout is looking to fit the needs of his club as it’s presently conceived, so one player may look differently to a team needing a bat rather than a good glove or speed.”

“I’m still worried about industrial espionage — and its opposite. Do you ever have the feeling that some scout somewhere has discovered, say, a Dave Winfield or a Rollie Fingers that no one else knows about? Doesn’t this impression ever lurk in the back of your brain?”

“Not really,” replied Montgomery. “We have networks of scouts working for our organization. Some work specific areas of the country; others go around cross-checking reports from these areas. Werle does that. He cross-checks pitching reports sent in by regional scouts.” “Which can be a tough job,” added Werle, “since the kid may pitch every fourth day, and I have to fly in and catch him. Now, he may have the greatest game of his career, or his one really off-day of the season. Or, and this is very common, I fly in to Montana or Louisiana to see a kid and he has the flu that day. I’ll have to return later in the season.”

“How many games do you watch in a year?”

“At least one a day, often two,” said Werle, “which usually means traveling here, there, and everywhere — setting up motel arrangements, plane tickets, rent-a-cars — the games are the easiest part of this job.”

They sat, one in front of the other, in the rain. I asked if they had been watching Mike Vail of the Cubs, who was having a baroque spring training, hitting around .580 (at one point, after six straight hits in two games, Vail struck out, and a fan yelled, “Cut him, coach, he’s human after all”). Not wanting to reveal any secrets, neither man looked at the other, but their eyes lit up like a million-dollar scoreboard.

Screw ball

The current manager of the Padre’s farm team in Hawaii is sort of a basebali legend. Doug Rader, also known as the “Red Rooster, “once complained to Jim Bouton that he was living in the wrong time and place. He felt he would have been much happier as a Tahitian warlord or as a pirate.

His friends, and he has many, speak reverently of Rader as a human being, and most of them will even vouch for his sanity. Those that don’t know him personally, however, keep their distance and wonder if even half the stories they have heard about him are true — like the time he was playing third base for the Houston Astros, during a tense pennant race. According to Bouton, Rader tried to see if someone, namely Doug Rader, could drown in a shower. He was not serious, but half the players on the team swore Rader was cashing in his chips. If even one-third of these stories are true, then one begins to suspect that they were short of meat when they made Doug’s taco.

My favorite Rader incident happened several years ago, on national television. Doug was being interviewed and was doing a strait-laced description, to the youth of America, about how they can become a major league ballplayer. In the solemn voice of an old patriarch, Rader went on and on about practicing hard, getting lots of sleep, thinking baseball constantly, observing the greats. Then he said that to be a major league ballplayer, one had to eat the right foods, “like baseball cards. ” And Rader proceeded to pull out a Doug Rader baseball card and eat it.

Rader is one of only a handful of athletes who compare favorably with Tim Ros-sovich, formerly of the NFL Philadelphia Eagles, when it comes to gliding with only one wing. I suggest that Rader is a far more versatile stylist than Rossovich, though. Most of the latter’s efforts arc limited to scabrous forms of masochism like eating pop and beer bottles, swallowing nails, or driving motorcycles through brick walls.

Trite death wish stuff, for the most part. I’m not suggesting here that Rossovich, who now plays “Hunk” in a new TV series, has not earned a deserving place in the Luno Hall of Fame. I am merely asserting, since most of them are too gross to repeat here as evidence for an argument, that Rader’s antics demonstrate a broader range of virtuoso de-creativity (most of his works are recorded in a book by Jim Bouton, called I'm Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, which I am sure is rightfully out of print; with the exception of the Rader material, the book does little to teach, to move, or to delight).

Doug Rader, the Red Rooster. You couldn’t have missed him at spring camp in Yuma. He was the one walking around with a blue baseball bat sticking straight out of his back pocket.

Wild Pitch

Sandi is a waitress at B.B. Singer’s restaurant, next to the Central Plaza Inn, where the team stays in Phoenix. Her beauty would not be out of place in the Louvre. She brought me coffee, then a refill thirty minutes later. After I asked for the check, she was another twenty minutes in bringing it.

“You must be very busy this morning, what with the ballplayers and all. You know, it gets very lone. ...”

“Sorry about being so slow. The breakfast shifts here are the worst. If I hear one more guy tell me about how lonely things can get on the road. I’ll flip. And if one more guy says I’m a 10 or that I remind him of Bo Derek, I may just accidentally spill hot coffee all down his uniform! Sometimes I wish they never invented numbers.”

Foul Ball

Since it is an ideal place for a foul-ball hunt. Desert Sun Stadium in Yuma must have been designed with kids in mind. They are free to roam, having almost unlimited access to those areas where hitters spray their errant efforts.

Probably the most impressive off-the-field performance occurred when a boy no more than six or seven years of age slid under the legs of a grown man, scooped up a bounding ball with the deft precision of an Ozzie Smith, and then raised it high in the air with a look of proud, defiant triumph.

The parking lot is another matter. It is so close to the field that it resembles a pond on opening day of duck season. Long foul balls rattle through autos and RVs with haunting alacrity. One fan, after hearing a ball ricochet off chrome and glass, announced proudly, “My car is parked between two trucks. If a ball hits it, it will have been an act of God.”

Slider

The Padres' new second baseman Dave Cash is an intense and an articulate man. He has his play divided into acts and scenes. When I met with him, I was interested to hear about what it meant for a player and his family to relocate in a new area.

“For me personally, moving to the West Coast could extend my career a couple of years, since I can train out-of-doors all year long. This is a great advantage over living in the East. I’m thirty-one now, and I’ve got to work harder to condition myself each new season. I’ve learned to take care of myself, though, and I eat the right foods. I also do weight training and a lot of running.

“Relocation for my family is a different matter. The fans see professional baseball players only on the field. They expect to find them there, producing day in and day out. And in some ways the ballplayer has no life outside of the game in the minds of many fans. By this I mean, talking about relocation, that a ballplayer doesn’t simply move himself to a new area; he moves his family, too. My daughter Carmen, for example, must make a wholesale change from being a sixth-grader with lots of friends in New Jersey to being a new kid in school. Fortunately, she’s adjustable. So’s my wife Pamela, but nevertheless she still has to find her way around in a brand-new area — find the best places to shop as well as find new things to do when I’m on the road. She likes to know people, and this summer she won’t know that many at first. You know, you don’t read too much about things like this, but they are clearly on every ballplayer’s mind as he moves into a new situation. That plus finding a new place to live, of course.”

Yesterday Ozzie Smith singled to left to open the inning. Dave Cash came to the plate and took two pitches. Smith was off to second on the third pitch, which was way inside of the strike zone. Cash, swinging to advance the runner, chipped a grounder off the bat handle and was out, third to first. Job done. Smith moves into scoring position; Cash completes a successful hit-and-run. My question is this: does it even bother Cash that the crowd often isn’t aware that he is executing the intangibles (like the hit-and-run, or a sacrifice fly) successfully? It must seem similar to playing the tuba in a large orchestra — do it correctly and no one says a word.

“The players certainly appreciate them, and most of the fans actually do, too,” he responded. “This will be a big part of the Padre attack this year, doing the intangibles. Each player in our line-up is there to complement the guy coming up after him. We |Smith, Cash, and Gene Richards, who batted one, two, three in spring campi set the table for the RBI men (Dave Winfield, Willie Montanez, and Gene Tenace]. Our job is to get men on base and in scoring position for them to knock ir. For this game to be played properly, one must think ‘team, then me.’ ”

“The needle keeps sticking on words like team’ and ‘unit’ and ‘good attitude’ around here.”

“That’s right. And if we can keep it there, we will surprise an awful lot of people in this league.”

Pitch-out

According to Jerry Coleman, John “Doc” Mattei. the Padres’ traveling secretary, has “one of the brightest minds in the organization.” Doc, who speaks in a low, nasal voice that sounds like a 78 rpm recording of a bassoon played on 3316, brings his wife into the press box. In gnarled tones he tells her, “Remembah . . .keep saying off de ree-cud . . . off de rec-cud.’

Gopher Ball

The Duke has made it his appointed task to linger around the scoreboard in center or behind the bullpens down the lines and discourage fans from walking their dogs on the field. He arrives two hours before game time, buys a ticket, and goes to work, doing his job for free and watching a game, some say, he knows as much about as anyone.

In his middle seventies, he is as thin as a fungo bat. None of his clothes fit. His baggy, navy-blue pants require a constant hitch-up. and his hip-length windbreaker, which could have been tailored for Orson Welles, flaps in the wind like a small sail. He also wears a baseball cap that would require a carbon-14 test to date accurately. He is not garrulous around strangers, but a bag of fresh-roasted peanuts will loosen his tongue.

“I played baseball maybe fifty years ago. Even pitched against Ruth once, in an exhibition game. There were three pitchers and each got three innings work. The first two pitchers threw away from Ruth, gave him nothing to swing at. He popped up twice and struck out swinging on a looping curveball. I faced him in the eighth. We were ahead. I threw him nothing but fastballs, one after another, till he caught hold of one for sure solid. The game was somewhere in Texas or California, can’t recall right this minute which, and seeing the Bambino — that’s what they used to call the Babe, the ‘Bambino’ — seeing the Bambino poke one out of the park really gave the fans a thrill.

“You know, after a few of those fastballs, I could have chucked a drop ball at the Babe and he would have struck out for sure. But I figured the fans didn’t come out to see some punk kid whiff the Bambino. They came to see Babe Ruth hit a home run. [He giggles.] And he hit one a mile! Looking back, I did the right thing.”

After the ball was over. . .

Once an exceptional defensive outfielder, Al Heist is now the Padres’ third-base coach, teacher of outfield fundamentals, and “Pluck” commentator extraordinaire. This latter distinction requires some explanation. On the team bus. Heist oversees the card game called Pluck, which several of the Padres play with full, game-face intensity.

“How does one play Pluck?”

“Easy. Name a suit trump. Dealer docs that. Play partners. Thirteen total tricks and you gotta make eight. Deuce of clubs starts.”

“Sort of a poor man’s pinochle?”

“Or a rich man’s old maid,” comments pitching coach Chuck Estrada, an avid devotee of Pluck. “You have to follow suit, but you don’t have to trump, so you can slough off.”

“Where does the name Pluck come in?”

“Well, you gotta Pluck ’em,” adds Heist as he begins his easy laugh, which rises slowly out of him like air seeking refuge from the confines of a large tire.

When I asked if the game were difficult, coach Estrada replied, “You have to think, but not to the point of taxing your brains. ” Heist, known as “Captain I” (the Instigator), is a meddlesome spectator, orchestrating the running game in the front of the bus, an epic competition contested by Estrada and infielder Kurt Bevacqua against coaches Dick Phillips and Don (“Monk”) Williams. There are usually other games of Pluck going on as well, and all are punctuated verbally by a common expression, a near-rhyming homonym, if you will, for the name of the game. “Who’s the best Pluck player?”

“Monk Williams is the Amarillo Slim of Pluck,” says Heist, with that sprawling, infectious laugh. But one must question the coach's veracity here, having observed Mr. Williams miscalculate a few times late in the game, opening the way for a last-minute victory for Estrada and Bevacqua, who played “freeze Pluck” until the bus arrived at the Ramada Inn in Yuma. They delayed the deal and took forever to put cards into proper suits in their hands — a masterful demonstration of a “Pluck stall.” all of which Heist commented upon in his own inimitable Style.

Non-Pluck players on the bus either sleep or catch the P.D. show in the back. “Paul Dade is a gem,” says Jerry Coleman. “He can play seven positions, everything but pitcher and catcher. ” Also known as “Blade,” Dade’s ability to play so many positions, as well as his speed and skills at the plate, make him an invaluable asset to the team. His wit makes him invaluable off the field as well. Along with Fred Kendall, Rollie Fingers (“A beloved bitcher,” one player said), and traveling secretary Doc Mattei, Dade functions off the field as a “relaxer”; he tries to keep up the “loose keel” atmosphere.

Dade is a genuine comedian, with the timing and delivery of a pro. On long bus rides, P.D. holds court, bantering away with the other athletes, a surprising number of whom share a good measure of his abilities, providing a needed release from the pressures of the day and the tedium of travel.

Someone derided the paucity of talent from the Seattle area, where Dade grew up — a knowing straight man, no doubt, tossing P.D. a hanging curve.

“I’m from Seattle! In fact, all the greatest ballplayers come from my home town,’’ says Blade, in a tone too serious to be bought one hundred percent.

“Yea? Players like who?”

Dade casts a slow double take at the interrogator, as if such a question could come only from someone who just flew in from Pluto. Then, in an affected voice, as if what he was saying were gospel: “Carl Ray Taylor? How bout Snake Jones?” The court around Dade asks, “Who?” and the bus explodes with laughter.

Highball

Personal habits dictate what an athlete or anyone else does in the evening. The players’ daily routine in spring camp was such, what with morning practices, games — and many worked in both the morning “B” game and the regular afternoon game — that often the most sensible thing to do was relax and rest up for the next day. The team practiced and played baseball from around nine or nine-thirty in the morning to three-thirty or four in the afternoon. Some afternoon games had an extra three or four innings tacked on to them to give pitchers more work. In short, too many nights on the town would intrude on one’s daily routine in visible ways.

Nonetheless, with an eye toward overall coverage of the spring training scene in Yuma. I felt a swing through the night spots of the town was in order. In Yuma, the Padres frequent Chretin’s for Mexican food, and the Stag and Hound, where the carnivores roam and listen to a surprisingly good country and western group called the Dallas Collins Band. The Stag and Hound appears to be a “mellow” place to relax, unwind, and forget those countless wind-sprints across the field. But to me. mellow rhymes with Jello, and not finding quite what I sought in these places — i.e., the atavistical rapture of a junior-level shaman — and wondering if the name of the team was an accurate reflection of their off-the-field behavior, I moved on. I found no Padres, though. Instead I discovered a night town of shanty bars and clubs, a scene where your ship, like Captain Kirk’s, begins to run on “warp” factor, and where slips of dialogue singe your ears in the night.

A young man, with a liver-curdled glow, says, “If Goldwater were President right now, Iran would be one large hole.”

The bartender spreads my change across the counter as if it were a winning poker hand. At the same instant, a totally swacked old codger steps up and asks the assemblage, “Know what hurt Kennedy?”

“No,” the bar replies, a capella.

“Well, I’ll tell ya. It was that broad he knocked off in the bay.”

A gentleman trying desperately to resemble Elvis Presley becomes angry when his lady friend starts talking to a man who looks like Conway Twitty. These boys square off. with maim written all over their faces. The bartender, who is twice the size of both, puts a halt to the whole thing and says, “C’mon, boys. Have a beer and let your core cool down.”

Out Pitch

Desert Sun Stadium in Yuma has an intimacy that is absent from most major league stadiums. One can overhear quiet conversations in detail from several sections away, as well as all comments made by the fans to the players and coaches on the field. This intimacy reveals the humorous and the cruel, often intertwined. Even a veteran player’s wife, accustomed to the fickle nature of the baseball fan, got up in the fourth inning of. a recent game and did not return. She had had enough of the thick, noisy atmosphere of the ballpark.

But then there are other moments, usually after the sixth inning, when the place becomes almost completelysilent, like an eerie cemetery. The causes of the lull are these: six innings in the Yuma sun and wind; the consumption of vast swaths of hot dogs and other junk foods, all washed down with beakers of soda pop and beer. The effect, when stirred by the catalyst of a potential Padre loss, is a hypoglycemic glissando down into the slough of low blood-sugar despond.

It was during one such lull that a Dave Kingman foul ball hit an elderly man solidly on the head. It looked like it might be one of those “quick, get Medevac” moments. But the old man took off his hat and checked to see if there was a dent in it. When he found none, he put the hat back on and refocused his attention on the ballgame and his beer.

This silent lull is brief, however. People soon get a gone look about the mouth and eyes, like a junkie going through withdrawal, and they become surly and vituperative — an ocean of disaffected souls, sun-struck, wind-warped, sugar-seared, a menacing mob. They begin making pronouncements, first about the Padres and then about the world at large.

“Hey Coleman! Why doncha teach them bums the fundamentals!”

“Hey twelve! You smell like dog poogie!”

Someone screams, “Killl the umpire!” and for a flash you sense that the crowd is capable of anything, that this is not merely some old baseball cliche but a fact, a disturbing piece of knowledge.

The public-address announcer even jumps into the spirit of things. If a player fouls one off, the announcer says, “That was a foul ball,” giving foul about three syllables and making the whole thing seem like a moral issue.

Amid this furor, and amid as well the mad muddle created by the possibility of a strike, salary and contract negotiations, and sheer blind rage — amid all this, sitting in the press box is a Padre fan, who may be the Chingachgook, the last of Padre fans. Like the hitchhiker in the desert (since he was one himself a few miles prior to landing a ride with C.R. Gregory), he has stayed with his team through well-done and rare. Now in the press box, himself a rookie in camp, so to speak, he tries to combat the rising flow of low blood-sugar mania. He screams, “Come on you Padres! Kick ’em hard. C’mon, Winfield, give that ball a cobra slap!”

One of the other scribes turns to him and says, matter-of-factly, “Newsmen should be objective, mac.”

Without blinking, the rookie reporter says, “Bull. Haven’t you heard of Heisenberg? The Uncertainty Principle? No such thing as objectivity. Heisenberg got rid of that sludgy old bromide sixty years ago,”

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