the astros release bobby rockett

 

He’d always had the fastball.

It was, according to the second-tier phys ed teachers

And young, un-tenured math instructors

Who comprised the area’s high school coaching community,

Unlike any pitch they’d ever seen, and the hapless shortstops and left-fielders

Who meekly waved in its general direction as it crossed the plate

Simply shook their heads, glared out toward the mound,

Or, in the case of one chunky red-haired clean-up hitter from up in Clearfield,

Threw a bat at him in a mix of embarrassment and frustration.

(He’d simply stood on the mound,

Grinning as the piece of wood sailed harmlessly by,

And he’d yelled back in at their bench, Listen you bunch of woodchucks,

Ain’t nothing you can do to me with a bat in your hands no way no how.)

 

His success was uninterrupted, unparalleled,

With no taint of failure or adversity

(He’d always told the scouts who asked him to pitch from the stretch

Mister, when I’m pitching, ain’t nobody gets on base.)

And when he’d signed his contract,

Which included a bonus of twenty-five hundred dollars

(Little more than chump change to the ballclub,

But all the damn money in the world to him),

He’d figured it was just the first step in an inexorable process to the big time

The possibility that he could be no more than an afterthought

Never so much as crossing his mind,

But though he had the fastball, it was no more imposing

Than several dozen other pitchers in the organization,

And it had the tendency to be straight as a string

On its journey to home plate,

Easy prey for players who had grown up

Facing good pitching twelve months a year,

And his other offerings (the notion

That he might need a Plan B on the mound

Having scarcely occurred to him) were rudimentary things,

Child-like roundhouse curves,

Change-ups which announced themselves

Long before they ever left his hand,

Plus lacked what the scouts and developmental types

Liked to call a “projectable body”,

No six-foot-six, no frame that spoke of growth and untapped power.

He still had the dream, but offered the big club little to dream upon.

 

He spent a couple of years in short-season ball in Upstate New York,

(In a small, down-on-what-little-luck-it-ever-had city

Where the right field fence butted up against a maximum security prison),

Cleaning up the messes in blowout losses,

Soaking up innings on cold, damp early June evenings

In places like Watertown or Little Falls,

Where the threat of frost lingered almost until the summer solstice,

So those arms which were part of the big team’s future wouldn’t be put at risk,

Spending his late mornings and later evenings

In any number of identical shopping malls, Super 8’s and Comfort Inns,

Bars named The Draught Dodger or Pub-N-Grub,

Where the women of one A.M. appeared to be intoxicating, glamorous,

But were all dark roots and crow’s feet in the grainy light of early morning,

Pale tell-tale halos on the left ring-finger,

The redhead of Erie indistinguishable from the blonde in Oneonta.

 

He knew that he was simply a spare part, a body to fill out a roster,

But come his third spring with the organization,

He’d asked—begged, really— for another full season,

One last chance to make it, one final shot to make good,

But the farm director just sat back and smiled ruefully.

Son, he said after a seemingly endless pause, we’re all pretty much day-to-day.

After a few weeks back Upstate (he’d only pitched once, to one batter,

Who he ended up walking on four pitches),

A new crop of polished collegians and high-school hotshots

Were signed on the dotted line and ready to roll,

And one night, just before the team bus was leaving for Batavia,

He was called in to the manager’s office, where he heard what he had dreaded,

But knew was coming as sure as sunrise—End of the line, kid.

We have to let you go.

 

So he went home. He’d laid low at first,

Dodging the polite small talk or wordless looks

Which all boiled down to What are you doin’ back here?

Eventually, he emerged from his old bedroom at home,

And if someone at the Market Basket or the bar at the Kinzua House

Asked him tentatively what went wrong,

He’d shrug and say he’d got caught in a numbers game,

Or it was politics—Get a millon bucks,get a million chances, y’know?

But he knew that for those kids who had never been good enough to dream,

The notion that Bobby Rockett couldn’t make it

Said something about their own futures

Which was too bleak, too awful to contemplate.

 

 

A couple of weeks after he was home, his official release arrived in the mail,

The ballclub’s logo all but jumping off the envelope,

Bold , bright gold star with one point tailing off

In a hail of inter-stellar dust, comet-like, into nothingness.

He hadn’t bothered to open it before he chucked it into the trash bin

(Though he almost immediately regretted its loss,

His playing career already a different life,

With few tangible bits of proof to prove he’d been someone, something.)

He supposed he’d go get a job at the mill,

Or maybe go into selling insurance with his dad,

And there was always a pretty good semi-pro league in Pittsburgh

If he got the jones to do some pitching

(Still, that was a two hour drive each way,

And somehow he never just got around to doing that.)

Some nights, just before sunset, he would drive out to the high school ballfield

Glove and bucket of balls in hand,

And, wearing a good landing spot with his battered spikes,

He would throw (the motion so easy, so clean,) pitch after pitch across the plate,

Aware that his velocity was more or less undimmed

Though such knowledge,

Which once upon a time filled his heart and mind

With visions of endless blue-sky afternoon games,

Backslaps and the security of tomorrow being even better,

Caused him now to smile grimly, almost conspiratorially to himself

As throw after throw rattled the backstop,

Sounding for all the world like so many metallic crows

Settling into a grove of scrub trees on a late August evening,

The nights growing imperceptibly longer

As they proceeded inexorably toward autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “the astros release bobby rockett

  1. Its such a small gap between good enough and washed up. Infinitesimal. Watching the olympics and seeing hundredth of a second splitting the winners and the losers. Great look into the process and the emotional turbidity of trying to be the best. Great writing.

  2. This section is great:
    “Where the women of one A.M. appeared to be intoxicating, glamorous,
    But were all dark roots and crow’s feet in the grainy light of early morning,
    Pale tell-tale halos on the left ring-finger”

    And this:
    “Some nights, just before sunset, he would drive out to the high school ballfield
    Glove and bucket of balls in hand,
    And, wearing a good landing spot with his battered spikes,
    He would throw (the motion so easy, so clean,) pitch after pitch across the plate,
    Aware that his velocity was more or less undimmed”

    Love this as well: “Sounding for all the world like so many metallic crows
    Settling into a grove of scrub trees”

    Oh how we can shine when no one’s watching.

  3. “Listen you bunch of woodchucks, Ain’t nothing you can do to me with a bat in your hands no way no how.”

    Shades of Jack Keefe!

    Glen

    PS I really enjoyed this, W.K. I love this kind of stuff that you write about small towns in New York and Pennsylvania. Before you mentioned Pennsylvania, I was picturing Utica. In 1978, I was an assistant camp counselor at Camp Northwood in Remsen (that’s in Herkimer County, near Poland, Barneveld, and home of the Northwood Bar and Grill, which made (or still makes) the best pizza in ALL of the metropolis of Remsen. (I was only 17, and I couldn’t drink yet, so I just ate the pizza there when going out with the other counselors.) That’s nice county up there, wow. Anyway, one night, we took the kids one night to see the Utica Blue Jays host the Elmira Pioneer-Red Sox at Murnane Field in Utica. (Elmira being your favorite town, W.K.) Utica and Elmira were in the New York-Penn League at the time. I don’t remember anything that happened in the game, but there were a few future major league players on both rosters—– Charlie Puleo was on Utica’s roster (he later pitched well for the Mets before being traded somewhere or other) and Bob Ojeda was on Elmira’s roster. (He later pitched for the Boston Red Sox, and, of course, pitched for the Mets in the world series in ’86.) I think there might have been one or two other future major league players on the two rosters, but I don’t remember. I had the scorecard/program for years, but I don’t know where it is now.

    I also taught a kid who went to the camp how to keep score in a scorebook; maybe it’s something that he still does to this very day. I hope I made a good impression on the kids; those kids were terrific kids! (Well, SOME of them weren’t that terrific!!!!!!!!!)

    http://talltalesandtruestories.wordpress.com/

      1. i’m beginning to think you’re a real poet; ya know that dangerous kind and that scares me. Here I was content on my smug island talking to myself when you start saying things that knock me off center, upside down all around bulls eyes and what not. I guess I’m lucky and should be grateful.

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