Friday, April 30, 2010

The Ornithologist's Lament

On entering my dorm room in Johnson Hall on the University of Wisconsin River Falls campus for the first time in late August 1969, I found a piece of paper still tacked to the message board above my bed. On the piece of paper was a bit of biological poetry called "The Ornithologist's Lament." I read the lament one time and have never forgotten it. It's reprinted here for posterity sake.

The Ornithologists Lament

(by Henry Gibson?????)

The sun was shining brightly and I could hardly wait,
to ponder out my window and gaze at my estate.

The breeze was blowing briskly it made the flowers sway,
my garden was enchanted on this inspiring day.

My eyes fell upon a little bird with a beautiful yellow bill.
I beckoned him to come and sit upon my sill

I smiled at him so cheerfully and gave him a crust of bread,
then quickly closed the window and smashed his fucking head.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Birding the "Real" Florida

After the spectacular thunderstorm (that lasted at least six hours) early Monday morning I was out in the field early working on my 2010 state list and more importantly county bird lists for several Florida Counties. I also visited four Florida State Parks to get their passport stamps. I visited all of Florida's State Parks in 2009 and want to do it again this year. There are about 140 units of the State Park system. Visiting them all is a great way to learn the geography and history of the state.

I started out in Hardee County at Paynes Creek Historic State Park near Bowling Green Florida. Here I added seven species to my county list. Far and away the best one was a male Mourning Warbler first heard and then seen in thick vegetation near the restrooms at the end of the park road. This was only the third Mourning Warbler I've seen in Florida and not one that I was expecting to find this year.

From Paynes Creek I traveled north and then east across Polk County on Highway 98 between Fort Meade and Frostproof. Somewhere along here I found a group of 8 Buff-breasted Sandpipers, freshly arrived from the Pampas of Argentina or Paraguay, foraging on a sod field.

Leaving the Sandpipers I continued east to Lake Kissimmee State Park in easternmost Polk County. The pine forest of the park was dripping with migrant and resident songbirds. Although there was nothing exciting here I really enjoyed listening to the male Summer Tanagers scream and swear at each other in their own hoarse voice. Their distinctive call note that sounds like "pick-it-up" is one of the common sounds in a Florida pine forest in summer.

Next it was on to the Kissimmee River and Osceola County. Every time I pass over the Highway 60 bridge I cuss out the US Army Corps of Engineers for taking a perfectly beautiful river and turning it into a ruler-straight tube. Thankfully with the Everglades Restoration effort begun under Democratic President Bill Clinton the inequities of the past are being slowly turned around. Still it rankles the hell out of me to see a wetland like the Kissimmee River viewed as a nuisance. Recent indications are that a group of landowners along and adjacent to the river want the US Fish and Wildlife Service to set aside (using easements) a huge chunk of uplands and wetlands in this area and have them managed as a National Wildlife Refuge. I'm most definitely in favor of that!

I made my now-standard ceremonial stop in Yeehaw Junction where Highway 60 crosses the Florida Turnpike. I love Yeehaw Junction because of its name and because its most prominent feature is the "Desert Hotel" set in the subtropical climate of south Florida where it is surrounded by wetlands and 2,000 miles from the nearest desert! Its Florida. What can you say.

My next stop was the incomparable Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park out in the middle of absolutely nowhere in Okeechobee County.

The best part of spending time on the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is the feeling I get that I'm back "home" in North Dakota or Nebraska while I'm there. There is the feeling of openness here that comes only on the Great Plains. This digital image shot across an expanse of native grassland on the Preserve is an example.

Not long after driving onto the Preserve I heard singing the first of several endangered Florida subspecies of the Grasshopper Sparrow. Research we did 30 years ago along the Platte River in Nebraska revealed that the subspecies of Grasshopper Sparrow nesting there was the most abundant breeding bird in central Nebraska. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for its Florida subspecies cousin.

My second treat here was seeing a Cottonmouth(Water Moccasin) sliding across the road in front of me headed from one wetland to another.

Cottonmouth's have a generally pugnacious outlook on life and aren't a species you really want to spend too much time getting to know well. They are well known for being aggressive and stories abound of them pursuing people but I believe these instances have been when someone has upset the snake and then who could blame them. I think they have a rather negative outlook because they are fed up with developers draining wetlands inside their range. You'd be pretty disagreeable if people were tearing down your home and putting up condos. I really can't blame the snake. In my fantasy world I have this vision of owning an attack Cottonmouth. It would rank right up there with my childhood dream of owning a Watch Wolverine, and it would be akin to my old Rottweiler Rauxi whom I once trained to bare her teeth and growl when I said the word "Republican." I wonder if a Cottonmouth could be similarly trained?

The last treat on Kissimmee Prairie, actually along the entrance road to it, was seeing my first ever in Florida Golden Eagle! This was a first winter bird that I was able to approach to within 30 yards or so. It was foraging on a road-killed feral pig and sharing its meal with an assortment of Turkey Vultures, Black Vultures, and a Crested Caracara. I was able to see the feathers extending down its tarsi almost to the toes, a for-certain way to differentiate this species from the similarly appearing juvenile plumage of the Bald Eagle. It was the 430th species for my Florida state list.

My final stop of the afternoon (now early evening) was incomparable Highlands Hammock State Park near Sebring, Florida. The almost ethereal forests of this park remind me so much of being in elfin cloud forest in Costa Rica.

When I walk around in Highlands Hammock State Park I am treated to a real feeling for how the real Florida was back in the days of William Bartram and even DeSoto himself. This is the way Florida is supposed to be. Wild, untamed, humid and untrammeled. The forest here is one that I think Aldo Leopold would have enjoyed.

I found no exciting birds at Highlands Hammock but I was able to add eight species to my Highlands County list bringing that total to 97 species. With the goal of getting 101 species in each of Florida's 67 counties I'll have to spend more time in Highlands County - a task that will be most enjoyable.

The Florida State Parks System markets itself as "the Real Florida" and on Monday I was able to enjoy a lot of "real" Florida. There were no freeways (although Highway 27 can feel like one at times) and no condos befouling the landscape. There was only patches of open wild countryside that still looks the way it did ages ago. It was a day filled with the "real" Florida, a Florida that I worry wont be here in the not too distant future. I will continue to enjoy it when I can until either I am gone or it is.

Marauders Lose 8-6 in Ten Innings to Palm Beach

It was a heart breaker. What else can I say??

The Bradenton Marauders took on the Palm Beach Cardinals this evening at McKechnie Field in Bradenton and unfortunately they came home the losers. The final score was Palm Beach 8 and Bradenton 6 in 10 hard-fought innings. You can view the final box score here.

Despite the final score there was one bright spot and two highlights. The bright spot was first baseman Calvin "Big C" Anderson hitting his first home run of the season. It was a towering blast to center field that cleared the 408 foot marker and kept on going. Calvin has had trouble connecting with the ball so far this year. It seems like when he gets behind on a count he tenses up and starts swinging at sloppy pitches. That didn't seem to be the case tonight.

One of the highlights of the game was the incredible throw by left fielder Quincy Latimore to catcher Tony Sanchez in the bottom of the ninth resulting in Palm Beach runner Thomas Pham being out at the plate. It was a hellacious throw. There is no other way to describe it.

Quincy was on the warning track in left center field probably 375 feet or so from home plate. He caught a high pop fly and tossed it home. The trajectory of the ball was flat as it raced from left field toward home. Pham had tagged up on third and was running like he was shot from a cannon for home just 90 feet away. Quincy's throw came in on the money. Tony Sanchez caught it, braced himself for the impact, and like any good catcher held onto the ball despite the impact. Pham was out and there was no question about it. It was a major league throw from the outfield for Quincy and a major league catch by Tony Sanchez.

The other highlight of the game occurred in the top of the 10th inning when Palm Beach player Xavier Scruggs hit a double to left field with a runner on second base. From my seat it looked like the ball was fair despite it being almost exactly on the left field line. I swear I saw it bounce to the right (toward the field) of the line. However Marauders manager P.J. Forbes had a better view of the hit and challenged it with the umpires. From what I could see P.J. was essentially polite in his discussion with the umpires. It was nothing at all like last summer when Sarasota Reds manager Joe Ayrault was regularly ejected from games for going in the face of the umpires. I will never forget the hot, sticky, humid Sunday afternoon when Joe was ejected for yelling in the face of the umpire calling him "a blind motherfucker" and then kicking dirt in the umpires face. PJ did nothing like that but was still ejected. Joe Ayrault taught me last summer that if you are going to get ejected from a game at least do it with some drama! PJ needs to learn that.

As you can see in the box score the Marauders committed four errors and you can't win a game doing that. Worst yet was shortstop Brock Holt who committed two errors on the same play! He had one error for his bobbling of the incoming hit, and then had a second error on his throw to second.

Not playing on the field at all tonight were Marauder super stars Jeremy Ferrell at third base and the incomparable Starling Marte in center field. Their absence from the playing field had a demonstrable negative effect on the outcome of the game. I realize that these are the Minor Leagues and players are supposed to get playing time to develop. However when the race for the top is close you'd think they would keep the best players in a while longer until the race is more settled. Not so tonight and it showed with a loss. Maybe PJ had time to re-think this after he was ejected from tonight's game.

Despite tonight's loss, the Marauders still have the best record in the Florida State League and are leading the FSL south division. I hope they can keep that up.

My heckling was off big time this evening. For whatever reason I just didn't have it in me. Hopefully tomorrow I will as the Marauders again face the Palm Beach Cardinals. I will certainly try my best, especially after this loss tonight.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Email to the Governor of Arizona

I just mailed the following to the Governor of Arizona through their contact portal at this link. You can also send her one at this address.

Governor Jan Brewer
State Capitol
Phoenix, Arizona

Dear Governor Brewer

Since 1980 I have made at least one and usually up to four trips annually to Arizona for the purpose of nature observation, especially bird watching. Most of my time has been spent in the southeast Arizona mountains. I have also made regular trips there to visit lands managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I had planned to travel to Arizona in June 2010 for the first of my regular trips to your state to go bird watching. While there I usually stay about one week or so and probably spend $1,000 or more on various services from hotels to food and rental cars. I won't be going now.

This past weekend you signed sweeping immigration reform legislation that now makes it legal for (and a responsibility of) any sworn law enforcement officer in your state to stop any person at any time in any place and for any reason to check their citizenship papers. This is akin to the scenes in the old Humphrey Bogart movie "Casablanca" where the police would haul people aside and say "your papers please."

This legislation was written under the guise of giving law enforcement the authority to check for illegal immigrants from Mexico. However as it is written the police in your now Nazi-like state can stop anyone for any reason. I guess you forgot about the US Constitution's protection against unreasonable searches?

The purpose of my writing you is to ask a couple of questions regarding future trips to Arizona.

First, is it advisable now for me a 58 year old Caucasian male to ensure that I carry my United States Passport with me at all times while traveling to your state? Although I am lily white just like you, Governor, how would the police know if I am not an illegal immigrant from, say, France or Serbia or even Austraila?

Second, on landing at any of the several large airports in Arizona, will you have staff available in the arrivals area to certify that those of us entering your state are "legal"? Will your staff be stamping our papers so the police know we are legitimate?

Third, on entering Arizona by road now will there be similar checkpoints set up for the police to check the papers of anyone entering? After all you can't take a chance on some Canadian trying to sneak in over the border in his car, eh?

Fourth, what are the penalties for otherwise legal American citizens traveling to or through your state who do not have proper identification papers? Can we expect, maybe, that proprietors of hotels will be calling the identification police in the middle of the night and have them raid the rooms of suspects?

Fifth, will it now be a requirement of visiting your state to have to click our heals together, raise our right hand at a 45 degree angle, and say "Sieg Heil" on first being stopped by a law enforcement officer?

Sixth, are you planning to ask for Federal funds to pay for all the jails you are going to have to build to hold all the people you incarcerate until a court is able to adjudicate their case?

Seventh, I have two friends from high school who have Hispanic surnames but have been citizens of the United States since at least 1950 and 1951 when they were born. How will you separate my friends from illegals who have the same last name?

Finally are there any steps being taken to begin impeachment proceedings against you and every other Republican politician who wrote and supported this draconian law that makes the United States, once again, the laughing stock of the world?

Until your ridiculous law is struck down by the courts it is my most sincere hope that the economy of Arizona suffers tremendously and severely.

By the way, in signing the legislation did you stop to wonder who would be building the wall you are putting up along the border once none of the Hispanic people are allowed to come into your state? Somehow I just can't see the Anglo population of Arizona climbing over itself signing up for those jobs.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My 33rd Jimmy Buffett Concert - or - In the Presence of God

Every year in April people who believe in one of about three "gods" celebrate "Holy Week" as a lead up to a ritual about the fictitious rising from the dead of a fictitious human. Their "Holy Week" ends on Easter Sunday.

For me I also believe in a Holy Week but my holy week is about a real person who really lives and if I am lucky my holy week occurs several times in calendar year. My holy week is the week leading up to the next Jimmy Buffett concert that I get to attend.

Last night, April 24 2010 my second Holy Week of the year came to its conclusion when Jimmy Buffett arose from backstage and put on a 2 hour 10 minute fantastic performance at Ford Amphitheater in Tampa Florida. For me it was my 33rd Jimmy Buffett concert. And, despite Jimmy having turned 63 years old on Christmas Day each concert I watch is better than the last one. Last night's show was no different.

The early highlight of the concert was seeing an 80 year old or so lady in a wheel chair being pushed to the entrance of the venue. She was being pushed by someone who was likely her grandson or maybe great grandson. She was toking on a joint as she moved along and as she did she was singing "Margaritaville" at the top of her lungs. Seeing her reminded me of my old friend Dwight Lee who once proclaimed himself to be the "World's Oldest Living Parrothead" before he died. The lady last night may now hold that honor.

There was considerable Parrothead activity in the humongous parking lot of the Ford Amphitheater (on the grounds of the Florida State Fair just off I-4 and I-75 in northeast Tampa). One Parrothead I talked to who was about my age said that he and his wife had showed up two days earlier in their Winnebago and had been partying since they arrived. The best thing about it, he said, was "No driving means no DUI"! Smart man.

Having recently torn the meniscus in my right knee, I hobbled over to Section 10 not that far from the stage and took my seat. On seeing this picture below, I sent it to my friend Lynn's daughter herself a Parrothead) and told her I was almost close enough to scratch Jimmy's head. The only seats I've ever had better at a Buffett show were the one's that Jon Andrew and I acquired at the 1992 Manatee benefit show in Fort Lauderdale. And those were accompanied by a trip back stage to drink a Corona with Jimmy! It doesn't get much better than that.

Ford Amphitheater was packed to the rafters with Parrotheads. The venue is very similar to Nissan Pavilion outside of Washington DC where I saw Jimmy 9 times in 14 years. Nissan holds about 30,000 people. The crowd last night was about that many.

As people filed into the venue we each had the opportunity to pay $12 for a draught Landshark Lager. By the looks of the crowds at the bars, Landshark did a bang up job in sales last night.

The first activity on the stage happened just before 8:00 p.m. when the roadies made one last swing through the equipment. Then was the playing of "Tequila" as a warm up. When it finished Jimmy walked on stage saying "Hello TAMPA." Everyone on cue rose to their feet and screamed and hollered and it was all downhill from there. Jimmy was introducing Ilo Ferreira whom Jimmy discovered a few years ago on the Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa. And this is the song he played last night.

After Ilo played two songs we were treated to the traditional tossing of Cheeseburgers with "Hot Hot Hot" playing in the background. I have landed in the Bahamas 51 times and despite this being a Puerto Rican song I have heard Hot Hot Hot playing in the arrivals lounge 50 of those 51 times. There are few songs better for getting someone in West Indian frame of mind, mon.

God took the stage at 8:07 and opened with I'm Nobody From Nowhere off his 2009 Buffet Hotel CD. The music continued until 10:17 with the conclusion of Tin Cup Chalice from the 1974 A1A album. As much as I absolutely love Buffett music I have to complain that on Radio Margaritaville they play Tin Cup Chalice WAY TOO MUCH and too often. Its ridiculous.

Only the show I saw with my daughter Dana on Oah'u, Hawaii was better than last night's show. Among the 27 songs played, there was one other Zac Brown song and a Kenny Chesney song. Of those 25 classically Buffett songs, 10 of them were from his earliest albums - 1970s vintage stuff. The real Buffett. That was one of the things that made an already great show even better.

The complete play list follows:

1. I'm Nobody From Nowhere (Buffet Hotel 2009)

2. License to Chill (License to Chill 2004). This song was originally released with Kenny Chesney.

3. Knees of My Heart (Riddles in the Sand 1986)

4. It's 5 O'Clock Somwhere (Alan Jackson and Jimmy 2003).

5. Frank and Lola (Last Mango in Paris 1985).

6. Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes (Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes 1977) (The Chris Haney- Craig Faanes theme song).

7. Volcano (Volcano 1979). One of the high points of my Parrothead life has been sitting on a fumerole near the peak of the Montserrat volcano that Jimmy sings about in this song. Seven years after I was there the volcano blew and Montserrat has never been the same. Before playing this song last night, Jimmy reminded the world that he had warned everyone about upcoming volcanic eruptions. Nobody seemed to have listened!

8. If The Phone Doesn't Ring It's Me (Last Mango in Paris 1985)

9. Wings (Buffet Hotel 2009).

10. Where The Boat Leaves From (Zac Brown Band Song)

11. One Particular Harbour (One Particular Harbour 1983).

12. Big Top (Buffet Hotel 2009)

During the 15 minute intermission they played a video of Jimmy and Zac Brown singing Zac's smash hit song "Toes in the Water"

13. Everybody's On the Phone (Take The Weather With You 2006)

14. Jamaica Mistaka (Banana Wind 1998)

15. Creola (Floridays 1986)

16. Cheeseburger in Paradise (Son of a Son of a Sailor 1978)

17. Son of a Son of a Sailor (Son of a Son of a Sailor 1978)

18. Come Monday (Living and Dying in 3/4 Time 1974)

19. Cuban Crime of Passion (White Sports Coat and a Pink Crustacean 1973)

20. A Pirate Looks at Forty (A1A 1974).

21. Back Where I Come From (Kenny Chesney song)

22. Surfing in a Hurricane (Buffet Hotel 2009).

23. Southern Cross (Buffett Live, Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays 1999)

24. Margaritaville (The lost verse version) (Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes 1977).

First Encore

25. Bank of Bad Habits (Barometer Soup 1995)

26. Fins (Volcano 1979).

Solo Encore

27. Tin Cup Chalice (A1A 1974)

And then it was over.

During the concert Jimmy was of course in shorts and barefoot. However he was wearing a yellow t shirt that had on its front an outline of Florida with the words A1A - directly from the road signs that follow come with that magical highway as it winds its way down Florida's east coast from the St. Mary's River all the way to Key West. I have never seen that t shirt before. However it is now my highest priority to obtain one. Maybe 3 or 4 while I'm at it.

Also during the concert a fool standing in front of me challenged my knowledge of Buffett lore during the performance of "One Particular Harbour." As I was singing away this clown turned to me and asked "is he singing in Greek or is he just making up those words?"

Shocked that he didn't know I said "He's singing in Tahitian. The song originated overlooking Bora Bora harbour."

He came back with, "Oh, so you are fluent in Tahitian?"

I said "I am when I'm singing this song. He's singing about the abundance of the ocean."

He replied "I think you're full of shit."

I pulled out my Blackberry, cranked up, put in the request and voila. There it was just like this:

1. What language are the words at the beginning of the song "One Particular Harbor" in and what do they mean?

The words are Tahitian and translate as follows:

Ia oro te natura
E mea arofa teie ao nei
Ua oau te maitai no te fenua
Te vai noa ra te ora o te mitie

Nature lives (Life To Nature)
Have pity of the earth (Love The Earth)
The bounty of the land is exhausted
But there is still abundance in the sea.

Source: The Coconut Telegraph vol 6 no 6.

The scene rather reminded me of that bullethead in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, a few years ago who was bragging to three women about how much he knew about Jimmy Buffett. I couldn't resist, and after the fourth question he got wrong ("What is the name of the dolphin in 'Jolly Mon Sing'?) the three women walked away from him saying "We thought you knew about Jimmy Buffett." Last night's clown may be more circumspect the next time.

My first Buffett concert was in Chastain Park, Atlanta, in 1986 when friends and fellow Parrotheads Chris Haney and Gerry Benny and I watched from the aisles of the venue. The intervening 31 shows have stretched from Honolulu (at the base of Diamond Head volcano) and San Francisco (a week before "the Labor day weekend show") east to Boston, Massachusetts, Baltimore, Washington DC (9 times) and Fort Lauderdale where Jon and I got to meet Him backstage. Every show has been different and every show (except for the one in Tampa a few years ago in the venue where the Tampa Bay Lightning play hockey and where no provision is made for acoustics) has been great. I just hope Jimmy's health holds out long enough for him to be touring 10 years from now when he's 73.

As I was leaving the venue I noticed a man to my right who had obviously consumed about 18 more Landshark Lagers than he should have consumed. He was comical as hell to watch. If you have ever been in an earthquake you know the feeling of moving forward and sideways at the same time. This man was doing that while standing on solid ground a thousand miles from the nearest fault line. As he did he was listing to port about 20 degrees. He fell down a couple times and finally pulled out his cell phone. Dialing a number he told the person on the other end "I'm really fucking drunk and don't know where I am."

He was in Margaritaville, just a little southeast of disorder.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On Getting Old

In late February 2010 I was at the You Fit health club doing my usual every-other-day upper body and lower body work out. On the days when I was not at the club I was putting up to 21.2 miles on my bicycle as an efficient cardio exercise.

Then came that fateful day in late February when I was doing my leg extension exercise. I was going for more repetitions with less weight in a pyramid workout (30 reps at 120 lbs, 20 reps at 135 lbs, 10 reps at 150 lbs). Leg extensions were my last exercise of the 19 upper and lower body stations that I hit in this exercise. When I sat down for the leg extensions my legs were feeling just fine and especially my knees. On my first extension with 150 lbs, as my legs were pushing my torso back I heard and felt a loud "POP" from my right knee. Not exactly a good sign!

Wisely (a first for me) I stopped the exercise and hobbled away from the weight station. From that day onward I limped like old Walter Brennan in the old television show "The Real McCoys."

Foolishly I continued to bicycle after this injury and I did so under the guise of being male and thinking "ah, it will get better." Unfortunately over the last two months it didn't get better - it only got worse. My hunch was that I had probably blown out my lateral meniscus - the cartilage that serves as a shock absorber between your femur and your tibia and fibia.

Yesterday I visited an orthopedic surgeon (who is personal friends with and plays golf with Johnny Bench!) who looked at the x-rays and confirmed that I had done just that.

He shot me up with a cortisone and two other anti-inflammatory drugs. The plan now is to see if the drugs will eliminate the inflammation that is causing all the pain in my knee. If so, then good news. If not, then it's arthroscopic surgery to scrape away the torn cartilage. Nurse friends Dave Bylsma and Larry Stoffregen tell me that the recovery time from that sort of operation is a week or less.

This knee injury is the latest in a string of issues that my body keeps using to remind me that I'm not 18 any more.

I turned 40 on Halloween 1991. I woke up that morning in a Sheraton on Union Boulevard in Lakewood Colorado. I had a raging ear ache that was the result of a middle ear infection (first ear infection of my life). The infection cost me a trip to Ecuador to give a paper at a meeting.

Two weeks later I went to the optometrist who finished his exam and said "Well, its time." I said "for what"? He said "bifocals." I said "old people get bifocals." He said "40 year olds get bifocals." I have worn bifocals ever since.

At 49 years old I stood up from a squat and tore the muscle that holds your trochanter into the ball and socket joint in your hip. Ouch! A few days after this incident I had my first bout of atrial fibrillation. My heart rate went to 208 beats per minute at the maximum and it took the doctors 18 hours to convert me to normal sinus rhythm. Seventeen months later it happened again - this time while sitting in my office. Heart rate was 180 this time but it took 22 hours to convert me. I'm now on a heart medication for the rest of my life. The good news is that my primary care physician told me that if you have to have something wrong with your heart the "best" thing to have wrong is atrial fibrillation. Of course Andy didn't have it.

For my 50th birthday I went to the Canary Islands for a week of birding. On my return there was a letter in my mailbox inviting me to join AARP "Now that you are old enough." I wrote them back and said I'll join when I retire. Don't remind me that I'm getting old."

I traveled to Thailand for my 55th birthday. On my return there was a letter in my mail box from a local northern Virginia funeral home. The letter said "You are getting to the age now where you should start making your final plans." I wrote across the letter "I am already dead, someone else cremated me" and mailed it back.

Not long after that incident I had an ache in my leg and complained about it to a friend in Texas who is older than me. He wrote back saying "It gets worse."

Last summer on a day with a 115 degree F heat index I convinced myself that I was still 18 and went out on my bicycle ride. I got 11 miles into the ride and despite drinking water like a horse had not spewed one drop of sweat. Suddenly it came like a gusher. I arrived at the British Pub where MJ saw me, grabbed my shoulder and took me to their walk in cooler where the temperature was a constant 35 degrees F and said "Stay here until I come back." While I stood there clouds of steam rose off my body. I self-diagnosed myself as having heat prostration - something that never happened when I was younger.

Now this knee issue. It is all part of the process of our bodies wearing out from over use.

I wonder what the next thing will be that will wear out. At least I can still laugh and point fingers at Viagra commercials on television - for now.

Bradenton Wins With a One-Hitter Over Jupiter

The incomparable Bradenton Marauders continue their race to the top of the Florida State League and especially the South Division. Going into tonight's game against the Jupiter Hammerheads (aka Jupiter Knukleheads) the Marauders were tied with the Knuckleheads 6-3 But tonight the Marauders beat the Knuckleheads 6-0 so guess who is in the lead of the south Division? And best yet, depending on the outcome of the Clearwater Thresher Sharks double header the Marauders may have the best record in the Florida State League!

Say that its early in the season all you want....that's fine. I never ONCE got to say this last year about the Sarasota live with it.

Tonight's game against the Jupiter Knuckleheads (Florida Marlins affiliate) was baseball personified. It was a great game from start to finish - made greater by the Marauders resounding win of course. And this was the first one-hitter I have ever seen in minor league ball.

Our guys continue to impress the hell out of me. I want everyone reading this blog to write down these names......ready????

Tony Sanchez

Jeremy Ferrell

Starling Marte

Quincy Latimore

Remember every one of those names because it is my prediction that by the all-star break I wont have Tony or Jeremy to cheer for because they will be at least in the AA League Altoona (PA) Curve or better yet (and more likely) the Indianapolis Indians in AAA ball. I fully expect to see Tony and Jeremy practicing with the Pirates in spring training 2011. After all Tony was the number 1 draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates last year and man does it show. This kid is like greased lightning. Personally my view is that the Marauders are using him as a designated hitter rather than a catcher so they can move him up uninjured and quickly. Not that I want to take anything away from a catcher because I never will but Tony has it all. I'm glad they are keeping him healthy for his ride to the top.

Starling Marte and Quincy Latimore will take a bit more conditioning but they also will likely not be in Bradenton on August 30 when we play our last home game of the season. Altoona - probably. Indianapolis - possibly. If Starling and Quincy aren't that high in 2011 then something is definitely wrong.

The best part of tonight's game - other than our one-hit shut out of course....was being able to get on the case of one of the Jupiter Knuckleheads and get on it hard. The recipient of tonight's heckling - that has earned him the title of "Designated Recipient" for the entire year is Hunter Mense For whatever reason I choose when it comes to heckling I singled out Hunter early. And I was relentlessly on his ass all evening. He never got on base - think it worked?

When Hunter came to bat in the seventh inning I was on him every pitch. First pitch was a swing and miss that was met with "You want pepperoni with that slice?" Hunter never looked back.

The second pitch was a swing and miss. It was greeted with "Your parents have to be embarased by you." Hunter never said a word.

Hunter dug in and waited for the third pitch. When it came it was true and hard and fast and Hunter missed it on a great swing. His swing was met with me picking up my Blackberry, pointing it at Hunter and yelling "Hey Hunter, this call is for you. Its the Rookie League. They want you back!!"

Hunter looked over at me and yelled "FUCK YOU".

Hunter is mine for the rest of the season now. I will follow the Hammerheads relentlessly just to piss him off. Hunter chose the wrong person to say that to. His testicles are mine.

The Now-League-Leading Bradenton Marauders take on the now-hapless Jupiter Hammerheads at 7 PM on Tuesday night April 19. I will be in Section 1, Row 1, Seat 1 pissing off Hunter and the rest of the losers. Wish you could all be there to help me along.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bradenton Marauders Continue Their Torrid Pace

The Bradenton Marauders continue their torrid pace bringing their record to 6 wins and 2 losses in Florida State League play. Their .750 win percentage is tied only with the Jupiter Hammerheads for the best record in the League. Granted its early in the season but after last year with the Sarasota Reds I'm taking anything I can get!

Friday night the Marauders pulverized (with a capital P) the hapless St. Lucie Mets by the score 14-5. The Marauders scored in six of the eight innings they came to the plate. Unlike their first game where they had two 7-run innings last night the best they could muster was two 4-run innings.

The Marauders seem to be solid almost everywhere defensively and offensively. The only real hole in the offense or defense is 6'7" Calvin Anderson who as one of the off-duty Marauders pitchers sitting behind me last night collecting pitch speed data said "couldn't hit water if he fell out of a fucking boat" (and the pitcher failed to credit Kevin Costner's performance in Bull Durham for that line). Having watched Calvin for three home games and listened to two Marauder away games on the computer I'm starting to think that Calvin is the Marauders equivalent of David "Big Papi" Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. The Marauders committed three errors in their triumphant throttling of the Mets last night. Guess who committed all three?

The Marauders have three players who are really worth watching and whom I bet will be with the Double AA Altoona Curve or the Triple AAA Indianapolis Indians by the end of the season. If they are not something is terribly wrong.

Baseball America dot com claims that outfielder Starling Marte is one of the top ten prospects in the Pirates farm system. Through eight games Starling is batting a solid .345 with an on-base percentage of .457. That is nothing to sneeze at.

Another Marauder to watch is left fielder Quincy Latimore who was responsible for all four runs scored by the Marauders fourth inning with his grand slam homer. It was a tremendous blast to left field. What a hit! Quincy's batting average through eight games is .379 and his on-base percentage is .436. Not as good as Starling Marte but again nothing to sneeze at.

My pick for the best player on the Marauders and also my pick for the kid most likely to make it to the show is incomparable third baseman Jeremy Ferrell. This kid can do it all and he does it with grace. One thing he does remarkably well is tear the cover off the ball. Last night he went 1 for 5 but he flew out on three long balls to the outfield. If you saw the movie "Major League" you remember the people in the outfield yelling "too high, too high." That is what Jeremy did with those three long blasts last night. After eight games Jeremy's batting average is .310 and his on-base percentage is .394. Granted both Starling Marte and Quincy Latimore are doing better right now but I have a feeling about Jeremy so keep an eye on him.

Center fielder Robbie Grossman is another Marauder to watch as the season progresses.

The next game is at 6:00 p.m. tonight against the St. Lucie Mets and then tomorrow, Sunday, at 1:00 p.m. against the Mets. Heckling is sort of taking a lower priority this year because the Marauders keep winning and there is little to be gained by heckling a team that's already down. Mostly I've been on the case of the home plate umpire who has made some bone head calls. Last night's best heckle was yelling at him, after a particularly bad call of a strike on a pitch that was obviously a ball "Hey ump, I'm going to break your cane and let your dog run loose if this keeps up." It generated a couple of chuckles.

The Sarasota Reds left Sarasota last year and are now the Lynchburg Hillcats. Currently they have a .500 season with four wins and four losses. I have every confidence that the Hillcats will worsen as the season progresses.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Finishing Minor League Heckler

The stage has been set, the bad guys have been killed off, yet the Sarasota Reds record continues to suck. At least that's how it reads in my book "Minor League Heckler" that, as of 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on April 11, 2010 is DONE! In the final chapter the main character, Dr. Chris Ramsey, and his new squeeze Brenda Livingston the 40 year old hard body Senior Resident Agent of the FBI's Sarasota Florida field office solved the "who done it" and returned from the Dominican Republic to heckle players in Ed Smith stadium in Sarasota.

If you are interested I have reproduced the opening chapter here. The manuscript will be about 340 pages in length after considerable editing. That should translate to a 310 page book when its printed.

Enjoy.... and make sure you buy multiple copies of the book when its printed and available on the market. Any comments on this chapter would be most welcome by the way. You might even get mentioned in the acknowledgments section.

Minor League Heckler

A Novel

Craig Faanes


To the 2009 Sarasota Reds Class A Minor League Baseball Team
You are all winners despite the final scores

“It's a semi-true story,
believe it or not;
I made up a few things,
and there's some I forgot.
But the life and the telling
are both real to me.
And they all run together,
and turn out to be
a semi-true story” … Jimmy Buffett


After seven hard-fought innings, the Lakeland Tigers trailed the Sarasota Reds by one run. It was the last game of the Class A Paradise League baseball season in Florida. The year had not been fruitful for the Tigers who were two games out of last place in the Paradise League south division. Only the Reds had a worse season.

Tigers catcher Miguel Fernandez led off the eighth inning. A product of the Dominican Republic, Miguel was one of those players for whom many had great hopes for success. This was his second year in the Paradise League – minor league baseball at the Class A level. Paradise League players had three options. They could excel and be moved to Class AA. They could be relegated to the unimpressive Rookie League or they could be removed from the team and sent back home.

Miguel did not relish the idea of being cut. He had grown up on the streets of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. When not hanging out on street corners with his friends, Miguel cut sugar cane in the fields that were widespread around San Pedro de Macoris. When he was employed Miguel woke up before five in the morning and was on a bus to the cane fields by six. There he would do the back breaking work of cutting and hauling cane until nearly six in the evening. He did this five days each week. On Miguel’s two days off from cutting cane he played baseball.

Miguel lived and breathed baseball. As a child, he played short stop because of his quick reflexes and his razor sharp arm. Not many 12 year olds could throw a ball to first base with the speed and accuracy that Miguel possessed. In his final year of eligibility Miguel’s team traveled to Williamsport, Pennsylvania to represent the Caribbean area in the Little League World Series. It was in Williamsport, as the San Pedro de Macoris team played Taiwan in a second-round playoff game, that the San Pedro de Macoris catcher was hit in the head by a pitched ball and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. The backup catcher for San Pedro de Macoris caught swine flu not long after arriving in the United States and he was on the unofficial disabled list. The San Pedro de Macoris coach had no other alternatives for catcher.

Coach Roberto de los Santos remembered watching Miguel throw bullets across the field to first base and wondered out loud if that arm could be used behind the plate. It was especially important now that he was out of catchers. He asked Miguel to put on the catchers equipment and take his position behind the plate. Miguel, never one to say no to anything, even extended hours in the cane fields, gladly stepped behind the plate.

Miguel knew little about the position except for what he had seen from shortstop. To him it looked like an easy position to occupy and he assumed that once the regular catcher was back on his feet Miguel would return to playing shortstop.

His performance behind the plate exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations. He was quick to learn the responsibilities of being a catcher and knew how to direct play on the field. His explosive arm was put to the test early in that first game when he was challenged by two runners trying to steal second base. Both were thrown out by Miguel who executed laser-perfect throws to second base. The opposing team soon learned that it was foolish to try stealing off Miguel. To do so was to ensure your own team mate was out at second base.

Scouts from several teams mingled among the crowd in the stands in Williamsport where they scoped out prospects for a few years down the road. Jon Andrew, a scout for the Boston Red Sox, was the first to notice Miguel. In his broken Spanish, Jon talked with Miguel after San Pedro de Macoris beat Taiwan and discussed his prospects for the future.

“You have an impressive arm, Miguel. Have you ever thought of playing in the Major Leagues in the United States when you are older,” Andrew asked?

Miguel was impressed and on his return to the Dominican Republic a few days later told his parents about the discussion. At the time Miguel’s parents thought it was only a twelve-year-old child’s obsession and never gave it another thought. That was until Miguel turned 17 years old and was eligible to be considered by a major league team in the United States.

Jon watched Miguel develop over the years and was looking forward to the day when he could sign Miguel to a contract and put him in the Red Sox farm system. Ty Casey, the first female baseball scout for the Detroit Tigers had also discovered Miguel and was determined to sign him to a contract. Nobody is quite sure how it happened but soon Andrew and Casey were, when not in a screaming match over Miguel, in a bidding war for him and his future. Ultimately at the age of seventeen, Miguel decided on the Tigers and signed a five year contract. Because of his age, however, the Tigers brought him to the United States and placed him in the Class A Lakeland Tigers where they expected him to grow and develop in the next several years.

Everyone including the entire town of San Pedro de Macoris had great expectations for Miguel. There appeared to be little that would or could stand in the way of his greatness. All he needed to do was play a couple years in the minor leagues and Miguel would be on his way to stardom.

Thoughts of sweating in the cane fields of the Dominican Republic occupied most of Miguel’s mind as he took his position at the plate. He was the leadoff hitter for the Tigers as they struggled to squeak out a win against the Reds. Certainly there was no way they were ever going to climb to first place in their division. There were just not enough games left in the season to make that happen. That didn’t mean, however, that they had to rest on the bottom with the Reds. And if they rose to a higher standing in the league, brought about in part by some brilliant plays by Miguel, then certainly he would be a strong contender for moving up to Class AA baseball next year. Although from humble beginnings in the Dominican Republic, Miguel had grown accustomed to being extremely bored every time he boarded a bus down here in the bus leagues to drive across the state to the next Paradise League team’s home field. At least in Class AA ball he would be able to fly on occasion to more distant teams.

As Miguel strode to the batter’s box he could not miss hearing the aggravating chants and taunts from that same Heckler who had been following him and the Tigers around the state all season long. For some reason the Heckler had chosen the Tigers as his team to badger that year and no matter where they showed up the Heckler was there to taunt them. Living in Sarasota, the Heckler’s home team needed all the help it could get. They were without doubt the worst team in the Paradise League. The Heckler discovered that even with him in the stands, pestering the other teams, their record stank.

The Heckler tried everything to help the Reds win. He would sit in the same seat in Ed Smith stadium every game and cheer them on. Nothing helped. He would arrive late and the Reds would lose. He wore his Reds baseball cap forward and backward. It made no difference to the hapless Reds. No matter what he tried the Reds lost. It was as predictable as the sunrise.

Heckler had scored some impressive distractions during his travels around the state supporting the Reds. On several occasions he distracted the opposing batter so they would swing at pitches that were obviously outside the strike zone and he convinced others to watch as a perfect strike cut through the center of the zone. On more than one occasion the Heckler could convince an opposing catcher chasing a passed ball to throw to a base where there was no play by yelling at the catcher that the play was at a different base.

Heckler was enjoying himself and for any other team his distractions would have helped the team. But the Sarasota Reds were never on the ball enough to benefit from his labors.

Taking the plate and digging in for the first pitch, Miguel heard Heckler start to taunt him. Every game in every stadium that summer Heckler sat in the first seat in the first row of the section directly behind home plate. Many times in stadiums Heckler was less than 30 feet from the plate and the players. With his bellowing voice it was difficult not to hear his taunts. And he was relentless. Tonight, for whatever reason, Heckler decided to give Miguel extra attention.

Miguel dug in, swung the bat several times and focused on the pitcher. With luck he could get an idea of what type of pitch was next by seeing how the pitcher held the ball in his glove. Scouting reports indicated that if the pitcher held his hand upright in the glove he was going to throw a fast ball. If his arm lay to the side while the ball was in his glove, it was likely that the next pitch would be a curve ball. If the pitcher looked at third base even without a runner there, the scouts said his next pitch would be a changeup. Miguel was ready for any of them.

What he wasn’t ready for was the barrage of invective coming from the Heckler sitting in his usual seat behind home plate. Tonight, the Heckler seemed to be even more aggravating than on most nights.

“You guys suck like the real Tigers,” he yelled in a reference to the major league Tigers team who had the worst record in professional baseball.

Miguel could almost agree with Heckler on that call. After all, it was Miguel’s secret plan to turn the Tigers around once he reached the show. Being reminded of how bad the mother ship team was actually encouraged Miguel to do better.

Miguel watched the pitcher and noticed that he was looking over at third base. If the scouting reports were correct, and invariably they are, the first pitch he would see would be a changeup. He dug in and waited for the pitcher to make moves like he was throwing a fastball only to slow up the delivery and present a much slower pitch that usually fooled the batter.

The pitcher wound up and was ready to let go of the pitch. Miguel was ready for a slow speed ball to come his way and he developed thoughts of seeing it sail into the palm trees just over the left field fence. With twenty-two home runs to his credit already this season, Miguel knew that any more would certainly grab the attention of people in the front office who would take notice of his exceptional season and maybe even bring him up to the majors for a couple games before the end of the season. All it would take would be to send this incoming changeup on an outbound blast to those palm trees in left-center field.

By the middle of his delivery the pitcher had shown all of the characteristics of someone throwing a changeup. Miguel noticed this and so did the Tigers coach, Leroy Boettcher, who was hugging the third base coach’s box. Miguel dug in further and waited for that juicy pitch to sail his way at 72 miles per hour. In about two seconds the ball would be racing away from home plate at 140 miles per hour. He just needed to get the meat of the bat on that ball and it was out of there.

With the pitchers arm pumped and his left leg on a trajectory toward home plate Miguel saw the ball rise out of the pitchers glove. In that instant he also noticed that the pitchers fingers crossed the seams of the ball at a steep angle. Experience had taught him that this was something else a pitcher does when he’s throwing a changeup. Miguel waited expecting the fat pitch that was just seconds away.

What Miguel didn’t figure on was that the pitcher was aware of the scouting reports and had decided to mix up his delivery and how he held the ball in the hope that he could fool the batter. He did that with Miguel.

The ball left the pitcher’s fingers and instead of moving at a leisurely 72 miles per hour, it came toward Miguel at nearly 100 miles per hour. Miguel had been fooled and the pitcher was sending a fast ball toward him that was nearly 30 percent faster than what Miguel’s reflexes were expecting. Although Miguel’s eyes saw the ball moving at a great speed his brain had been conditioned by earlier actions to expect a much slower ball. It was obvious to Miguel when he started his swing at the same instant he heard the loud smack of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt behind him.

“Strike one” the umpire bellowed as Miguel finished his swing.

At the same instant that the ball hit the catcher’s mitt, and before the umpire could make his call, Heckler was on his feet and yelling.

“Did you learn to swing like that in kindergarten, you loser?”

Miguel glared at his antagonist and told himself to wait for a better pitch.

The pitcher took his time preparing for the next pitch. He was in no hurry and experience had taught him that the longer he waited to present the next pitch the more frustrated the batter would become. With that in mind he kicked dirt off the mound, scratched his scrotum a third time and exhaled deeply.

The count was 0 balls and 1 strike so the pitcher had considerable time to make his move. The options were many and he wanted to send Miguel another pitch that would confuse him. After all the pitcher had a date with a hot blonde cheerleader after the game and the sooner this was all over the sooner he could be with her.

Looking down at the catcher, the pitcher saw a single finger pointed back at him. Anyone who knows baseball knows that a single finger means you’re being asked to throw a fastball. Many think a fastball is the most difficult pitch to hit mainly because most people are cautious about standing just inches away from spheroid moving through space that if the ball had been thrown correctly it could do serious damage to your skull. Just the week before during the Little League World Series a 12-year old pitcher from Texas threw a ball an estimated 94 miles per hour. If a 12-year old could throw a ball that fast just think what an adult could do. And if the adult for some reason didn’t particularly care for you the damage could be considerable.

The pitcher looked in for the sign and this time saw two fingers presented like someone from the University of Texas would present them if they were supporting the Longhorns. Had it been the index finger and middle finger he would have known that the catcher wanted a curve ball, but this sign was for a change up. Thinking this over the pitcher realized it was a brilliant move. No doubt the batter was prepared earlier for a change up. His body language when he swung at the pitch told him so. But now that he had faced a fastball when he thought it was going to be a changeup, the chances were in the pitchers favor to send in what he least expected.

Looking over the bases, the pitcher settled into his normal routine. He wound up and as he did he held the ball like most pitchers do when they are going to throw a fast ball. However this time just like the last time he sent a different pitch. This one came in slow and easy and maybe wobbled a bit before it crossed the plate. Miguel, expecting a fast ball, was again fooled and this time swung forcefully even before the ball reached the catcher’s mitt.

“Strike two” the umpire bellowed as Miguel kicked the dirt and waited for the next pitch.

Ty Casey was in the stands watching this game. Her entire life, now that both children were off to college, was devoted to baseball. Her daughter Lynn, the brains of the family majored in criminal justice with a minor in creative loafing at the University of Florida.

Devon, her son, was a graduate of Florida State University. Devon went to Florida State solely because his sister was a Gator. There he majored in computer science and minored in cheerleaders. Both children fought continuously over everything since early childhood. It seemed only fitting that as college students they would also fight over the two teams with one of the greatest rivalries in college sports.

Ty took great pleasure in her discovery of Miguel. When first asked to go to the Dominican Republic to scout out potential players for the Tigers farm team Ty reluctantly took the assignment. Throughout high school and college she was interested in many subjects and her degree exemplified that. She wasn’t sure what her major would be but she wasn’t going to let a class skip her attention just because it wasn’t in her field of interest. One year her University offered a course titled “Contemporary Social Problems.” Ty leaped at the chance to take it. Another semester there was a course in geography based entirely on the songs sung by Jimmy Buffett. Ty, ever the potential traveler, leaped at the chance to take the class.

Her first trip was to make her familiar with the Dominican Republic. The only words Spanish that she knew were “agua” and “cerveza”. She had learned long ago that knowing how to say water and beer were about all it would take to survive in a third world Spanish speaking country. Later when she learned “bano” she knew that she had arrived.

Ty sat in the stands this evening watching her protégée at bat. As Miguel prepared for the next pitch it occurred to her that if he succeeded and made it to the Show his success could be the route to her own success. No doubt if Tigers management was impressed with Miguel enough to move him up through the system they would certainly remember who signed him. And, Ty thought, if I can find another Miguel somewhere her career would take off. She would be on her way to stardom in the world of baseball scouts. All she had to do was make sure that Miguel made it.

With the count 0 balls and 2 strikes, Miguel dug in and waited. That pain in the ass in the stands behind him was not going to ruin his time at bat. At least he told himself that.

Kicking some dirt in the batter’s box Miguel settled in and watched the pitcher. With nobody on base the pitcher went through a full swing and as he did Miguel again noticed that the ball was being held at an angle across the seams. In that split second he remembered that the last two times the ball was held like that the pitcher threw him changeups. There was no way he would see a third changeup so he anticipated, correctly, that the next pitch would be a curve ball. He dug in further and kept watching.

As the pitcher let go of the ball it looked like it was coming straight at Miguel’s head. Curve balls do that at times and this was one of those times. A batter has just a split second to decide what kind of pitch has been thrown at him and how he wants to respond to it. Miguel’s initial thought was that the ball was coming directly for his head. Instinctively he jumped back from the plate and just as he did the ball defied both physics and logic and broke heavily away from him and toward the plate.

“Damn,” Miguel thought. “That would have been a perfect pitch. Now I’m going to be called out on strikes.”

It was a very good pitch. It did exactly what a curve ball is supposed to do and on its trajectory for the plate it kept sliding further away from Miguel and closer to the strike zone.

From Heckler’s vantage point behind home plate the pitch appeared to be more than perfect and he was sure it would be a strike.

The umpire watched it sail toward him and noticed in the millisecond before the ball crossed the plate that it had curved a bit too much as just missed the corner.

“Ball one,” the umpire yelled as the ball smacked into the catcher’s mitt.

Miguel was relieved but Heckler was livid.

“Ball one? If that was a ball then you’re a Rhodes Scholar and we know that didn’t happen, Ump!”

The umpire heard the screed and wasn’t impressed. Miguel, at least, took time to chuckle under his breath.

Looking in for the sign the pitcher agreed with what the catcher wanted and quickly wound up and threw a fastball that was high and inside just missing Miguel’s head. “Chin music” as some in show would call it.

Tiger staff in the seats behind home plate were holding a radar gun and recording information on each pitch that pitchers from both teams were throwing. After this pitch, the radar gun held by Wellington Jones, a rich kid from Denver with a wicked sinking slider, read 98 miles per hour.

“Ball two,” the umpire said.

“The next one is in your ear, batter” he heard the Heckler scream.

Given the way he reacted to the curve ball that was just pitched to him, Miguel gave that taunt some thought. The curve ball looked like it was coming straight for his head, and that last pitch was 98 miles per hour and it came too close to his head for comfort. He doubted that the pitcher was aiming at him but in baseball you never know. Miguel decided that it was just the randomness of the ball he had to deal with. No way was the pitcher throwing at him.

With the count two balls and two strikes the pitcher looked in for the sign. The catcher was showing his middle finger and pointing it toward the inside of the plate. Everywhere in the world, including in Thailand, a middle finger is recognized as a symbol for “fuck you,” quite possibly the most regularly used phrase in the world. However for this catcher the middle finger sign meant “I want you to throw at the batter,” and pointing his finger inward meant he wanted the ball really close to the batter.

The pitcher went into his wind up and let loose a pitch that burned a path through the air as it hurtled toward Miguel. This one, just like the curve ball earlier looked like it was coming directly at his head. However that earlier pitch curved at the last second and went way out over the plate. Maybe this pitch was going to do the same. Miguel waited.

But he didn’t wait long because it was soon apparent that this ball had no intention of curving. Instead it was very apparent that this ball was sent like a laser directly at Miguel’s head.

Instinctively Miguel laid backward and thrust himself onto the dirt around home plate. As he hit the ground he heard the loud “thwack” of the pitch hitting Jose’s glove. The speed indicator on the scoreboard showed the pitch at 97 miles per hour.

“Wow, what a pussy” he heard the Heckler screaming from behind him. “I hear the Rookie League calling for you.”

Having just missed a collision between his head and a ball pitched at 97 miles per hour, Miguel didn’t really appreciate being called a pussy and the last thing he wanted was to hear the words “Rookie League” mentioned near him.

Miguel dusted himself off and waited for the next pitch.

“Full count, 3 balls and 2 strikes” the umpire said.

Miguel dug in and waited for the next pitch. He had already seen two curve balls and three fastballs. The count was full and he tried to outguess the pitcher on the next ball he would see.

Chances are it would be a fastball because they are more easily controlled and more likely to get in the batter’s box. Yes, that was it. He’s going to throw another fastball.

The pitcher was thinking along the same lines and wanted to throw a fastball. Catcher Jose Maldonado had different plans and instead called for a slider over the outside of the plate. The pitcher thought it over and decided it was a good move. No doubt a fast-moving slider was going to confuse Miguel and as a pitcher that was his main goal in life.

The pitcher nodded in agreement then began his wind up.

Miguel watched the pitchers hands for any sign of what kind of ball he was going to throw but nothing seemed to stand out. It had been hidden behind the pitchers glove and his back and Miguel didn’t have a clue about the pitch until it came bouncing and gliding toward the plate. At least this one wasn’t aimed at his head.

Miguel started his swing just as the ball began to move away from the center of the plate. His bat connected with the ball but sent it off toward the stands. A foul ball.

Behind him Miguel heard Heckler chanting in Spanish, “Usted chupe” over and over. This was the formal and more polite form of saying “You suck” to someone in Spanish.

Miguel was getting very tired of the constant barrage from behind him. As far as Miguel knew he had never said or done anything to the Heckler to warrant his constant abuse. He thought back and remembered that the invective began when the Tigers played their first game of the season against the Sarasota Reds in Ed Smith stadium in early April. Since then, it didn’t matter what team the Tigers were playing or in what city the game was played, this same jerk was in the stands directly behind home plate heckling the Tigers and especially him. No matter what he considered, Miguel simply could not figure out what this guy was on his case so hard.

Rather than think about it further Miguel dug in and waited for the next pitch.

The pitcher was pleased with how his slider worked and liked the fact that Miguel swung at it and fouled it off. He would have preferred a strike but a foul ball is better than walking a batter.

The pitcher looked in for the sign and was glad to see that Jose was thinking like him and calling for another slider. Certainly this one was going to breeze by Miguel he would have a strike out.

Reality doesn’t always fall in line with fantasy and Miguel fouled off the next seven pitches. Each of them went into the stands behind first base and each foul ball was greeted with more invective from Heckler. There was always something new in what he yelled. It didn’t matter what or when, Heckler seemed to always have something else to say and it was always new. Miguel was beginning to wonder if it would ever stop because now with the count full and him having just fouled off eight pitches in a row, Miguel needed a break. He just wanted to get a single, get on base and get away from the constant harassment behind him.

Throwing so many pitches was beginning to take its toll on the Reds. It was Florida in late August so naturally the heat was oppressive and the humidity more so. Sweat was rolling off the shortstop and much of it was dripping in his eyes. The first baseman kept taking his cap off and rubbing sweat from his head in the hope that doing so would cool down his head. Because of all the sweating the second baseman was starting to feel a bit weak, almost as if he was going to faint if he couldn’t get off the field soon.

Ricky Sanchez, the third baseman had taken precautions for the heat and drank a huge slug of water before taking the field at the beginning of the inning. Now Ricky was paying the price for being prepared, because he had to piss so bad his eyes were turning yellow.

The entire team, it seemed, was going through its own quiet drama as they waited and waited for Miguel to strike out.

Miguel wanted it over also, but for him he wanted it over with a base hit. He wanted something that would motivate the team, and more importantly something that would help his already substantial batting average. As of this afternoon, Miguel had the fourth best batting average in the Paradise League, a more than respectable .328. Still, there is always room for improvement and a nice fat single right now would help. A double or a triple would be even better. And there is no doubt that his 23rd home run of the season would get the attention of people in the front office.

He dug in and waited.

Having thrown 13 pitches at Miguel, the pitcher was running out of options. Plus his arm was starting to feel a bit tired. The anabolic steroids he was swallowing at irregular intervals were supposed to help him to build muscle and not feel pain. He needed to talk to that doctor in Venice who gave them to him.

Even the Heckler was getting tired of waiting. It’s tough duty trying to come up with witty phrases that piss off batters all the time and he was about out of his usual repertoire. To save face, if nothing else, Heckler was wishing that the next pitch was strike three so he could take a break.

Tonya Goodthighs was sitting in the box seats eight rows behind Heckler. A baseball groupie since high school, Tonya was married to a guy who still delivered pizza for a living. With her Bachelors degree from the Michigan State University and a Masters in communications from the University of South Florida, Tonya was head and shoulders above her pizza boy husband when it came to intelligence. Because of her Detroit ancestry Tonya was naturally a fan of any team that came out of the city. It didn’t matter if it was Tigers, Pistons, or Red Wings, if they had “Detroit” in front of their name Tonya was a fan and she followed each team religiously.

Tonya moved to Florida not long after getting her degree, and did so because she needed to spread her wings without being confined by her family. Devout Catholics, Tonya’s brothers and sisters considered her a heathen if she missed one church service. And if she woke up one morning with a severe hangover, then they might as well call a chariot to haul her sullied carcass away.

Having heard one too many lectures about how her life was going to hell in a hand basket, one day Tonya wished her family a hearty “fuck you” and moved to Florida. There she met the pizza boy one evening while hanging out at a bar. He told her “I love Italian girls with big tits and blue eyes” and for Tonya the rest was history. She and pizza boy were married six weeks later.

Pizza boy was from Tampa and hardly ever raised his voice to anyone. Tonya learned this not long after they married when some high school kids decided to do figure 8’s in their lawn with their cars. Pizza boy, afraid of a confrontation, sheepishly asked them to “please stop this foolishness before you hurt my pansy garden.” The high school kids saw this as an invitation and proceeded to tear up their yard even more. Pizza boy, who was probably a distant cousin of the Senate majority leader, himself a wimp at his best, simply sat there and let his lawn be destroyed.

“What the fuck is wrong with you,” Tonya asked him. “Those little creeps are ripping up our lawn and you stand there and take it!”

Pizza boy had no response. As time went on and other incidents occurred Pizza boy continued to show the spine of a jelly fish and Tonya quickly lost interest.

“What I need is a real man” Tonya told herself. “I need someone who isn’t afraid to open his mouth and make waves and let people know where he stands.”

Tonya was a Tigers fan and tried to see every game when they played at home. She had been in the stands last April when, out of the nowhere, this mouthy guy from Sarasota showed up and started to heckle everyone in a Tigers uniform and many people just in a Tigers cap. Tonya admired his panache and wished her spineless husband had even one tenth as much passion for anything in his life other than mowing lawns. To Tonya, the Heckler was the man she had looked for all her life. She just needed to let him know how she felt.

The pitcher looked in and shook off the first sign. His arm hurt too much for a curve ball. Then he shook off the second sign because likewise his arm hurt too much for a slider. He’d never learned how to throw a knuckle ball and he didn’t want to take his chances on a changeup. They are just too difficult to control.

From behind the plate the pitcher saw the catcher give him an index finger signal. “Good,” he thought, “I’ll just give this guy the heater, strike him out, and go sit down and take a break.”

With the start of the pitcher’s wind up, Miguel decided that there were few options for him also. Chances are this was going to be a fast ball and he was ready to watch it sail off into one of the palm trees just over the fence in left field.

Heckler had other plans and wanted to make sure the ball got no further than the catcher’s mitt.

As the pitch was leaving the pitchers fingers Heckler turned on his mouth. Miguel saw the ball coming and knew instantly it was going to be a fast ball. Heckler didn’t care what it was as long as Miguel missed it.

The ball was moving so fast it was in the catcher’s mitt before Miguel began his swing.

At the start of Miguel’s swing, Heckler spewed out a new line. One he hadn’t thought of until that instant. Something that he knew was bound to upset any Hispanic male and especially one standing in the batter’s box.

All Miguel was aware of from that point on was Heckler bellowing out “Tiene le pene del nino, mericone!”

That was the final straw. The camel’s back was broken. Miguel could put up with many things but to hear this jerk tell him in his native tongue “You have the penis of a small boy” was just too much to bear. And then to add “faggot” at the end took him over the edge. There was no excuse for this.

As Miguel finished his swing he rather accidently on purpose let go of the bat as it passed over his back. Let loose and with the laws of physics on Miguel’s side the bat rocketed away from him and directly at the open mouth of the Heckler who, for an instant, was shocked as he watched the bat racing toward him.

Protected by a large mesh screen that best resembled a gill net used illegally by fishermen, Heckler was almost certain that the bat was not going to hit him. Still he wasn’t sure. Stranger things have happened and how was he so sure the mesh was going to hold?

He ducked just as the bat hit the mesh. Because of its mass and the speed it was traveling, contact with the mesh slowed down the bat but didn’t stop it. The fibers of the mesh were strained as the bat kept its course toward the Heckler.

A large gasp could be heard from the people in the stands. Despite being fed up with the Heckler themselves they still seemed to get a chuckle now and then from the things he said. Most of them being typical Americans who can barely understand English, let alone speak it correctly, had no clue what had been said to Miguel in Spanish. Yet it was obvious that whatever was said didn’t sit well.

The crowd watched for that same split second to see if the mesh would hold or would the Heckler finally be quieted.

What unfolded in front of Heckler reminded him of the penultimate scene in the classic baseball movie “Fear Strikes Out” where Anthony Perkins playing the part of internally tortured Jimmy Pearsall flips out and starts climbing the backstop behind home plate. For Perkins’ character the scaling of the backstop was just the latest in a long history of fighting off demons that had haunted him since childhood. For Miguel, the climb up the backstop was to shove his fist in the mouth of that guy in front of him who had pestered him and made him swing at bad pitches all summer. Tonight was payback time.

Security guards in the stadium quickly recognized what was happening and as the Tigers players circled around Miguel trying to pull him down from the fence, the guards entered the scene trying to keep Miguel from killing Heckler if he somehow got through the fence.

Eventually the laws of physics took over and Miguel was unable to keep climbing the fence. His team mates pulled him down and tried to calm him as security guards surrounded Heckler.

Heckler saw one last opportunity to make a point. “Miguel, is it true you lost your virginity to a goat in San Pedro?

That was enough. Miguel screamed a primal scream and fell backward into the arms of his team mates. As he did, he yelled at Heckler, “I’ll get you, you son of a bitch.”

As the scene unfolded in front of her, Ty Casey sat in her seat with her head in her hands. The number one best prospect she had ever seen let alone signed to a contract just committed baseball’s version of hari kari and did so in front of hundreds of fans. Ty now considered her career in the toilet simply because she had placed so much emphasis on Miguel. To Ty it was the Heckler’s fault.

“I’ll get that mouthy bastard if it’s the last thing I ever do,” she resolved herself to believing. “Divorcing that idiot was the smartest thing I ever did.”

Tonya watched as the security guards scurried Heckler to safety and thought “Damn, I want that man.”