Madison: Saturday Among the Living

Friends, fans, and followers, it’s time for another update from the fresh spring fields of Canadian amateur baseball. If you recall, I’m up here from California on a personal assignment to cover a new club, the East Van Baseball League, in an attempt to rediscover the thrill of the game. But we all know that’s not the only reason I’m here, don’t we friends, fans, and followers? I’m not one to pull wool over the eyes of my readers, so I’ll come clean. Sure, I’m up here to find something in baseball I haven’t seen for awhile, but really, after an ambiguous attempt at suicide in the Highland Garden’s pool in Hollywood, what I’m really looking for is a reason to keep living.

I’ll be the first to say it, sportswriters are among the worst of people.

I know it’s all a bit heavy handed, but goddamnit fans, being a sportswriter is a tough racket! You try spending a lifetime nosing around for the faintest hint of weakness, thirsty for the grit of survival, hungry to document failure, desperate to uncover the tawdry behavior that lays dormant within us all until it’s unleashed by the money and fame of a game played at the professional level — or maybe it’s not, some of us are the devil incarnate right from the start — it matters little, we are a species always able to find an excuse to partake in evil. Spinning these kinds of tales for the dailies, where they’re consumed over a bbq, bed, table, or martini has led the cheapo-drama artists of my profession to a certain degree of madness untold. I’ll be the first to say it, sportswriters are among the worst of people, damned to a life peddling lies and false tragedies all in an effort to get words in the minds of others quicker and longer than the other guy.

Which is why I’m here. Since reporting on the East Vancouver Baseball League’s very first practice of 2016, I have felt a palatable promise in the winds of change that are currently billowing the sails of a refreshed Roy Madison. We are headed towards a summer of rejuvenation friends, fans, and followers! There’s something in the way this has all come together that just feels so bloody right. But what about the game? It’s why we’re all here isn’t it? I got word of not one, but two such events brewing this past Saturday, March 19th. A double header between two of the league’s teams: the Isotopes and Black Sox, followed by a matching of the Mt. Pleasant Murder and Strathcona Stevedores — hah! Murder! I doubt that would fly in the big leagues, fans. It was going to take place at Strathcona Park, the official field of the EVBL, and Roy Madison, Sportswriter was going to cover it.

This is how the game breathes, getting its air from references to past histories with the tossing of a ball in the present.

Much like the games it’s devoted to, sportswriting is mired in routine. That Saturday morning, I went through mine: wake up, take coffee, then get up to gather every possible paper I can get my hands on. Back in California, I would sometimes walk from the hotel, down North Sycamore to Hollywood Boulevard in my robe, pajamas and slippers to get my papers, but not up here fans! It’s too damn cold. Then, and without delay, I return to bed with the day’s news strewn about my room so I can pour over the box scores and editorial bits, gathering the intelligence I need to bring numbers to life. Questions are answered: like just what the hell is a Stevedor? Well, friends, fans and followers, it’s a fella, or I guess a gal nowadays too, that unloads cargo from a ship. Dockworkers! This league has a real blue-collar element embedded into it that’s rooted in the spirit of neighborhoods, trades, and cultures that have helped to shape Vancouver. This is how the game breathes, getting its air from references to past histories with the tossing of a ball in the present. It’s the details like these that I try to find from the bed of my hotel room before any writing is to start. They act as magnets for what else will occur that day. Instead of pounding out the ruts, the streaks, the injuries, and the heaves and sways of a game as it makes its way to a final score, I fill a blank page by trying to catch myself off guard with the way the air smells or how the wind lifts and trickles its way from English Bay to my open window at the Sylvia Hotel. Then, once I have a few things down, I get cleaned up, order a sandwich wrapped in wax paper from the kitchen downstairs, apply my uniform of slacks and blazer with a hat that acts as both reprieve from the elements and notification to others that I’m press, and make my way to the park. This is how good sportswriting gets done.

I told her I had no time for casual talk! Then delegated her eyes to the press card in my hat.

Things were looking grim for the Black Sox, who were already in a rut they never got out of by the time I arrived by cab at Strathcona Park. I took up a spot just beside the well-weathered wood bleachers, got out my notepad, and got to work. The last innings only confirmed the inevitable: a final score of 15 to 5 for the Isotopes. At least I think that’s what the score was, fans. Most sportswriters would balk at the thought of covering a game without a press box staff delivering all the minutiae required for a writer to cover their beat, but not Roy Madison! I’ve yet to get acquainted with all the players, but that didn’t stop me from keeping track of the rotation and score with a zest for the way things should be done. At one point a dame came up and wanted to know where I got my socks, and I told her I had no time for casual talk! Then delegated her eyes to the press card in my hat and told her to come by the Sylvia Hotel for a drink where we could get into, or out of, the subject of socks all we want. Such is the nature of the business, there are many distractions, but you have to stick to the story that’s unfolding, not the wone that’s been told a thousand times.

Things took an ominous tone as the day headed into its later hours and the Murder took to the field. These kids look tough friends, fans, and followers. Real roughnecks: cut off sleeves, mullets, and straggly beards. I was tempted to have a sartorial word or two with these guys and girls about the honors involved with getting in front of an audience, but thought better of it. Besides, that’s what makes this whole experience so unique. Not a damn chance these players would be put under the lights of a major league venue, but at Strathcona Park major doesn’t mean a goddamn thing. As for the Stevedores, they look bloody young. Hell I had to ask myself if these kids had even started shaving yet! It was really something to see, because this team came onto the diamond full of moxy, and went hard against the Murder. Hell, I put them at something like 9 runs over the Murder’s 5; a real inspiration!

But then it came time for a piss, friends, fans and followers.

Now, a word or two about Strathcona Park, friends, fans and followers. I love it. There are no amenities, shelters, ground crews, cheerleaders, or seats for sale, and as I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, no press box. Although rain constantly threatened both games, passers by out walking their dog or strolling aimlessly about the neighborhood would find themselves curious about the small crowd gathered around the caged diamond, only to be hooked by the action on the field. Chinese women collecting cans worked the crowds, picking up anything worth something at the depots. I’m telling you, these ladies are in the wrong racket. Instead of picking up the trash they ought to offer up some hot dogs. Jesus, one of them had a NASCAR hat on, and I thought she would have made a good outfield for the Murder while she was at her can game. But then it came time for a piss, friends, fans and followers. It was my first visit to the park john, and I was pretty surprised to see a couple guys smoking a crack pipe in there. I said for chrissakes, fellas, there’s a goddamn ball game going on, and I kicked their asses out of there, not because they were smoking crack, but because there was a damn fine ball game going on out there. I don’t have much to say about some of the things I’ve seen during my short time here in Vancouver so far, because some parts of life just don’t give in to a sportswriter’s point of view.

It’s been awhile since I’ve had to cover that many innings, fans. All that pencil pushing in the fresh Canadian mountain air had me slung over a Manhattan at the Sylvia later that evening, but all I could think about was the games I had witnessed, and the schedule ahead. The EVBL is still in preseason, so I’ve got to get in shape! But Oliver, the neurotic pain in the ass, sometime roommate I have — well, let’s just say Oliver is my roommate when he and his wife aren’t getting along — has been stirring trouble back in Hollywood, so I’ve got to pay the Gardens a visit. But hasn’t this been fun so far, friends, fans, and followers? The consolation of sport is so temporary, we should enjoy these moments while they last, because life is always so quick to begin again.

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