First Pitch: Like A Stone

On a cobweb afternoon in a room full of emptiness
By a freeway, I confess I was lost in the pages
Of a book full of death, reading how we’ll die alone
And if we’re good, we’ll lay to rest anywhere we want to go

A cool breeze pushes into the living room through the screen door.

The leaves on the trees outside splash together like waves softly crashing on the beach shore in the night. The dried and dead leaves sit arched on the ground below, scraping across the patio with the wind, reluctantly clinging on with their stems defiantly dragging along the way.

She lays on the couch, tired and exhausted, watching as the wind rolls by from the open back door.

The workday is over, and she’s still laying in the same position she ended up in about 20 minutes ago — when she almost collapsed through the door, stumbled down the hall, and dove face first into the couch pillows.

My wife, Ansley, is a teacher, and this specific day I describe is one of many random days in the final two months of last year’s school year.

I highlight my wife is a teacher only to add that perspective as to why she’s worn down in this moment. The truth is, she’s so much more than a teacher.

She’s one of the smartest people I know, and one of the toughest.

At age 24, she was diagnosed with cancer, which prevented her from being able to have kids. At age 25, she beat cancer. At age 27 she had spinal fusion surgery to fix a disc issue on her lower back. Throughout it all, she got accepted into a PhD program, involved herself in community outreach, and still had energy to move up in her career from teacher to  department chair in the English department at IMG Academy.

The back surgery, following the cancer so quickly, led my wife to move from Florida to the comfort and security of home. She moved back to the Atlanta area where her family has lived all of her life.

The decision was one she later said she regretted. Home is always home, but there’s a difference between your childhood home and your home as an adult. They’re two different places, two different feelings, and two different levels of responsibility. You learn the difference when you grow up.

*****

I’m saying that as someone who grew up in Florida — and I didn’t move there until I was 29 years old.

You spend enough time in Florida, and you’re going to grow up there. You spend too much time, you end up a Florida Man.

I’m saying that as someone who lived in Florida for six years — long enough to “grow up,” and not long enough to avoid leaving the state on antidepressants, mood stabilizers, smoking weed nightly, and with about 60 cases of craft beer in tow.

You can’t escape Florida. If you’ve seen that John Oliver episode about Chipotle where he talks about how a bird lived in the open kitchen of a Chipotle restaurant in Bradenton, Florida, then you need to realize that I lived five minutes away from that Chipotle and I ATE THERE ALL THE TIME WHILE THIS WAS GOING ON!

Florida craziness finds you. The first online date I had down there ended with me getting a 102 degree fever and legit strep throat so severe that I almost couldn’t breathe. I only went out with her one other time after I recovered, and it was like the dating version of when you get sick and associate something unrelated with it, and you can never break that association.

The first time I played golf in Florida, I found myself 15 feet away from an alligator that was just hanging out near my ball that I sliced off the left of the fairway. It wasn’t the dinosaur alligator that you always see once a year on the news. That one actually lived at a course 20 minutes from my house.

This alligator was much smaller. I’d only make local news if I was attacked. I ran up to my ball, took a quick swing while my dad took a photo, and ran back, diving into the cart and speeding off.

I wasn’t born in Florida, but I’m a Floridian at heart.

About a year ago, my wife and I moved out of Florida, and I am lucky to escape with such an amazing person by my side.

+++++

I’m sharing a personal story because exactly one year ago today, my wife and I got married.

In your house, I long to be
Room by room, patiently
I’ll wait for you there, like a stone
I’ll wait for you there, alone

I got home from Florida last night and cried.

I don’t cry often. It’s not a tough guy thing. Aside from being a smart ass pacifist who has no interest in appearing tough, I’m just generally too fucked up in the head to be able to cry.

If you see me in public, I’m probably going to appear in a good mood with a smile on my face. Underneath there is some degree of inner pain and sadness that always exists, and I spent 34 of my 36.5 years so far not trying to figure out why that exists.

I wish I could cry sometimes. It’s really easy to cry from the pain of a migraine stabbing me in the side of the head relentlessly, but that’s usually only when the pain doesn’t go away — even when it’s so intense that it’s making me throw up repeatedly.

Being able to cry is a dream. On the rare chance it happens it’s like a relief-valve that gets me back to a normal level of being depressed on the inside.

“What’s wrong, babe? Oh, no…Are you crying? Is it a headache? Do you need me to get you a Sumatriptan?”

I smiled and shook my head, a reassuring no, with the tears slowly triggering a different relief-valve. I get this feeling about as frequently as a clear, sunny day in Seattle. It’s a valve that brings on true happiness.

She moves closer on the couch, her voice softens as she pushes further.

“Babe, what is it?”

“I just missed you so much. I love you, and it wasn’t the same being in our city drinking at our favorite spots, eating our favorite food without you.”

She brought the matching tears with the matching frequency and we held each other. I was only gone for a few days with my friend and my cousin, on our annual Tampa Bay Beer Week pilgrimage.

That was all we both needed to see how far we’ve come in one year.

*****

The cool breeze intermittently blows in through the screen door back on that “any Friday in May” as my wife starts to get up from the couch.

“Ughhhhh,” Ansley stands up and stretches. “I’m getting a damn beer.”

She goes to the fridge, picks out a beer, goes to the bookshelf, picks out a graphic novel. The beer is typically a sour or a stout with good adjunct flavors.

For the rest of the evening, she’s drinking. It’s Friday and her life has been hell. There’s no Coronavirus yet. It’s just normal, end of the year drama and workloads for teachers. She’s so exhausted that she can barely drive home these days after work.

I’m a bit behind her pace. On any given Friday in our small townhouse outside of Raleigh, I would get out of the house for a few hours for lunch. I’d go to Burial and try their latest beer, then head to the hot dog place on my way home for two rebel dogs — mustard, chili, onions, and cole slaw on top. Then I’d get home and finish my article before the evening.

“Stop bringing hot dogs back here! The place is too small! It smells like onions in here!”

The sliding screen door closed behind her as she shouted back the words over her shoulder while making her way out to the patio. She started to unwind with her beer and comic book as I worked to finish my article and take the trash out.

I’d join her when I was done, and together we’d unwind and recover from the stress that our lives had become the last few months.

+++++

“Oh my! You guys are getting married, moving to a new state, and Ansley you’re starting a new job, all in the span of a month. That sounds intense!” – Literally every person we talked to before the wedding

“Nah, we can handle it.” – Us, being stupid

[3 Months Later]

At 7:34 PM on June 3rd, I get a message from my wife, who is sitting five feet away in the next room.

We’re still about an hour and a half away from the Pirates making their first round selection of the 2019 MLB draft. I’ve got my makeshift workstation set up, with three monitors following the draft in whatever room that is outside of the kitchen that is too small for any actual table to fit in.

This is one of the busiest days of the year for me. Ansley just finished with school and is starting to unwind for the summer.

“Babe, you listening to Audioslave?!”

“Yeah, this song is so good! Do you like them?”

“Chris Cornell is probably my favorite artist. Check out some Soundgarden stuff. I listened to them all the time in middle school.”

I return to the draft and she sends me another message asking for other stuff from that era. I send her Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam, and more.

“It’s all so good.”

The message came after a half hour of silence, and I thought she had gone to sleep. She was unknowingly doing something I had done my entire life: Listen to songs that speak to the pain you feel inside, even if that pain isn’t obvious to people on the outside.

*****

The 90s grunge era was always my go to “Depression buster,” although my wife missed the era by a few years and never got into any of the bands until this point.

It took her a month to recover from the move and the new job adjustment during the final months of the school year. Toward the end of that month, we moved to a more long-term place in the Raleigh area.

I handled almost all of the moves, trying to take stress away from Ansley. Our overall move consisted of five different individual moves between mid-February and the end of June. Florida to Raleigh. Florida to Raleigh again. One more time to get the last of the stuff because the second truck was just a bit too small. Moving from our apartment to a long-term home. Getting all of our stuff out of storage and in the new houses was the final step.

The next several months were a steep decline after my exhaustion and depression kicked in. I got to a dangerous point where I just didn’t want to live anymore. I was barely strong enough to prevent action on that front.

“I’m playing a game I can’t win. I know one day I’m going to lose. Odds are I will eventually get too dark and kill myself. That’s the reality in front of me. It’s getting to be more a question of “when” and I hope I can hold out until I’m at least 60.”

My wife wasn’t buying my frank assessment.

Her: “Babe, that’s fucking bullshit, and you know it.”

I didn’t agree with her. I went on knowing how deep I had gotten with my mental health, and doubting I could return to normal.

I eventually improved, though it was rocky. She later told me there was a time she was getting close to being that deep. I had pulled her out of it. She pulled me out.

We walked down the aisle, partied with our friends and family, ate cake, and did all of the other stuff to get married last March. It took us almost a year to get adjusted to married life, focusing early on extreme versions of “in sickness and health.”

And on my deathbed, I will pray to the gods and the angels
Like a pagan to anyone who will take me to heaven
To a place I recall, I was there so long ago
The sky was bruised, the wine was bled, and there you led me on

I’ve been married once before. It didn’t work out. We got married too young. You change as you get older and as life happens to you. You don’t always change at the same rate or the same direction as the person you married way back when you were a different person.

Arbitrary endpoints aren’t just used in sports analysis. When I got divorced the first time, the relationship was moving apart starting before we even got married. By the time we got divorced, the divide was too great. You don’t notice the distance until you stop and take stock.

*****

I got home last night and cried.

From the start of July last year to now, my life has been an emotional rollercoaster ride, entirely due to long untreated depression and anxiety issues. Add in lifelong migraines that hit constantly due to atmospheric conditions, and my battle is cut out for me.

But then there’s Ansley. She’s survived cancer, a hysterectomy at 24, back surgery a few years later, and her own mental health struggles along the way.

She’s a fighter. She’s stronger than I ever could hope to be. She’s my wife, my babe, and my person for life. She’s honestly, with no corny intent, my hero.

And that realization brought me to joyful tears as our first anniversary rolled in.

Happy Anniversary, babe!

And on I read, until the day was gone
And I sat in regret of all the things I’ve done
For all that I’ve blessed, and all that I’ve wronged
In dreams until my death, I will wander on

I’m off for the rest of the day to celebrate and hang out with my wife while we try to avoid Coronavirus. I’ll be back tomorrow with an update on some more article themes we’ve got coming to you.

SONG OF THE DAY

DAILY QUIZ


RANDOM STUFF OF THE DAY

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

By John Dreker

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a Hall of Fame outfielder and a very underrated outfielder from the 19th century.

Lloyd Waner, outfielder for the 1927-41 and 1944-45 Pirates. One of the great outfielders in team history, he ranks among the top ten in numerous categories on offense. Waner ranks tenth in team history with a .319 average. He’s eighth with 1,803 games played. He’s sixth with 2,317 hits, seventh with 1,151 runs scored, seventh with 2,895 total bases, ninth with 114 triples, and seventh with 2,734 times on base. Among single season records, he ranks seventh (134 in 1929) and eighth (133 in 1927) in runs scored. He has three of the top six single season hit totals, ranking second (234 in 1929), fourth (223 in 1927) and sixth with 221 in 1928. He also ranks tenth with 20 triples in 1929. Waner batted over .300 ten times with the Pirates, topping out at .362 during the 1930 season. He batted .355 as a rookie in 1927.

Waner was traded by the Pirates early in the 1941 season, but he still accomplished something extremely impressive that year. In 241 plate appearances, he finished the year with zero strikeouts. In his entire career, he struck out just 173 times in 8,333 plate appearances. Waner led all center fielders in fielding percentage three times, assists twice, and he led all outfielders in putouts four times. He was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967 by the Veteran’s Committee, joining his brother Paul, who had been elected by the writers 13 years earlier. The siblings combined to collect 5,611 base hits.

Patsy Donovan, outfielder for the 1892-99 Pirates. He began his pro career in the minors in 1886 and took four seasons to make it to the majors. He played for four different teams during his first two big league seasons. In 1891, playing for the Louisville Colonels of the American Association, Patsy hit .321 in 105 games, with 73 runs scored and 27 stolen bases. Despite those stats, he was released by the Colonels in mid-September and he signed with the Washington Statesman of the AA to finish the season. Donovan played two months there before he was sent to the Pirates. In 90 games for Pittsburgh in 1892, he hit .294 with 40 stolen bases and 77 runs scored. In 1893, Donovan scored 114 runs in 113 games played. He stolen 46 bases and walked 42 times, while striking out just eight times all season in 544 plate appearances. The 1894 season was a huge season for offense in the NL and Donovan scored 147 runs in 133 games played that year. His runs scored total in 1894 would be a Pirates all-time record if it weren’t for teammate Jake Stenzel scoring 150 times that same year.

Donovan led the Pirates with 115 runs in 1895, while hitting .310 with 36 stolen bases. He hit .319 in 1896, with 113 runs scored and 48 stolen bases. Donovan led the Pirates with a .322 average in 1897, though he scored “just” 82 runs. He was able to break the century mark in runs scored again in 1898, thanks in part to a longer NL schedule. After an 1899 season, in which he hit below .300 for the first time since 1892, the Pirates sold Donovan to the St Louis Cardinals for just $1,000. It was a great deal for the Cardinals, who got four straight .300 seasons out of him. He also led the league in stolen bases in 1900. Pittsburgh was able to make the deal due to the fact they acquired most of the Louisville Colonels (NL) roster in the Honus Wagner trade.

Donovan finished his career by playing eight games over two seasons with the 1906-07 Brooklyn Superbas. With the Pirates, he hit .307 in 982 games with 842 runs scored and 312 stolen bases. He batted over .300 six times during his time in Pittsburgh. In his career he had 2,256 hits and 1,321 runs scored in 1,824 games. He had 214 career outfield assists, which ranks 19th all-time in baseball history, one assist behind Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Tommy McCarthy. Donovan was also a longtime manager in the majors and minors.

Abraham Nunez, infielder for the 1997-2004 Pirates. He was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Blue Jays in 1994 and came to the Pirates in the nine-player deal that sent Carlos Garcia and Orlando Merced to the Blue Jays in November of 1996. Nunez spent his first four seasons in Pittsburgh bouncing between the minors and majors, getting into a total of 173 big league games. He was never able to hit well in any of those first four seasons with the Pirates, topping out at a .225 average in 1997. In 2001 he finally got a full-time gig in the majors, playing 48 games at both shortstop and second base. He hit .262 with 21 RBIs and eight steals in 301 at-bats. While he didn’t provide much offense, he was solid in the field at both positions. Nunez had three more similar seasons with the Pirates before he left via free agency after the 2004 season. He played between 112-118 games each season and hit between .233 and .248 all three years. His best season actually came in 2005 when he played 139 games for the Cardinals and hit .285 with 44 RBIs and 64 runs scored, all career highs in each category. He played in the majors until 2008 and was in independent ball up until 2011. He hit .238 in 630 games with the Pirates.

Bill Duggleby, pitcher for the 1907 Pirates. He was in his eighth season in the majors in 1907 when the Pirates purchased his contract from the Phillies in July. He was 0-2, 7.45 in two starts and three relief appearances prior to the purchase. Despite a 13-19 record in 1906, he had a 2.25 ERA in 280.1 innings. Duggleby had a little more luck the previous season when he went 18-17, 2.46 in 289.1 innings. With the Pirates he pitched nine games, three as a starter and went 2-2, 2.68 in 40.1 innings. On September 4th, during the first game of a doubleheader against the Reds, he threw a 2-0 shutout. After the season ended, he returned to the minors for five more seasons before retiring. Early in his career, he won 20 games for the 1901 Phillies. Prior to the 1902 season he jumped to the Philadelphia Athletics of the American League, a brand new Major League at the time, which was a rival to the NL. After just two starts, he was returned to the Phillies. The two teams had a lawsuit over players jumping from one team to the other at the time and most of the players involved were either traded away or returned to their old team. Duggleby had a career record of 92-103 in the majors and he threw 17 shutouts.

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