A novel by

Jimmie Quinlan

"Like an ominous dark cloud looming over Seattle, a stalking umbra of ill fate hovered over Van Roth where ever he roamed. At times, baseball put this philosophical ballplayer in a happy space, but tragedy always seemed to rain on his parade; hence, his up-and-down roller coaster ride of life -- flying high above the clouds one day; only to come crashing down to earth the next. He constantly found himself dodging the shadowy fringes of society and was now quite certain that the gameʼs waters were shark-infested. It was Joltinʼ Joe DiMaggio who said that baseball was no longer a game when the fun was taken away."

"He set a ton of records, then just disappeared. Rumor has it that an injury ended his baseball career. Some say he moved to San Francisco, became a hippy, and hid out during the Vietnam war. Others have said that he wound up in prison after nearly killing someone in a fistfight, while some say he gave up baseball, moved away, and became a school teacher somewhere up north. Any way you look at it, he never played ball around here again."

EXCERPTS

19

After descending the pristine beauty of Riding Mountain National Park, he looked ahead and could see the dusty outskirts of Dauphin, Manitoba -- “Gateway to the North” and home of the Redbirds. Ahead in the distance, he saw a glimmering light. His sight became blurry while his mind turned dim. Good God, he thought. What the hell did I get myself into this time?

"So, there he was, a stranger in some distant land, on his way back from the local Dairy Queen with a copy of Russellʼs History of Western Philosophy tucked under one arm; all the while, munching on a cherry sundae parfait. He donned a faded pair of Leviʼs with a hole in one knee, plain open-collared short-sleeve shirt, tennies, no socks, and a single-stranded leather anklet while a few curly locks protruded from under his ball cap. Odd, how he must have appeared in this small prairie town which seemed to have gone back in time."

"I aimed two inches above Tuckerʼs head with a little extra on the pitch so he couldnʼt tomahawk the ball. Sure enough, he was leaning towards the outside part of the plate. His head snapped back and his feet jerked out from underneath him. Down he went. I thought he was going to charge the mound; but instead, jumped up quickly, dusted himself off and dug in, more determined than ever. The last thing in the world to do next would be to throw a fastball, not in any location."

"There was fun and laughter on the practice field and the revered coach was right in the middle of it. All revolved around coach Engelken, or the 'Big E' as they called him. The big bubba with the raspy, cigar-toned voice was charismatic and a father-figure to some. Everybody liked the man. The beloved manager was the quintessential playerʼs coach -- a leader who motivated by way of persona, creating a triumphant atmosphere of joyful well-being. A Yogism would state that the adored coach had a knack for getting 110 percent out of his ballplayers."

"I was getting close to the core of the matter by wading through the ballplayerʼs river of consciousness and organizing his mindstream -- nearing his essence; his self-actualization or impulse to convert oneself into what one is capable of being; his psyche, his consciousness, his fierceness, his competitive being, his “vital breath” -- his Latin Spiritus."

20

 "They met toe-to-toe, face-to-face, vis-à-vis. I can only imagine the look on Van Rothʼs face as he hurled the rake aside -- cold-blooded glacial eyes with the lethal fixed stare of a basilisk, king of all deadly serpents; that same look described by Mr. Hughes -- sharp malignant peepers: a leery gaze not unlike one described in Joseph Conradʼs Heart of Darkness -- 'an immense stare of condemnation and a loathing for all the universe'." 

"I was apprehensive when I first approached the “Rotten One.” He was wearing a dark pair of Leviʼs, black Reebokʼs, and a dark blue windbreaker. His persona was more akin to one of Satan's Angles than an ex-ballplayer. Come to think of it, there was an old Panhead parked outside. Although he had the mocking attitude of an Aristophanes and the personality of a Don Rickles, there was something engaging behind his belligerent, pugnacious crudeness."

“Therefore in various eras there frequently is felt the need for a refreshing, enlivening breeze, a mighty gale, which would cleanse the air and drive out the poisonous vapors; a need is felt for the saving movement of a great event which saves by stirring the stagnation; a need is felt for the enlivening vision of a great expectation--so that men shall not be suffocated in worldliness or destroyed in the encumbering moment!” (S. Kierkegaard. Works of Love. NY: Harper Torchbooks, 1962. pp. 231)

28

“I loved every aspect of the game--the smell of fresh-cut grass, the pop of the ball hitting the pocket of the glove, the sound of the bat after making solid contact and the echo that followed, pepper and warming up when everyone was a pitcher practicing their curves and knucklers, the chatter of ballplayers and coaches--'hey babe', 'attaboy','keep your head in there, eye on the ball, level swing'. My thoughts were consumed with the game. I didnʼt play organized football or basketball nor cared much about school or even girls for that matter. I simply waited all winter until practice began the following spring. Baseball became my religion and reason for living. God, it was great to be alive!”

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth--more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. It sees man, a feeble speck, surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it bears itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the universe. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.” (Russell, Bertrand. Mysticism & Logic)

"He needed some answers and he needed them right then and now; needed an awakening, an inward deepening, a bold choice about the kind of life he wanted to live; an authentic decision that would transform his life, a design whereby he could fully devote himself to an existence that would uplift and sustain his being; a leap of faith, an epiphany, a raison d'être -- a main purpose for his existence. A Kierkegaardian Leap was the only way he was going to get out of this slump of an existential crisis."

"He didnʼt need any of this tomfoolery for he had a different crutch, baseball, and loved playing the game. For the time being, he would have none of this foolish fandango and left all those false delusions in San Francisco. On opening-day of the 1967 baseball season, at age 17, he struck out 19 batters and shut out the three-time defending Sierra Foothill League champion Oroville Tigers 1-0. The 19 Kʼs set a new school record that still stands today. The virus lay dormant."

"What an unusual odd duck he must have been -- a James-Dean-like ballplayer with home run power and a ninety mile-per-hour fastball by day; a philosophical bookworm by night."

THE EXISTENTIAL

    BALLPLAYER

 CHAPTERS

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"Anything is possible when chasing after a dream; living in a mystery. Bobby Van Roth climbed high above the clouds where his curiosities became obsessive. His blue-sky way of thinking manufactured images of home runs and no-hitters. He picked the brains of the masters -- Ruth, Cobb, DiMaggio, Williams, Feller, Spahn, and Koufax. Bobbyʼs imagination was filled with wonder and bordered on fantasy which held his key to meaning. While living in a pipe dream, his world became filled with illusion -- ignis fatuus -- a foolʼs paradise."

"Whoa! What a gut-wrenching turn of events. He closed his eyes for a brief moment only to awaken and realize that all his dreams had vanished like dust in the wind. The moment was gone. Although blindsided, the dismissed pitcher never said a word ... merely turned and walked away; headed straight to the locker room and handed in his uni. The present was shattered, resulting in a blockage of the future and leaving the disavowed ballplayer standing face-to-face with a hostile world. The game that he loved just died in his arms that day"

"In the two games between Nolan and Van Roth, after twenty innings, there was one run scored and seventy batters had struck out; thirty-seven in game two; California records that have withstood the the test of time and still stand today; statistically, the two greatest pitching duels in the history of baseball. Never, has 37 strikeouts been recorded in a baseball game of eleven innings or less."

In The Rebel, French existential writer Albert Camus pens: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion… Rebellion is born of the spectacle of irrationality, confronted with an unjust and incomprehensible condition.”

THE OUTSIDER

PART 2

"The sheer power of his Cadillac-powered hot rod combined with the sounds of the times provided an adrenalin-fed rush that motivated his performance on the ball field. A British logician kept it all under control and in perspective. Put on some upbeat songs. May all your troubles be gone. Let's ride."

"I became his courtesy runner and he expected me to run those bases like that peach from Georgia--Tyrus Cobb. At college, I was given a nickname--“The Animal” ... because I ran the bases like Ty Cobb. I was just a kid but I vividly remember my brother out on the ball field. Several other kids in the neighborhood had contracted the virus, however, you wouldnʼt see them on the diamond ... but there was Bobby toeing the rubber, taking a mighty cut at the plate, or scooping the ball out of the dirt at first base. He wasnʼt just a fill-in. He was the coach, captain of the team, and best player on the field. He stood out. Bobby was the ultimate, existential ballplayer.....”

2

“At Fort Ord, we were being trained to follow orders, without thought of consequence, no matter what. We were being readied to charge into the jungles of Vietnam upon the command of a platoon leader. It wasnʼt until this time that I fully understood what Mike Rossi was talking about while he was home on leave--'The Viet Cong wouldnʼt come out and fight. They were hiding in the bushes, waiting to ambush and we had no idea where they were. Thatʼs when we ordered the rookies to go for a walk in the woods and draw fire.'” 

 EXISTENTIAL BALLPLAYER

"These stigmatic thoughts would be planted in his brain, leaving an embedded permanent scar that would subconsciously affect the rest of his life. In his restless dreams, this castaway walked alone. Hello darkness, heʼs come to visit you again. The hell with baseball, he thought ... then became mired in a deep depression."

1

15

On page 65 of his journals, Van Roth links the connection of Platoʼs logos (Apollonian thinking logic) with controlling his Dionysian thymos (spirited anger) and guiding his drive and desire (eros) to form the ultra-competitive being. Pauche! I could sense his will to survive, that Bergsonian Élan Vital or vital force; his Nietzschean will to power or aim to become master of his own destiny; his ambition and motivation, his individual confident self, for the noble soul has reverence for itself or the sense of immense importance to what oneʼs doing and that great things lie ahead. Be all you can be and make your life a masterpiece! I began to apprehend his inner workings, witnessing his purposive striving course of action; his exercise of volition; his self-realization; his psuche! I could sense his vigilant arete of keen eagle-eyed awareness and self-control. If only I could master his insights. I was, however, without actually being the man, about as close as I could possibly get to witnessing his animus -- the mind and SOUL of Davie Van Roth.

"Baseball had been his moral compass by which he navigated the world -- his source of meaning -- his salvation. The diamond was his sanctuary and the dugout his refuge while the raised earthen platform and batterʼs box were the pulpits upon which he preached. Baseball was his gift of existence; his cloistered Ivory Tower; his Shangri-la; his world of passionate isolation providing remote seclusion from the battered streets of Olivehurst-Linda."

31

"At times, the game of baseball brought extreme joy, even bliss. Other times, I've wished that I'd never picked up the damn ball in the first place. One morning, I woke up and suddenly realized that I was two thousand miles away from home, flat broke with a torn muscle in my forearm and in need of shoulder surgery."