Wild Pitches:: Extra Innings From Out of My League144
Wild Pitches:: Extra Innings From Out of My League144
As a major and not-so-major league pitcher, Dirk Hayhurst has learned to master more than striking out batters. While waiting for his name to be called in the bullpen, he honed his gifts as a storyteller, one the New York Times calls the "best writer in a baseball uniform." In this often hilarious collection of adventures on and off the diamond, Dirk details the intricacies of pulling off an epic team prank, even if it's at his own expense; the art of creating the perfect professional baseball nickname; his comically ineffective attempts at writing romance novels; and the bizarre tale in which a bear gets punched in the face (yes, really). No matter how wild his story, Dirk proves once again he knows that it's all in the delivery.
"I find his writing both entertaining and thought provoking. . .unlike his fastball." —Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays All-Star
"Dirk Hayhurst writes about baseball in a unique way. Observant, insightful, human, and hilarious." —Bob Costas
"Hayhurst delivers an entertaining story for more than just sports fans." —Jordan Bastian, MLB.com
"Hayhurst explains life in the minors and the major leagues like you've never read it before." —J. J. Cooper, Baseball America
"Insight and humor from the pitcher's mound." —Businessweek
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Peanuts Are Not Meant to Fly
In this chapter, I explored two conflicting sides of my life — being a writer and player — and how the struggle to balance them was affecting me. I wanted to go beyond simply telling the world I wasn't going to name names, as I did in the prologue of previous books. I was my intent to let readers see, and hopefully understand, what a stressor it is to write from inside the game. Frankly, writing a prologue that said I wouldn't spill the beans on player's IDs was hard, because there were plenty of times I wanted to! I was tempted to just drop-kick guys right under the bus and watch them get flattened.
However, as things got going, the concept just didn't fit. If you name a player in connection with some negative incident, it turns the whole book into an attack. Besides, as the pages came together, it was plain to see that adding the writerlplayer dynamic would be one plot thread too many for the book to handle and still have a cohesive story. I scrapped it, and chose to plug some of the salvageable sections into other chapters. If you've read Out of My League, you may recognize a few passages in the rough prologue attempt below.
Airplane peanuts are mysterious things. There's just something about eating them when you are thousands of feet above the earth that doesn't apply to pretzels or chemically enriched cheese crackers. It's an abomination of nature, I tell you, for a peanut to fly. God never intended it to do so and yet, here it is, soaring through the air on a cramped red-eye back to Ohio. It's a shame this package of peanuts won't make it there, I'm sure it would enjoy itself it if could. Visit the Rock Hall, catch a Cavs game, get mugged in Cleveland ... Too bad it's got a permanent, unplanned layover in my mouth. Sorry, peanuts, sucks to be at the bottom of the food chain, doesn't it?
Pushing aside the empty nut package, I pulled out my journal and opened it on the tray table. It was a cheap little thing, a Mead notebook bought for ninety-nine cents at some giant discount super center. Half the pages were already filled with sprawling longhand notes and tales of baseball. Just recently I recorded the party that my Double A team, the San Antonio Missions, threw after winning the Texas league championship. I also recorded downing my first beer at the party, how my friend Drew and I went to the top-floor balcony in a stupor and threw paper air planes down into the lobby fountain screaming "Banzai!" and how sick and hung-over everyone was for the bus ride home the next day. There were lots of timeless memories in that notebook, including one written in the margins about how this circus elephant took such a big piss on the Springfield Cardinal's warning track during pregame festivities that the grounds crew had to cover the puddle with Turfface to get the game started. Oh, what memories.
All season long I kept a journal, chronicling events and experiences I would occasionally distill down to a tale worthy of being enshrined on something as monumental as an Internet blog. Funny, the whole reason I kept the journal in the first place was that I might write a book someday, a book that might make a few dollars out of all the blown bets that were my minor league career. Now, I was a Double A champion. My career still had some life in it after all — that is, if my writing didn't get me killed.
Turns out neither management nor teammates liked the idea of my making a side bet on writing, as the ensuing promises of ass-kickings, law suits, and getting fired, should anyone get mentioned unfavorably, made abundantly clear.
Call me crazy, but I kept it up. Why? Well, why worry about getting fired when you don't have much of a job left? Also, once I started, I realized that writing was therapeutic. It showed me a side of myself I never knew existed, and, if you can believe it, writing helped me put my career in perspective — which may be the reason I'm on this plane as Dirk the Champion and not one of the several other planes I could have been on as Dirk the Unemployed.
As I put pen to paper at 36,000 feet, there is a feeling of reverence. I had recorded a whole season that was never supposed to happen. In spring training my career numbers indicated I was headed the way of the dinosaurs. Then, when I started writing, it seemed I would instead head the way of a witch upon a fiery stake. There were even moments I thought I'd do both, like some flaming witchasaurus. Still, here I was, just like those peanuts, someplace I never expected to be. The team no longer wanted me dead, or fired, or burned to death. Plus, I'd earned the right to try to do it all again come next year.
It's tough to compress months of your existence into a few pithy statements that make life seem black and white, since so much of living is what happens in the gray. The 2007 season was an extremely fruitful one for me on the field, but some of the most memorable things were what happened off of it. For example, my brother got sober. That didn't have much to do with baseball, but it did mean one roaring fire in my family life was finally out. Dad was still struggling mentally and physically, and money was always going to be tight, but we Hayhursts know to take blessings when they come. A man beating a lifetime addiction that resulted in hospital stays and jail visits is far above and beyond a minor league championship, and nothing short of divine.
Speaking of divine, there had to be a higher power in play this year because I had a girl waiting to meet me when I got home. I say divine not because I'm the type that believes in celestial matchmaking, but because overcoming the bumbling stupidity that is my normal volley of pickup lines for long enough to get a girl interested is something even Moses, staff in hand, would have trouble executing. We met on the Internet, and our first flesh-and-blood date was scheduled a few days after my arrival.
Maybe my biggest realization this season was how the fantasy of being a professional athlete doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot when it slams into the sober demands of reality. Life has a funny way of showing you what your priorities are, even when you live in a dream world. It also has a wonderful way of teaching you that your dreams, no matter how wonderful, can be blinding.
Yes, there were many good things worth reflecting on during a long plane ride. I'll never forget rushing the field in victory, jumping on the pile of jubilant teammates, watching Ox try to shove a bottle of champagne up Manrique's gassy Mexican ass. The face of that little boy with liver cancer, finding a tarantula in my locker, or watching a mascot try to get that pungent turd flavor from his costume's helmet. It was a season that I thought I'd never be a part of, but now knew I'd never forget.
I was coming home a champion, and I felt good. Now I just had to figure out what the hell it meant. Was there going to be a limo at the airport to pick me up? No. Was there going to be a huge bonus check coming from the Padres? No. An immediate call to the Bigs? No. A ticker-tape parade in my honor, floats, confetti, seventy-six trombones? No, no, no, and hell no. What was there going to be? Grandma, that's what.
Minor league championships sure are fun when they happen, but they don't mean much for the immediate future. I was on a third-class flight back to the split level of doom, with the shaman of evil herself waiting for me with outstretched talons. She probably had the caldron fired up with a fresh bowl of shrunken heads and squirrel meat waiting for me. Sure, she told my parents she didn't want me back while I was gone, but she didn't mean it. She says that every time I escape her. Having someone around to criticize, ridicule, and condemn is just too enjoyable for her. It gives her a reason to live, to keep hoarding groceries, to continue her chats with lawyers about how best to sue relatives. I was an asset to her existence just as much as she was an asset to mine, and a championship didn't change any of it. For all the insight and numerical improvement that happened this season, it was now over.
And I was unemployed. Gloriously unemployed, I grant you, but unemployed nonetheless. I'd been dreading the day I would meet a girl under these conditions. It's bad enough telling a lady I don't really have any career goals other than the big leagues or a book about how I didn't make it there. I mean, Oprah isn't exactly lining up to chat with no-name minor league washouts about how they escaped the terminal swirl around the minor league toilet bowl. Now I had to explain that not only was my roommate a mummified Egyptian queen from the back hills of West Virginia, but also that I was a longshot for anything financially stable.
Oh, and I needed a car. Mine mysteriously died while I was gone. Jesus, was this really my life? Just a second ago I was covered in champagne — now I got no ride, no income, and the undead as a roommate. To grandmother's house I would go, just like someone walking the green mile to the electric chair. I had half a mind to ring my call button and ask the flight attendant if it was it too late to turn the plane around, or at least send it careening into the nearest mountainside.
I could feel the peanut wrapper looking at me, laughing to itself. Sucks to be at the bottom of the food chain doesn't it, Hayhurst? Indeed it does, peanuts, indeed it does. But, there was one thing I had that those peanuts didn't — hope. I may have nothing waiting for me when I get off this plane, but next season I had a real chance at making something of my six-year crucible in the minors. I'd done just about everything a player could do to resurrect himself from the ashes of the sport. Come next year I'd keep pushing, full speed ahead. I'd step off this plane to no fanfare, photographers, or autograph hunters. No one would recognize me walking down the concourse. But I knew the score. A player can do a lot on hope, and I knew that first step to becoming a big leaguer was the one I would take off this plane.
The 2008 season starts today.
Fun Fact: Since I brought it up, I might as well show you some of the pages from my paper journals. I had about seven or eight of them when at the end of the 2007.CHAPTER 2
High School Loser
I'm glad this next excerpt found a home someplace. Hand to God, I must have rewritten it a zillion times, always meeting the same fate. My editors would come back to me saying it was mean, or made me look like a jerk. I was like, "So? What's the point of writing your own story if you can't be a jerk to people every once in a while?" Apparently editors want the lead character to be likable, which I believe I am — and I have Facebook stats to support that — but since they're signing the paychecks, they call the shots.
I think what made me take a sardonic tone in this chapter is the fact that it references my high school, a place I look back at with no small degree of disdain. Like most kids, I hated the place for all the standard reasons of popularity and cliques and asshole teachers. I did have some really great memories there, but those soured after I left, grew up, and came back to discover that while I had moved on, many of the people still connected to my school had not changed at all; therefore their opinion of me had not changed either. This issue was compounded by the fact that I wasn't even the most successful athlete to come out of the town in the recent past (at least not at the time this chapter takes place). Of course, the punk teens there took note of this fact, referencing it during a motivational talk I was asked to give them. I was supposed to be a success story, a living inspiration to them. As you'll see, I inspired them in a very different way than intended.
I thought I gave a solid speech on such short notice. It had a lot of good things in it, the kind of stuff that would sound great if set to theme music and spoken by Danny Tanner. It was wholesome, honest, and motivating, a regular group hug of timeless inspiration. By golly, if these kids didn't get something out of my heart and soul laid bare for their benefit, then they were delinquents beyond salvation.
I casually paced around the assembly of teenagers, letting my words settle on them. Truly, it was a lot to soak in: the value of hard work, integrity, and never giving up. I'm sure their silence denoted the depth to which they were rending their souls to apply the message. Speaking to these eager young minds brought me back to my high school days. I was not only the baseball team captain but also the speech and debate team captain. I got some flack in the jock world for enjoying the fine art of public discourse, but now it was paying dividends in the lives of our future leaders.
I was supposed to be working legs in the school's weight room right now, but I couldn't pass this up. Rocky Balboa may have made training in less than desirable conditions look noble, but I just made it look pathetic. My old high school is a World War II relic that looks and feels every bit its age. The inner brick is that rancid green and yellow color combination that reminds you of puke, and the air smells like bad memories mixed with teenage angst. I hated going back. Walking through the doors of the place was the ultimate admission that life as a pro didn't turn out the way I thought it would.
Most of the time I came to work out, I tried desperately to make it from the entrance to the weight room without running into anyone. That's because walking around the halls of your high school when you're a star varsity player is one thing, but walking around the halls of your high school when you are nine years removed because you lack the means to move on with your life is another.
The less I have to explain the honest details of my pro existence, the better. Today, however, I was asked by one of the guidance consolers to speak to a group of students in place of another speaker that couldn't make it. I agreed because I felt I had something to say about the trials and tribulations of the real side of our dreams, and because it would finally give me a way to convince the children currently lining Canton South's halls that I was not a crazy man that wandered in off the streets, or a janitor that was supposed to help with cleaning up vomit.
I knew they'd have questions and I made sure I left time for them at the end. I was, after all, Dirk Hayhurst, one of the greatest baseball players in the history of Canton South High School, who set an innings pitched record, earned league MVP honors, and went to prom three out of four times.
"So, does anyone have any questions?" I asked, magnanimously.
A heavyset girl with dark clothes, dark hair, dark fingernails, and dark makeup stirred in her seat. She looked like the kind of girl who sewed skulls into her backpack and wrote poetry about how depressing things like sunshine were — a troubled youth, struggling to find purpose in this broken establishment we call modern education, with its caste system of popularity. I envisioned her set adrift in a turbulent sea of airbrushed models and pop star princesses, holding on to a message of truth and value. Ask me your question, dear misunderstood flower, for my message is for those like you.
"Yeah, so," she began, adjusting the studded collar on her neck, "since you're not famous, can you tell us about someone who is?"
"I'm sorry, I don't really understand what you —"
"You're like a minor leaguer, so you haven't really made your dream come true, so do you know anyone who has?"
"The coming true part really wasn't what I was gunning for, it was more the idea of getting something out of the journey."
"So you're saying as long as we get something from the journey, it's okay to be failures? How is rationalizing why it's okay to fail inspirational?"
"Wow." I took a breath, "Does anyone without a love for the undead have any questions?"
A blond lad with a crew cut shot his eager hand up. I called on him.
"How much do you get paid?" He asked.
"Around ten thousand dollars."
"Oh my gosh," He blurted, "Ten thousand dollars a night!"
"Uh, no, a year. That's ten thousand dollars a year, before taxes," I corrected.
He seemed confused and took a moment to conference with his compatriots on the matter. Looking back to me like he'd solved the issue he asked, "That's because your signing bonus was so high, right?"
"What do you mean?" I returned the volley.
"You got the rest of your millions in your signing bonus, right?"
I almost choked myself laughing. Millions? Millions! I almost had a party to celebrate my salary finally reaching double digits after five years of indentured baseball servitude! Where did they get these numbers?
"No, no," I gently corrected, "I don't make millions. Only the big guys make millions."
"But Coach Stone's son got $750,000 to sign."
At the mention of that name, a ball of acid hit my stomach. Coach Stone was my varsity baseball coach, and his son was a star prospect recently drafted. My comparison to him was a part of my life I wished would remain buried.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wild Pitches"
Copyright © 2013 Dirk Hayhurst.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Wild Praise for Dirk Hayhurst,
FOREWORD by Keith Olbermann,
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR,
ONE - Peanuts Are Not Meant to Fly,
TWO - HIGH SCHOOL LOSER,
THREE - BLACK FRIDAY,
FOUR - IN PLAIN BLACK AND WHITE,
FIVE - MEETING DON,
SIX - Underwear, Peanut Butter, and Dave Roberts,
SEVEN - SMOOTH OPERATOR,
EIGHT - BONNIE IS A KEEPER,
NINE - COW GIRL OFFERS ME A RIDE,
TEN - TRAINING THE TRAINER,
ELEVEN - DRESS FOR SUCCESS,
TWELVE - BEAR PUNCHING,
THIRTEEN - She Works Hard for the Money,
FOURTEEN - What It Takes to Get to Japan,
FIFTEEN - THE GIRL WITH NO ARMS,
SIXTEEN - PLAYER'S WIFE,
SEVENTEEN - THE 2008 PORTLAND JOURNAL,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
OUT OF MY LEAGUE,