Happy New Year to twelve of the swellest guys
around. Throw out the original cast of La Cage Aux Folles, and it
would be hard to find a more fun-loving, tightly-knit group of
40-something men around. (All right, Tirebiter, you haven’t quite reached
the Big 4-0 yet, but you’ve got your ten years of service in the HSL in,
so you qualify as an official HSL crusty veteran with the rest of us.)
All kidding aside, with Nebraska football
in the crapper and half of January and all of February ahead of us through
the windshield, I’m once again very thankful to have baseball, and
especially Hot Stove League fantasy baseball, to look forward to in just a
few short months. Not to wax too nostalgic, but these past eighteen years
of Hot Stove League competition with the boys have been a great ride, and
replete with great memories. Just think, if any one of us had been born
with just one different chromosome, we’d be getting our kicks from
planning our next visit to a crafts fair at Our Lady of the Blessed
Church, instead of our next ballpark visit for baseball, bräts, and beer.
Speaking of our next ballpark visit, I note that
the Cincinnati Reds will be hosting the Houston Astros on the weekend of
June 19-20; the San Francisco Giants on August 2-3; the Astros again on
August 16-17; and the St. Louis Cardinals over the weekend of August
30-31. Take a look at your calendars and give some thought as to which of
these weekends would be preferable to you, and please try to at least
mentally block off these weekends from your calendar until we pick one of
them for the Big Show. I would like to see us have eight or nine members
in attendance, at least, for this year’s Trip, perhaps even besting our
group attendance at the 1993 California Dreamin’ swing.
Okay, now on to another important topic.
DAY – MARCH 22
As indicated in my recent e-mails, it looks
like the best day for our league Holy Day is the afternoon of Saturday,
March 22, 2003, which is exactly nine days prior to this year’s March 31
Opening Day. Thus far, nobody has indicated that they would be
unavailable on the afternoon of the 22nd, including those select few who
routinely see it as their duty to jam a big stick in my spokes whenever I
am trying to schedule this premiere event.
For those of you who have ignored my e-mails
seeking immediate indications of your availability on March 22, and you
know who you are, you now have written and electronic notice that
we will be drafting on the afternoon of Saturday, March 22, absent
earthquake, famine, the Bubonic Plague, an emergency root canal job for
Screech the dentist, a hot run for Itchie at the craps tables spilling
over from the night before, or some other bona fide emergency or other
excuse. In fact, for those of you who keep electronic calendars on your
computer, why don’t you go ahead and mark off the Saturday that is nine
days before the Monday of Opening Day for about the next twenty years, so
we can make this Draft Day scheduling smooth and easy down the road when
we start to lose our marbles and can’t remember when or where we are
supposed to be more than about an hour into the future.
this last point, let me share with you a painful experience from last week
in Denver, which is a frightening glimpse at what the future holds for
many of us, including yours truly. I had an appointment late last Monday
afternoon with a client in Denver at the Lutheran Hospital just off
Wadsworth Boulevard near a dicey Denver neighborhood, and as I was on the
way there, I stopped at a grocery store about a block or two away to get a
couple of apples and a bagel for a late lunch. After being in the store no
more than about five minutes, I came out and could not locate my rental
car. I walked up and down each and every aisle of the parking lot about
five different times, looking at the exterior of every car, and could not
find anything that resembled the car that I seemed to recall having
rented. A 16-year-old stock boy saw me in my perplexed state and asked me
if he could help. I asked him if they had a problem with car theft in this
fringe neighborhood, and he responded that he thought he heard about a car
getting stolen about five years earlier. He asked me why I was wandering
around the parking lot (he was a sharp one), and I told him that I thought
that my vehicle had been stolen. He kindly offered to help (“Hey, dude, we
have a phone inside if you want to call the cops”), but I declined his
offer for the time being and decided to make one more walk through the lot
before taking the bigger step of contacting the constabulary of the Mile
Although I was a bit self-conscious walking around the
lot with my sack of apples and bagel, wearing a dress shirt and tie (I
forgot to mention –– when I was packing my suitcase, I forgot to pack my
sport coat for this business trip, so I probably looked like a middle aged
sack boy scouring the parking lot for spare change), but I had resolved to
stop and make a conscious visual search of the inside of each and every
vehicle in the lot, looking for one with my briefcase and suitcase inside.
Even though I was of the belief that I had rented a small car with four
doors, sort of silver-green in color, I wasn’t really certain of anything
at that point, and so I did not eliminate even pickup trucks, SUVs or
Volkswagen minibuses from my search. After looking in each and every damn
vehicle window up and down the entire lot, I finally came to a sort of
funky looking vehicle, kind of aqua-green in color, which was the very
last car on the lot, and which I had looked at during my earlier searches,
but only the exterior. Damned if somebody hadn’t taken all of my stuff out
of the car that I rented and put all of it in this strange aqua-colored
car. Not only that, but somehow they changed the key system so that the
keys to my rental car now fit this imposter rental car. Heckuva deal.
to file: Write down make, model, color and license number of rental car in
future, take mental snapshop of parking lot where same is parked.)
Relieved although still confused, I left the lot,
turned the wrong direction out onto Wadsworth, and drove about ten miles
the wrong direction before figuring out that I was going the wrong way,
made a nifty U-turn in the middle of a rush hour intersection, and
hightailed it back to the east for my meeting with my client. I was
fifteen minutes late getting there, but he was twenty-five minutes late
himself, so things just couldn’t have worked out better.
The way things are going, I’ll be hiring a personal
attaché to follow me around in the next couple of years. If any of the
rest of you are having this same problem, maybe we can go in halfsies to
keep our individual expenses down. Now on to happier subjects.
There’s something very unsettling about the ring of the above subtitle.
Especially for those of you who, like me, have had the experience of
seeing that part of Itchie south of his ankles. I think it was on our
baseball trip to St. Louis, or maybe it was Houston, that I got a nice,
up-close view of Itchie’s gnarly hammertoes while we were out at the pool.
I’m not saying they’re unsightful, but if they belonged to me, I’d wear
shoes to bed, and everywhere else.
But I digress. This section of the Bullpen is meant to
report on the little shindig at our place on December 7, 2002, when all ––
well, most –– of us gathered to pay tribute to our only four-time winner
of the Hot Stove League, the one and only Itchie. Owing to his personal
magnetism and great popularity, and to the promise of free food, free
booze, and free wearing apparel, Itchie’s celebratory gathering was well
attended. Only those league members more than 150 miles away, or total
slugs, did not make it over to raise a glass to Itchie.
After the usual back-slapping, flesh-pressing and other
manly tributes and congrats, Itchie broke open the box of goodies and
passed around his breathtaking “Quad Squad” jackets. With Brother B.T.
personally having a hand in the design, the group was in agreement that
this year’s apparel handouts were a cut or more above some of the previous
offerings, although it seemed clear to me that they were not talking about
last year’s splendid Senatorial sweatshirts. Finally, with great fanfare,
B.T. presented Itchie with a beautiful genuine goatskin Fonzie-style
motorcycle jacket, adorned with the Quad Squad logo. So magnificent a
garment is this that there was actually speculation that Itchie might try
to have the breast pocket logo surgically removed, so he could sell the
pure black article to the highest bidder on the open market.
In any event, an excellent time was had by all,
and thanks to each and every one of you who made the effort to attend
Itchie’s big night.
OUT THE OLD YEAR
On New Year’s Eve day, all of the members of
the Omaha chapter of the Hot Stove League, sans Mouse, gathered for
lunch at Travato’s to close out 2002, and to initiate the new season with
a mock draft. In spite of promises to the contrary, Screech and B.T. were
unable to join the rest of the luncheon crew, and by virtue of same, must
live with the four players drafted for them by the rest of us for the
entire 2003 season.
The mock draft results are as below:
There may have been a few trial balloons sent up
during this mock draft session, but by and large, the selections should be
considered to be legitimate. And for any of those of you who were not in
attendance at the lunch who might be scoffing at these names, keep in mind
that the brain trust at the lunch comprised the ownership of fifteen Hot
Stove League titles in our eighteen overall years of competition. It
would not be unfair to suggest that Tirebiter was surrounded by some
pretty good baseball company, and will do well to learn at the feet of the
The more observant among you may have noticed
that we have a new newsletter/letterhead format this year. No particular
reason for same, just wanted to mark the passing of another season with
something new to look at for the next year, and what better than this fine
portrait of Denton “True” Young.
Also new this year at FTB is my
suggestion that each owner/manager pen two special editions of FTB
this baseball season, helping to shoulder the load just a bit. I ran this
idea up the flagpole at our December 31 luncheon, and it was met with a
consensus acquiescence, if not outright giddiness.
I know, I know, some of you are probably already
sweating your new obligations because you are about as funny in print as a
multiple homicide. Worry not, my right-brained friends. You are not
being asked to provide ten pages of stupefying blather, á la one of
Possum’s Message Board offerings; nor are you expected to produce two or
three pages of knee-slapping, belly-busting, guffaw-producing print humor
such as appears weekly in the Bullpen, and occasionally in the
Jiggernaut and the Bellyflop. All we are asking for is
anywhere from two or three paragraphs to one or two pages of observational
text to comment on the preceding week’s events, and we will take care at
this end of following this up with the week’s standings, the point totals
for the week you are reporting on, individual point totals and the like.
I know it’s an innovative new idea, a little new
spin on the ball, something different, etc., for a pack of crusty old
“When I was your age, we did it this way”-kind of guys, but let’s all hike
up the pants, pull our belts in a notch, and give it the old college try
for one season, eh?
Chew on it for a while. If any of you would
likely secede from the league rather than to have to provide a bit of text
for two issues of FTB this season, let me know before you do
anything drastic. I can already feel B.T., Stretch and Tirebiter
squirming, and there may be others. In any event, next issue I will
publish a schedule of responsibility for your two weeks as guest
columnists, and that way you can get your crayons and colored pencils out
early and start jotting down ideas well in advance of your two assigned
weeks. Or ram the colored pencil through your jugular, to get out of the
task. (Minor illnesses will not do. Only massive head trauma and
unstaunchable exsanguinating bleeds buy you a free pass.)
Next issue: My book report on Sandy Koufax,
an unauthorized biography (if I get it finished in time).
Only one more month until those beautiful
words: “Pitchers and catchers report.” Have hope.