3 Jul


82 days ‘til we report.

Just got back from my morning workout at Richie’s.

I played my first game with the A’s yesterday.  We won 7-4.   The team had gotten off to a bad start.  Before yesterday, our record was 1 win and 3 losses, so this win takes us to just 2 and 3.

It was an early game, 10am.  Shlo and I agreed to meet at 8:50 at the Norwood stop of the J train by the field.  I got there early and tried to find the field myself and ended wandering around in a cemetery before finally heading to the right place.

The Zorrilla is an all-Dominican league in East New York, one of the few remaining truly dangerous areas in New York City.  The league is full of guys released at various points in their minor league careers.  The Zorrilla is both legendary and undiscovered.  The field is, as I found out, located in a hard-to-find corner of Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue way out where Atlantic Avenue turns into Conduit Boulevard and where Brooklyn and Queens turn into Long Island.  A steady stream of traffic runs behind the outfield fence on Atlantic.  This is the first year for the league’s new field.  It’s a nice surface.  There are fenced in dugouts down each baseline.  There are stands for about 500 behind the dugouts and backstop.  And there’s even a small press table just to the right of the backstop behind home plate where an announcer introduces pinch hitters and calls the play-by-play in Spanish over the little PA system.  I have heard stories about the league, that by late afternoon the stands are full of wives and girlfriends and children of the players banging pots and pans and old drunk men gambling on every pitch.  But it was mostly quiet when we arrived, just one or two players on the other team getting lose down in right field.

There are 10 teams in the Zorrilla, and we, despite the slow start, are the best team in the league.  Each year the winner of the league gets a free trip to the Domincan Republic to play in a tournament down there, and not only do we often win the Zorrilla, we win the tourney in the DR.  There are a total of ten teams in the league.  Each team has a Major League Team name.  We are the Oakland A’s.  When we break from huddles we yell, “Oakland”, despite playing on a public field in the ghettos of East New York 3,000 miles away.   Because there are 10 teams, 5 games are played at the field each weekend.  Two games are  Saturday, three Sunday.  Game times are 1pm and 4pm Saturdays, and 10am, 2pm, and 5pm on Sundays.  But as I am learning, games NEVER start on time.  At 10, when the game was supposed to start, I had already gone through my warm-up– stretched, band work, throwing program, sprints, dry swings and ground balls in the bullpen down the left field line, and I was staying busy pacing around in front of our dugout, and we still didn’t have enough players to start the game – the coaches weren’t even there yet.  As a neurotic Jew and a baseball genius, this threatens my every notion about what it takes to be good at something, especially something as steeped in ritual and regiment as baseball – Major League players report to the park as early as 6 hours prior to game time to begin getting ready, but this isn’t the big leagues, it’s the Zorrilla.  Shlo had warned me about this.  Games typically start and hour and half late as players show up shirts untucked, eyes puffy, stinking of booze.  By 10:30 when the ump was threatening to call a forfeit we had nine players and we got started at 10:40, early for Zorrilla standards.

I started the game hitting 8th and playing right field.  I have not played an inning in the outfield since middle school.  But when they asked me if I could do I simply said, “Hell yes”.  I have to earn my stripes, so I borrowed an outfielders glove from Ray, our short stop, and ran out to right field.  First hitter of the game hit a lazy fly ball down the right field line and I tracked it down and caught it for the first out.

We were playing the Indians.  They had a big kid throwing, about 6’4”, 225 easy.  Fastball was 84-87, little curveball.  But he was young, and I could tell early on he had command problems.  We scratched one out in the second innings, and Shlo was rolling.  In my first at bat, I came up with runners on 1st and 2nd, no one out.  I have no idea what the signs are, and no one speaks English, but considering my status as the new guy and a knower of all things baseball, I figured it was a good time to get a bunt down, so I squared to bunt and took ball one.  Judging from the body language of the third base coach, I had guessed right – he had given the bunt sign, so I squared again on the second pitch, ball two.  Squared again on the third pitch but was going to take a strike if he threw one, but no, ball three.  Did not square on 3-0 and decided to work my stride timing and took a ball 4.  I eventually was relieved from base running duties when the next hitter grounded out to short stop. I was out at second base on the fiedler’s choice.  And a run scored on the play and went up 2-0.

Shlo had bad luck when our first and third baseman made errors in the 4th, and he gave up 4 unearned runs, 4-2, them.

By the 4th inning, most of our players had shown up and the little field was transforming into the madhouse I have heard so much about.  Families arrived and set up their things in the stands.  The announcer had his PA system at full blast.  The place was coming alive.  Our regular right fielder who played in the Mets organization arrived and I moved to my 3rd base.   We loaded the bases in the 5th inning and sent our regular catcher whose name happens to be Jose Reyes in to pinch hit now that he was ready.  In the Zorrilla, it is a bit difficult to decipher who is who and where anyone has played prior, but Jose has clearly played some baseball.  When I met him at our exhibition game a few weeks ago, he shook my hand and smiled – “shook” is a bit misleading, I put my hand in his where it disappeared momentarily before he was kind enough to return it to me.  I just looked him up on Baseball Reference, a website that lists baseball players and their stats.  He played from 1994-2002 in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.  On “BR” he is listed at 6’1, 188lbs.  But either the scale was broken that day, or he has grown.  I would guess he is 6’1”, 240 pounds, solid muscle.  His head is two of mine.  I had asked Shlo to from now on please if I am going to meet someone of that size to warn me so I can interact with said individual minus the look of shock.  The Indians brought in a new pitcher to face Jose, and he proceeded to hit a bases clearing line-drive in left center field, we’re winning 5-4.  If he had any air under it at all, it would have cleared Atlantic Ave, and possibly the Atlantic Ocean.  And we never turned back.  I finished 1 for 3 with a walk, fly out to left, fly out to right, and an RBI double to bring home our final run of the day in that order and officially made it through my first game in El Zorrilla.  My leg hurt a little when I hit the double, but in general, the apparatus feels pretty good.  Just need to keep on top of the program every day.

The A’s in the dugout. That’s Shlo in the foreground!

Have another game tomorrow night in the Bronx with the Thunder Dogs.  And am going to the Mets game tonight with David.  Dave is 17.  He’s one of the kids I coach.  I have known him since he was 10 and even went to his Bar Mitzvah.  His mom, Robin, passed away last week.  So Dewey and I are taking him to the game tonight to get his mind of things.  This blog post is for you, Dave.  You’re the best!

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