The Baseball Bookie


The Bullpen Gospels:

Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran
By Dirk Hayhurst, Citadel Press, $14.95

For fans of The Game of Baseball, MLB has become too expensive, corporate, and remote, so they are experiencing the game, intimately, in Minor league parks; as MLB attendance sinks, the Minor leagues are racking up records all over America. And, a new baseball book genre, The Minor Leagues, has concurrently emerged.

Most fans, who find it difficult to identify with books written (by ghost writers) under the name of MLB Millionaires are reluctant to add to the royalties, can now find books about “real life” baseball, where most players fail to make it to the “Big Show,” bullpen pitchers sit on folding chairs, the cuisine is all fast food, there are rocks on the infield and divots in the outfield and long bus rides to towns like Medicine Hat.

One of the best of the “my life in the minor leagues” genre is The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran written by aging pitching prospect Dirk Hayhurst, a book that
Keith Olbermann says is “One of the best baseball books ever written.” [book jacket]

The gritty tone of the book can best be captured by the song lyric: “Third rate romance, low-rent rendezvous.” [Russell Smith, The Amazing Rhythm Aces] Employing a daily diary format, author Hayhurst gamely trudges through the unglamorous grind of his AA and AAA teams.

But, this is more than just a diary with a few funny anecdotes; Hayhurst is an astute observer of the human condition and his fellow players who need human conditioning. He is self-reflective about The Dream of making it to the majors and, by standing aside on an invisible locker room bench above the fray of frolics and fundament humor, the author is positioned to offer humane, compassionate insights into the motivations and personality quirks of his comrades on The Quest.

This lefty middle-reliever knight errant begins his Hero quest, getting up off the floor, where he sleeps on an air mattress in his grandmother’s sewing room. He describes his ignominious existence, where “there’s enough burned freezer meat to reconstruct a mastodon,” thusly:

I’m a poor twenty-six-year-old professional athlete, who lives on the floor at his grandma’s.
I don’t make enough money during the minor league season to afford living any other way during the off-season, and, as long as I want to keep chasing my dream…and, no matter how bad she treats me, I’ll always keep crawling back to her. [p. 23.]

On a rare plane flight to his new team, he is verbally accosted by two businessmen; one requests that Hayhurst recommend his nephew to a scout and Dirk tries to pacify the rube:

“Yeah, sure, we do that all the time.” We never do that.
“What do I do, just give you my info then?”
“Yeah, I’ll pass it on to the Padres for you.”
“Ooh, the Padres?” he cringed.
“Yeah, why?”
“Um…I was hoping you could get the Yankees.” [p. 48]

Later, on his connector flight, Dirk is seated with an elderly couple, who notice his mitt and ask him if he is a ballplayer. Remembering that a “yes” will lead to a lengthy conversation ending in disappointment, he wins them over with this:

I told them it was for my kid brother…he was having an operation due to a rare disease called turf toe…so I got him this glove from this really nice, caring and handsome professional pitcher named Dirk Hayhurst, who played for the Yankees. They said they’d keep an eye out for him. [p.48]

Dirk peels away the slightest appearance of a patina of class by providing unvarnished visions of the juvenile level of discourse amongst his team mates:

…the one about the octopus who could play bagpipes. The punch line was something along the lines of: “Play ‘em? Once I get these fancy pajamas off, I’m gonna’ fuck ‘em!” [p. 72.]

“…she strips down butt naked, comes back out and boom—she’s got a penis!”
“What do you mean boom? Like it just appears there?”
“No. She’s had it the whole time.”
“Like she owns it, like a toy?”
“No. It’s hers. It’s on her.”
“So, she’s a dude, like a superhot Jessica Simpsonesque tranny!” [pp. 182-3]

“If you were abducted by the Taliban and they told you they would kill you if you didn’t, which guy on the team would you have sex with?”
“They’d go to all the trouble of kidnapping a team just so they could make them—Why am I even arguing this?” [p. 185]

Given the rare opportunity to meet with a member of the MLB fraternity of millionaires, Dirk humiliates himself when, before the entire team seated on the field, he asks Trevor Hoffman:

…what kind of mantras or psychological routines do you operate under…beliefs that you inculcate yourself with…How could I be so stupid? How could I be so nerdy?…Why didn’t I just ask him how he holds his changeup? [p. 88.]

Sitting right on the bench aside the low comedy, the author finds high personal tragedy. When he is promoted back to AAA, he wants to share his triumph with his first baseball mentor, so he calls his dad:

“Are you proud of me dad?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I’m playing professional baseball. I’ve been playing for a long time now.
I know I may never make it to the big leagues, but I’d like to think you’re proud of me regardless. I haven’t given up.”
“You don’t need me to tell you I’m proud of you.”
“I want to know you’re happy, Dad. Please tell me you’re happy.”
“Nothing makes me happy anymore.” [p. 209]

He couldn’t share this feeling or take hold of the success with me. The pain of not receiving joy from loved ones was something I had become accustomed to.
The powerless feeling of being unable to give joy back, however, was not. I felt my promotion turn to ash. [p. 208-9]

For Everyman, and every boy, for all of us who ever held The Dream in a soft leather pocket in our heart, Dirk Hayhurst is our metaphor.

For all the latest news and analysis from BoSox Injection, follow us on TwitterFacebook, or with our RSS feed.