“What’s wrong with it this time?” Bob replies, shoulders slumping at the sight of my lemon and me.
“I don’t know, that’s why I come to you. Maybe there’s another nail in the engine?”
“I thought we got all those.”
“You checked for nails, but did you look for clothes hanger wire?”
Bob holds his hands out for the keys. “Let me take a look.”
After a tree fell on my previous ride, I went fishing in the used car market and came up with a real flounder. The last owner, no joke, did not speak any English. He had his cousin translate for him. This cousin was very cordial, when not screaming gibberish at the owner, and explained it was God’s will for me to have the car. He just knew it by looking at me. A vision, he said. Well, who was I to stand in the way of God? Of course I bought the car, which looked and ran great until about five days later when the dashboard lights lit up like a Christmas tree.
My wife called a local dealership to make an appointment in my name, a name the guy at the service desk recognized from a certain newspaper column. He was excited to meet me, and I, knowing how big car repair bills can be, was excited to butter him up for a discount using some of the ol’ big league charm.
I don’t know much about cars. If I did, I probably wouldn’t have purchased a car from folks whose main selling point is divine vision. I do, however, know a lot about baseball, which people tend to find fascinating—the bright lights, the big names, the lifestyle.
Spending your life in baseball requires you pass on other key life skills, like advanced auto repair. Consequently, you learn other survival techniques, like schmoozing and name dropping. Ironic, because I think being able to make sense of all the parts that go into making a car run is infinitely more important then tossing a white ball past people with clubs. But that won’t stop me from saying I talked about how I can get a ball signed by Derek Jeter if it helps score a discount.
Bob and I hit it off, no pun intended, and he taught me about my new car and some of the proper ways to care for it that don’t involve using nails to hold the undercarriage in place. In exchange, I offered tickets, a signed card or six, even called his mother, a long-time reader and huge baseball fan, just to tell her what a great son Bob is. Besides becoming a good friend, Bob is “nice” to me when the repair bill comes due.
This approach doesn’t work on everyone. The last time I was in to visit Bob, while he was under the hood I struck up a conversation with the parts department. Crowded around me like I was the cute girl at the dance, they asked me what it was like to pitch in the Bigs, play in Yankee stadium, and who the best hitter I ever faced was.
Awesome, indescribable, and Manny Ramirez, I replied.
“Yeah, I the first time I ever faced Manny; boom—homer. I don’t care what you think of him, he’s got a great swing.”
“Don’t worry about it, he’s done that to a lot of people,” they said apologetically. I wasn’t really worried about it. I was worried about getting a set of all-season floor mats at employee pricing.
About this time, a car salesman rounded the corner to catch the end of our conversation. A fan himself, he chimed in, “Yeah, can’t worry too much about Manny, but that rookie that hit the grand slam off you when you played the Orioles should make you feel terrible. What happened there, huh?”
Before I had time to explain that the person who hit said granny is very talented, just not as recognizable, my new friend continued, “I looked up your stats when you came in. Your ERA was OK, but watch the walks.”
I retreated to back to Bob and asked, “Have any more nails?”
“So I can pound a few into that guy’s head,” I said, pointing to the salesman.
“I take it he didn’t give you a discount on the floor mats?”
Read more from Dirk, including details on his new book, “The Bullpen Gospels,” at www.dirkhayhurst.com.