Go Pro Baseball Wise: Minor League Memories

Contact

In August pro players in the minor leagues worry about winning, Instruction League, stats, injury, and the possibility of release.


"The rookie season in the minor leagues is the foundation of the pro baseball career. It's a time to listen and learn, and make adjustments."
— Joe Maddon,
Bench Coach, Anaheim Angels

Home

Now I Know How Casey Felt
Memories of a Minor League Season

< Previous

Chapters

Next >

FIVE: The "dog days of August" shouldn't happen to a dog! (July 31-August 13)

SATURDAY, JULY 31…SUNDAY, AUGUST 1

Don Davis of "The Union Bulletin" summed up the two game series as, "…the pitching and hitting of the A's was too much for the Padres to handle." Medford started Saturday's game the hard way. Godwin struggled in the first inning. He threw thirty-six pitches and gave up four runs. Despite Medford's valiant efforts, that was all the Mariners needed to win. Bathe homered. Graham, Glick, Eppard, and Rojas each singled and stole a base. Jeff McDonald pitched five relief innings for the Mariners for his third win. Final score: Bellingham 4 - Medford 3.

Sunday, they turned up at the park early for the afternoon game. They didn't have to catch the bus for Walla Walla until the next morning, and the prospects of a night off after this game had them all excited. It was cold, cloudy, and foggy. The position players had the longest BP they'd had all season while the pitchers ran in the outfield, apparently discussing something important.

"Did you know Richard Simmons has declared Friday, August 13th as National Lefthanders' Day?" Vela asked Jeff Kaiser.

"It's about time we started getting some respect," Kaiser winked, "but does it have to be on Friday the thirteenth?"

Near the batting cage, "By the way," Strom began his usual chatter, "I want to thank the one who put the atomic bomb in my cup before workouts yesterday. If I'd have known, I'd have put the thing on backwards 'cause the heat could've done some good that way."

On the other side a group that had been watching him started laughing. "I wondered how long it would take him to bring that one up."

"Phil, you gotta admit it was perfect timing! When you said you were going in to change your cup, I ran ahead of you and rubbed it with Deep Heat hoping you'd notice it after you started running the bases.

"I think you have a good chance at making it as a dancer if baseball doesn't work out for you," another chimed in. "What do you call that jig you did out there?"

"Man," Phil smiled, "I didn't smell it or anything but when I got on first base and saw how you were all watching me, I felt the heat. I tried to pretend nothing was wrong, but I just couldn't pull it off."

Phil Strom loved to joke around and was one of those guys who could take it as well as he could dish it out. He gained the nickname "Opie" as in Opie Cunningham from the old Andy Griffith Show, because of his freckled smile. He was also called "Harmon" because of his hitting. His humor was as much a part of that season as the road trips.

At the same time he was a real enigma. Although he could HIT the baseball with the best of them, he couldn't PLAY baseball. He was a one-tool player who was probably playing his final season as a pro, and he knew it. But that didn't stop him from making the most of every game.

The weather didn't improve for the game, but Medford made the sun shine on themselves. Pitcher Mike Gorman gave another first rate performance. Despite a couple of fielding lapses, the team came away with win number 29 against 10 loses. Final score: Medford 5 - Bellingham 2.

Once on the bus heading back for the motel, Dennis Rogers told them the bus would leave for Walla Walla at 8 A.M. sharp. He concluded, "Remember, don't be cocky, be classy. Midnight curfew."

"Where'd you guys go last night?" Bathe asked Jeff Kaiser. "Pete, Ray and I went to a nice little place on Bellingham Bay, enjoyed the sights, had a nice meal and a couple of beers and went to bed early. We figured that was as close as we'd get to the Pacific Ocean until we get to Oakland in a couple of years. Bellingham's a nice place."

"Who's got my book?" another asked. The book Five O'Clock Comes Early by Bob Welch was passed around all season. Another popular read was The Bronx Zoo by Sparkie Lyle.

MONDAY, AUGUST 2

Jim Good was the one-man welcoming committee when the bus pulled up in front of the motel in Walla Walla. "Sorry you guys had to spend the day bouncing around on the bus," he laughed. "Gee, the stewardess treated me like a king on my one hour flight here from Medford."

"Eat it," a chorus rang out, then they all deposited gear in their assigned rooms and took off to get food.

Looking back, I'm sure the Padres would have been much happier if the A's would have stayed in Medford. The final seven innings were played in the rain after most of the 141 fans left. Jeff Kaiser literally floated to his fifth victory. Medford bats gave him 15 hits and 14 runs. At the end of the fifth inning, an official game, the A's were ahead 7 - 0. There were less than 20 loyal fans left in the stands. The field had puddles and mud slicks. It was miserable. It was lucky none of them got hurt out there. But the umpires refused to call the game. Final score: Medford 14 - Walla Walla 5.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 3

They all slept later than usual. By their noon checkout Jackson had collected all the dirty uniforms and headed for the laundromat. All their gear was crammed into two rooms and they were in clusters at the tables around the little pool. They'd read all the papers. They were restless.

"Ah-h-h-h-h, I don't believe we're finally gonna get a day off tomorrow, " Vince Bailey started. "Not sure what I'm gonna do, but it will be something we can't do on a workday, you can count on that."

Hooker said he was gonna eat and eat and eat, then swim in the sun. "Wouldn't Dennis Rogers flip if we did that on a work day!"

"Wanna go do something when we get back to Medford?" Gorman asked Kaiser.

"Not sure how much time I'll have. Tomorrow's my turn to change the oil in the car."

"I have a better idea," Gorman chided. "Why not keep the oil and change the car?"

"Aw nuts!" Strom exclaimed. "I'm going over to that two dollar matinee across the street to see E.T. Who's coming with me? It starts in half an hour. He eventually conned a handful of players to go with him.

The game drew one of the largest crowds at Borleski Park. The Padres didn't seem eager for it to begin, especially since Eric Barry was the scheduled pitcher. Most of the A's just wanted to get the game out of the way so they could either get to the All-Star Game or back to Medford to enjoy their second and final day off.

Success was addictive, but didn't keep them from being physically tired and mentally dragging. One goofy play in the game threw a spotlight on their fatigue.

In the fourth inning Jim Eppard was on first and Tony Laurenzi on second. When Bob Bathe hit a sharp single through the hole Epp ran full speed ahead all the way to third base…where Laurenzi was already standing. There was no choice. Laurenzi was forced to make a mad dash for the plate. He got nailed ten feet short.

They won the game in spite of themselves. They got fourteen hits and scored nine runs. Final score: Medford 9 - Walla Walla 0.

The sportswriter for the Walla Walla newspaper joined the parade of those in the Northwest League who praised the fetes of Eric Barry. He'd allowed only 60 hits and 12 earned runs in 81.1 innings for an ERA of 1.35, the best in the league. He also had the best walks to innings pitched ratio among starters with 26, and the most strikeouts, 64.

They showered at the park and boarded the bus. Before it pulled away, Rogers excused the driver and chewed them out for twenty minutes. It was the only time in the season when he did that. "You all embarrassed me up here. Your conduct was cocky for both games. I know we're all tired. I know we still have a month left in the season. I know we've won 12 out of our last 16 games. I know the fans and the groupies are coming to see us as much as their own teams."

He paused and looked around slowly. "But right now I don't care about that and neither should you. You're successful here and you know it. But don't lose sight of why you're here. The Northwest League isn't your goal. You've got to learn to harness your emotions. Believe me, that's important to learn at this level if you expect to progress. Don't EVER think you know it all."

Players later told me that Dennis Rogers had the most serious expression they'd ever seen. He was obviously furious with them and disappointed in them. It was late. The bus pulled out and everyone slept. No cards on this trip. A few hours later, when the bus got to the motel in Eugene, Rogers walked down the aisle of the bus and woke up the players who'd stay to play in the All-Star Game. Ten minutes later the bus was back on the freeway heading toward Medford.

Although the anticipation of the day off and the game was more than the actual events themselves, it was a much-needed break in the regular routine for all of us. It allowed for some mental R & R. It was a time to re-examine individual goals and evaluate individual progress.

In my opinion, this was a more difficult task for the Medford team than the rest of the league because, as a team, they owned the NWL. They had to remember that their place in the league standing was only about the team goals and not their personal ones.

It gave me some time to think, too. To my surprise, I realized that a strange thing happens when you're on a team that travels every couple of days and even the team's hometown isn't home. They were far away from family, friends, and that special girl. The local groupies who were always available were only temporary solutions for the few who took that road. Although there was very little time for any of them to actually be alone, they were lonely.

The daily pressures of the games followed by nightly reports to Oakland were a constant source of stress, especially for those who weren't doing as well as they'd planned. They were living under the microscope they'd been warned about. They were a team on the field, but on their own time they separated into individual cliques generally based on where they were from or the positions they played. Even more obvious, was the division between those who took this experience seriously and did what was needed as a foundation for a major league baseball career, and those who preferred life in the fast lane.

In addition to all that, they experienced a loss of connection to the real world. Many times they didn't know what day of the week it was or what town they were in, and it really didn't matter as long as the bus got us to the park in time for the game. It was a gradual, unconscious thing. They began commenting about the boring lives of the "regular people," as the players called them, who were stuck in the "nine to five routine" they so fiercely resisted. Players, after all, slept during the day, worked at night, and often traveled during the night. A complete flip-flop of normalcy.

However, most of them had come to the realization that the adjustment to all those things was their primary job in the Northwest League if they wished to progress in professional baseball.

Davey Lopes, former ML player, 16 seasons; former manager, Brewers: "Everyone pays so much attention to the high salaries of a select few of all the ballplayers in the major leagues. They complain about it with no attention to the personal sacrifice and poor salaries earned early in the minor league phase of the career. Living on $500/month, all the travel taking us away from home, a lifestyle forcing us to be night people. It's odd. Some have a few years of limited income followed by a limited amount of years one can play. And all this is always with the fear that one injury could end it. The organizations make minor leaguers live in glass houses. People make us into idols or heroes or whatever, and we're only doing what we do best to make a living. They don't even realize the pressure that adds. But it's all part of being a professional baseball player."

THURSDAY, AUGUST 5…FRIDAY, AUGUST 6

The team was reunited for the Thursday night game to host Walla Walla for two games. They learned they'd skip BP and do infield only, which meant they had a free half hour before taking the field to start the night's work. They sat in the shady reserved seats.

"What? That game ended in a tie? The so-called All-Stars for the whole league couldn't beat the Ems?"

"Nope." Laurenzi smirked." They called it after nine. It was a ten-ten tie. They did it so we could get back to our own teams for today's game because they knew you guys couldn't win without us." He waited for laughter to his "joke." None came.

"They had a dinner for all the players before the game. Besides players, there were scouts writers, too." Strom reported. "The best part of the night came when we first got there. Dennis was already sitting at the head table all by himself going over his notes. We were all waiting for things to begin. So Ra-Renzi had the waiter take a note to him. It said. 'So, we see you're sitting up there with all your friends.'"

"And your namesake, Harmon was there. Don't forget that."

"Didn't you think Doc looked impressive out there?"

"What happened? Somebody get him?"

Myers began, "It wasn't me, but I wish I'd thought of it. Ya know how his clothes always look stained and stuff. Well, he showed up at the park in a sparkling white trainer-lookin' outfit. Somebody bought him a red snow cone and paid a kid to go on the field before the game and give it to him. The catch was that there were pinholes in the bottom of the thing."

"You should've seen it," Strom leaned back, rubbed his belly and laughed. "He grabbed it so tight the red syrup squeezed out the bottom and dripped all down the front of his whites. Didn't stop him from eating it, though."

"All through the game he kept looking up into the stands to see who it was from."

According to the Eugene paper the next morning, the game was a major disappointment for the 1,911 fans in attendance. "It was one of those games that neither team deserved to win if you consider that the eleven pitchers who made their way to the mound walked fourteen batters. So it was appropriate that the three hour and eleven minute game was called after nine innings."

It went on to say, "What kept the All-Stars in the game in the middle innings was excellent relief pitching by Medford's Ed Myers and Walla Walla's Jim Jones."

"Barry's not listed in the box score."

"Nah, he pitched the day before. But he was there. Gorman started the first inning but it wasn't his best outing. He only went one inning but gave up three walks, three hits, and three earned runs."

"Don't remind me," Gorman groaned. "That was the biggest disappointment of the season for me. But you should've seen Ed here. He threw two innings, walked one and got five strikeouts. How about that for an All-Star performance?"

"I got the collar," Strom sighed. "But Bob and Graham each got two hits. Ra-Renzi and Thoma each got one."

"Hey, can I borrow some dip?" Gorman asked. He'd been trying to quit all season but never quite made it.

"Gonna quit tomorrow," several said in unison.

"I hate to break up this little party," the trainer shouted from the dugout, but your bonus checks got here this morning. You can get 'em after workouts."

"Been waiting to see that check," Thoma signed.

"It's about time. Mine's already been spent," Thoma groaned.

"Whatcha spend it on, a whopper and a beer?"

"Nope. Charged the beer."

Jackson exclaimed, "Man, I'm glad those things finally came."

"What for? You didn't get a bonus," Barry teased.

"Yeah, but now all you guys got money for me to borrow."

A few minutes later Harmon Killebrew walked out of the dugout in an Oakland A's uniform. He had stopped in Medford for this two-game series on his way back to Oakland. He was there in his capacity as hitting instructor. For the next twenty minutes he posed for pictures with each of the players.

Later, some of the players were talking. "Now that I think of it, you're right. We do call Jim Perry and Eddie Mathews 'Perry and Mathews', but we call Harmon Mr. Killebrew."

"Yeah. He has more class and treats us with respect."

He was always good-natured with them. He made them feel comfortable enough to ask him questions and seek tips about their hitting.

The Walla Walla Padres were in town for two games and Medford continued to punish them. The 2,700 fans crammed into Miles Field loved it. Laurenzi went 4-6 and extended his hitting streak to 19 games. Jim Eppard, the league-leading batter, got three doubles and a single. Strom and Good each doubled. Glenn Godwin's complete game performance included thirteen strikeouts. Final score: Medford 14 - Walla Walla 2.

Medford now had a 32-10 record, and led the league by a dozen games.

"About time!" Godwin exclaimed when it was all over. "That's the game I've been looking for all season."

Friday a handful of players went to the park two hours early to work on bunting and a few things. They thought they were the first ones there, but when they went into the clubhouse to suit up, they found Jim Feeley was way ahead of them. "So, Feeley, what's up?"

"You guys didn't forget Bob Feller's gonna be here for our game tonight did you?" Feeley asked. "He's my hero, you know. All my life I wanted to be just like him. That's why I started pitchin'. Will one of you guys let me use a camera if I buy the film?"

Bob Feller was on his annual tour of minor league teams all over the country. He loved minor league baseball and had been in that public relations job for several years. He had stayed in shape and looked physically fit. Still wore his Cleveland Indian uniform. He spent a lot of time chatting with each pitcher, his favorite part of the job. He also posed for pictures with every player who asked.

Before Friday's game, Killebrew and Feller put on an exhibition for the fans. Rapid Robert still had a little left on his fastball, and Harmon Killebrew could still hit it out of the park. So they had a contest. Any player who could hit a Feller pitch out of Miles Field would win twenty-five dollars. Each player would have five pitches. Several tried, but nobody came close. After all the players tried, Tom Colburn went to the plate. He got two homers for his five pitches. The crowd went nuts. To end it, Harmon Killebrew hit five for five. The players said later that it looked like Feller lobbed them in to him. But nobody cared. Everybody had fun.

Later, when Colburn had the fifty bucks in his hand he told them what a thrill it was to hit against Feller and homers were just a bonus.

By game time Medford players were psyched up and ready to win. But Padres pitcher, Jimmy Jones, their number one pick that year, had other ideas. He surprised them with a strong five-hit complete game. He took charge with his first pitch and never relented. Final score: Walla Walla 4 - Medford 1.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 7…SUNDAY, AUGUST 8…MONDAY, AUGUST 9

The bus was relatively quiet and the ride to Bend was relaxed. It was sunny, the team was confident.

"I'm fighting with myself to stay focused on what I need to do tonight," Jeff Kaiser said to Peterson. "I can't put a finger on it exactly, but the shoulder's acting up again and I don't want it to mess with my mechanics. I talked to Dennis and he told me to focus on mechanics and let you hitters worry about winning the game for me."

"That's showing a lot of confidence in you…and in us," Pete smiled.

The bus took them to the condos and they had a couple of hours to kill before being picked up to go to the park. When they stood around all suited up waiting in the parking area for the bus, "Just turn around and I'll write on your back," Bathe said as he filled in some squares on a sheet of paper. "A buck a shot, huh?"

"Yeah. There aren't that many days left and we want to make it worth our while," Graham explained.

"What are you guys up to?" Jim Good asked as he leaned over Bathe's shoulder.

"Decided it's just too boring and what we need is a little action around here," Laurenzi spouted. "Sh-h-h-h-h, this organization sucks sometimes. The guy's playing every day, hitting .800 or something and they're pressuring him to hit for power."

"What the?" Good responded as he shrugged his shoulders. "I'll take some of that action, especially if any of you really think Eppard will get a dinger."

"Who's holding the money?" Strom shouted.

By the time the bus delivered them to Vince Genna Field, the Phillies had completed their workouts. More scouts than usual were clustered behind the plate getting ready for their night's work.

Bailey and Hooker played catch in the outfield. "Man, we grew up that close to each other? I played at Washington High School."

"We must've played you guys. But I don't remember hearing your name."

"Probably didn't," Hooker explained, "'cause I didn't start playing until the eleventh grade and you would've been out by then."

"What?" Bailey exclaimed. "You mean to tell me you never played baseball before the eleventh grade? No little league and all that?"

"I never liked baseball. I was heavy into football and basketball. Then coach talked me into getting a glove and trying out for the varsity. Made it easy."

"Hey homies, let's go!" another player called and they moved up to the cage to take their cuts.

"Well, Harvey, they're in the dog days now. This is when we'll see what they're really made of," one scout said to Harvey Koepf.

"Yep. It's time to start looking for the flowers. The ones who'll rise tall and bloom above the bunch. You see any on this Medford team?"

"Well, I'll tell you," a third scout started. "I've seen this team twice. After looking at their stats, I expected a lot more than I've seen on the field."

"Expected more than what's there?"

"Sure. There's no doubt that as a unit they've overpowered the entire league. But individually, they're older and they're gonna have to hurry if they're gonna make it."

"That's the whole point. They are older. They are more experienced. Oh, they may have one or two prospects here. But most of 'em wouldn't make it in our organization."

"I can see what you mean with most of them. Eric Barry gets all the publicity and has great stats to back him up. What pitcher doesn't want to throw for a team that'll score at least eight runs per game for him? Personally, as far as LHPs go, I like that fella Bob Kipper with Salem and Jimmy Jones in Walla Walla. They're younger. They're more coachable."

"I've been hearing things about Barry being stubborn and not listening to them about his mechanics. All the stats in the world down here don't mean a thing in the overall picture. Nothing's gonna help him if he doesn't listen to them and adjust. He'll just blow his arm out."

"I don't think he'll even reach AAA. Not just his arm, but I hear he's got other attitude issues. So many guys who experience early success believe their own press and let it get in their way. This one looks like he's falling into that trap already. Too bad."

"Yeah, too bad. But let's face it," Koepf said, nodding his head in agreement with the last statement. "The entire league has maybe five real prospects, but I have a hunch a couple of these fellas may fool us if we're not careful."

"Oh?"

Koepf continued. "Personally I tag this kid Peterson as the best prospect here. He's a sleeper now. But that kid's got a chance once he's allowed to play everyday and find his groove. Unfortunately the Medford manager seems to pick his lineup to win games rather than develop these kids. Peterson just turned 21 and he could have a great future. It's unfortunate. Oakland did the same thing last year."

"I heard the Reds were taking a long look at Bathe. Anybody else hear that?"

"We like him, too."

From the All-Star Game until the end of the season the players commented regularly on how many scouts were around and how they seemed more visible than in the beginning.

The game started out shaky for Medford. Jeff Kaiser must have been in more physical distress than even he knew. He started with good stuff but had to be rescued before the first out in the first inning, already behind 4-0 thanks to two homerun taps. The game was a wild one, went back and forth until the top of the ninth. At that point the score was tied then won on a Strom homer. Final Score: Medford 8 - Phillies 7.

Back at the coffee shop at the condos, the Michigan Connection was having a late meal. "I feel real relaxed and not nervous or upset about the shoulder," Kaiser explained. "Thank goodness the come from behind boys won the game and bailed me out with a no-decision. It's kind of hard to explain to you because you aren't pitchers. I mean I didn't like the results of my effort but I wasn't upset about the effort itself."

"It must be nice to be a pitcher," Thoma teased. "I mean, you get to hang with the team all the time, travel to all these great places and stay in beautiful motels, and you only have to work every fourth day."

Sunday they got to the park at noon for the 2 P.M. game. Another chance to play in the afternoon and have a night off. That always put an extra spark in their step. The Phillies trainer, Monte McDonald, invited them to join his team for Baseball Chapel before workouts. He always had a good speaker. Seven players went and said it was a good thirty minutes.

It was so hot the fans didn't show up till the last ten minutes before the first pitch, all 300 of them. What they lacked in numbers they made up in volume. They didn't like the Medford A's who had an 8-0 record against their team, and they weren't shy about letting them know it.

Eric Barry was looking for his tenth win. He had been cocky since the All-Star game and was even worse that morning. Players were glad to see Rogers call him aside because they assumed he was being told to tone it down. However, it didn't work. Barry remained cocky on the mound and didn't even get out of the first inning until he'd given up two runs.

A "typical minor league thing" happened in that inning. Bathe fielded a grounder at third, then overthrew second to miss a double play. He bobbled the ball on the next play, but recovered in time to get the runner at first.

All the while Bathe ignored a loud mouth fan without a shirt who looked like Confucius but sounded like Rocky Balboa. His voice echoed all over the park.

When the next Phillie batter approached the plate, that guy yelled, "Hit it to third base, ha-ha-ha."

When he did, Bathe made a sparkling play for the third out. He took his time walking off the field to the dugout and the entire infield made a point of shaking his hand as they passed him. He was last to enter the dugout.

"Ah, every team needs a guy who can play every position perfectly, never strikes out, and never makes an error. The problem is, how do we get him out of the grandstand?" Bathe remarked after he took his seat. It turned out to be one of his best games at the plate.

But it wasn't one of Barry's best games. Even though Dennis Rogers left him in to get another complete game, Bend beat Medford for the first time that season and he recorded his second loss.

Medford approached the top of the ninth behind by two. Their attitude of "the ninth is mine" was supposed to carry them through. It almost did. They rallied, scored one, but couldn't get the runner home from third base to tie the game. Laurenzi, now called "ICE" because of his attitude at the plate, stretched his hitting streak to 21 games. Final score: Bend 7 - Medford 6.

Monday they went to the park with the "we're the bad boys from Medford" attitude in tact. They had every intention of winning the game. A few of the guys joked around behind the batting cage during BP. Strom decided Good missed out on the great prank they pulled yesterday, and began to explain.

Bob Bathe knew what was coming. He muttered, "Phil, you dog," then moved to the other side of the cage and began swinging his bat over his head.

Did any of you see that hot blonde who sat in the front row by third base yesterday? Bathe had a date to take her for a drink last night."

Good shook his head like this was all news to him.

Strom chuckled to himself. "You really haven't heard about this yet?"

"Come on, what went down?"

"Well, you've been here long enough to notice how Bob is always slow and usually the very last guy out of the clubhouse after games? You know. He has to blow dry his hair and all that other shit he does. He's always so fussy about his appearance."

"Yeah. Yeah," Good nodded. "So?"

Well, Glick hung around till just the two of them were left in there and he took all the after shaves from the shelf and hid 'em. He poured the English Leather down the sink, peed in the bottle, then put it back. It was the only one there, so what could the guy use?"

They looked at each other, smirked, then broke out laughing. "He was all ready to leave, grabbed the English Leather and stopped to admire himself in the mirror then slapped the stuff all over his face. Then he sniffed his hands. Then he sniffed the bottle. BLAM! Smashed it in the sink."

He then laughed so hard he couldn't even cuss Glick out.

The game was a fast Medford victory despite the amount of runs scored. They flaunted their power. Thoma, Bathe, Good, and Strom were responsible for most of the team's runs. Infielder Mark Adamiak led Bend's attack with four hits of his own. Final score: Medford 11 - Bend 6.

The bus ride back to Medford was relaxed. The guys were all tired but they couldn't sleep. After the first thirty miles or so, they quit trying.

Elton Hooker, a favorite in Medford even if he didn't play much, was furious with Dennis Rogers. "He's never gonna gimmee a chance to show 'em. Four innings last week. One game this week. What's the point?"

"Listen, Hook, Bailey tried to calm him down, "why don't you go get into that poker game and let me sit here and think."

"Depends on what you're thinkin' 'bout," Hook argued.

"I'm thinkin' about why you're worried about all this stuff. It ain't gonna do you no good. It's not gonna change anything. Don't let worry interfere with what you do on the field when you do play. That's what I'm thinking about." Bailey turned away from him to look out the window.

The noise from the poker game drifted throughout the entire bus. "You know, Mikki," Good said to Jackson, "you remind me of the black guy who went into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder. When the bartender asked, 'Where'd you get him?' the bird said, 'Africa.'"

Shut up and deal, Jackson laughed.

Ed Myers, Mike Gorman and Jeff Kaiser sat chatting. "No kidding? How'd you find out?" Gorman questioned Myers.

"Well, last week at Walla Walla coach just called me over and said that Barry and I would be goin' to Tacoma to throw some AAA ball in an exhibition with Oakland. Probably pitch with the big A's so they don't have to waste their starters for it."

"In the bigs already?" Kaiser poked him in the ribs. "Why didn't you say something? What a deal. I mean, what a chance to get your face and name out there for the big boys to really remember. And the place will be crawling with scouts."

"I didn't say anything because I'm actually kinda nervous about it."

"So when are you going?"

"Barry told me they're gonna fly us up there Wednesday so we can rest before the game on Thursday. Then we'll hook up with you guys in Eugene on Friday. Barry knows all the details. I'm just along for the ride, you know," he grinned.

"Meanwhile, back in the Northwest League, " Gorman yawned, "I gotta get some rest. I'm throwin' tomorrow."

TUESDAY, AUGUST 10…WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 11

Brian Graham was on the phone. "I don't think any of us has been to bed before one in the morning since we got here. I wake up about eleven and that's when the worst time of my day starts. Get something to eat, turn on the radio…we don't have TV except in the motels on the road…sometimes I write a letter, call my parents, do some wash, and even sit by the pool a little. Everything's boring except for what we do at the ballpark and in the games. Well, you know what I mean."

The rings of the phone before Graham to pick it up woke up Laurenzi.

"You know, back then I thought those things would be fun. Like having nothing I have to do all day long but sit by the pool, talk with the guys, have a soda. But it got old real fast. By two in the afternoon I'm bored stiff. Sometimes I try to take a nap, but I can't sleep."

"You trying to con another chick into coming over here so you'll have something to do on those boring afternoons?" Laurenzi teased.

Graham signaled him to shut up and continued. "Sure I think about what all my friends back home are doing. I'm aware that they think I'm having the time of my life up here. They think I'm out with girls partying every night. Actually, it's almost the exact opposite of that. This is a tough mental process we're all going through. It's different than anything else I've ever dealt with."

When he finally hung up, "Well, you really conned that one. Who was she?" Lorenzi hounded.

"A journalism major from UCLA who was assigned to do a story on me,"

"How'd he get this number?"

"My parents."

Brian Graham always intrigued me. What an amazing guy. He was easily the most competitive player on the field. He was the UCLA athlete who had always known effortless success. It seemed like he wanted to prove all the stuff about the superiority of California athletes was true, at least in his case. Nobody wanted to succeed more. Nobody worked harder. Nobody was more abrasive with his teammates. Nobody was more agitated with himself when he didn't execute. Nobody was harder on himself. Nobody was his own worst enemy more than Brian.

His parents, Jack and Jill Graham, were extremely supportive of their three athlete sons. As I recall, Brian was the middle brother between Aaron and Louie. Brian talked about how his dad converted their entire backyard in El Cajon to a batting cage for the boys. Every night after work, no matter how tired he was Jack Graham made time for batting practice with his sons. He taught them to hit with wood bats. He worked with their swings and stances and taught them a respect for the skills needed to play pro baseball.

Brian wanted so much for his dad to see him make it to the major leagues. However, as things turned out, we were all saddened to learn that he had passed away at the end of that season.

Brian's mom invited me to stop by their home on my way back from Spring Training the following March. I always liked and admired Brian, there's just something about the guy, but that's where I finally came to understand him. The Graham home is nothing less than a shrine to the athletic accomplishments of their three sons. Every wall in every room, including the bathroom, was lined with plaques, awards, and tributes to them from local organizations and newspapers from everywhere. Every table, every flat surface housed trophies and other memorabilia. I'd never seen anything like it. I tried to imagine the thrill it gave the boys growing up. At the same time, I felt the pressure it must have put on them to succeed as professional athletes.

In the clubhouse at Miles Field, "What the hell is this?" Strom laughed at Mike Gorman as they went to the bullpen to warm up before the game. "Why you wearing that?"

"It was on the hook in the clubhouse and Thoma said he was going back to his old uniform. All this talk about number 25 being a jinx is so much bunk and I'm gonna prove it tonight, Shweeetheart," he answered in his best Humphrey Bogart.

"Playing the Salem Angels isn't dangerous here. It's just the Chemeketa thing that's the problem," Strom teased.

"Oh, crap, what's that?" A loud yell came from the clubhouse. It was the signal that Strom's latest prank had worked. Mashed bananas in Goodie's mitt.

Mike Gorman kept his word in the game. Nothing jinxed him as he plowed through the Salem batters to earn his eighth win. It was their tenth one-run victory. Thoma went 4-5, and Hooker, Bathe, and Good swung hot bats. Medford had won 19 of the last 22 games. Final score: Medford 7 - Salem 6.

Before the game Wednesday Jeff Kaiser reported to the park early at the request of Dennis Rogers. The park was silent. They sat alone in the shade of the dugout.

"I'm not even going to ask you about the shoulder," Rogers began, "because I can tell by your mechanics that it's strong. Now I'm concerned about what's between your ears." He smiled and looked Kaiser straight in the eye, said nothing, and waited for Kaiser to respond.

"I know my stats don't show much," he started slowly. "I'm certainly not pitching the way I did at Western, but I know I can pitch." Jeff paused and Dennis jumped back in.

"Jeff, you're probably the most intelligent guy here and I know you've given this a lot of thought. What I want to see you do now is the same thing we've been talking about since you got here. Remember the last game and even the last pitch is history. Stay in the present."

Glenn Godwin was supposed to be running sprints. Instead, he stood by the batting cage watching Jim Eppard swing bats over his head waiting for things to get started. "Don't suppose it could rain in the next hour or so, do you?" he asked. "Still twenty games left before I can get back to the beach in San Diego, sip a cool margarita, and check out the latest thing in bikinis with Strom."

Colburn wheeled the grocery cart of balls out to the mound, then yelled, "C'mon you guys, put a little life in it!"

"Yeah, c'mon beeeeeeeeg guys, you can do-o-o-o-o-o eeeeeeet," Godwin shouted as he took off to start running.

Later, as Kaiser headed to the bullpen with his cleats in one hand and his glove in the other to start his pre game warmups, he heard, "WHAT? You BROKE it? You BROKE my game bat?" Ray Thoma shouted and scratched his head at the same time. He was furious.

"C'mon, man, my last one got broke," Hooker moaned. "'Sides, there's no name on it, so how'd I know it was yours?"

"I know it's mine and you knew it wasn't yours. Period." Thoma kicked the broken bat out of his way and stormed off.

"Whew," Kaiser mumbled. "I've only seen Ray that mad one time before in all the years we've played together."

The other players in the dugout scattered like flies. The argument echoed all over the park. Must have lasted ten minutes. Hooker was not about to apologize and Thoma wasn't about to let him off the hook, so to speak. The other players tried to go about their business and ignore it. But the longer it lasted, the louder it got.

Finally, "Hey you two, lighten up. Can'tcha see I'm tryin' to catch a little rest here?" Mikki Jackson shouted as he curled up along the third base foul line using the bag as his pillow.

Jeff Kaiser later told me about this game. "When the game started I took the mound feeling confident. But I was overstriding and my rhythm was off for the first three innings. The Angels had their well-known running game in good order and stole six bases in the first two. I kept thinking about what Dennis said. 'Stay in the present, Jeff,' I kept telling myself. I fought not to let anything break my concentration. When I started getting my foot down quicker everything fell into place. My mechanics, my rhythm, my confidence. All of it was working together. I allowed three hits and two runs in those first three, then pitched six innings of three-hit shutout baseball. I could feel myself getting tougher as the game progressed. I had good control in those final frames like the Jeff Kaiser I used to know. My first professional complete game victory. Can't describe the feeling." Final score: Medford 4 - Salem 2.

"We stayed out late that night at the pizza place," he continued, "and I couldn't keep up with all the mugs of beer being put on my table. I also discovered another advantage of being a southpaw that I hadn't considered before that game. Shaking hands puts no strain on the old pitching arm."

"I remember someone asking me about the impact of this game on my ERA. It was 6.81 before the game. So nine innings with two earned runs should help some. A complete game was my first goal. Now I've got to get that number down as low as possible before it's over."

THURSDAY, AUGUST 12…FRIDAY, AUGUST 13

Everyone was on the bus ready to get to Eugene for the two games with the Ems. Rogers did his usual nose count. "Where's Glick? Anybody seen Glick?"

Silence.

"Well, he'd better find his way up there and be on the field in uniform by game time or that's that. Let's go."

Everyone knew Dennis Rogers was mad. "Man, I wouldn't want to be in Glick's shoes. He's been on Rogers' 'S List' all season, and this is just the excuse he needs," Good shook his head and made a gesture like someone slitting his throat.

"Yeah. I think people in the depression had it easier than Glick will. And all they had to fear was fear itself," another player whispered loudly.

Kaiser and Peterson sat together. "Kaise, you really impressed a lot of people last night. Sure wish I'd have a couple of good games back to back. It's so hard to be here and not play. Cristy misses me so much and cries when I call her. Then I feel so guilty about the whole thing. Wish I could accomplish things the way you are."

Kaiser answered, "Thanks, but it's already in the past. I can't dwell on it. Dennis wants me to stay in the present and prepare for the next one."

In general the ride was unusually quiet. Strom and Bathe were talking about their season in Medford. "I'm pissed." Strom began, "When Glick has a good game he's so relaxed and happy. But he's always worried that Rogers will forget to put his name back in the lineup. He sure broods when he's on the bench."

"What do you suppose happened to him?" Bathe asked.

"Dunno. All I know is he's been doing a lot of thinking about the way things are going here. I can't blame the guy. Hell. He busts his butt taking extra ground balls and running and the rest. He thinks he's earned a spot and deserves to play. I mean, look at him in a game setting. He IS a better all around player than Graham."

"Has he talked to Rogers?"

"Nah. Says he's gong to every day. Then he says, 'Well, I'll give him one more day to think about it.' The guy doesn't want to be a clubhouse lawyer and cause trouble. You know."

"He told me Rogers told him to consider a career as a utility player. It blew him away," Bathe added as he inserted his dip, which was always an indication that he was finished talking.

"Stinks!" Strom shrugged and looked out the window.

"Guess it's lucky we're only going to Eugene today and not you-know-where," someone grumbled.

Later, when they got to Civic Stadium, there was as Old Timers' Game in progress. "Watch and learn. This could be you in twenty years," they teased each other.

"The way I feel, it could be me tomorrow!"

When the bus finally got to the motel in Eugene, Glick was already there waiting for them. He was all suited up and ready to head for the park and play. But he knew he wouldn't. "Glad you made it," Rogers said to him coldly without showing any expression.

After an abbreviated workout the team stood by their dugout listening to the National Anthem. "Just think, Myers and Barry are listening to this now in the AAA park with the big team," a player whispered.

Rogers penned in John Vela to pitch in Barry's absence. To everyone's surprise he threw six innings of no-hit baseball before leaving in the seventh with the bases loaded, no outs and a tie score. Medford eventually won the game, but it ended up as another no decision for Vela. Final score: Medford 7 - Eugene 5.

Friday morning most players were up earlier than usual. Every booth in the coffee shop that had players in it had papers scattered all over. And all conversations were the same.

"*^$%#$%$%^$!!!!" I don't believe it! They didn't let 'em pitch FOR the big team. They pitched against 'em…and WON! Look. Barry threw six and gave up six runs on five hits."

"Oh boy. If he was a pain before, it's really gonna be fun living with him now," Glick smiled. Good and Bathe nodded in agreement.

Over in the booth by the far window, "Really? Ed pitched three innings? And in one of those, he walked the bases full then struck out the side without giving up a run?" Eppard asked Gorman.

"Says so right here. Just you wait. All he'll do is complain because he gave up the walks." They laughed because they knew it would happen.

"Sounds like Ed," Dave Peterson agreed. "So when are they flying back?"

In another booth, "Says they looked good up there. C'mon, man, relax. You threw a good one last night. Don't let it getcha," Jackson said to John Vela.

"Well, what the hell am I supposed to do? Two pro seasons and I'm still carrying around an 0-0 record." He slammed his clenched fist on the table.

"You hafta be patient. They know you're here," Jackson tried to calm him down. "You call your wife yet to tell her how you did?"

"Nah. Don't want to worry her. She's due to have the kid any day. I should be home with her instead of being stuck here accomplishing nothing."

Ed Myers and Eric Barry flew in on a small charter and were picked up at the airport that afternoon. Players swarmed into the parking lot to congratulate them before they had a chance to put their gear down.

Barry was still wearing the Tacoma Tiger cap they gave him and savored the spotlight. Myers tired of it quickly, shrugged it off, and sought out Mike Gorman to go get a bite to eat.

Dave Heaverlo, former ML pitcher, 7 seasons; former minor league pitching coach: "I was the pitching coach for Tacoma when Eric Barry and Ed Myers came up to pitch for us against Oakland in an exhibition game. I was extremely impressed with them. They showed a helluva lot of poise and self confidence. I told them that there's no difference between you and the big league players except they had the opportunity to get there. So just go out there and do what you're capable of like you've shown everybody else or you wouldn't have been invited here to throw, and you're gonna be very successful. They went out and ended up winning the game. I'll tell you, I've never seen any two young men smile more than they did when they were victorious. It's an experience neither one of them will ever forget."

When the bus pulled up to the motel to take them to the park for their last game with Eugene the weather was exceptionally dark and rain was expected.

"What a lousy day for National Lefthanders Day," Kaiser laughed.

"Hope it pours at the end of the fifth so the game's official and we can get out of here early," one of them groaned. Everyone agreed.

"Oh what the heck? Worst case scenario is that we have to play nine innings to beat them, right?"

They soon found out about worst case scenario! Nobody would remember that rain-drenched game longer than starting pitcher Glenn Godwin.

Godwin had a habit Rogers tried to talk him out of from the beginning of the season. He looked at the batters…almost stared them down…and smiled a kind of smirk before every pitch. Rogers saw it as a terrible habit. Godwin defended it by saying, "It's my style."

Rogers tried to tell him the look didn't psych anybody out. If anything, it made them more aggressive. But Godwin persisted.

In the bottom of the first, Godwin took the mound and gave his smirk to the first batter. Rogers threw his hands in the air in the dugout and scribbled in his little black book.

Godwin threw a lot of pitches in the first. He also made many mental mistakes. He was lucky to get out of it with only one run on the board.

The bottom of the second was a different story. After thirty-five minutes the third out was finally made. Godwin threw over forty pitches, yielded four walks, four hits, and seven runs. It looked to his teammates, the fans, the Ems, and especially to Dennis Rogers, like Godwin had given up. He didn't even try to pitch. He just threw the ball to the plate. Players checked and Godwin checked but there was nobody in the bullpen. It became painfully obvious that Rogers was teaching Godwin a severe lesson. He got himself into the mess and Rogers left him out there to get out of it.

Godwin struggled through seven. Players later guessed he'd thrown at least 125 pitches, walked six, gave up nine runs on twelve hits. Terrible.

Mikki Jackson gave up five more in relief in the eighth.

What else? The team pulled itself together and tried for another ninth inning come from behind rally. Luis Rojas even hit a two run homer. But it was too late. They were too cold, too wet, and too mad at Godwin. Rogers didn't rank high on their favorites list that night either. Final score: Eugene 14 - Medford 4.

The ride back to Medford was tough. Rogers chewed out the entire team. He told them if anybody has decided he doesn't want to be a pro baseball player he could leave right now. But for those who stayed, well, they were expected to learn from this "event" and not repeat it. He said he wanted silence for at least a hundred miles so they'd think over their priorities.

Later, "Sh-h-h-h, I don't get it. If the guy doesn't wanna pitch, what in the hell is he doing here? I mean, he never once took that stupid smirk off his face and he gave up in the first inning."

"Yeah, but we did make five errors behind him."

A lot of nervous chatter about plans for the off season, the girls back home and anything they could think of that avoided the topic of the game went on. In the very back of the bus Glenn Godwin sat alone.
 
< Previous

Chapters

Next >

 
Visit our friends at Baseball Almanac for more baseball history and statistics.
 
Copyright © 1999-2017 by PJ Dragseth Books. All Rights Reserved.
Website hosted and maintained by
Pro Design, LLC