Baseball & the 10,000 Things

Vol. I, no. 1    February 1994

He had a clutch going on me, his free hand up deep under my arm, as if I belonged to him then.
Cream-colored latex gloves and heavy boots. Vaseline on my bicep, his tool-hand pressing a broad furrow into my upper arm, buzz of electricity throwing ink into my skin, the needle a blur. It was, as he said, "like being scratched." Not pain, but a deep centering hum that put tension into your teeth. It did not distress me.

It was my first time, and I found myself trying not to betray the way it felt:
this conceptual intimacy.


"No. Just wired."

Two feet of snow outside, gas heaters exhaling in the corner, losing to the chill.
Me in short-sleeves, letting a stranger scar me for life.

"Who is it? he asks me."

"An old-time ballplayer..."

"What's it mean?" he tries again.

"It's a political thing..."

And it is, and I don't mean to be evasive, honestly I don't, but you see there were these wild drawings all over the walls and I've got blood and ink smeared across my arm and it's fifty degrees in here and I need to pay attention to this very particular kind of fun I'm having these daysówrapping my arms around this new-found smile I wear so often nowóthis fun I'm having, this world I'm learning.

Forty years old, a tattoo parlour, 12th and Wayne. At last I'm a grown-up.
I've got black ink in my skin, got another few thousand books to read, got a high-gloss polish I'm putting to the fluid of my world-view. Got my heroes in a row.

The quiet envelops us, hints of breath in the air, I'm cursing the rotting soul of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, that tension in my teeth. It's been nearly 75 years now since he up and banished eight White Sox for throwing the World Series and I've got the sign, it's clinging to my left shoulder where it can feel my heart thumping away. It was 1919 and cold black ink fell from an American sky. Oh a few of them deserved it, a few of them spent hot hours sweating into the cups of gamblers who were smarter than they were, setting it up and laughing and sneering like weasels are apt to do. Gin, tobacco, and cold hard cash, trading away the dreams of thousands, ideals and innocence that were not theirs. But listen: My boy here, he hit .375, best in the series, had the only home-run, played flawless defense, all this in his blood. I would've taken the money too if my boss were as tight and humorless as Comiskey, my boy just went along, just wanted to play his game, just wanted to hit that ball.

There's books, all the books say it ain't so. But they just don't get it, stuck in the dead rock of archaic laws. It's not my fault, I've done what I can.

So I got the sign on me, cold black ink in my shoulder, a message to no one. Just a small gesture begging justice, a few words to imprint a feeling I have, another passion to add to my string of passions.

And the gloves snap off: "That's it, it's done..." I walk quickly to the mirror, eyes wide open, thinking the word "hard-core." And there, etched into me:
Free Shoeless Joe

"Let there be joy in baseball again, like in the days when Babe Ruth chased an enemy sportswriter down the streets of Boston and ended up getting drunk with him on the waterfront and came back the next day munching on hotdogs and boomed homeruns to the glory of God."

Jack Kerouac, Escapade, July, 1959

Tonight's Line-up:

  1. 2B) Delino DeShields, socks hiked up, remembering the Negro Leagues.
  2. LF) James Gleick, CHAOS: Making of a New Science, hits to all fields.
  3. CF) Joe Jackson, holding his head high.
  4. 1B) Gregory Bateson, 6'8" heavy-hitter, Mind & Nature: a Necessary Unity.
  5. C) Jack Kerouac, beatific author, on his knees.
  6. RF) Archie Graham, in for the endurance.
  7. 3B) John "Inky" Torok, at the hot corner.
  8. SS) Claude M. Fuess, team captain.
  9. P) Rick Lopez, playing hardball.

In the dugout:

The Deep Bench:
  • Sandra MacGlaughlin-Lopez, gamer, fastball to die for.
  • Aaron Lopez, hot prospect, good genes.
  • Lon Sherman, team chaplain, the Church of Saturday Night.
  • Eliot Asinof, Eight Men Out, the book.
  • John Sayles, Eight Men Out, the movie,
    wherein we learn the sad story of Shoeless Joe Jackson.
  • Samuel Beckett, Angel in the Outfield.

"I had a happy life.
I was once a Yankee batboy."

—Scott Nappi, 18, abducted along with a friend in a Nyack, NY carjacking in which both Nappi and the friend were shot. Nappi survived by playing dead, saying he was prepared for death.
USA Today

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