My wife and I have different tastes in movies. She likes sappy rom-coms. Give her a Nicholas Sparks movie, a glass of wine and a bowl of popcorn, and she’ll think she’s died and gone to heaven. I was trying to think of a form of torture worse than watching a Nicholas Sparks movie. Then it dawned on me. Watching a Nicholas Sparks movie is already the worst form of torture ever invented! In fact, people who compare forms of torture for a living often use Nicholas Sparks movies as a baseline for comparison.
On the other hand, I think No Country for Old Men is one of the greatest movies ever made. (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agrees, by the way.) If you’re not a fan of Cormac McCarthy or the Cohen brothers, or if you can’t appreciate a diabolical yet principled character like Anton Chigurh, then you and I may have to agree to disagree.
This morning my wife and I were out walking. She said, “Hey, did you catch the name of that movie that all our friends are saying is so good?”
I had seen the text message from a group of our friends and was hoping she had missed it because I had already looked it up. She said, “It’s called The Final Season and all our friends say it’s great!” Any time she says, “All our friends say it’s great?” Big. Red. Flag.
“I’ll be honest,” I said, “I don’t really like fake baseball movies. I was almost a professional baseball player, you know, and I have a hard time watching actors pretend to play baseball.”
If my wife was a coffee drinker (which she’s not) and had a mouthful of coffee (which she didn’t), she would have splurted coffee all over the place.
“You were almost a professional baseball player?” she laughed. “Almost a professional baseball player?”
“Do you not remember my private tryout with the Milwaukee Brewers when I was 23?” I said.
“Yeah, I remember,” she said, “you didn’t make it!”
“Well, that’s true,” I said, “but still, I was almost a professional baseball player!”
The facts remain thus: After my first summer of teaching in Madison, Wisconsin, I was still playing amateur baseball for the city where my wife grew up. I was a left-handed pitcher on what was a pretty good team that year. In late July, we were playing in the quarter-finals of a National Baseball Congress tournament in Milwaukee on a Saturday afternoon. I was the starting pitcher and after we had played nine innings, the score was tied 2-2. My manager asked me if I wanted to keep throwing. “Of course,” I told him. I had a strong arm and felt pretty good. There were no pitch counts back in those days. You just threw until your arm fell off.
The innings continued to mount and I stayed on the mound pitching. In the top of the 14th inning, we finally scored a run to take a 3-2 lead. We closed ‘em out in the bottom of the 14th and when it was all said and done, my manager told me that I had struck out 25 batters in the game.
Apparently there was a reporter in the crowd that day and he wrote a small article which appeared in the Milwaukee Journal sports section on Sunday morning. On Monday afternoon, I got a phone call from a man named Dan Duquette. Turns out he was the scouting director for the Milwaukee Brewers. He told me he had seen the article in the paper, was impressed by my14-inning, 25-strikeout performance and wondered if I’d be interested in coming down to the Brewers Class A affiliate in Beloit for a private tryout.
“Of course!” I said. This was it, I thought. My boyhood dreams were about to come true!I didn’t give much thought to what might happen if I actually got signed. After all, I was married and we had a baby and I already had a job as a teacher and coach.
The tryout was on Thursday morning. I drove to Beloit, nervous as can be. When I got to the Beloit Brewers facility, Duquette introduced himself to me and to two other players who were there that morning. Both guys had been former major league pitchers and were trying to make comebacks. Duquette and a couple of minor league players put us through a pretty grueling workout. We ran half a mile to get warmed up and then he timed us in some 40 yard sprints. All this before picking up a baseball. We threw for 20 minutes to get our arms loose, and then he took us out to the mound with the team’s catcher and we each threw 50 pitches. He had a radar gun to judge speed and he charted the location of every pitch we threw. After that, he brought a batter into the box and each of us threw another 20 pitches to a live hitter.
I did pretty well, I thought. After the workout, Duquette took me aside and showed me my stats. I had thrown 88 m.p.h. at the top end, average by most professional standards; my curve ball was flat, he said, but my slider had potential. That was it. He didn’t finish the conversation by saying, “Dan, we’d like to offer you a contract to play for the Brewers, which includes a $50,000 signing bonus!” He thanked me for coming and I left feeling dejected, my dream of playing professional baseball in the dumpster.
Tonight when my wife and I sit down to unwind and watch TV, we’ll have our usual discussion, and by discussion I mean argument, about what we should watch. I have a feeling it’ll either be The Final Season or The Notebook. Let the torture begin.