it all started when i lost my job at willie’s drive in tacos.
not that losing the job was a surprise.
willie had told me months before that when his nephew graduated from college the job was his.
i knew that. and i should have been looking for another job.
but i never got around to it. i was too busy completing my sixth novel - the one that was finally going to get published and make me famous and win the nobel prize for literature.
i finished the novel - titled go piss out the sun - the next day. i packed the six novels, my old portable typewriter, and some socks and underwear into a duffel bag, and went down to the freeway entrance to hitch a ride to the big city.
i didn’t care which big city or if i went east or west or north or south - i would take the first ride that would pick me up.
so i got to down to the freeway entrance and there was a guy already there with his thumb out and i thought i recognized him. he had a suitcase beside him, with a baseball bat and a baseball glove and a pair of cleats all strapped to the suitcase.
it was joe meeley, one of the jocks in high school that i had never hung out with or talked to much. i had never gone out for any sports as i was too busy working after school at willie’s and writing my great american novels.
we got to talking and he told me had been drafted in the 39th round by the chicago capybaras after he graduated from high school but had been cut after one year in class a . but now he was headed to a tryout camp of the new york ravens, hoping to catch on with them.
he was pretty friendly and talkative, and he told me i should come along to the training camp with him.
i told him i hadn’t played any baseball since i was ten years old in little league. but it was obvious he just wanted some company.
i told him i didn’t have a bat or a glove or spikes. he told me that was not a problem, they would have plenty at the camp but most of the guys preferred to bring their own.
and he said i should come along just for the food - “real food, real steaks and pork chops and stuff like ordinary people never even see any more.” he hinted i might want to get a few square meals under my belt before i started hitching to new york or san francisco or mexico city.
i thought that sounded reasonable, and also the training camp might be some good material for my next novel or a short story.
so i decided to go with him.
a farmer came along in a pickup truck and gave us a ride forty miles north on the road to iowa where the training camp was.
after a few more rides - and walking in the rain for over in an hour north of st louis - we got to the training camp just before midnight.
but the camp was closed and we couldn’t find anybody to let us in. we slept under some trees just outside the camp. we could hear laughter inside the camp. it sounded like some serious partying.
joe thought that was a good sign. “those bums will be tireder than us when we get out on the field tomorrow. “ and he fell fast asleep.
after looking up at the night - there were no stars but where do you see stars anywhere these days? - i fell asleep too.
in the morning they let us in, along with a couple of other guys who had arrived during the night. we got to take a shower, and they fed us.
joe was right about the food. i decided i would try to stick it out as long as i could, although i figured they would see right away that i was not even a real jock, and probably send me on my way before noon.
i thought they might ask me some questions about who i was and where i had played, but joe knew some of the coaches and he told them i was o k and that seemed to satisfy them.
i went into the clubhouse and they gave me a glove and cleats and a cap and a t-shirt that said “new york ravens” and i went back out on to the field.
everybody was just warming up, playing catch with each other. joe was already warming up with some guy he must have known from before. one of the coaches he had told i was o k was standing beside them watching them, and they were all paying no notice of me.
i looked around and i saw an asian guy standing by himself, flipping a ball up and down in his glove. i didn’t know if he spoke english so i kind of made signs to him to ask if he wanted to warm up with me.
he told me he was from pismo beach california and his name was dylan fernandez. so we started playing catch, about eighty feet from each other.
as soon as i threw the first ball to him, he laughed and said, “whoa! not so hard, dude! we’re just warming up here!” he looked around. “and nobody is even watching us.”
i didn’t think i was throwing hard, but i tried just lobbing the next toss to him, and he says, not laughing this time, “not so hard!”
so i backed off about ten feet and lobbed another one and he goes, “bro, i’m not wearing a catcher’s mitt!”
at this point joe and his warmup partner and the old coach take notice.
the coach says to me, “throw him another one - nice and easy.”
and i do, and dylan fernandez yelps and says “hey, if he breaks my hand the new york ravens better have a good team of lawyers!”
the old coach looks at me kind of funny, and then at dylan and says, “all right, let me go get a catcher’s mitt.”
all around us the guys warming up stop and look at us and another old coach says to the first one, “what have we got here?”
“looks like the love child of steve dalkowski and the hydrogen bomb,” says the first coach as he goes off to find a catcher’s mitt.