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We Are Taking The Talent: As Told By Former Miami Marlins Scout Ramos Crews by Dylan Little

To paraphrase Bruce Chatwin, the fictional process is at work.

There used to be a pair of trees that jutted over the skyline of San Cristobal, D.R. My bartender Diego said they were called the Hermanos del Fuego because smoke poured out of their heads at night. Sometimes when I was too drunk to tally pitch counts I’d imagine the fat parrots gliding around their branches. Often I spent half the night on Diego’s patio watching them fume and wondering if the trees were hiding some kind of secret toothbrush handle factory. Diego told me it was time to quench my curiosity or he would close my tab.

The day after I signed a thirteen year old for $600 I packed a machete, three mayonnaise sandwiches, and four bottles of Chupacabra Delite and hiked towards the trees. I reached the trees around nightfall. At first they looked like a normal pair of trees but then I started to inspect the trunk. When I scratched the surface the bark flaked apart like wet cardboard. It was perturbing. This tree investigation would be no Woody Woodpecker cartoon. It would be like watching one of the long movies where sometimes you don’t see an ass or a helicopter for an hour. I was committed for the duration.

I wandered around collecting lumber for the sake of heat and light. I had dumped about six handfuls of kindling into a pile when I heard a creaking noise. I silently hid behind a boulder, within eyeshot of the Hermanos. I watched as the trunk of the westerly tree slid open like an elevator door, then slid shut. A few minutes later the Hermanos del Fuego began to smoke and a red beacon began to flash in the canopy, as if from inside a jungle submarine. After a few minutes all the smoke and the lights stopped and one of the trees pooped out a freeze dried cube of paper. I made sure the coast was clear and dragged the cube back to my fire pit. With the heat from my fire I was able to peel off a couple thawed memos. The letterhead showed the logo of the fucking New York Yankees.

Working my way through the cube I found several contracts. These weren’t your typical seven figure butt slaps. The Yankees were sharing ink with Madonna, Pepsi and Godfather’s Pizza. Most of the papers fell apart in my hands like wet toilet paper so I couldn’t make out the alphabetics for shit, but I was able to peel out a complete set of hieroglyphics. When I deciphered the contract code I almost had an angina. Per the written words in my hands, the Bronx Hillbillies were paying Halliburton to genetically manufacture baseball players.

Yep, I got pissed. Yup, I ate all my sandwiches in thirty seconds.

Next thing I know I’m thumbing through a dripping wet series of email exchanges. The subject heading of the email chain was “The Methuselah Project”. The Yankees wanted a lab mercenary (I will call him Dr. Turducken) to mix the genetic material of Jamie Moyer with that of Julio Franco. They wanted create players that would last for thirty years. Turducken said that the genetic material had been realized but there was only a thirty percent chance that a Methuselite would become a professional athlete. There was a sixty percent chance the offspring would be born without elbows. The Yankees wouldn’t listen. They demanded an eternal lineup. It reminded me of the movie where the alien general was desperate to teach the enchanted piglets to invade the earth.

When I discovered that Turducken’s address was Hermanos del Fuego Laboratories my heart began to spasm blood into my eyes. I was a scout for the Miami Marlins. This was our turf. In a decade we had won two World Series but had remained the fourth most popular professional sports team in the tip of our peninsula. We took a lot of abuse. A week after we won the World Series I was denied lodgings at Don Shula’s bed and breakfast. Lebron James keeps on saying the Marlins are his favorite soccer team. We couldn’t afford Jeff Conine. Twice. How could we get respect in South Beach if word got out that the Yankees were manufacturing a dynasty right under our noses? That night, I sat by the fire and got hotter and hotter.

When day broke I heard the pinging of the retractable door. I waited until I saw Dr. Turducken walk out of the tree and I popped out from behind the big rock. He was looking at his cellphone. I cut his head off with my machete. Blood was still spurting when I rolled Turducken’s skull down the hill. I drug his body inside the tree and used his still warm fingerprints to gain access to the laboratory. The industrial fridge was stocked with vials, test tubes, and buckets of genetic essence. I also found some buffalo wings.

While they were reheating, I took a Louisville Slugger signed by Jim Leyritz and made ice shavings out of every piece of glass I could find. By the time my wings were done I had demolished every computer and all of the lab’s centrifugal technology stations. I snapped all of the candles at the Derek Jeter altar. I propped the fridge door open with a trashcan, rendering millions of dollars of genetically engineered sperm completely inert.

On my way out of the tree I got a text saying that we had signed Jose Reyes. It was a great feeling, knowing that I wasn’t acting alone, but then again Fishies like to swim in conspiracy. Of course I had to leave the country after I destroyed the lab but before I left I signed into FB using my daughter’s account. I left a note on the Marlin’s official FB wall. It said “Don’t fuck this up. This isn’t a rebuilding year. This is the year we build on the demolished bones of our enemies.”

An Imagined Interview with Hal Morris by Dylan Little

Don’t ask us where Dylan Little came from. He is, according to himself, a lifeguard at a turtle hospital. You can follow him on Twitter @orangehunchback.

Interviewer’s Note: While at a Ponderosa Steakhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio I ran into former Reds legend Hal Morris. He sat in a booth adjacent to the buffet. At first it appeared that he had a stack of pancakes on his plate, but further inspection revealed that the flapjacks were instead three thin steaks covered in beef gravy. Morris had no beverage save a bowl of cherry pie filling. Though I was interrupting his meal, Mr. Morris exhibited the grace you would expect from a man with a career OBP of .361.

Interviewer: What was it like being a rookie starting at first base for that 1990 Reds team?

Hal Morris: At first it was like Chris Sabo dragging you to the mall so he could shop for a new pair of ball googles, and sometimes it’s like your down in Sarasota and Eric Davis keeps crapping in your scooper.

IV: That sounds brutal. Was hazing typical?

HM: I don’t know. I guess so. I helped some dudes pour some Skyline Chili in Reggie Sanders’ Walkman the next year. But you’re missing the point. That was a World Series Team. World’s Champions. Hell, I would’ve let Mariano drop Duncan donuts on the dash of my Fiero if it meant another ring.

IV: Were you nervous taking over first base duties for Todd Benzinger?

HM: Not really… Piniella thought Toddy Benz was so ugly at first base he practically gave the spot away.

IV: Do you mean that Pineilla didn’t think Benzinger was a good fielder?

HM: No, Benzo was a solid ball player. I don’t know what I meant by that. I was just saying, being a one-bagger in the senior circuit is easy. It’s basically the DH of the NL. No one expects you to field, just grab a piece of leather the size of the butt of one of Marge Schott’s dogs and pretend like you’ve been there before.

Cipher Poem of the Day: 1995-2131

Using images from the Pitchrs & Poets Tumblr as a creative launching point, our resident Imagineer Dylan Little has put together a series of cipher poems. Can you guess the ballplayer below, as described using the literary tools of the $ubconscious$. (Click the link at the end for the solution.)

You can follow Dylan on Twitter: @orangehunchback.

Billy will never be
as bald as me.
I’d rather party
with an ’82 Eddie
Murray. If little bro
penned a book
it’d be called Billy:
the Pervert Who Holds The All-Time Record For Most Farts In His Brother’s Pool.

solution

Pitchers & Poets: 2011, a Year in Review

Now is the time of year when we all take a moment to acknowledge how quickly time slips away, and how the events of January, 2o11, don’t seem like they happened a whole year ago. I’m glad to have done this, though, as I’ve had to the chance to re-examine our efforts on the year, and to appreciate just how much we’ve accomplished here. There are so many great voices represented, and a cabinet of baseball wonders available any time.

So some months did fly by, but we did some great things this year, and we don’t mind checking back in on the mad dashes and the meditative moments. We hope, of course, that you enjoyed the ride as much as we did, and we look forward to future flights of fancy with you, our fantastic readers and fellow passengers on Steamship Baseball.

Scorekeeping Week

Our first foray into themed weeks, Scorekeeping Week was a fine jaunt through the habits of fans and professionals as they log a baseball game’s events.

I interviewed Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims, about his scorekeeping habits, and we learned more about Bethany Heck and her brilliant scorekeeping books. Paul Franz, Alex Belth, Patrick Truby, and Patrick Dubuque offered their stories and memories.

Scorekeeping Week was a quiet, pleasurable affair, and it stoked our interest in themed content. See below for the Frankenstein’s monster that resulted.

1990s First Basemen Week

Looking back at P&P2011, we would be crazy not to give full due to the year’s biggest, insanest phenomenon on the blog. Eric and I started with a simple idea: let’s talk about first basemen from the 1990s, and let’s get as many great writers involved as we can.

We released a salvo of emails, and the only directive was to pick a first baseman and talk about him. The breadth of responses and creative output was amazing, and the response overwhelming.

It all started with a Short Hop on Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas from Jonah Keri, and an essay on J.T. Snow by Eric Freeman. Readers started to understand what we were doing, and the purity of our goal. The nostalgia started to flow, and the content barreled onward, with work from Will Leitch on Pedro Guerrero, longtime reader playwright Larry Herold on Rafael Palmeiro and Will Clark, and Jesse Thorn on the grace of Mark Grace.

The 1990s first baseman embodied something beautiful and sad and nostalgic for us and for our readers. The big men stirred the poetic inside us. Tom Ley remembered an encounter with Andres Galarraga, and Joe Posnanski remembered a quixotic slugger in Jeff King. Josh Wilker thought about Carlos Quintana, I went on for some length about Jeff Bagwell and Sadaharu Oh and batting stances, Eric thought on Eric Karros, and how could we forget Dylan Little’s imagined interview with Hal Morris.

And, of course, Pete Beatty cleared the bases with his meditation on Jim Thome and ruin porn.

There are so many more contributors who made this such a great couple of weeks for us at the blog, and the best thing that you can do is click the headline above and read every last one of them. For us, 1990s First Basemen Week was just awesome.

P&P Reading Club: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

he art of fielding by chad harbachIn late September, we started the P&P Reading Club by collectively reading and opining about the above-mentioned best-seller about baseball, life, and the convergence. Hey, just like our little web site here! It was great fun, and again we featured lots of great writers (can you sense a theme in our approach to content development?). Chapters flew by with our posts tagging closely at heel, and we all had a fine time basking in the literature of it all.

Click the header above to find all of those fine posts. Contributors included Carson Cistulli, Adam Webb, Megan Wells, Patrick Dubuque, Pete Beatty, Navin Vaswani, Dayne Perry, Bryan Harvey, Eric, and myself.

The Milton Bradley Saga, Continued

Eric has become something of an expert on the culture of Milton Bradley, and his essay on the troubled outfielder, Encino Man, early in the year, affirmed the honorary. “If individual players can embody Pitchers & Poets and how Ted and I have come to consume and understand baseball, he is one of those players. By his attitude, his place in the ecosystem, his style of play, his perception in the media, he heightens our understanding of baseball.” He revisited the player in April, 2011, around the time Milton started to wear earplugs.

Month-to-Month

In February, we redesigned the site. We still love it.

In those doldrum days, we also got news of Miguel Cabrera’s feisty run-ins with the law, and Eric’s Manifesto called for making nostalgia modern. And hey, do you remember when Albert Pujols still seemed like he’d re-sign with the Cardinals? The measured meter of money spelled bad news for Cardinal fans.

Opening Day meant a live chat, as Eric and I watched 37 games in a row and all at once, while my wife made ballpark franks. It was a marathon.

April brought Eric’s realization that ownership issues were afoot in Dodgerland, and I contemplated the newly settled Cliff Lee. Other topics included Otis Nixon’s hair, the language of Coors Field, and the burgeoning Legend of Sam Fuld. I also discussed the odd couple Rangers, who did well to carry through with the promise I noted.

May, see 1990s First Basemen Week.

June saw us bring Patrick Dubuque into the fold of regular contributors. He immediately started bringing the thunder, as we knew he would. Jesse Gloyd took us fishing in the shadow of Chavez Ravine, I opened the Joba File and learned to appreciate Jered Weaver, and Eric Freeman explored the style of Bryce Harper. Eric remembered Northwest icon Clay Huntington, too, and caught us up on the power and the glory of Matt Kemp.

July was a quieter time, though Aaron Shinsano checked in to provide a scout’s view of the President’s Cup in Korea.

In August, Eric couldn’t get a Dodgers cap at Dodger Stadium, I explored the Best Show on WFMU, Simon Broder viewed the cursed celeb and Amy Winehouse through the baseball lens, Pete Beatty did some girl-storytelling, and Jesse Gloyd brought us thoughts on Satchel Paige.

September and October passed like a hard fall wind as we dipped our heads in literature (see Art of Fielding above), and November brought some pensive missives from Aaron Shinsano with more tales from scouting in Asia, Patrick on injury as metaphor, Brian K on new life without LaRussa, and some chat from me on the retro trend in new uniforms.

Which brings us to December. Eric and I have been hitting the podcast hard, polishing it up and filling it with quirky, enjoyable content so that we can hit the new year in fine stride. Podcasting is the perfect complement to the site, we think, because, really, we’re into conversations first and foremost.

2011 at Pitchers & Poets was a year of backs and forths, of multitudinous viewpoints, of unending conversations, multi-leveled stories and sing-alongs.

Here’s to a happy new year, and a fruitful and thoughtful 2012.

Bud Selig Paid Me A Million Dollars To Stalk J.D. Salinger by Bob Costuz

Bud Selig paid me a million dollars to hand-deliver an All-Century Team ballot to J.D. Salinger.

It sounds incredible, but remember, those were strange times: it was the baroque period of the Steroid Era and Bud Selig was the most powerful man in America. He had reduced the strike zone to the size of a Chiclet. With a single sheet of MLB stationary he made Brady Anderson a home run hitter and Moises Alou a sex symbol. It has been said that in that era Bud Selig was so powerful, when he called the Minnesota Twins, Tom Kelly reached for two things: a 9 mm and a roll of toilet paper.

After sealing the deal with Selig, I called Jim McCarver to see if he was interested in the mission. Thirty minutes later, Jim McCarver and I parachuted out of an F-16. Me and the Vermont turf had a smooth first date. Not so for Timmy: he impaled his leg on a weather vane on his way down. It was gnarly, ruining McCarver’s best pair of Wranglers and compromising his ability to carry out the mission. I dragged him into a nearby barn, gave him a Vicodin and a flare gun. That night as I crossed into New Hampshire on foot, something came over me. It was an indescribable feeling, but the last time I felt it I was covering the Summer Games in Atlanta. That was July 27, 1996.

For the first three weeks of my mission, I perched in an Eastern White Pine across the street from the Salinger compound. I was dressed as a mailman. My plan was to spot Salinger’s Toyota Land Cruiser coming down the driveway, confirm my visual sans binocs, hop down from the tree and head towards the compound mailbox. It is a dogged state for a broadcast journalist to be reliant upon the whims of the fortuitous.

The first time I saw Salinger, it was about eight days in and the Land Cruiser was already halfway down the driveway. I was so busy scraping a melted Snicker bar out of the bottom of my fanny pack that by the time I hopped out of the tree I realized that I had left my ballots wedged in the nook of a sturdy branch. I dove into the ditch for cover. I don’t think he saw me.

Four days later, I had just closed my eyes for a tree nap when I thought I heard the sound of an SUV. It was then that my entire body spasmed and I fell out of the tree. I had kicked my shoes off while I was asleep and my socked left foot landed on a very sharp pile of rocks. The rocks cut into the soft part of my foot. I had to seal the wound with super glue. I never determined the source of the noise. I think it was a bird or maybe one of Salinger’s neighbor’s piglets.

In the wake of those two incidents, I began to feel like Chico Lind in a twelve pitch at-bat with Tim Wakefield. I drank six red bulls a day. I didn’t sleep. A few days later, Selig called me. He told me I had two days to get results or he would cancel the check and bring in Jose Lima.

Message received, commissioner.

That night I took a room in Cornish. I stayed in my room, got drunk, and watched Forrest Gump. It triggered a memory of a story Tony LaRussa told me after the 1988 World Series. It concerned David and the Bible. There was a time when David lived on the run from King Saul. In those days, when his very survival was threatened, David pretended to be mucho loco while eating at King Ashish’s palace. When I woke up I saw that I had written a note above the bathtub ring in sharpie: “It takes leprechaun mask to get the unicorn man.”

The next morning, I bought a riding lawn mower and saddled up with copious amounts of Mr. Pibb. I drove the mower back and forth on the road in front of Salinger’s house. This did not summon Salinger.

The next day I got braver and mowed a series of symmetrical curlicues from the beginning of the gravel driveway to the koi ponds next to the tennis courts. This did not summon Salinger.

The next day I spotted smoke pouring out of the top of the big house and two sedans parked in between the trampoline and the pool. I thought to myself, the stage is set, Costuz, you have an audience and five horses under the hood. It’s time.

I raced past the stone lions near the gates and towards the mandarin grove adjacent to Salinger’s concrete bunker. I must’ve been going fifteen MPHes when I ran over those mandarin saplings. This did not summon Salinger.

The next day I boarded my mower and headed straight past the rock garden and into the flowerbed. I left a few of the more Monet-looking flowers for love’s sake but cut down the rest. This did not summon Salinger.

I couldn’t take it anymore. Salinger was a god without ears. I turned off my mower and looked behind me. In the last week, I had decimated the landscape of the Salinger compound and had nothing to show for it. Drunk on the wine of conquest, like so many conquistadors before me, I climbed Salinger’s porch steps and rapped on the door three times. Several hours later, an old man, skinny and tall like an industrial broom, opened the door. He had a navy revolver tucked into his pants.

“Who the hell are you?”

This message was delivered via Dylan Little whom you can follow on Twitter, where his tag is @orangehunchback. Dylan says, “please remember Joplin. To make a ten dollar donation to the Salvation Army text the word “Joplin” to 80888.”

Seatbelts

For the last four months I’ve kept my Dodger fandom at arm’s length. I’ve tried to stay cool, like an MI6 Agent or Steve McQueen or Big Pink era Bob Dylan, and for the most part I’ve pulled it off.  I’ve engaged in the rest of the baseball world.  I’ve put together a pretty good fantasy team (Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!). I’ve held back the tears at each sight of Carlos Santana stepping to the plate in an Indians uniform.

But now it’s over. Composure gone.  After the  skid to start the second half. After Joe Torre and his staff’s low-budget reenactment of Custer’s performance at Little Big Horn last night. And most especially after Chad “A New Hope” Billingsley’s Complete Game Shutout of the Giants tonight, I am left unable to play it calm and collected.  Despite my knowledge that things will likely end badly, that the season will collapse, that my dreams will be shattered, I am now embracing the turbulence. American League baseball be damned. Lebron James be damned. Senatorial primaries be damned. If you need access to my heart and mind in the next ten weeks, you’ll find them wrapped up in the journey of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Seatbelts.

Bonus link: Jon Weisman’s amazing writeup of the Dodgers’ meltdown against the Giants on Tuesday. He uses George Sherrill’s middle name to great effect.