So much misery from a pear.
It was a Bosc, russet-skinned and plump and so soft
its juice ran down my fingers when I bit it. I ate
that pear at midnight and suffered for forty years.
Besides issues of this magazine, suffering is the
only thing in my life that's added up to forty.
I got 39 wins in Triple A ball, 39 wins in Double
A ball, and 139 wins in Single A ball, but who counts
those? Who really counts any of it except the wins
in the majors and there, my cup of coffee left only
a stain. A stain that started with a Bosc pear.
Pear juice dribbled down my
fingers the night of July 7 in Snohomish County,
Washington. I was riding the midnight train to Rainier
with the Running Rapids Apple Cheeks Class A ball
club. And I was pushing forty. I've pushed forty
most of my life. See, I've been blessed with a kind
of hatchet facelean, stubbled with razor-sharp
five o'clock shadownot attractive, but impossible
to pin down. For many years, people thought I was
thirtyish. Then I moved into thirty-something. Then
I was pushing forty. My thirties covered four decades.
People thought I was thirty when I was twenty-five.
They thought I was thirty-one when I was thirty-six.
They thought I was thirty-six when I was forty-three,
and they thought I was thirty-nine when I turned
fifty. I'm not bragging. When I turned sixty, people
thought I was eighty. So it evened out on the other
I was pushing forty when I
threw for the Apple Cheeks, so I wasn't crazy about
the rouge. Roger Fudd owned the Cheeks, and he was
promoting Pink Lady apples"Washington
Fresh Pinks." He put out this line that the
whole team ate Pink Lady apples day and night, giving
the players healthy fresh cheeks. He kept a pot
of rouge by the locker room door and demanded we
all put some on our cheeks. Some of the boys put
it on their cheeks and some put it on their other
cheeks and some really did eat a lot of Pink Ladies,
but they were the kind that wore sweaters and read
Marx and believed in free love.
But there I was pushing forty
and didn't look forward to losing a job, so I plastered
on the rouge and then listened to Roger Fudd introduce
the team: "Ladies and gen-to-men, they're gonna
get that wabbit!" I'm afraid Roger talked just
like Elmer and the funny thing was that he didn't
mind. He was rather pleased that he talked like
a cartoon character, and whenever we played the
Walla Walla Rabbits, he insisted on taking over
the microphone. "Ladies and gen-to-men, meet
the Walla Walla Wabbits!" And they'd come hopping
out on the field in their bunny suits and then we'd
waddle out in our Pink Lady costumes. Times were
hard. You think drawing a crowd is easy? You'd put
on Pink Lady tights and the little red outer shell
if it meant the difference between getting a paycheck
on Friday or getting paid off in apples.
And we were happy. What is
happiness except the absence of misery? By that
standard, we were a happy team. We'd trot out to
our positions every night with Roger crying over
the P.A., "Let's give a big Wunning Wapid welcome
to the Pink Ladies!" And the crowd roared,
"Think Pink! Think Pink!" And we avoided
misery. Until one day when one of the Pinks turned
out to be a lady.
Her name was Randy. That's
how she introduced herselfRandy Rawlingson.
She was a veteran of the professional women's baseball
that flourished in the forties. After it passed
into history, she couldn't kick the habit. So she
cut her hair shorta buzz cut, shorter than
she had toand she bought men's shirts and
pants and played on wherever she could. Shehehad
a reputation as a light-hitting, good-fielding second
baseman, an exceptionally smart and heads-up player
who kept his head down and did her job. His/her
managers usually said, "Randy says hello on
Opening Day and good-bye when the season ends, and
in between hits .270."
Roger made us roommates. We
were the two veterans on the team; it was natural;
no one thought a thing of it. Except me. I remembered
Randy Rawlingson. I managed against her. Do you
know how you memorize a player's batting stance?
If you saw Stan Musial or Gary Sheffield or Jeff
Bagwell stand at the plate, you wouldn't need a
number on their back to identify them. A swing is
as good as a fingerprint. I had managed against
Randy (and sometimes, in a pinch, donned a short
pleated skirt and played against hernot proud
of that, but better than a forfeit). The moment
she came up to the plate for us, and showed a slightly
open stance and cocked her hands twice before she
swung, I knew it was her. And I was fine with it.
I didn't care. It didn't bother meuntil we
started rooming together.
Because then I felt something
rise up in me. Something as foreign to me as a kimono
in Kokomo. Love. It was her soft hands that first
attracted me. You should have seen her field a slow
roller. Beautiful hands. And I admired her steadiness.
One hundred and twelve games without an error. And
she had great eyes. She walked all the time. Not
that she couldn't connect with a ballshe had
a nice compact stroke. It was just the whole package
I was crazy about. But what could I do? I couldn't
blow her coverI wouldn't dream of it. So I
admired her from afar. From about three feet afar,
in the other single bed in our hotel rooms.
Until that midnight train
to Rainier. It was near the end of the season. I
was riding an incredible hot streak. I honestly
think that being in love added eight miles to my
fastball. Being in love broke my curve off sharply.
I was unhittable. And I wasn't the only one to notice.
The Tigers sent a scout out. They were looking for
a pitcher, a specialist, a lefty who could handle
one or two left-handed hitters a game. That would
be me. The stars were aligned that night. Until
a Bosc pear ruined it all.
We were on a sleeper. I was
on the top berth, Randy in the berth below. It was
dark and quiet and the steady click-a-clack of the
train lulled us both into a kind of softness. It
was a time to share secrets. I knew if I threw well
the next day, I might get the call-up to the big
club. After that, who knew when I'd ever see her
again? This might be the last night I'd ever spend
three feet apart from Randy. I wanted to close that
gap. I whispered in the dark, "Randy?"
"Yes, Staff." "Randy . . . I saw
you play before." "I've been around, that's
I paused. "It was in
1945." I knew she'd know what I meant. Her
silence told me she did. "You were beautiful.
You still are." More silence. I started to
babble. "I wanted to tell youin case
I get a callthat if I never saw you again
and you didn't know, I couldn't forgive myself."
Silence. Then: "How old are you, Staff?"
"Pushing forty." "Really? I thought
you were closer to fifty." "No, I just
look that way." A pause. Then her voice floated
up to me: "Do you like pears?" "Sure,
Randy." "I've got a Bosc pear down here.
Plump. Juicy. Ready for you."
I went down, down to the lower
berth and the juice of that pear came dripping down
my fingers when suddenly a voice rang out in the
"A peah? A peah?"
It was Roger. He had a tremendous sense of smell.
He'd been drinking and once he started drinking,
we all knew the next step: He'd don the little hat
with earflaps and grab a bulbous shotgun and start
hunting for wabbits. And if he didn't find any wabbits,
he'd shoot at anything with ears. Anything that
got under his skin. Like a Bosc pear. Roger was
an apple purist. He looked at pears as Granny Smiths
gone soft in the ass. Like obese apples with a genetic
"There's a peah in heah."
Randy and I froze. Literally. We had no sheets onthey'd
been discarded to the floor moments earlier. We
didn't budge. We didn't have to. The curtain was
flung open and there was Roger, earflaps down, gun
up, looking at us in horror. "Wandy? Wandy?
Why, Wandy Wawlingson, youah a woman!"
Confusion. Horror. Sheets
lifted off the floor. Gun thrust into my nose. Roger
stammering: "The Wunning Wapids can't have
this! At Wainier youah getting off this twain! For
good! And this [pointing to the pear]this
is not a Pink Lady! It's a peah!"
Randy left before Rainier.
She leapt out as we slowed on a curve, weeping,
her bat in one hand, and her leather grip in the
other. She wouldn't look back. She ran off into
the Washington woods and I never saw her again.
Forty years I've suffered
that loss. I made the call-up to Detroit the following
week, but without love my fastball stunk and my
curveball hung and I was back in the minors faster
than you can say Johnny Appleseed. But I wouldn't
go back to Running Rapids. No, sir. I signed up
for barnstorming with Harry and David's All Fruit
team. At least I could eat a pear in peace and watch
the juice run down my fingers and remember the last
night before misery came home to stay.