Baseball games are like fingerprints. No two are exactly alike. Baseball games can also be like ancestors. They live on in memories even more than twenty years. It isn’t always what happened, but who did it.
Seems like yesterday, but these are memories from almost half a lifetime ago. When I was in the 101st, I roomed for a while with a guy named Page. To this day, I cannot listen to Garth Brooks or any country music of that ilk. He gave me a lifetime’s fill of it. He was as bald as Homer Simpson, yet he was as hirsute as Captain Caveman. Page was constantly bumming dips of Copenhagen from me, but he was a good egg. He was from Nebraska, but his family was originally from Billerica, Massachusetts. So, like me, Page was a Red Sox fan. I think they could get WGN in his little burg, so he also liked the Cubs. The peacetime army was a remarkably inefficient operation. In the afternoon, we often had nothing better to do then clean our M-16s, so he’d go up to his room and put Harry Caray on and have a pinch between his cheek and gum as we disassembled our rifles, brushed off the rust, then reassembled them. (I don’t know what alloy Colt used for those, but it oxidized rather quickly. Even in Saudi Arabia, they’d rust.)
Ladison came to TCAE after doing a year’s tour of duty in Korea. He was from somewhere up north in New York. I think he resided so far up north that he bathed in the Saint Lawrence. He drove a white Lincoln Town Car. It had an onboard computer that was state of the art for the time. It could calculate your gas mileage in real time. It was like Lunar Lander! I don’t know where Ladison’s baseball heart lay, but I believe that, when it came to football, he was a Bears fan. They enjoyed a vogue at the time.
One time, Page and Ladison got the bright idea to take a road trip up to Chicago on a Friday nite. “Chitown is the dope.” Ladison said. He would call Chicago Chitown. If he liked something he’d call it dope. He’d also cackle liked a wounded chicken when he was excited. I told then them that I’d get a full nite’s sleep and join them the next day. “I can’t sleep in cars.” I said.
“Not even Ladison’s Town Car?” Page asked. “It has its own zip code.”
I passed. The only guys we knew back then who had cell phones were some guys in the motor pool who were running a midnight auto parts theft ring, But somehow, I was able to get those guys on the horn Saturday morn and track down where they were staying. So I got in my Cavalier and hauled balls north. I-24 ran northwest from Fort Campbell, up past Paducah and into Illinois. I took that until it intersected with I-57 and went north. I’d been that way before with Vinroe. We liked rocks so we went to Garden of the Gods. Back when we were in Monterey, we once took a trip to The Pinnacles.
I was outside of Watseka, Illinois when I got pulled over by a state trooper. He had clocked me going 101 MPH. It was a sunny day; the road was as straight as a yardstick through the prairie. It was dry and there was little traffic. Who knew that I could coax that much speed out of four cylinders? But I did, and, at that speed, I was representing the Screaming’ Eagles. I didn’t have enough to cover the ticket. I was stationed at Fort Campbell, not Fort Knox. But the trooper let me go with a promise to appear later that summer at the Iroquois County Courthouse and I continued my trek north.
Before I had met up with them, Ladison and Page had taken pics of Wrigley and Soldier’s Fields. The Cubs were out of town, so we took in a White Sox – Yankees game. Geographically speaking, it would have made sense if Ladison was a Yankees fan, but I forget if he was. It was the last season for old Comiskey Park. They were building a new one where the parking lot used to be. There had been talk of the team moving to Tampa or elsewhere, but they’re still in town twenty years later. Comiskey was the third major league park I’d been to. I’d been to Fenway around a dozen times. I was TDY at Fort Devens the previous fall and caught the closing day matchup between Boston and Milwaukee. It was a quick game; everyone wanted to go home. Terry Francona was the Brewer’s DH. I also saw the Red Sox play the A’s in Oakland a couple of years earlier when I was stationed at DLI, so this was my first non-Red Sox major league game that I would attend; if you don’t count a spring training game I caught once driving through Arizona.
That was an awful Yankee team that year. They hadn’t seen the postseason since 1981, but they still had the best overall record in the Eighties. They did this despite, or maybe because in part, they used more players in that decade than any other team. But they had hit the abyss in 1990. Stump Merrill had replaced Bucky Dent as the manager about a month before the game. George Steinbrenner was on the verge of a suspension by Fay Vincent due to his dealings with Howie Spira.
The White Sox were in first place. That was a surprise after their 1989 season. But during that year they were able to acquire Sammy Sosa, Scott Fletcher, and Wilson Alvarez for the price of one aging Harold Baines. Fletcher was key. He helped shore up the defense behind their young pitching staff. Chicago was streaking. They’d won the last eight games and that was what put them in a tie with Oakland for first. (This was the dominant A’s team that had trouble in the World Series; winning only one out of three from 1988-1990.)
If we went to the game on Sunday, we would have seen Andy Hawkins no-hit the White Sox, yet lose to them 4-0. Fay Vincent’s Politburo on Statistical Accuracy wiped it from the record books because Hawkins didn’t go nine innings. Outings like the one Hawkins had were rare (although Matt Young had a similar one around that time), but the game we saw may have been more important in a cosmic sense.
Melido Perez was starting against Dave Lapoint. Perez was Pascual Perez’s younger brother. I can still recall an item in Sports Illustrated about Pascual driving in circles on I-285 trying to find the way to Fulton County Stadium. That day, Deion Sanders spoke with Michael Kay of the New York Daily News (YES, it was the same Kay who now does play by play.) Sanders denied rumors that Mel Hall and Claudell Washington were bad influences on him. Hall is in prison now and Washington had problems with cocaine. Sanders didn’t have these problems, but he angered Chisox catcher Carlton Fisk earlier in the season by jaking after hitting a popup. Fisk, incidentally, was having a rebirth at 42 in 1990.
Page, Ladison and I sat somewhere near first base. The Yankees took a 7-0 lead in the third but the White Sox put up five runs over the next two innings. It wasn’t enough, though and New York would end up winning 10-7. A Yankee rookie hit his first two major league home runs during the game. It wasn’t Kevin Maas. The rook was third baseman Jim Leyritz. He was a converted catcher. Leyritz would go back to that position and eventually become a World Series legend. The King, as he liked to call himself, crashed his car into another car a few years back. The other driver was DOA. He was drunk, but the other driver was drunker.
I left the next morning and returned to Fort Campbell via US 41 in Indiana. I was trying to avoid SCMODS. Besides, I like going on different roads for variety’s sake. The road bypassed Terre Haute, home of the Indiana State Sycamores. Larry Bird went there a decade earlier. I also got to see Evansville; home of Don Mattingly and an ill-fated college basketball team whose plane crashed when I was young. Donnie Baseball was the Yankees those days.
The Fourth of July was a few days later. I celebrated by riding with Vinroe somewhere and popping a yellow smoke grenade that we found on the back forty during the spring. Later that July, Vinroe would roll over his V-dub on I-24 with me riding shotgun. I was supposed to go back up to Illinois for my court appearance that Monday, but I was in the hospital. They rescheduled but fate intervened when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and I was deployed a month later. They let me off with a huge fine (although I suspect the judge was disappointed that he couldn’t give me a dressing down in court. Here were some places that couldn’t stand the military back then.) I’d joke occasionally that they named the Watseka high school gym after me because my fine made it possible to renovate it.
No Fear was a popular logo back then. (Soon, hypercolor tees and B.U.M Equipment would follow,) It was on t-shirts and car windows. Well, we were in our early twenties and had no fear. We were in the bulletproof stage of tequila. This feeling of invincibility led to a pattern of recklessness. We were living to run and running to live. Going eight miles a minute (or at least 101 MPH) for months on end. There was fast driving. That wasn’t the first ticket I got, nor was it the first car Vinroe totaled. There were poor choices. A year earlier two other guys and I tried to steal a wooden statue while the Monterey Police Department was watching.
Eventually, we settled down. Vinroe is in IT. Page teaches. Last I heard, Ladison was selling Amway. It took me years, but I settled down, too. I’m married now. Gave up snuff five years ago, drive soberly at a more reasonable speed. I push paper from pile A to pile B so that salesmen don’t have to. Now I worry about deadlines and commitments. What to leave in? What to leave out? But Leyritz was a jock and remained in a state of suspended adolescence. Mel Hall used to wear batting gloves in his back pocket to wavy bye-bye to pitchers as he circled the bases after hitting a dinger. Now he’s doing a stretch in the hoosegow. Then there’s Lenny Dykstra. Nails has quite the rap sheet.
Given the money and adulation athletes receive at an early age, it is a wonder that there aren’t more cautionary tales like his. I think it is mainly the adulation. I knew jocks in high school. I wasn’t one myself, but I was athletic enough to escape the treatment they’d give to some of the nerds and other outsiders. I had no leaping ability or hand eye coordination, but I had a little speed and was willing to sacrifice my body. I went to high school with a guy who made it to AAA. His baseball coach was also the gym teacher and he’d help him and tyrannize some of the kids. One time I was hanging out with friends in Hartford. It was the offseason and he walked into the bar we were hanging out in. He had an entourage. He may’ve changed by now, but it is hard to mature when you were given a big head at an early age. It was hard for me and I was just some soldier; a chairborne Ranger in the 101st.