By West Coast Craig

Nighttime descended upon St. J.R.’s Orphanage, and all the young ballplayers dutifully went to their rows of cots. Dr. Ryan made sure they were all under their covers and, as he turned out the lights, called out “Goodnight, you Rangers of Texas, you Kings of the AL Wild Card Race!” It wasn’t true, but it made the young players feel special as they drifted off. All except for Homer, whom Dr. Ryan brought with him to the ball field out back of the veritable old building. Homer had been an orphan here as well, a young prospect who always dreamed of being picked up one day by a loving ballclub…but as he reached the age where nobody would be interested in drafting him, Homer was taken under the wing of Dr. Ryan, who was grooming him to take over for him when he retired, or fired for not winning.

Homer loved Dr. Ryan, and had become adept at assisting him in the other part of the operation, as he would tonight. A couple of young Scouts had come to Arlington all the way from New York City, a happy pair but with a problem. They had with them a young pitcher they weren’t sure they wanted, and had heard Dr. Ryan could perform a certain procedure that might help them with it. Though it went against all the beliefs of society, Dr. Ryan felt that it was his righteous duty to perform such a procedure rather than let the couple take their problem to one of those places like Back Alley Dusty’s , responsible for so many ruined lives. Dr. Ryan prepped himself, and Homer put on his own gear for the procedure: a mask, a glove, and cup. He crouched behind the plate and, as the nervous scouts watched on, Dr. Nolan made the young pitcher throw pitch after pitch…100, 115, 125…simulated inning after simulated inning, until the youngster dropped on the mound, sweat soaked and panting, gripping his shoulder, unable to go on. Dr. Ryan shook his head and told the scouts the youngster would have to stay here.

Lately, Homer had been having his doubts about Dr. Ryan’s work, he was tired of being down here in the middle of nowhere and wanted to see the world a little bit…so when the Scouts, relieved of having to care for their young pitcher, offered to take him back with them to New York City, Homer readily agreed. Dr. Nolan didn’t like this at all—he’d been to New York City once and apparently left on bad terms—and seeing his young protégé abandon him for that damn town sent him straight to the ether in his room. Homer would’ve liked a real farewell with the old man, but this was something he knew he had to do…so hopping into the old convertible the two scouts drove, he was soon on the road and away from the only place he’d ever known.

The wooden slats that made up the floor of the Yankee Bullpen creaked as new bullpen catcher Homer stepped in. Long limbed pitchers were stretching, sharing bags of sunflower seeds and spitting the seeds all over the ground. Two of them were playing checkers in a corner, though they set the board up wrong, with pieces on both red and black squares, and were now confused as to why the game wasn’t working. A few others were standing around looking at a piece of paper tacked up to the wall. “Hey you, new guy,” one of them said, and Homer walked over to them. “You a college boy? Can you read?” Homer in fact never went to college, but he did know how to read, so he obliged as the men parted in front of the piece of paper.

“These are the Joba House Rules,” he started, then looked a little closer. “Some of these are crossed out, like ‘Joba will not pitch on consecutive days.’” “That’s weird,” one younger guy said, “Joba a starter.” “That’s why it’s crossed out,” said one of the older pitchers. “Number one,” Homer continued, “Joba will not drink and drive.” “That makes sense,” one of the other pitchers chimed in. “Number two, Joba will not drink and drive in Nebraska.” “Well didn’t they just say that with the first one?” The young men all looked at each other and shrugged. “Number three, Joba will always wear bug spray.” “That’s just nasty…they make that stuff out of DDT I heard.” “Number four, Joba will not eat in the bullpen.” A long reliever spit on the dirt around the plate, “Not even sunflower seeds?” “Number five, Joba will not show up opposing batters by punching his fists and screaming.” This got a good chuckle from the group. “That boy do have some lungs on him.” “Number six, Joba must learn to pitch long and hard.” There was a slight pause, and then the group broke up snickering. “I’ve got something long and hard,” said one. “Joba will pitch less, work out hitches, get hit hard sometimes, sometimes work out of the bullpen, and hopefully be effective as the fourth starter should the Yankees make it to the ALCS….and win a Cy Young by the time he’s 27, still four years away.”

“That’s it?” one of the guys asked. “That’s it,” answered Homer. The players all lost interest and went back to their sunflower seeds and checkers, until naptime, when Homer led them to their cots back in the clubhouse. “Goodnight you Princes of the Bronx,” he said as he turned out the lights, “you Kings of the AL!”

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About West Coast Craig 226 Articles
West Coast Craig reports from Hollywood with an endearingly laid back style. A happily married father of two little boys, WCC has an avocado tree in his yard, plays the hot corner in a "Valley" hardball league and always manages to take cool sports-related mini road-trips, often with his immediate clan. He hails from Oneonta, NY but has been "So very L.A." for twenty years, so his sports teams are the Yankees AND the Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the L.A. Lakers and the Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques. WCC loves bacon-wrapped hotdogs and can touch his heel and his ear... with his hand.