Book Excerpt: Dirk Hayhurst’s ‘The Bullpen Gospels’

Dirk Hayhurst’s first “Non-Prospect Diary” went live on on March 13, 2007. We introduced him like we do any player, giving a draft reference, stats—the basics. But then Dirk introduced himself, and he finished his introductory paragraph with this: “Baseball is so much more than a jumble of acronyms and averages. I think minor league baseball is one hell of an interesting ride.”

Dirk went on to chronicle the next three seasons, a ride that took the “Non-Prospect” all the way to the big leagues with both San Diego and Toronto. Now he fills in the gaps and tells the story of one season in the minors, the 2007 season, and his ride through it. Some names have been changed, and Dirk didn’t try to emulate Woodward or Bernstein here. Instead, he tried to capture the magic of the game and the everyday ebb and flow of a minor league season (and a minor leaguer’s life) in “The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran” (Citadel Press, 2010). Here’s an excerpt of his time with the Double-A San Antonio Missions of the Texas League.

“All right, Kangaroo Court is now in session, any (expletive deleted) swear words from this point on and it’s a buck.”

The crowd sat silently, with the oldest guys in the middle acting as judges. Ox, Rob and a position player, Brett Bonvechio, made up the panel representing each of the two major player groups. “What do we got first, Drew (Macias)?”

Drew dug into the box and pulled out a folded-up paper: “This is to Manrique from team. Max fine for having the worst smelling . . . uh, can I say ass?”

“Yeah, if you’re reading, it’s legal.”

“Worst-smelling ass on the team.”

“How do you plead, Manrique?”

“No guilty. Is not my fault I’ve bad gas.”

“Yes, it is. You eat all the stuff you know you shouldn’t eat, and then you don’t even try to be considerate about it once you start ripping,” the prosecution responded.

“What you mean? I eat what you eat—same spreads.”

“No, you don’t. You come in here with your carne asada with extra beans every other day. If there is a Mexican place in the area, you’ll sniff it out.”

“What you want me to do? I’m Mexican. I eat Mexican food.”

“Well, take some Beano for Christ’s sake! Make an adjustment.”

“Valid point,” Handsome Rob said.

“It’s not like I’m trying to fart on you.” Manrique threw his hands up, as if innocent.

“Actually,” I said, raising my hand. “That’s not entirely true.”

Earlier in the season, I was passed out on the bus during a long trip home from Arkansas. I had finally fallen asleep after fighting to get comfortable with the bus seats for what seemed like hours. I went under with my head careened back, sucking air like some old man who passes out in church services. Manrique thought it would be funny if he climbed onto the seat backs, dropped his pants, and laid a bare-ass Mexican food fart right into my open mouth. I woke up dry heaving. It was so ripe, I thought we’d crashed into a manure truck.

As soon as I contradicted Manrique, everyone in the room started to laugh. Kangaroo Court with this team was a treat. It was unfortunate we didn’t do it earlier in the year, as it always proved to be a good bonding moment. But with so much travel, movement and adversity, it was difficult to fit it in. Now that the team was coming around, making a race for the playoffs, we felt comfortable enough to loosen up. Sure, we’d collect some fine money for a trip to the bar, but we were bonding.

“Dirk offers another valid point.”

“Yeah, every time I tell you I’m going to kick your face in about your stinky butt leakage, you giggle about it. You know what you’re up to. Max fine. Hell, I’d double max fine, if I could.”

“I agree,” Rob said. “Max fine.”

“Yeah, I’m tired of smelling you, too,” Brett said. “Max fine.”

Manrique threw his hands up again. “Fine, but I am going to fart twice as much now on purpose.”

“I’m going to beat you twice as hard!” Ox retorted.

“Okay, next offense,” Rob said, moving things along.

Drew fished another fine out of the fine box. “This is to Chase Headley for referring to himself in the third person. Witness: team. Suggested fine: double max.”

“Whoa now, that’s ridiculous. I’ve never referred to myself in the third person.”

“Yes, you did, Chase. I heard you,” a witness shouted. “I heard you say it after you got back from the big leagues that ‘Chase Headley is only one man.’ “

“I’ve never said anything like that.”

Another position player spoke up. “I heard you say that if you were in the big leagues, you would have hit that ball into the upper, upper deck. ‘But here,’—the witness made quotations with his hands—’Chase Headley has to understand the balls aren’t as good, and Chase Headley will have to settle for standard home runs.’ “

“Whatever. You guys are just making stuff up.”

And they were, but the crowd was laughing and Chase was the only person on the team to make it to the big leagues from inside the organization. He was a shoo-in for Texas League player of the year and was having a phenomenal season—no way we could let that go to his head. He also got a big league paycheck, where the rest of us had to be content with our minor league pittance. We couldn’t let him hog it all to himself.

“I heard him do it too,” I said. “I heard him say that ‘Chase Headley knows what the fans want and Chase Headley will deliver.’ “

“Wow, Chase, you can take the player out of the big leagues, but you can’t take the big leagues out of the player, huh?”

“Erroneous! Erroneous on all counts!” Chase declared, smiling.

“Yeah, this is only the minors, Chase. I know it’s not San Diego, but you don’t have to keep reminding us how easy it is for you. The least you can do is stop the third-person routine.”

“Go ahead, fine Chase Headley. See if he cares,” Chase said. More laughter.

“All right, Chase pleads guilty to not being here all year. Ten bucks for going to the show and not taking us with him.”

The next fine was for someone wearing the wrong hat out to batting practice—simple two-dollar matter. Then there was a fine for a guy getting drunk and ruining his wingman’s night out by throwing up on the potential beef. The crowd roared with laughter as the story was told. The party being prosecuted argued he did the offended a favor by shielding him from the grenade he was about to take home. However, said the court, since the offended was in a slump, the accused was indeed guilty for standing in the way of his wingman’s career development and, thus, the success of the team. It was a very wise ruling.

Manrique was fined a second time for his gas, but the fine was thrown out under the statute of double jeopardy. I was fined for playing video games with the grounds crew during a game, which I fought as best I could, losing the case only when I admitted that I lost the Deathmatch to the grounds crew—a poor representation of our team’s video game prowess.

“This next fine is for Juice for threatening to rip off someone’s arms and beat him with them. Witness: bullpen.” Blade retold the story that got Juice heated up again and, consequently, jeered by the entire team. He was fined $2, one for each arm he threatened to rip off.

“This fine is for Lunchbox, from Hayhurst, for asking what is on the other side of the sun. Suggested fine, one dollar,” Drew read.

The crowd of peers looked to me; then Rob spoke. “We are going to need to hear the story on this one.” Lunchbox shook his head in disgust.

I told the tale about how I was sitting on the bench in the dugout in San Antonio. Lunchbox comes in in a huff. He sits down next to me and asks me if I know a lot about science. I say yes. He asks if I know a lot about the sun. I say I know a little. Then, in a moment of genuine seriousness, Lunchbox looks me in the eye and says, “So, do scientists know, like, have they figured out what’s on the other side of the sun?”

“You mean, what’s on the inside of the sun? Like the center?” I replied, thinking of gas and pressure and what-not.

“No, like what’s around back of it, like behind it, the other side.”

“You’re asking me what’s behind the back of the sun?”

“Yeah, do scientists know that?”

“Yes, Lunchbox, we are, planet Earth, like half of the year. We orbit it.”

Lunchbox stared at me in wonder. “What do you mean, orbit?”

“Are you serious? We circle it, all the planets do. It’s how we get our calendar.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Lunchbox said. “If we orbit it, then how come in all the science books the planets are all lined up in a row on one side?”

“That’s because it’s a diagram. It’s not to scale.”

“What does scale mean?”

I stopped there to let the crowd take it all in.

“Lunchbox, what do you have to say for yourself?” the judges asked, not shocked at all after playing with him for a few months.

“Hey, it’s not my fault. I’m not Mr. Science Nerd like Hayhurst is.” Everyone in attendance laughed, which made Lunchbox laugh as well, thinking he had won the room over. I wanted to point out to him that everyone was laughing at him. But I think Rob said it best when he said, “I’m going to take that as a guilty plea, but I’m going to waive the fine, since I don’t think it’s fair to fine him when life has already done it.”

Soon after, the court session broke down into a storytelling free-for-all, with random fines sprinkled in for spice. It was one of the first times the team, as a whole, communicated, laughed and socialized. Then the doors of the clubhouse opened and in walked the Brass. Grady (Fuson) and Kevin Towers, the general manager of the Padres, were in town to inspect the players and their progress. Having them here meant the eyes of the real Grim Reaper of baseball were on us.

If there was one person to impress in the organization, one person superior to all others, it was KT. He spent almost all his time with the big league team and rarely appeared in our part of reality.

The room didn’t quiet down, but the jovial, relaxed tone began to escape as KT walked about the place, shaking hands with a few individuals, like Chase, and greeting others. He walked right past me as if I didn’t exist, and for all intents and purposes, I didn’t. I looked at Ox, whom he also didn’t bother to acknowledge, and said, “I have not spoken to that man one time in my entire career here.”

“Don’t sweat it. He doesn’t talk to a lot of guys. I think I’ve met him once.”

“I just don’t understand why he wouldn’t at least say hello or just point and say my name like Grady. I don’t think he even knows my name.”

“You have to make guys in his situation know your name. It’s too easy for them to ignore you.”

“What do you think I’ve been trying to do this year, Ox? I’ve tried to put up the best numbers I can.”

“Numbers and reports are one thing, bub. There’s no substitute for firsthand impressions.” With that, Ox slapped me on the back and went off to punch Manrique. He was right, though; there is no substitute for seeing someone get the job done firsthand. If I pitched well while KT was here, if I could make him remember my name, it could take my career from non-prospect to prospect.