By West Coast Craig
Nighttime descended upon St. J.R.â€™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 â€œGoodnight, you Rangers of Texas, you Kings of the AL Wild Card Race!â€ It wasnâ€™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 werenâ€™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 Dustyâ€™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 pitchâ€¦100, 115, 125â€¦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 bitâ€¦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 didnâ€™t like this at allâ€”heâ€™d been to New York City once and apparently left on bad termsâ€”and seeing his young protÃ©gÃ© abandon him for that damn town sent him straight to the ether in his room. Homer wouldâ€™ve liked a real farewell with the old man, but this was something he knew he had to doâ€¦so hopping into the old convertible the two scouts drove, he was soon on the road and away from the only place heâ€™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 wasnâ€™t working. A few others were standing around looking at a piece of paper tacked up to the wall. â€œHey you, new guy,â€ one of them said, and Homer walked over to them. â€œYou a college boy? Can you read?â€ 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.
â€œThese are the Joba House Rules,â€ he started, then looked a little closer. â€œSome of these are crossed out, like â€˜Joba will not pitch on consecutive days.â€™â€ â€œThatâ€™s weird,â€ one younger guy said, â€œJoba a starter.â€ â€œThatâ€™s why itâ€™s crossed out,â€ said one of the older pitchers. â€œNumber one,â€ Homer continued, â€œJoba will not drink and drive.â€ â€œThat makes sense,â€ one of the other pitchers chimed in. â€œNumber two, Joba will not drink and drive in Nebraska.â€ â€œWell didnâ€™t they just say that with the first one?â€ The young men all looked at each other and shrugged. â€œNumber three, Joba will always wear bug spray.â€ â€œThatâ€™s just nastyâ€¦they make that stuff out of DDT I heard.â€ â€œNumber four, Joba will not eat in the bullpen.â€ A long reliever spit on the dirt around the plate, â€œNot even sunflower seeds?â€ â€œNumber five, Joba will not show up opposing batters by punching his fists and screaming.â€ This got a good chuckle from the group. â€œThat boy do have some lungs on him.â€ â€œNumber six, Joba must learn to pitch long and hard.â€ There was a slight pause, and then the group broke up snickering. â€œIâ€™ve got something long and hard,â€ said one. â€œJoba 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 ALCSâ€¦.and win a Cy Young by the time heâ€™s 27, still four years away.â€
â€œThatâ€™s it?â€ one of the guys asked. â€œThatâ€™s it,â€ 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. â€œGoodnight you Princes of the Bronx,â€ he said as he turned out the lights, â€œyou Kings of the AL!â€