Sitting on the bus outside the San Jose clubhouse, headphones on prior to departure, I tried to decide whether I should read then sleep, or sleep then read. As I resolved to do both at the same time, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Brush, Skeels wants you in his office,” teammate Craig Clark said to me. With this, I exited the bus ten minutes before we were to leave for the hour and a half commuter trip, and went to the large coffin that serves as the manager’s office.
“What’d I do wrong?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t know what you did, but you did it too well to stay here. You’re starting for Fresno on Thursday.”
I had waited the whole year, enduring Grandpa jokes from a team of kids half my age, to finally make it back to Triple-A Fresno. The first glimmer of hope from a hopeless season had finally emerged, and I wanted to scream. Instead, I composed myself as an expressionless pitcher should: I shook his hand, told him thanks, and left without even showing a smile, acting as if he had merely asked me a trivia question about the ’27 Yankees.
I boarded the bus and traveled to Modesto where my baseball bag resided. I persevered through a broken air conditioner on the bus and a raging brush fire next to the clubhouse (“Man, I don’t think that’s a controlled burn,” one of my teammates stated. “Yeah, I wonder if we should call the fire department or just stand here and watch it,” another replied. “Someone do a rain dance.”) Wanting to avoid total apocalypse, I hurriedly packed my baseball clutter and rode the next day with teammate Joe Martinez to Sacramento, where Fresno would be playing. I had with me my computer, and, well my computer. I hadn’t had a chance to pack any clothes.
Normally being without clothes would be a problem, as you can’t simply run around naked in our society. (Some of my college teammates tried this. It didn’t work out too well.) In truth, I wasn’t completely naked. I had a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and flip-flops. Since this was more clothes than those fortunate enough to live in third world countries would ever attain, I went the way of a minimalist and deemed myself adequately prepared for a trip to Fresno of undetermined length (“We don’t know how long it will be,” I was told.)
The problem of clothing myself ranked #3339 on my brain’s play list. Getting hitters out chiefly captured my mind. The California League hitters, while professionals, are not the seasoned vets of the Pacific Coast League, a league in which balls become UFOs in the night sky and an ERA under 25.00 is considered respectable. To make matters worse, I’d be facing Sacramento, the first place team in the league. I’d have to pitch well to survive.
The next day I didn’t pitch well, and I didn’t survive. I gave up four runs in four innings, prompting a night without sleep as little gnomes inside my head sadistically punished me for every mistake. Soon, the gnomes would be having a field day, as I was about to receive more punishment.
“Well, I got bad news and bad news,” I was told the next day while doing the bucket during BP, baseball’s version of the walk of shame. This was not what I wanted to hear. “You’re going back to San Jose tonight. And you’re going to Double-A Connecticut tomorrow.”
I felt like someone had tied me to a road, poured hot asphalt upon me, and taken a steam-roller to me—not once, but a dozen times as if all of the hope left in my seemingly meaningless baseball existence needed to be purged, made flatter than the pre-Columbus earth. I wished more than anything to be given another chance. I hadn’t made a good first impression, but being the type of pitcher that can study hitters and adjust accordingly, I hoped to make a couple more starts. This foolish hope expunged, I again couldn’t sleep.
And so I went back to San Jose that night, where I’m gathering my six months of belongings (two bags) and swinging at the ever-multiplying gnomes with a fly swatter.
But at least I’ve changed shirts, even if I haven’t slept.
Four levels in three months. Maybe I should just keep my bags packed.
Garrett Broshius is the author of the Suitcase Chronicles. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.