Wednesday, March 6, 2013

No. 456 – Dirty Pool

Performer: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
Songwriters: Doyle Bramhall, Stevie Ray Vaughan
Original Release: Texas Flood
Year: 1983
Definitive Version: None

Texas Flood was a must-play at The White Horse—really from the time I started to the time I departed. Texas Flood, the song, always was one of the first songs of the night, and we always would play at least one more song off the album: Lenny, or Rude Mood or Testify or this one.

Speaking of dirty pool, when The Journal coed softball team stepped onto the field that first time on a cool, cloudy Sunday evening in 1991, we had no idea how good or bad we’d be in relation to every other team. It turned out we weren’t so bad. We won our first game and we ended with a winning record.

But the season was not without anguish—suffered mostly by Dave, the team manager, who had to deal with the lunkheads who ran the Grand Blanc coed league. The worst apparently was Randi, who ruled the league with an iron but indiscriminate and inconsistent fist, and her toady boyfriend. (Alas, the name of that poor sap has been lost to the sands of time.) The only consistency was whatever was good for her team was how things went.

Her team was sponsored by Mike’s Upper Deck, which was a card store in Flint that was known for being particularly shaft-worthy in its dealings. Bill hated Mike like Dave hated the Yankees. I had no particular beef with either Mike or Randi, but I was all in with my teammates.

We played Mike’s Upper Deck late in the year, and when a thunderstorm rolled in and washed away the game, your beloved Journalistas were up 5-3 after four innings. That’s a victory—a big one for us, we thought, because Mike’s Upper Deck was supposed to be the best team in the league that year. The league rule was the game was complete after four innings. (We played six.)

Well, that was the league rule for other teams, apparently, but not for Mike’s Upper Deck. Randi kept hammering away and hammering away, saying we should finish the game. Dave refused. It’s not our fault that we couldn’t finish the game; we won it fair and square.

Like I said, Randi held sway, so we had to finish a game that according to league rules we already won. We found this out just before Dave, John and I went on our East Coast baseball roadtrip: When we got back—the day of the first round of playoffs—we’d have to show up early to finish the game with Mike’s Upper Deck.

Yes, dear reader—or even readers—they were going to make us finish a meaningless game the same day as the playoffs started. The brackets for the playoffs were drawn up, so the outcome would change nothing.

I wasn’t having any of it. For reasons I will detail another time, the day before and day of had been a very long day. I needed sleep, so I told Dave I was skipping the Mike’s Upper Deck charade and be there for the playoff game. He didn’t like it, but he understood.

But after I dropped off Dave and John and got back to my apartment, I couldn’t sleep. I was as ticked as anyone and—sleep or no sleep—this aggression will not stand, man. I had to be there; I had to play.

When I showed up, I could see my attitude matched that of everyone on the team. All year, Dave and I wore eye black as a mocking tribute to Roger Clemens’ meltdown in the 1990 A.L. playoffs rather than as a measure of our intensity. All year, we had been mocked similarly for it by Bill and a few others.

The tone of the team had been light. Dave didn’t want to put pressure on anyone to win. He wanted to win, but he had to make sure we had at least five women showed up each Sunday so we had a team, so he couldn’t push it lest anyone decide he or she wasn’t having enough fun.

Today was different though. All everyone wanted to do that day was win, period—Dave more than anyone else. Almost everyone put on the eye black. We have to win this, he confided. I’m stacking the lineup with our best guys and putting the best team on the field first. That meant I pitched the first inning.

They put up a 5 and a 3 to mark the score after four, and The Journal came out of the gates breathing fire like at no other time in the history of the coed team before or after. The women were hitting, and we put six runs on the board before Mike’s Upper Deck knew what hit them. Good start.

As a pitcher in slowpitch softball, my duty was damage control. You’re going to give up runs—you just are—so the key is to not have a meltdown and keep the scoring to a minimum. Anytime I hung a zero on the scoreboard—a shutout inning—I felt as though I gave our team a better chance to win.

I hung a zero on Mike’s Upper Deck in that first inning, and the coup de grace came with two out and two on: I struck out Mike himself—a swing-and-miss strike-three strikeout, which is unheard of. At that, Bill led the charge out of the dugout, high-fiving and hollering and back-slapping also like never before. The tone had been set: not today, suckers.

We didn’t score again, but neither did they. The game was over before it started, literally and figuratively, and for their whining, Mike’s Upper Deck turned a tight 5-3 loss into an 11-3 blowout loss.

Now we had our playoff game coming up, and we were on a roll.

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