I am pleased to report that the novel is done and is in the publication process. As soon as it is out, I can have my life back. Well, I’ll have to market it, but that sounds like fun to me.
Anyway, I thought I’d give you a teaser of sorts, in the form of a chapter that was removed “because it didn’t move the plot,” as my esteemed editor, Rick Hurd, told me many times as we were trying to whittle it down from 465 pages to 330+.
In this scene, my character and starting pitcher, Larry Gordon, and his buddy, Rick Wycliffe, a relief pitcher, are in Seattle for the start of the baseball season. They flew up a day early and have some time to kill. After going up to the top of the Space Needle and eating lunch in the revolving restaurant, they walk towards the downtown area and come upon the Pike Place Market. Here is what happened there:
Rick and I continue south along the Seattle waterfront until we come to the Pike Place Market, an old fashioned wharf-side fish market that sells more than just things from the sea, and we decide to wander in and have a look.
We pass stalls decked out in the vibrant colors of vegetables, berries, fruits, and flowers in a rainbow of hues, and booths that sell candy, aromatic coffees, teas, spices, and ice cream. Our noses are greeted with a strong aroma of cinnamon as we approach a lighted case containing warm sticky buns that make our mouths water. Even though we just ate dessert, they smell too good to pass up, and we buy one to split.
Next door is one of the fish mongers, and something flying catches my eye. Rick and I move to the left to watch a guy tossing a large silvery salmon to another guy at the other end of the stall. He lays it out on the crushed ice heaped on a slanted display shelf at the front of the stall.
We watch several more flying fish, and I can see by the expression on Rick’s face that he’s hatching something. He gives me an evil look. “Hey, bro. If you ever get injured and can’t pitch, I bet you could get a job here.” He pauses for a second for effect. “Nah, you’d never do it,” and gives me a jab in the ribs.
“Who says?” I rub my side and wink at Rick. After a few seconds, I vault quickly over the barrier between the stalls and land in front of the flabbergasted fish tosser, “Can I try that?” I ask.
I’m sure this guy in a bloodstained apron and wool fisherman’s cap thinks I’m a raving loon, but he says, “Okay, if you want to.” Then, eyeing me quizzically, he says: “You look familiar. Do I know you?”
I say in a low voice: “That guy over there is Rick Wycliffe and I’m Larry Gordon. We’re in town with the Renegades to play the Mariners.” Recognition spreads across his face.
Before he can say anything, I say, indicating Rick, “He bet me I wouldn’t do this, and I want to make a liar out of him. Can you help me out here?” I put on my most appealing boyish smile and hold out my hands.
He looks at me dubiously but decides to go along with the program. He hands me a somewhat cleaner apron than the one he is wearing, which I slip over my head. He tells me to turn around and wraps the apron strings around me so I can tie them in the front. Next he holds out a pair of long rubber gloves and I slip them on. I don’t want to think about what kind of fish guts are inside them.
Then he retrieves a huge glistening salmon from a crate behind him and places it into my gloved hands. He calls down to the guy at the other end of the stall, “Hey, Mike, incoming!”
Mike yells back, “Ready when you are, Chuck!”
“Go for it!” Chuck says, and stands back to give me some room.
I make sure I have a good grip on the slippery fish, take a few practice swings to get the feel for its weight, and launch it into the air in Mike’s direction. He deftly catches the salmon, places it carefully next to the previous one and gives me a thumbs-up. The few people who saw me vault into the stall start to clap.
Chuck hands me another silvery fish, and I fling it toward Mike who lays it out next to my first fish on the ice. I look over the counter to find Rick. I see him standing behind the burgeoning crowd, shaking his head, but smiling.
I turn back to Chuck who thrusts another fish into my hands, clearly amused by this whole scene. I send it on its way, a perfect strike, right into Mike’s waiting hands. This is a piece of cake, I think. Much louder applause this time. We’ve drawn quite an audience.
After a few more perfect pitches, I hear murmuring in the crowd. Uh-oh. I bet we’ve been found out.
“Thanks for the fish-pitching lesson,” I say to Chuck. “It was fun. But we’ve got to get out of here.”
I peel off the gloves and the apron, thrusting them at Chuck, and jump back over the barrier to more applause. People are now pointing at me. I sprint to Rick and we take off away from the crowd before Chuck can confirm who we are.
We emerge into the sunlight, put our sunglasses disguise back in place, and dissolve into hysterics. It feels like the time when I was a kid, and my best friend and I reduced a neighbor’s ancient grape arbor to kindling by pulling it apart with our bare hands. When we heard a car pull in the driveway, we snuck off through the adjoining back yards, and no one but us ever knew who had done it. We chuckled about that in secret for years afterwards.
Rick and I head back toward the hotel with a bounce in our steps, and he teases me about how fishy I smell now. In all my current turmoil, it sure was nice just to goof around for a while. Rick and I used to do this a lot when we first met in A-ball, before he got married and baseball got so serious.
We duck into a bar for a beer along the way and thank our lucky stars that no one we know was on hand in the Pike Place Market to witness our shenanigans. Rick says, “You know we could never get away with anything like that in the Bay Area.”
“Yup. It’s one of the few benefits of being on the road. We can go out in public,” I say, and chug the rest of my beer.
Rick and I decide to grab an early dinner at a small restaurant near the hotel. It’s a little hole in the wall place but the menu posted outside looks promising. In honor of my fish-pitching exploits, I order salmon, which is delicious. Rick has Alaskan King Crab legs which are huge and very messy. His Dead Head tee shirt will never look or smell the same again.
We pay the check and walk back to the hotel completely contented. He heads off to his room to call Cindy. I crawl into my bed and bury my head in my Michael Crichton novel until the oblivion of sleep claims me.
* * *
Hope you enjoyed this little vignette. BTW, the pictures are not in the novel. I just wanted to break up the text for the blog.
I’ll keep you posted on the publication process. The book should be avaliable sometime before the baseball season starts.
Bay Area Teams Swept: The A’s and their counterparts across the Bay were unceremoniously swept over the weekend. I had hoped for a win yesterday for A’s 21-year-old rookieTrevor Cahill against Eric Bedard, especially after the very expensive Seattle hurler had such a mediocre season last year, but it was not to be. Cahill pitched a terrific game through 6+ innings, only giving up a run, but it was one run too many. Bedard was lights out, living up to his pre-Seattle reputation.
Red Sox in Town: Tonight the A’s begin a series at home with the Red Sox and as usual the Coliseum will look more red than green and gold. Red Sox fans–at least those who come to A’s games–are some of the most rude and obnoxious fans I’ve ever encountered. Unfortunately, A’s fans get sucked in and give as good as they get. It doesn’t make for a pleasant evening at the ballpark and I avoid these games like the plague.
A Leftover Post from Spring Training: I wrote this on the plane coming home from Spring Training at the end of March. It got sidelined once the season started and in all the sadness over the death of Nick Adenhart. Since there is nothing much to celebrate after a weekend of losses, I have decided to put it in here–a positive note for a change.
On March 29th before the Colorado Rockies game (the subject of my “Speed Guns, Testosterone and a Snafu” post below) I drove out to the Minor League Camp at Phoenix’ Papago Park. I parked the car under a Smoke tree, and walked in towards the playing fields. Here the players in the A’s organization who are invited to Spring Training–from Single A through Triple A–work out in the mornings and play intra-squad games after lunch. It was a slightly overcast morning in the seventies with a light breeze to keep things very comfortable.
I was astounded that there were exactly 5 people in the whole complex who were not players, coaches or groundskeepers. A guy sat in a beach chair munching on chips and watching the Triple A field from about 30 feet away. Across the way, an older couple and a woman on a cell phone sat on the metal bleachers at the Double A field. The fifth was yours truly.
I had come on a mission: to talk to “my guys,” three A’s minor league pitchers whom I had interviewed in October of 2007, when they were playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. At that time I was doing research on the life of a professional ballplayer for my novel, “Contract Year”, which is now “finished”–is anything ever finished? I wanted to say hello and catch up with them.
The first one I found was James Simmons, a lanky right-handed pitcher with a dazzling smile, who was drafted 26th overall by the A’s in the 2007 MLB June draft, and who commanded a seven-figure signing bonus from the A’s. For the last two seasons, he’s pitched for the Double A Midland Rockhounds in the Texas League, completely bypassing all rookie and A ball levels. He’s playing at Sacramento with the Triple A River Cats this season.
I asked James how he felt about Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson (both drafted the year after Simmons) getting an opportunity to play for the A’s this year. He said, “I’m not ready yet. There are still some things I need to work on. I’m fine with it and they deserve it.” Now there’s class!
While I was talking to James, Jeff Gray, another RHP who pitched for the River Cats last season strode up with a big smile on his face and extended his hand. He’s the oldest of the three at 28, and I had hoped he might break camp with the A’s this spring. Joe Stiglich, the A’s beat writer for the Contra Costa Times and other Bay Area News Group papers, told me that the A’s are “high on him,” but he’s going back in Sacramento to start this season.
I had to go looking for the last guy, Brad Kilby, a LHP who has pitched for Sacramento the last two seasons. I found him sitting on the bench next to the water cooler, staring at the paper cup in his hand . A man of few words, he’s also back in Sacramento for another season.
I have been following the careers of these three ballplayers from Double A to Triple A, and in Jeff’s case to the A’s. Last September Jeff got a “cup of coffee” in the majors, when the A’s called him up after rosters expanded on September 1st. He threw 5 innings in relief with the A’s and I got to see him pitch two of them in person. These guys have been invaluable to me in terms of my understanding of what minor league ballplayers have to deal with: playing for peanuts, climbing up the minors, hoping to get called up, and dealing with the fact that so much of their fate is out of their hands.
I brought a copy of my book with me and gave it to James to read. The other two will read it after James is finished. James, bless his heart, agreed to write a blurb for the dust jacket when the book is published.
I must confess that my heart was aflutter standing around talking to these good-looking very fit young men who are living the dream I would have aspired to in my youth if I’d had a Y-chromosome. They are all extremely nice and enthusiastic, and I am honored to call them my friends.