For the Birds: A Futile Trip Down Oriole Way

Illustration by Marshall Hopkins

It was my last shot at the big leagues. But, really, what kind of a shot did I have? Though I’d once been a decent Little League baseball player—an occasional All-Star shortstop, even—I’d played my final inning three years before at age 14. A would-be Bohemian, when I quit I told my mom I wanted to spend time learning to play the guitar and painting. (To this day there are few things I am worse at than playing the guitar and painting.)

Still, in my junior year when word circulated at a high school house party that my beloved hometown Baltimore Orioles were holding open minor league tryouts the next morning, my course was clear. Despite—or maybe because of—being half drunk, the news stirred in me a latent dream I shared with so many others: to make a career of playing catch in the sunshine. I had to be there. Well, my course was as clear as it could be considering the circumstances. The tryouts started in nine hours and it would take about three of those to drive to Ocean City, where they were being held. I didn’t have a car, a glove or cleats and the handful of Natty Bohs (Baltimore’s own cheap pilsener) I had drunk were still very much with me. Enter Dusty and her Mustang.

Dusty had been my freshman year girlfriend. She was mysterious, alluringly independent and cool in both senses of the word. She was also so deeply into the psychedelic swirl of Siouxsie and the Banshees that she began to resemble the band’s raven-haired singer. When she’d broken up with me for Jim—a poet or whatever—I’d been devastated. But she was unable to resist an adventure.

Dusty offered to take me to try out for the Orioles. I borrowed a glove and a hat from a closet while the party raged on and we hit the road.

She drove fast, very fast, while blasting Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking. The music made conversation impossible. We arrived in Ocean City just before dawn. Dusty had arranged (when I have no idea) for us to sleep in her friend’s beachfront summer home, as this was the end of the season and the place sat empty. We found the secret key, bumbled past matching wicker living room pieces into a shadowed, thickly carpeted bedroom where my ex removed her black jeans and, without saying a word, fell into her friend’s single bed to pass out. I looked around trying to make sense of the dark furniture lumps, the situation, Dusty, everything. Unsure what to do next, I carefully climbed in next to her and clutched my right elbow tight to my body with my left hand, so as not to accidentally touch her arm. I lay on top of the comforter and held my breath.

What seemed like five minutes later, we were back in the Mustang headed for the field as the sun broke over the Atlantic. Dusty sang along with the radio and smoked a Marlboro Light. The plan was this: she’d drop me off, sneak into the nearest hotel and lounge by their pool, reading magazines until the tryout was over. I’d come find her.

“Good luck,” she called out the window, and sped off.

The truth was, I’d need much more than luck. I was exhausted, unpracticed, and slightly hung over. From what I could tell, every other player was a current high school All-Star. Or at any rate, they were extremely large. Some had black grease under the eyes.

The first drill would not highlight my talents, such as they were—a 40-yard dash. A coach paired us off and picked up a whistle. When my turn came, I was briefly heartened as my partner slipped starting out on the dewy grass and went down. I might be slow, I thought, but at least I’ll win. Only I didn’t—my running mate scrambled to his feet and made up the difference, barely beating me to the finish line. The only thing worse than losing a short sprint is losing a short sprint to a guy who has fallen. The coach looked concerned, or maybe suspicious.

Fielding was next. I trotted out to shortstop and choked on the swirling dust of the infield. Catching groundballs went fairly well but each time I cranked up and threw to first, the target receded into the tiniest dot of leather. The bag was beyond my range. Still, it could be argued that my ability to invent, on the fly no less, new ways of bouncing the ball past the first basemen was impressive in its way.

My twenty grounders done, I slinked into the dugout to await a turn at the plate. I sat on a splintered bench, apart from the other players. A procession of beefy batters took their cuts, the clack, clack, clack of solid contact echoing over Route 50 and straight down dee oh-shun in O.C. patois. The mid-September sun flicked at my neck like a bully with a hot towel.

A half hour later, my number remained uncalled. Finally it dawned on me that it never would be called. I took my sunburn and left without saying goodbye.

I found Dusty reclining by the pool in a white bikini, thumbing through Cosmo (she may have been punk, but she could still appreciate “101 Ways to Drive Him Wild With Desire”). When she felt me standing over her—caked with soot, the color of a Coke can—she glanced up from the magazine.

“How’d it go?” she squinted, freckles like mica at the edges of her mascara.

“Not good.”


Dusty shrugged and went back to her glossy. I waited a few seconds for her to look up again, but she didn’t. The dream was finally, completely dead. I threw down the glove, shed my cap, T-shirt and tennis shoes and flopped into the pool. The chlorine stung but it was worth it for the sudden silence.

… yes.

Gabriel Meister    Jul 1, 11:34 AM    #

Still, it could be argued that my ability to invent, on the fly no less, new ways of bouncing the ball past the first basemen was impressive in its way. — dude, I feel your pain

— jose h    Jul 8, 10:54 AM    #


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