A few days before Christmas, Major League Baseball asked me to clear my schedule.
The next evening around 8, a rental car pulled in. A large man named Earl emerged, showed me his leather-bound, official ID and a large, black bag. He followed me into my house, then into my bathroom, which he searched thoroughly. Once satisfied, he produced a plastic vessel from his bag and commanded me to fill it to the line, pants off, while he watched.
Earl pretended to look at some of the tacky figurines my mother had lined our disgustingly pink bathroom with while I waited for nature to take its course. A watched pot never boils though, so I tried to cut the awkwardness by asking, “So, Earl, how do you like your job?”
Earl gave a loathsome groan, which actually made it easier. I don’t know how I would have felt if he said he loved it.
Staying in shape in the offseason is serious business, so this year I joined a serious gym. Not one of those spa types or health-clubby ones with a few rusty weights in a dimly lit corner. I joined a real Temple of Testosterone, the kind of place where beverage coolers are stocked full of drinks bearing adjectives such as “ripped,” “blast” and “explode.”
The magazines have muscle-bound, gladiator extras lifting ridiculous tonnage. The walls are lined with photos of fake-tanned super humans flexing hard enough to crack nuts between the rear folds of their purple G-strings.
I have no idea what I’m doing there. Before I enter I close my eyes and repeat, “I am a professional athlete.” The effect of my Dorothy-like mantra doesn’t last as I am easily one fourth the size of every one else in the place. Women included.
Most of the time, I scuttle about the place like a mouse in a church full of linebackers. Dudes in one corner grunt like an early Schwarzenegger movie. Dudes in the other corner scream to get an extra rep in. All the while, the apocalyptic death metal pumped through the gym’s speakers thunders until my head feels like it’s been bowled through a minefield.
One gentleman is larger than the rest. I call him Hammer Pants because of what he wears: baggy, American flag print, Hammer Pants.
Hammer Pants is freakishly bigger than any man ought to be, like something out of a cartoon. It seems as if he tried to cut his shirt sleeves off but missed, because all that remains is a thin strip of fabric and collar.
Chest hair, arm hair and back hair all are there to be seen, beads of sweat dangling off each follicle, eagerly awaiting their chance to slather over any equipment I may want to use.
Watching Hammer Pants ride the exercise bike is like watching a bear ride a unicycle. Hammer Pants probably could bench my car. He’s pretty impressive, if only a tad scary. Yet, I’ll bet no one showed up last night to watch him take a whiz.
I once saw a shirt that said, “No, I am not on steroids, but thanks for asking.”
Though I have never used steroids and don’t plan to, I have done everything else in my legal power to get an edge in baseball. I’ve tried a myriad of proteins, creatines, vitamins, workouts, throwing programs, grips, stretches, meditations, prayer meetings, books, tapes, books on tape, Internet videos, lectures and even yoga. In fact, after dumping a lot of my time and money into half-baked ideas I thought would help get me to the big leagues, the only thing I’m in danger of testing positive for is stupidity.
“Dirk, here’s how I’m going to put how good this stuff is,” says my friend confidently, as he winds up to pitch me his latest infallible plan for sports greatness. We are both clean-cut, so I trust him. “I’m going to let you pick the 10 strongest men in the world—no, the 12 strongest men—and we are going to put them up in a fight in Las Vegas against my one guy.”
“I could let you go one-on-one, but I am going to let you put all your guys in the ring against my one guy at once.”
He says the last part like a real agent, as if he actually makes fights for this dude.
Sucked in by the prospect of comic book-like carnage, I go along, dispelling any thoughts of too-good-to-be-true.
“OK, but I got to tell you: my guy, well, he’s a silverback gorilla, and he’s gonna tear your guys apart.”
“Gorillas are cool,” I say, mesmerized.
“Yeah, and they don’t eat any meat like we do. All vegetables and stuff. So, I discovered this company, a real up and comer, that makes protein supplements out of 100 percent gorilla food.”
“Wow, real gorilla food.”
“Totally. And you can get it for like a couple hundred bucks, man. If you think about it, it makes sense. Gorillas are super strong, and they don’t eat steaks like we do. I think you should try it. I am.”
A few hundred dollars worth of bamboo and grass-clipping shakes later, I started to see the error of my ways. I am still no closer to benching a car, wearing hammer pants or coyly explaining to anyone, “No, but thanks for asking.”
I am, however, spending more time in the bathroom.
At least this time it’s unsupervised.