Madison: Mid-Season Breaking Point
The sound of waves. It was about 4 o’clock in the morning, friends, fans, and followers when I was brought to consciousness from the sound of aquatic rhythms coming from my open window and was forced to ponder the past few months. They were golden hours. The only reward for being awake at such an ungodly, goddamned hour is an empty city. It was just me and the crashing surf of English Bay. I lay there listening to it, thinking about Roy Madison in this country, in this city, in this hotel, in this bed, with a self-assigned assignment to cover a baseball league of self-starting, beer swilling, dugout smoking, tattooed, diamond hustlers that gathered in the less desirable parks of Vancouver’s easterly regions with hangovers, bruises, and sunburns, just to play ball. They didn’t have a writer, and they sure as hell didn’t ask for one either. A question came in the sound of those waves that morning: with the mid-season break approaching, I had to ask myself, what the hell was I doing?
Just over four months have passed since the day I decided to come to Canada. The events of my arrival are soggy, but lying awake on a morning like that one, where nothing but memory exists, things were vivid. I left Hollywood in a state of confusion. Tina, my landlady, was yelling about the scene I created for the other guests at the Gardens. Oliver was fretting over a set of sandwiches he was making so I wouldn’t go hungry on the flight. There were worried looks, followed by a train to Union Station on the Red Line, then a bus, an airport, a plane, a takeoff, a landing, the overcast skies of a foreign place, and a cab to the Sylvia hotel in Vancouver.
It was freezing, but I was soaked in sweat. I stepped towards the front desk in a white shirt stained yellow under the arms. The silk, black band of my hat was worn with white wavelength-like patterns of salt, made from a series of Hollywood heatwaves. My slacks were covered in teriyaki sauce from too many poolside rib dinners with Tina — goddamn I miss that gal, but there’s no time for that right now. Oh, and the bag on the floor beside me was bursting at the seams from Oliver’s last minute, frantic and neurotic packing; it wafted the scent of cured meats every time I shifted in my well worn leather shoes.
It’s no goddamn wonder they gave me the least desirable room in the building, an obvious and direct result of presenting myself to the Sylvia’s desk clerk 36 hours after trying to drown myself in a California swimming pool. A coffin for the dead but still alive, placed on top of the hotel’s bar. Neon spills onto the walls of the living room from the large “S” of the hotel’s namesake, just outside my window. Notes from a rotating cavalcade of circuit lounge performers fumble their way into the kitchen, usually while I heat up a late night snack of bacon cooked two days ago. Most guests wouldn’t want a room above a bar that features the garish glow of neon and the unpredictable talents of hired entertainers, but there’s something in my desperate, uncomfortable demeanour that warrants this kind of mediocrity. Hell, friends, fans, and followers, I’ve even managed to find a certain pleasure in the things nobody else wants. I’m sure it’s a relief for the staff here to know that I’m not a deranged, slovenly animal about to take the next step towards complete insanity, and that room 222 has been filled on a monthly rate without complaint.
Sometimes the noise keeps me up, others it doesn’t. That Saturday it did. My open-eyes embraced the lack of comfort insomnia delivers to its sufferer until the sound of a fella named Kentish Steele, who was performing downstairs, was replaced by the sound of surf, and the pink fuzzy neon light, licking the walls of my bedroom, was swallowed by the more powerful rays of the day’s first sun. After that, there was nothing but emptiness and hallucinations of solitude. A welcomed unbalance to routine that I rely upon for very slight, disorienting visions throughout the day. Small derailments like these were impossible to predict, but I knew they were always a prelude to long sieges in front of a keyboard.
There were waves, and there was baseball. The Black Sox were set to play the Stevedores later that afternoon, and instead of worrying about a lack of sleep effecting my inability to properly cover life on the field, I treated the events of that night as a gift. I found myself unusually prepared for the day ahead; both spiritually and physically. My failures at trying to cover this league so far are well documented in the lack of documentation I’ve managed to produce since the season began. Despite the ambitions of my arrival, a lot of my time here so far has been spent complaining about the weather from the warmth of my hotel room, where I’m reduced to covering the Black Sox through their own updates on the East Vancouver Baseball League’s Facebook page. When I do make it to the park, my observations are maintained from the edges of the field, or worse, the passenger seat of my car. And that’s when I actually manage to make it to a game, friends, fans, and followers! It’s fine. Being a sportswriter is to live within your own thoughts, and to cover life from the edges of others. After witnessing the the sky slowly turn from a regal purple galaxy to an intense vastness of blue, and with it, the arrival of heat I’d been missing since leaving California, I knew this day would be different. The game ahead was one of the last the Black Sox would play before a break in the season. It was obvious this wasn’t just baseball. This wasn’t just a game. This was the progressions of nature, the sounds of jazz, the sizzle of late night bacon, pressed slacks, a well-worn Italian panama hat that was dying for the kind of weather that would warrant a return to my head, a waiting crowd, a rivalry between two teams, a series of ties that needed to be settled, a breaking point for all involved — this friends, fans, and followers was destiny.
The city was alive again. Cyclists, joggers, swimmers, bathers, kids in their goddamned cars with the engines revving. The city had returned itself to a new and fresh representation of hell, but today it was a different kind of same. Instead of being repulsed, I was transfixed by the sights out my window. Rather than escape the view for my usual pregame routine of fetching the morning papers from the 7-Eleven on Denman Street, along with a disgustingly weak, hot beverage they call coffee, I phoned the kitchen downstairs for breakfast. While I pressed my slacks through the heat of an iron one last time, I waited for a coffee service to arrive at my door and continued to watch the scene outside. It was still morning when I left, and it was already hot. I had to get to the park early because the territory was unfamiliar. Although the Black Sox had played a few games from Sunrise Park, a much further destination than their usual grounds in Strathcona, I had missed each one. Worried I might spend the opening innings hunting for the game, I made a smart decision and deferred my arrival to a professional driver.
Which is why I arrived without incident. The park was gorgeous. You’ve probably seen it already friends, fans, and followers, but there’s nothing like stepping into the panoramic expanse of a field that’s been etched in dirt with the shape of a diamond, so allow me this. The dugouts are well appointed with ample seating that provides players the luxury to sit and rest between at bats; the grass, lush and green, stretches far beyond the needs of sport and fills an entire city block; the fences, in their factory appointed dullness of grey and silver, are pristine and rust free, fully confident in their task to keep spectators safe. The whole park sits on a pedestal that offers itself, and everyone in it, to the north shore mountains just above center field.
It’s a shame that my work in broadcasting has been reduced to using Twitter as a means of communicating the action on the field, limiting me to short, 140 character dispatches. Such restraints will never allow for the endless interstitials Sunrise Park can provide; like the way the cloudless sky looked that afternoon, the way planes lazed overhead, or how the crowd crooned its neck to get a look down the first base line when something exciting would happen, and then returned to the sharing of a story, a beverage, or sunscreen. Moments like those friends, fans, and followers, where a broadcaster is able to bring the scene on the field, and in the stands, into a higher meaning that connects the game with life’s larger pursuits — that is to say, things that help us satisfy an endless desire to distract ourselves from the fact that we are all dying as we sit there — are moments that I live for as a sportswriter and broadcaster. Instead, I am a shamed man. There was, and will likely never be, a radio station waiting for Roy Madison to take to the air again. So rather than worry about things beyond my control, I set forth in the best way I knew how, by thumbing my phone, and pounding out the action in an attempt to capture the story that was unfolding on the field.
As much of an upgrade Sunrise Park was to its more disheveled sister park to the west, I was dismayed to see that there wasn’t an area designated for the press. Suddenly I missed the filthy couch I had been using as a means to comfortably cover the play at Strathcona Park. In previous games, it was the ideal spot, just down the third base line. From there, I was strictly bound to the role as observer, not participant — a very important distinction for any serious journalist. For chrissakes friends, fans, and followers, did you ever imagine a time when Roy Madison, sportswriter, would lament a filthy old couch used as a stand in for a park’s broadcast gondola? Well I missed that damn love seat! And if I didn’t have the sense to shove a towel into the shopping bag that held my usual seventh inning stretch sandwich before I left the hotel, I would have had to sit my damn slacks straight into the grass at Sunrise.
I’m sure nobody noticed just how ridiculous I looked, tucked behind the fence at home plate with a towel under my ass, because all eyes were on the field, and rightfully so. The Sox and Stevedores had been exchanging shots from the outset of the game, and were head-to-head going into the bottom of the second. That’s precisely when the stage was set for victory. The Sox’s Chris Cullen hit an RBI single off Kevin Wood’s delivery from the mound, which scored Rohan Karnick, who had been waiting patiently on the pads. Now that he was allowed to touch home and add a point to the scoreboard, he trotted back into to the dugout. The sun began to beat down on the field, forcing everyone in the bleachers to react in unique ways in an effort to protect themselves from the heat. For the Stevedore’s, there would be no relief. Two more Sox runners would add to the score from a single hit by Dave McEwen. Mick McDiarmid delivered the final blow, with an RBI that would put the score at 6–4. A deficit, friends, fans, and followers that the Strathcona Stevedores would never recover from.
With the lead set, Al Smith came onto the mound as pitcher for the Sox. The heat was taking its toll on the players and press now too. The beauty of a cloudless sky, which I had celebrated with such enthusiasm only hours earlier, had commingled with my inability to sleep the night before, and took on a demonic intensity that was almost palatable. Despite the wide brim of my hat, I was an easy target out there on my official broadcast towel, where the fury and heat of a late afternoon without cover funnelled in thoughts of the past. My earlier life as a beat writer for the Daily News, where I was assigned to the Mets, was near impossible to keep in check. Back then I would usually spend the innings of a game reclined in my padded, corduroy chair in the comfort of an open front, but quaintly roofed, press box. Every once in awhile I would lean forward in my chair to view the packed stadium, where the crowd was forced to sink their chances of survival into park-priced beer, with the hopes that their money would last long enough until they could return to air conditioned homes. As much as I tried to stay focused on the present, it was damn near impossible to stay out of the past.
There was no escape for Smith either, at least not until he delivered the mandatory outs required to rest the Sox defence. I could see tension manifesting itself with sweat on his brow as he struggled to throw a single strike. I couldn’t take it anymore. Roy Madison, Californian sportswriter, was melting in the rays of a pacific northwest sun. I picked up my broadcast towel, put it in my shopping bag, and headed for any sliver of shade I could find on the bleachers, something I had yet to do all season. This was new territory. This was life. Close up, crowded, loud, and loose. Beer cans were being tossed to the ground, dogs had their tongues hanging out, sundress straps came off tattooed and tanned shoulders, and babies wearing sun hats with vacant stares wondered just what in god’s name was going on. Jeers and cheers were being hurled towards Smith on the mound, still trying to find the strike zone. I found a spot on the bottom bleacher just as Smith pulled it together. That’s when the outs started coming, building up on the Stevedores, one after the other in freak acts of flies and grounders. Smith was he relieved of his duty with success.
At the top of the 5th, the ball was returned to the Sox, and given to Scott Fogden who came in to close things down for a victory. Like Smith, he had a hard time finding the strike zone, but found it somewhere out there in a place only he knows, because suddenly, the Stevedores were sat in succession: first Chong, then Watt, and finally Cuellar — who stayed on the field to take up residence on the mound in an effort to try to keep a win within reach for the Stevedores. And by golly, friends, fans and followers, Cueller came in there and made it look easy, sitting the Sox one, two, three, in an up down inning. But the bats couldn’t return the call. The Stevedore’s had to get back up against Fogden. Despite being forced back to the mound after little rest while the Sox bats tried to add some runs to their lead, his three inning closing session was near flawless during his tenure in the heat at Sunrise Park.
I called a car immediately, and got in as soon as it arrived. The last Black Sox game before the East Van Baseball League’s mid-season hiatus I would cover had been played. To my shock and horror, as the driver was pulling away, my last vision before returning to my temporary seaside home and the hypnotic rhythms of the ocean, was of the Sox and Stevedores organizing themselves on the field for another game. Spectators were even taking up available positions, creating a mix of friends and enemies, winners and losers in silhouette against the falling sunset in Sunrise Park. I realized then that the game never really ends.