Six and Seven

July 4, 2016

When I was 6 and 7 last spring, for the first time all year I felt discouraged. I had been 4 and 6 by Memorial Day, but then I beat the Cubs for win #5 and then the Mets for #6, and then I thought "Now I’m going to shove this baseball up the Reds’ asses for #7," but instead they shoved it up mine and I was 6 and 7, having no one to blame but myself for the bad game, 6 earned runs in 4 innings and up in the zone all afternoon, and I felt it was hopeless. "Is this shit never going to end?" I asked myself for the first time all season. I’d had a losing record all year long until I’d gotten it up to 6 and 6, and I’d never had a losing record as late as June before in my whole life, so that 6 and 7 record really troubled me. I thought about it first thing in the morning and all day long and then as I was laying in bed at night. Losing record. Loser. Me.

Don’t get down on yourself, that doesn’t help. Stay positive.

But I kept coming back to: Losing record. 6 and 7. Every game I lose, I normally tell myself  That’s it. That’s the last game you’re losing for a long time. You’ll look back at your record after you win 12 in a row, and you’ll be proud you never got down at your lowest point.

That’s what I tell myself normally. But this time I didn’t believe it. "Will this shit never end?" I asked a hotel mirror in St. Louis, and the mirror didn’t answer me.  I wasn’t facing the Cardinals on that trip at all, so there was a lot of talking to the mirror that weekend, not much else to do, and I tried to plan how I would pitch to the Pirates on Tuesday night but all I kept visualizing is their righthand batters reaching out and hitting fastballs up for doubles off the rightfield wall, which was what the Reds kept doing. I kept saying Let that go. It happened. It’s past. It’s gone. But I had to stop trying to visualize because the Pirates kept reaching out for that high outside fastball no matter what I tried to see.

Now I had time to kill, hours that I usually spend on visualization exercise, so I went down to the hotel exercise room to lift. There were a few other players there, and some fans, and some girls, but I guess everyone could see I was in no mood so they stayed away from me. After my shower, I went down to the hotel pool, where people feel free to come up, because you’re not doing anything but relaxing, and make conversation, but this nice cabana-girl at the St. Louis hotel pool kept bringing me these tall, cool drinks and shooing the fans off me. Some players, most players, like it when some fans, some female fans, some young and pretty female fans come up to them, but over the years, I had gotten a reputation as a seriously-married guy and as a seriously church-going guy, even though my wife and I have had our ups and downs and I’m not all that regular or dedicated to attending church, so it was peaceful there for me by the pool, where I stayed for a long time that afternoon, trying to think about anything other than how I was going to pitch in Pittsburgh Tuesday night, and I had a lot of drinks.

That doesn’t matter for a starting pitcher, though I’d always thought it was a bad habit to get into on g.p. anyway, because starting pitchers are the only players who can be sure that they will not be playing in a game. All the other pitchers always have a chance of  getting in the game, even if the manager has used them three nights in a row, and all the bench players have to stay sharp, but the starting rotation knows, four games out of five, they’re going to be spectators, so we can drink, though I never had before. Some time in the late afternoon, when I asked the cabana-girl to refresh my drink again, she hesitated.

"What," I asked.

"All the other ballplayers, sir," she said. "They’ve all left for the game."

"Just one last drink, then," I said. "What have I been drinking anyway?"

"Seabreezes," she said. "Grapefruit juice and gin." Hours ago, I had asked her to get me something cool and refreshing and alcoholic, and if she’d told me then what the drink was called, I had completely forgotten. "I’ll get that for you right now, sir."

When she came back, and set my drink and my napkin in front of me again, I asked her to sit down for a minute. "When you mess up," I asked her, "say, if you drop a tray of drinks, or give someone the wrong order, does it get you down?"

"Did I do something wrong?" She looked more concerned than scared.

"Not at all," I said. "I’m just asking. You’ve been perfect."

"Oh," she said, and her forehead furrows disappeared. "I thought maybe I shouldn’t have told you that the other players had gone to the ballpark already."

"No, that was fine. I appreciate it. Thanks for telling me."

Now she smiled. She was a handsome girl, a little bit horse-faced, with two-toned hair, by no means as pretty as all the girls she had discouraged from sitting next to my chaise-longue all afternoon, but pleasant enough looking with a toothy smile. "When I screw up," she began, "on the job—that’s what you asked about, right?"

"Yes," I said.

"I don’t care. The hotel has a budget for replacing glasses, they expect us to drop a tray now and again, spilling a drink on a customer means that I’ll maybe get a smaller tip, or no tip, but tips just go into a pot and one customer doesn’t make much of a difference. For every cheapskate, there’s a millionaire, so it all evens out. That’s how I look at it."

"That’s very wise," I said. "You know, I should do something nice for you. For talking to me and all. I’m a millionaire, you know."

"I know," she said. "I know exactly what you make. It was in the papers this morning. Some writer said that you earned something over $30,000 for every batter you got out in your last start in Cincinnati."

"That’s about right," I told her. "You follow the game? How about I give you my tickets tonight? You know how ‘will-call’ works? I’ll leave a pair for you at ‘will-call.’"

"I’ve been offered tickets before," she said. "Usually there’s a string attached."

"These are stringless tickets," I told her. "Plus a little something for shooing away all those girls this afternoon." I slipped two twenties under my wet empty glass, and hauled myself out of the chaise.

After another shower and a cab-ride to the park, I no longer felt the gin, but during BP I did find the column in that morning’s paper the cabana-girl had told me about.  This fucking out-of-town asshole wrote his whole column about how I was the highest paid pitcher on the team and had a losing record, and about how I made over $300,000 a start, and in my last start I’d gotten exactly 11 batters out, which per out came to better than the starting salary of a St. Louis fireman, and on and on, and wasn’t it awful. I asked the clubbie what this guy looked like, and he pointed him out to me, a soft-looking young guy with a big ass.

"You write this?" I asked in the tunnel to the dugout.

"You going to hit me?" he asked. He didn’t look scared, or particularly happy, for that matter. He just said it flat.

"Why’d you write it? What did I do to you?" I asked.

"You said most of that stuff yourself," he said. "Last year. When you were talking about striking. You said that players were ridiculously overpaid. That teachers and cops do more valuable work. That the only reason you make that much is that the owners are fools."

"I was being modest," I said. "I don’t need you to be modest for me."

He shrugged the distinction off. If he’d have voiced the contemptuous "Whatever" that replaced calling someone an asshole, I probably might have popped him, but he didn’t.  "You thought you’d never have a losing season?"

"The season’s not over yet," I said. "But in answer to your question, No, I never expect to lose."

He took out a notepad and began writing.  "Is it frustrating to you?"

"This isn’t a fucking interview," I said.

"’isn’t—a—fucking—interview,’" he muttered as he wrote in his notepad. "No? Well, if you’re going to swing at me, do you mind waiting until we have some witnesses? Did you know that over 95% of all pitchers have losing records in their final seasons?"

"This isn’t my final season," I said.

"Of course not," he said. "But everyone, just about, faces failure. Be big about it. Accept it as inevitable. Don’t let it get to you."

"You," I said, "are getting to me."

"Before today, you never got into a fistfight with a writer, did you?"

"I haven’t hit you," I said. "Yet."

"And I never saw you get pissy-drunk around the pool before today, either," he said. "Nor hit on poolgirls."

"Hey," I said.  I said it quietly.

"Hey yourself," he said. "Don’t turn into a jerk just because you’re having a hard time. You’re a better guy than I’m saying you are? Okay, prove it." And he walked into the sunlight of the dugout and across the field and into the pressbox elevator.

In the game, a rookie pitcher who was doing all right for us until this game couldn’t find the plate, walked four batters and gave up three hits in the first inning, and got pulled out of the game and out of the major leagues. He was dressed and in a cab for the airport by the time the game was over (it went twelve innings, and we won), and reporters in the locker-room after the game told us that the team’s owner was in town and that the manager was going to be fired and what did we think of that? By the time I got back to the hotel, it was two-thirty a.m., and I got into bed with my streetclothes still on. I was starting to think about the Pirates’ lineup again when a knock came at my door.

"It’s me," a voice said. "Darlene."

"Who’s Darlene?" I asked, as I yanked the door open. It was the pool girl. "What do you want?"

"To be invited in."

I shut the door behind her. "I said there were no strings attached."

"I know," she said. "I liked hearing that."

"I’m married."

"I’ve got a boyfriend," Darlene said. "I took him to the game. He’s a fan of yours."

"I’ll give you an autograph for him," I said. "I got into some trouble today over you."

"What kind of trouble?"

"FOOTA trouble. Fucking-Out-Of-Town-Asshole," I explained. "He said that I was hitting on poolgirls. And drunk."

"Oh, you were definitely drunk, no question about it. I’m not sure you were hitting on me."

"No way was I hitting on you."

"I know. You’re married. No married puking-drunk ballplayer has ever hit on a waitress in a hotel on the road. Ever."

I laughed. "I wasn’t that drunk."

"I am. My boyfriend bought me seven beers."

"Where is he?"

"Unless he’s in that closet, he ain’t here. Neither is your wife."

"You’ve got to go to work tomorrow."

"Nope. Day off. And you don’t have to leave for the ballpark until four."

"You’re talking me into this," I said. "You’re catching me at a vulnerable point."

"Drunk? Horny? Tired?"

I shook my head. "I’m looking for a distraction, get my mind off things."

"What things? Like being six and seven?"

It would have been better if I could have just doubled my determination, focused on the Pirates’ lineup, stepped up my workouts, stayed the pitcher I had trained myself to be, but that plan hadn’t exactly been working out too well. She spoke the truth. I was six and seven and, worse, I was beginning to feel six and seven. Six and seven was not only my won-lost record, it was who and what I was.

"I’m better than my record," I said.

She sat on my bed. "Show me," she said. "Show me how much better than six and seven you really are."

It took a little time, almost til daylight, but I did show Darlene, finally, what I could do. When I woke up, it was almost one o’clock in the afternoon, and I was alone. I got down to the pool and ordered a newspaper, a glass of juice and a cup of coffee. Our manager had gotten fired-- the new manager was an ex-teammate with strong ideas about personal conduct. No more drinking in the hotel bar. No more scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours club. No more sliding on your reputation. Results were what counts.  I answered a few reporters’ questions with my own mildly contemptuous variations on "Whatever" as I sipped my juice. 

"Think this’ll help turn the season around?"

"What," I said, "you think if we’d changed managers a week ago, I’d be seven and six now? You think he would have sneaked out on the mound and thrown my pitches for me? My record will improve when I pitch better, that’s all."

"But you’re six and seven—"

"I know exactly who I am," I said, "and what I am,"

"--in June—"

"—and when I am," I snapped.

The wide-assed reporter from yesterday spoke up: "Six and seven isn’t bad," he said. "Most starting pitchers don’t lose their jobs until they go much worse than that. Six and nine. Maybe six and ten."

"Thanks for your support." I said. "I depend on it." I left the pool, but they followed me outside to the cab stand.

"No more pool, either," one of them said.

"What?"

"New rules. No more hanging out by the pool any more. He said so—no more drinking at poolside ever and no more swimming on game days, new curfew, and he wants you at the park an hour earlier. You’re late."

This time I just said out loud to them: "What-fucking-ever," and got into the cab. The light turned green, and the cab raced through the streets, but no matter how fast or how slow it got to the ballpark, I would be late when it got there, and I would still be six and seven.

 
 

COMMENTS (3 Comments, most recent shown first)

Steven Goldleaf
Thank you, guys. According to my brother, a Seabreeze also contains cranberry juice. And me a former bartender.
4:21 AM Jul 14th
 
flyingfish
What Steve 161 said. You're not six and seven as far as I'm concerned, you're two for two. Nicely done.​
7:30 PM Jul 4th
 
steve161
Terrific piece, Steven. I hope there's more where that came from.
4:10 PM Jul 4th
 
 
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