steve dalkowski, a little high and tight

 

That’s it. I’m goddamn well not staying for anymore of that.

One pitch was enough,

One hundred-mile-an-hour-plus fastball

Which did not cross the plate as much as it levitated there,

Or somehow found its way to the catcher’s mitt by magic,

And Teddy Ballgame, a man who could read record labels while they spun,

Or count the stitches on the ball as it left the pitcher’s hand,

Had, so he swore up and down, never seen the pitch at all,

And so left the batter’s box, glaring and muttering

At the unprepossessing figure on the mound,

Slowly shaking his head and saying

No way I’m standing in against that sombitch

Unless it’s for money, and maybe not even then.

 

The standard sojourns of the bus leagues

(Midnight to mid-morning sojourns from Aberdeen to Eau Claire,

Pensacola to Montgomery, Pasco to Wenatchee)

Were fertile soil for any number of sleep-deprived diversions:

Endless card games with elaborate wild-card combinations,

Heated debates concerning the relative boudoir merits

Of Betty Rubble and Wilma Flintstone,

The creation and re-telling of minor-league myth.

The tales were fabulous, almost incredible, but unlike so many of the genre

Absolute and undeniable in their veracity:

The cleanup hitter he nailed on the helmet in Wytheville

(The ball ricocheting out of sight above the lights,

Eventually falling to earth on second base and rolling to the outfield)

Who was never right in the head afterwards,

The umpire in Winnipeg who caught a high four-seamer flush,

Blacking both eyes and breaking his mask in three places,

The time they trotted him out to the Army proving ground

Down in Maryland, where he threw a solid hour

Before he got one ninety-five mile-an-hour pitch

Near enough to the target to measure the speed.

 

It came to pass that the effort of throwing the ball at such speed

Shredded his elbow ligaments beyond repair,

Leaving only speculation and recollection

Which evolved into fanciful things,

Legend layering upon legend

Until such point that they became truths unto themselves,

And the less tangible effects of this questionable gift

(Glittering yet vaguely sinister and Midas-esque,

Delightful in the right proportions,

Hideous and all-consuming in excess)

Rolled with and upon him through the years,

Not so much through the whispered internal taunting

As to what might have been,

But the gnawing apprehension of what truly was,

The specter of something which could not be corralled or harnessed,

Leaving an open question of who was in control of what,

Making it clear beyond any doubt

That it was not only The Splinter who that fastball scared shitless.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “steve dalkowski, a little high and tight

    1. I have read that. I could have gone on for stanzas about Dalkowski– a guy who looks like your mailman and throws fastballs at speeds some physicists have specualted would be impossible is some rich soil to work with. I thank you deeply for the kind words and the re-blog.

  1. I played with Steve in the Northwest League in 1965 and was with him the last night he was under contract to the Orioles. I have written a book, “Beating About the Bushes” about my 8 year minor league career and there are 31 pages devoted to Dalkowski. Here is the opening segment.

    WHITE LIGHTNING

    My second spring training in Thomasville was nearing an end and I was enjoying the afternoon sun on a bench alone with my thoughts. A cab stopped in the driveway and two people got out. Two very ordinary people holding beer bottles in their hands.

    Their trip across twenty yards of grass was like watching sailboats tacking into the wind. The smallest of the two and least likely to be a ball player offered an introduction. “Hi, I’m Dalko and this asshole is Frankie”. I shook hands with the fastest pitcher ever to play professional baseball and gave a wave to Frank Bertaina as he weaved toward the front door.

    Palmer and I were equal as to speed, but everyone talked about someone by the name of Dalkowski. Stories told in Thomasville about this person were hard to believe and couldn’t be true, but they were, both on and off the field. Steve started camp this year training in Daytona Beach with Rochester and was sent down late for assignment to a lower league, along with Bertaina.

    The duo had taken more than twenty four hours to make a move requiring four. Baltimore ignored their behavior because of the collective talent in their left arms, and at this point it would have been difficult to apply any penalties for their actions.

    How could the person standing before me generate speed that is still talked about today? Dalkowski was 5’ 11” and weighed 170 pounds. Many in the game estimated his velocity to be as high as 110 mph and the best testimonial came from Cal Ripken, Sr. since he was Steve’s catcher during the 1958 season in the Carolina League. Rip described his fastball as having so much upward movement, if it started chest high he had to turn and run to the screen because he couldn’t move his mitt fast enough to catch up

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