IT WAS HOT. Too hot to live. But then there was no other time to live. Spring training. The only time a man could make it. Sun City, Arizona. Most of the geriatric population was still asleep, eating breakfast or taking their medication. No cars were moving on the street and the sidewalks were vacant. The air was still except for the grumbling and the blare of a small transistor radio that was almost pulling in its station of country-western music.
It was nine o’clock and even the eager rookies groaned as they began stretching out on the all-dirt infield. If it’s eighty degrees at nine o’clock, what the hell is it going to be like this afternoon? Who the devil does Bael think he is putting them through all this as if they were high school legionnaires?
The bald headed, pot bellied manager, Buddy Bael, got up from the bench. He had been talking to the coaches. Before him spread artificial green: four practice fields built by the Chicago Cubs in the desert to prepare young athletes to fill the grandstands in the spring.
Bael took off his hat and snagged an oversized handkerchief to wipe his forehead. It was time to clear his mind. It was also time to clear his face. The brown-spotted skin showed of the residues of mucous and tobacco juice that still lingered on his lips and mustache. It was oppressive and going to get worse.
These laggards had better clam up or he would give them something to cry about. They were worse than the Class A kids on the Iowa farm team after a six-hour bus ride through the hot, dusty plains.
What would these pampered, overpaid brats do if they had to wear the real wool uniforms that he had been forced to wear when he was a ball player? None of these air-conditioned clubhouses and fancy equipment-why, even the water these pansies drank was brought in specially prepared glass coolers! What was the matter with the local tap? In his day, you didn’t take nothing ‘cept another chaw.
“Get going you lazy bastards, or you’ll be wearing those polyester jump suits in Iowa.”
More grumbling. The calisthenics continued as the non-roster players began to get into the routine of stretching their sore muscles. Behind this menagerie of trainers, coaches, scouts and groaning athletes was a solitary figure who was sitting on the metal and wood bleachers. He sat hunched over so that he appeared shorter than his still youthful six-foot two-inch frame. The unnoticed spectator sat with both hands thrust deeply into the pockets of a faded blue chenille jacket that was zippered, despite the heat, almost to his semi-shaven chin. The man had a somewhat decadent air about him such that if Sun City’s finest had not still been eating their eggs and bacon, this scruffy, sunburnt stranger might have been taken for a vagrant and been asked to move on.
Only the pale blue eyes of this indeterminately aged visitor could be witnessed to move as they darted back and forth, carefully taking in the proceedings. When the coaches broke the congregation into its specialized units, the onlooker deliberately and gracefully arose and carefully made his way off the aging gray structure, whose raised grain stood almost as if determined to yield part of itself into the body of the impetuous.
This mysterious figure stood in sharp contrast to the scattering ball players, who were jogging to their respective stations just ahead of cajoling coaches. He was out of place but not uncouth in this arena, carefully following the pitching coach, Sam Dowel, and his cache of young arms. Nobody paid any attention as the workout began. It wasn’t until there was a break, forty-five minutes later, that Dowel noticed and approached his singular audience.
“This ain’t no open practice or nothin’. You a scout or a reporter?”
Dowel was a thin man with premature gray hair on the sides. Before any answer could be given, the nervous, skinny forty-two year old answered his own question. “You ain’t no reporter – no press boy done wear a thing like that.” Then he motioned to the chenille jacket. “What do you want, anyway?”
“I’m a pitcher,” replied the stranger firmly.
“A pitcher?” cried Dowel.
“You mean you were a pitcher. Hell, up here we don’t look at nothing that ain’t the near side of twenty.”
“I can throw a baseball over ninety miles per hour.”
Dowel pouted and scratched the back of his head. He screwed up his eyes as if he were trying to see something. “Nope. You’re too old. By the time you gets seasoning…”
“Oh yeah? Where? They done got rid of the Texas League, you know.” Dowel turned to go back to his resting crew.
“Wait a minute. Let me throw you a few pitches. You’re on a break anyway. What have you got to lose? Take out your radar gun and time it for yourself.” There was a slight edge to this stranger’s voice, a plaintive note that was not discordant.
Dowel stopped and scratched his head again. “There’s a catcher over there who you can throw to, but if you hurt your arm––understand me––you’re just a guy who wanted to play catch with a big leaguer.”
Without a reply, the curly haired pitcher showed the first signs of energy he’d displayed all morning. Not a minute had elapsed before the stranger was on one of the practice pitching rubbers and moving his arm about. A young, seventeen-year-old reluctantly put on a receiver’s mitt and with a condescending smirk yelled, “Okay, old boy, send a few down.” The other pitchers and rookie catchers smiled with amusement. The curly haired pitcher responded by tossing a half dozen easy pitches to the catcher. The gallery resumed
their conversations and the catcher decided to get out of his crouch as he mockingly slipped down to a sitting position as if to let this neophyte hurler know that his break was being interrupted and the favor was not appreciated.
The pitcher reared back and smoked a pitch that bowled over the dumbfounded catcher. Suddenly there was no talking. Every eye was on the young man sprawled on his back and then the gaze shifted to this stranger with the redish brown, short curly hair that seemed to brighten in the midmorning sun.
The catcher righted himself and tossed the ball back. Again the pitcher brought the ball. Nobody needed a radar gun; the sound of the ball into the mitt told the tale. Then, a sinker that dropped so fast that it looked like a spitter. The break was so pronounced that the receiver couldn’t manage it and the ball popped out of his glove and hit the brash young catcher in the throat.
Now the gallery was laughing again, but this time the object of their mirth had changed. Sam Dowel yelled for another fastball. He wanted to time it. Ninety-six. “Where did you say you played ball?” asked the pitching coach in an all-together different voice.
“Nope. Class A-merican. Latin American.”
For most major leaguers, Latin America is a mysterious realm in which baseball is taken more seriously than life itself. Because of extreme poverty, this one sport is greedily embraced as an escape that makes living possible. Some great ball players had come from Latin America, yet no major scouts wanted to go there because the climate and politics made such expeditions seem dangerous.
Besides, most of the towns were in obscure locales and the hotels weren’t air-conditioned. Still, the words conveyed an exotic, powerful effect. Sam Dowel shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck. Then he screwed up his eyes and looked at the stranger. He peered straight into those pale blue eyes.
“What’s your name, anyway? I think Buddy would like to meet you.”
Title: Rainbow Curve
Author: Michael Boylan
Buy a ticket for a bus ride taking you from North to Central to South America and a boat ride to the Caribbean along with a traveling baseball team. Discover baseball in all its mythical allure: Rainbow Curve is a compelling tale about race, politics, corrupting power and one man’s courage to stand up against it.
An aging baseball player, his multi-cultural teammates, a domineering manager, and a South American drug lord—are all brought together in Rainbow Curve, a gripping novel that explores the international baseball scene. Moving from training camps in Sun City, Arizona, to Wrigley Field in Chicago, to a mountain citadel in Columbia, author Michael Boylan expertly draws connections between America’s favorite pastime, cultural power, and ethical choice.
-Linda Furgerson Selzer, Associate Professor of English/ Penn State University.
Michael Boylan writes like a true baseball fan. Rainbow Curve is a novel filled with more than 9 innings of history. From barnstorming and tales about the Negro Leagues to the Chicago Cubs, Boylan examines the life of players on and off the field. Bo Mellan, Rainbow Billy Beauchamp and Buddy Beal are just some of the characters who give this novel a high batting average. Baseball is not just a game about balls and strikes, it’s also about economics, race, youth and growing old. Rainbow Curve is a reminder of why we sing “God Bless America” at the ball park.
- E. Ethelbert Miller, Literary Activist and author of The 5th Inning.
Michael Boylan is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Marymount University. He is the author of 26 books and over 120 articles in Philosophy and Literature. Details can be found at michaelboylan.net.