January 16, 2013
Sun City West, Arizona 85375
The Cameron Comets played the Prairie Farm Panthers in Prairie Farm in mid-April 1966. It was probably our first game of the year and it was my first time starting as catcher in high school – as a freshman no less. You were hitting balls to the infield to warm them up and I was standing next to you occasionally throwing balls down to second base. You told me to make sure that each time I threw to second that I throw the ball wildly. I didn’t understand why but I did so. Later in the game, the first two Prairie Farm hitters to make it to first base were instantly thrown out trying to steal second base. They thought my arm was poor. We showed them differently! You taught me how to use ruse to my advantage that day.
The other thing you did that day was take me aside before the first pitch and tell me “I don’t care what you say to the batter I want you to make an ass out of him.” That was sort of like a license to fly for me and my fervent love for heckling baseball players was born. You taught me two good lessons that day.
Enclosed for your reading enjoyment (I hope!) is my latest book (I’ve now published six books – this is the first novel and the only one about baseball) titled “Minor League Heckler.” It can trace its roots back to that day almost 47 years ago when you taught me how to heckle. This book is a fictionalization of the final year of the Sarasota Reds, a Class A (High) minor league team in the Cincinnati Reds organization. The Reds were made up of some great players but things just never worked for them. I had recently retired and moved to Sarasota and started going to Reds games. The experience generated a love for minor league baseball and it brought back all of those things you taught me about heckling the opponent. Thinking about the Reds lousy season I tried to rationalize why they did so poorly. One thing led to another and eventually the reason came out. It’s the same reason everyone uses to figure out baseball. It was the umpires fault.
In a game the Sarasota Reds played against the St. Lucie Mets (Class A for the New York Mets) in August 2009 I got on the case of a Dominican kid really badly and assisted him with two strike outs in his first two at bats. By the seventh inning he was mine! With the count 2 and 2 the Reds pitcher let loose with a screaming fastball and as he did I said to this Dominican kid in his native Spanish “Tiene le pene del nino” (You have the penis of a small boy). This obviously upset him no end and as he swung and missed he let the bat go at the end of the swing and it flew straight at me. Luckily the netting behind home plate held and the bat bounced off it without doing any damage. (The Reds won that game by the way).
The following afternoon while having lunch with a friend I told him the story of the flying bat. My friend said “You know, Craig, one of these days there is going to be a story about you on ESPN Sports Center. They are going to tell about some minor league team that comes off the field and into the stands and beats the shit out of you and they are going to call the story “Minor League Heckler.” I pedaled my bicycle home from lunch that day and had the first chapter of this book written in my head before I got to my computer. I never could have done it without you teaching me how to be a world class heckler! This story is fictionalized (but awfully damned close to the facts) at the end of the first chapter of the book.
I was talking recently with Keith Popko and your name was brought up. We thought it would be great if I could get you a copy of the book when it came out. Keith contacted Tom Hagen who provided your mailing address and Keith then sent it to me.
Minor League Heckler was released on December 31, 2012, and my author copies arrived in the mail today. I wanted you to have the first copy. I hope you enjoy reading it and I hope you enjoy the inscription on the title page.
The good news here is that the Baltimore Orioles do spring training in Sarasota and pitchers and catchers report on February 12. So, I have less than a month to go before I can watch a real sport again!
I hope all is well for you in retirement out in the desert.
And, again, thanks for teaching me so much so long ago.