I’ve been sharing links to my literary tinkering lately. I tinker with words a lot since I don’t have baseball to tinker with anymore. Some tinkering goes well, some not so well, and some I’m just not sure about. But I guess that’s what a blog is for—a place to test content, see how it floats, see if it gets a reaction.
Lately I’ve been getting one. I’ve been posting up samples from a book about my time with the Rays; an organization full of players and personalities just like any other, but more fun then most, if I had to guess.
I spent most of my time with the Rays in the minors as a Durham Bull, which is where most of my book will focus, but I got plugged in with the big leaguers during my MLB spring training invite, to the point that when I see the Rays’ boys now we catch up like old friends.
I was particularly fond of Joe Maddon. I found myself wishing I was more like him, and, if I ever came back into baseball in the coaching sense, would love to emulate his style. He’s a treat to be around. The whole team is for that matter, but the whole team, in many ways, is a reflection of Joe’s personality.
That said, my time with the club wasn’t always smooth. Some of it was rough, and some of it was just time and that’s alright. That’s the kind of stuff that makes for good reading over a few hundred pages. Life has its highs and lows and one plays off the other in highlights and shadow until the full picture comes into focus and you couldn’t imagine the two as separate.
When you’re around big names everyday, after while they become “just names”. Names of the guys you work with. Names you play catch with, share jokes with, break bread with, argue with, and get pissed at. In time, it all passes and life marches on and new names come and go, and the names you were supposed to respect tarnish while the names you never knew could, stand out with undeniable stature. That’s the way this game is. That’s the way living is. I try to capture that when I can, not because of some writerly ethic or publisher mandate. I try because that’s what I like, and as the writer I do what pleases me.
The last time I saw Joe was when I was doing the radio color man analyst role for the Jays during an away series in Tampa. I’ve been in his office several times since departing the game. Joe and I have shared a few great chats since I retired but that meeting was the most recent and it started when he asked me to come over to the dugout and visit during batting practice.
I love talking with Joe, mainly because he is really good at treating you like a person, and he doesn’t require any level of reverence or role-playing to engage. He, for lack of a better phrasing, knows how to give you that “just guys” feelings. Dudes, catching up, talking about the game and life and whatever. You really could talk to the man about anything and he’d have an insightful opinion. I’m not sure if that opinion would matter much if he wasn’t the manager of a major league team, I’ve never known him as anything other than such but I’d like to think he’s the kind of guy you’d respect regardless his work position. I think it’s important to know that about Joe, if only because there are a lot of managers you wouldn’t respect if they weren’t managers and Joe’s not one of them.
I asked Joe what it’s like to be labeled as an unorthodox baseball genius who has become famous for thinking outside the box. Who has, indeed, become canonized as such to the point people will accept nothing less. His response, ironically, was what inspired me to write a section in one of my excerpts: that the box of baseball is so small it’s easy to spill out of. Joe said he’s not a genius, he just does stuff that baseball people don’t do. That it was actually pretty simple when you thought about it.
Well, I did get to thinking about it and I decided that if Joe is a genius, is because he’s so damn good at making the game a game played by “just guys”, and so good at answering questions in a way that would make you respect him, even if he was just face behind you in line at the dry cleaners.
The Ray’s team has a lot of guys like that. It’s remarkable how humble they are. I’ve been in two other major league clubhouses as a player, and the Rays are by far the most easy-going, unpretentious of the set. Even the Jays and Padres clubhouses, teams that were numerically inferior the seasons I was with them, acted like they were a much bigger deal than that Rays team, at team that gets way less love then it ought considering what it’s done. Not to say that the Rays don’t have their egos, but they put them aside for the greater good, and I trace that back to Joe.
Anyway, I stand by what I said: I don’t think Joe’s a genius. I don’t think he thinks he is either. I think he’s a damn good manager, ballsy, and sometimes lucky. But he creates a lot of his own luck by being prepared. I also think he’s good at measuring baseball on balanced scales, and helping players do the same. And he’s not obvious about it. Not transparent or pushy or over the top manipulative. He sells it to you, in only that way a man that has charisma and confidence and a little luck that’s went his way can, until you’re buying without really knowing you’ve written the check but couldn’t imagine writing it to someone else.
Finally, I don’t think he really cares about what I or anyone else thinks. Not in arrogance, but because he’s at the point now that he knows what he’s doing, does it because he believes in it, and doesn’t care about the criticism. At the end of the day, I think that’s why I respect him the most.
Well… anyway, I wrote something like all this, maybe not quit as saccharine but the soul was the same, and threw some of it online. The folks over at some Rays blog showed up late to the party in a big huff and I got that reaction I was looking for. Most of it trite, venomous and delusional, but perfect none the less. At least I know someone’s reading.
As of now, they’re busy completing a full psychological profile about me in the comments section. You should go check it out. It’s flattering, funny, and Insightful, too. I’m rather enjoying finding out for the first time why I do the things I do. Why I write. Why I’m so damn bitter and unsatisfied. Where my deep anger and animosity comes from. What a bust I was. Why I’m out to get the Rays. Give enough people a comments box and they’ll solve all the world’s problems by suffocating it with their own.
It all got me thinking. Fact is, I don’t care about the insults. The folks making them were suckered into it a certain way of thinking by a guy who was himself suckered into reading a section of a book that is only about 3% in the making. A tease invites this kind of wild conjecture. I just hate to see people so worked up over a tiny bit of writing and healthy heaping of second party supposition. Although, maybe I should do it more often since it seems to get a lot of attention?
There is one thing, however, that I’d like to make clear: as the writer, I’ll write whatever the hell I want. I may not write it well, but the option on content is still mine. If I hate Joe Maddon, I’ll write it. If I want to thrash the Rays, I’ll write that too. There are some miserable sons of bitches in the Rays organization that I’d happily trounce in my writing, and I might still. But then again, there are some in every organization. There are some in every sliver and pocket of this world. A lot of folks think I’m a miserable SOB because I write about the existence of such things. But if you wander through life with your eyes open you’re bound to bump into both sides of the coin. I can’t and won’t write a world where that isn’t the case. Which side of that coin I spend my time on most, you’ll have to get the book to find out.
Or not. But rest assured, I’m not bitter at the Rays. They were just one of the stops on the story of my life. I don’t think of them as any more or less special than any other team I spent time with. I had unique experiences there, and that’s what I’ll write about. And like a man I greatly admire, I don’t care about the criticism or objections because I believe in what I’m doing. If those experiences or beliefs sound like an F U to the image of baseball you’ve built up in your mind, well, there’s not much I can do to help it.