Friday, October 28, 2011

A LONG AND WINDING RHODES

The world of Major League baseball is full of strange, odd, and often wondrous characters. This year‘s candidate would have to be Arthur Lee Rhodes Jr.

Born in 1964, in Waco Texas, drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1988, he made his first appearance in the majors in 1991 (the 10th youngest ever) and is now pitching for the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals and is the third oldest man playing today.

The road from here to there is filled with moments of wonder a tragedy. Yet he will receive a World Series ring no matter which team wins. Until August 2nd of this year when they gave up on him and released the elder statesman, Rhodes played for the Texas Rangers, the Cardinals opponent.

Rhodes was signed to a one year contract on August 8th by the Cardinals which by the byzantine mathematical rules of baseball compensation are require to pay only 100,000 dollars of his 1.2 million dollar yearly salary. The Rangers, whom Arthur would now dearly like to beat, get to pay the rest. The  rules also say if you play the substantial part of the year for the team that wins the Series, you get a ring.

 To say that Arthur has “been around” baseball is an understatement. He wandered through the Orioles organization for some 12 years before he became a free agent and signed with the Seattle Mariners where he pitched for four years. He moved on to Oakland in 1999. There was little success there in the role the manager had in mind for him so he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates and on to the Cleveland Indians before the season even began in 2000. In 2006 he was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies and released at the end of the year.

In 2007 Seattle offered him a minor league contract. He soon injured his arm, had a tendon replaced in his elbow in what is known in baseball parlance as “Tommy John” surgery. It is named for the first baseball player to have it done, rehabilitate successfully, and pitch well after having it. It is now so common that when it is done and the expected recovery time is 12 months. He never pitched in 2007.                  

In 2008, Seattle gave him another chance to make it back in the minors and he spent part of the year on their roster.

Arthur finally hit the jackpot when he was signed for two years by the Cincinnati Reds who went on to the playoffs and Arthur set a Major League that season with a record  33 consecutive game appearances without giving up a run. Now, in his late thirties, Arthur was still a very good big league pitcher and described by managers and fellow players as most likeable, hard working, and a man capable of putting his personal life on hold while he plays the game.

His nomadic wanderings took him to the Rangers this year where he pitched well, but  he seemed to show his age, ineffective in a number of appearances in late July that led to his release.

The iconic pitching coach in St. Louis, Dave Duncan, who has been doing the same job for the same manager for 32 years for three different franchises thought Arthur might have some “gas left in his tank”, so urged his manager for all those years Tony La Russa to pick him up. At the time the Cardinals didn’t look like they would be playing any games in October. Somehow they managed to come from many games back in August and find themselves in the playoffs and Arthur was right there helping them get there.

As one wag in the press box has put it, if the World Series ended in a tie, Arthur would be the only one to get a ring. He still wants to win it outright but he says he’ll take it one way or the other. A man who has been in the game for 20 years roaming the back roads of the league, renting rooms in more cities than most of us have yet to visit deserves it.  

There is only one other pitcher in the history of the game that has pitched more innings (900) than Arthur before reaching the World Series. In his first World Series game he got the out he was asked to get. The next night he wasn’t as lucky and in the book of his manager, who uses pitchers in "situations" perhaps more than any other, there hasn’t been a reason to put him in a game since. He's had a wonderful seat in the bullpen watching the rest so far.  That does not make him happy, but he will shake that all off just as he has the surgery and more importantly, the loss of his son in 2008.

When Arthur enters a game, the first thing he does has nothing to do with baseball. He bends down and scratches the letter JR on the mound behind him before he warms up. Arthur says he will never get over the loss of his boy and that without the support of his daughters he would have left the game he loves after it happened. Yet now he sees it as having JR out there with him. “He’s right behind me,” says Arthur, “he helps me get through it.”

After tonight, Arthur has no idea what will happen to him. He would love to keep playing and teach the kids what he knows. Yet that isn’t up to him. When the winter turns to spring, someone may see that Arthur still has something to offer. If they don’t, he’ll move on, both in life which he knows is the most important thing, and in baseball, which he knows deep inside is only just a game.

Monday, October 17, 2011

NORTHBOUND

Fall is here. It's weather is sure to follow. It has become custom now to head north and see how the coast looks before the coming rains and cold. We will be home before the clocks change and in the oddity of the calendar and the law, they are to change on the first Sunday in November. This year that day is on the seventh of the month, as far from the front end as possible, so it has added an extra week to the daylight at the end of the day.

It is good to be going. It has been a busy summer this year.  It is time for a few weeks of Zen like moments and where better than on the Pacific Coast when the last of the warm weather is likely to occur.

All ask now where Reamus is headed and the answer is in the title. How far and and for how long is something I can't answer now because I do not know. Some look quizzical when they get that answer, some think it is an avoidance of revealing my true destination, others find it just rude.Those who know well of my peripatetic wanderings are often moved to question me further, suggesting various places I have been before as a destination, prodding me for a hint at where I will end the trip. The answer this year has been a shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the head. "Maybe," I say, "I'm not sure." There is resistance to a rhetorical destination, yet I understand why it is an unacceptable answer. Only a few go off for three weeks with no idea where they are going or where they will turn back, or even where they will stop for the night. I do. So there it is, not rude, just honest this time.

This trip will commence on Wednesday morning after the daily conclave of The Possibly Peculiar Men and Women at the local coffee shop where the usual complaints will be aired, truths will be shared, exaggeration may occur, and good fellowship will be found. The first night will be in the friendly and well travelled St Yenez Mountains east and north of Santa Barbara. After that nothing is certain except that Reamus, Juan,and  La Coachasita will be home by November sixth since an empty campground at four-thirty in the afternoon  is depressing when it is dark that early.

The time before that is a good one to reflect on the summer now gone, wonder at how the  swing was broken, why the toy discarded, and hear the echoes of the laughter of summer's children. We will be awed by the migration of the birds, the color of the trees, the harsh clear brightness of the sky.It is a good time to be with nature as she sheds the clothes of summer and makes ready for the winter not yet here.

As we find our way, I'll be in touch. In the meanwhile, be well, keep up the good work, and be good to each other.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

ONE OF THE FEW GOOD MEN


A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise in the only convincing role he ever played and Jack Nicholson at his finest is an iconic movie to many of us of a certain generation.

There is a scene when Nicholson, as Colonel Jessup, Commander of the Marine guard at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, explains to Cruise, who is prosecuting a trial at which Jessup is a witness in the loudest possible terms that he really does not want the truth. The remarkable dialogue has to be heard more than once to be fully appreciated. First because of the way Nicholson delivers it, but more importantly for the mixed emotions it evokes about the truth of what he says. At its root, it is an explanation of what it is like for those that defend the country in the dark unknown way it is defended everyday that none of us knows much about and would rather not think about very often. As Colonel Jessup says, “You don’t want to know the truth. You can’t handle the truth.” No we don’t and no we can’t.

Last month, a good man died who did that sort of thing. For years he labored in the obscure nether world of counterintelligence, a place even murkier than the Special Forces that few of us know of, most of us admire, and perhaps some wish didn’t have to exist. He stood watch while we slept. He kept us safe. He was proud that no harm came to the country he loved on his watch. We are better for men like him. They give their careers without reservation to their country, their agency, and us, whom they serve for a paltry sum. What they get is not about money, it is their pride in a job done well done and a world made safer by their efforts. What they ask in return is a nod of approving satisfaction from those who know what they do and how well they do it. He did it well, better than most, it is said, good enough to come to understand how the Russian KGB communicated with its agents here in the United States during the Cold War, before the Wall fell, before we all became “friends.” He found that code not because he was lucky but because he methodical, dedicated and good.

 Years later, he helped uncover a suspected State Department spy and suspicion fell on him when he eluded capture. He was accused of being a “mole,” followed 24 hours a day for several years, his family harassed, his phone tapped, and his reputation and career nearly ruined. He was removed from his job he loved while “under investigation,” because the politically appointed egos in another agency of the government could not accept that maybe one of “theirs” could have done that which they accused him.

The parochial interests, the turf wars, and the extraordinary egos that make this fragile democracy so hard to govern and defend made his life hell. We have all heard of it but in this case it was a personal example as to how it worked and it was not a pretty sight. Yet he endured. Two years later when he was cleared, he went back to doing what he loved. He didn’t sue anyone. He did his job and then retired. He told a chilling story, of agency heads who mistrusted each other, the information they were given, and when they learned their mistake refused even an apology until those who ruled their lives ordered them to give him one.

He will be remembered by many for his extraordinary work and his extraordinary story. He will be remembered by others as a kind, loving, and giving man, father, and grandfather.

 To another band of men, he is remembered as one we spent four years with in College in the early 1960’s in an idyllic place in the hills of northern Vermont. He was a practical joker without peer, which earned him the nickname “Needle” which followed him the rest of his life. He was friend, and a classmate of the best kind. He and I shared a room for four years. He found a way to be at my father’s funeral and was always there when I needed him. I danced at his wedding and I promptly lost track of him after his second posting in the Air Force where he began to learn the craft of counterintelligence. I saw his image on my television when he appeared on “60 Minutes” and told the story of the horrible mistake that nearly ruined his otherwise impeccable career.

We were back in touch fitfully the past several years both always assuming there would be time for that when we were less busy.

Alas, that time is gone. Brian J. Kelly, a quiet American who stood guard with so many others unknown to us so that we could sleep under the blanket of freedom we take for granted is gone now. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with so many other quiet heroes of his time.


Those who knew him in those halcyon days so long ago have our disparate memories of Brian as a roommate, a classmate, a world-class practical joker, a class historian, and as a fine man.


Most of all he was a friend.



 The full interview from “60 Minutes” can be found here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/01/30/60minutes/main538650.shtml