“I’m fairly certain that what happened today will be forever embedded into my mind’s subconscious and leave a permanent scar on my soul. I might never play this game again.” (Van Roth, Davie. Recollections & Journals of a Ballplayer. May, 1968. pp. 50)

   Metaphysical rebellion is the movement by which man protests against his condition and the whole of creation. Freedom is priority. The rebel is the one who says no, spurns the condition in which he finds himself, and refuses to bow down. Existential writer Albert Camus wrote books about rebels and rebellion, several of which stood on the fourth shelf of Van Rothʼs library. In The Rebel, 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 ... and “Absurdism, like methodical doubt, has wiped the slate clean. It leaves us in a blind alley... I proclaim that I believe in nothing and that everything is absurd, but I cannot doubt the validity of my proclamation and I must at least believe in my protest. The first and only evidence that is supplied me, within the terms of the absurdist experience, is rebellion ... Rebellion is born of the spectacle of irrationality, confronted with an unjust and incomprehensible condition.” (Camus, Albert. The Rebel. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961. pg. 10)

   Until an individual rebels against established convictions and creates his own destiny, his own external world, his existence on earth most likely will be similar to an inconspicuous bug with the possibility of getting stomped on at any moment. The opposite of the rebel are the conformists -- the lambs following the sheep -- followers of the herd who donʼt think for themselves but simply go with the flow without ever causing a wave nor taking a chance. Existential writer Colin Wilson states: the average joe is a conformist, accepting misery, disaster, and boredom with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain -- existing just for the sake of existing, mired in a quicksand of obedience and conformity. Wilson also wrote: “the man who is interested to know how he should live instead of merely taking life as it comes, is automatically an Outsider.” (Wilson, Collin. The Outsider. London: Victor Goliancz, 1956. pp. 77)


   In 1922, Bertrand Russell published his Free Thought and Official Propaganda whereby he stresses the importance of unrestricted freedom of expression in society and the problems caused by the state and political class by interfering through control of education, fines, economic leverage, and distortion of evidence. "...it is not desired that ordinary people should think for themselves, because it is felt that people who think for themselves are awkward to manage and cause administrative difficulties. Only the guardians, in Plato's language, are to think; the rest are to obey, or follow leaders like a herd of sheep. This doctrine, often unconsciously, has survived the introduction of political democracy, and has radically vitiated all national education." (Russell, Bertrand. Free Thought and and Official Propaganda. NY: B. W. Huebsch, 1922. pp. 33, 34). Critical and independent thinking are not encouraged anymore. They violate the curriculum. Free speech is a one-way street and the “right” way is the wrong way. Today's indoctrinating educational system is corrupt. Freethinkers are becoming a dying breed.


   Never mind J.P. Sartreʼs doctrine of existence preceding essence -- that someone first exists, then carves out their own character or essence, a maxim stolen from British philosopher John Lock that the mind at birth is like a blank slate, waiting to be written on by the world of experience. Aristotle would disagree and so would German philosopher Immanuel Kant who stated that the mind arrives with built-in accessories. Davie Van Roth was born a rebel and began his quest for freedom the moment he emerged from the womb with the rejection of his own motherʼs caress and affection. The seeds of rebellion were planted long before the spring of 1968 when passed along through insemination that took place during April of 1949. His genetic code, including his maleness, animal instincts, and genes of rebellion were pre-existent and inherited from “Pops” long before the influences of society, older brother Bobby, and those tough lessons learned while growing up on the battered streets of Olivehurst-Linda. The second son was a pea from the same pod. Take a look at me Pops, Iʼm a lot like you were. “Pops” was the classic rebel with his quiet demeanor ... his running away from home at age thirteen ... the Colt 45 under his pillow ... the lone trucker atop the Sierras in his Cummins-powered Peterbilt ... the 1936 roadster ... the Indian motorcycle... He may have once been a miner, but never in search for a heart of gold. “Pops” was no family man. He was a trucker, on the road from sunup till sundown. “Pops” Van Roth was a loner. These inherited traits of rebellion were embedded and the young ball-playing son would have to live with them for the rest of his life. Would this be his unalterable destiny, his predestination? He'll never reach Nirvana. The day he finds peace will be the day he dies.

                                                                                                ---

Davie Van Roth started his high school senior season by tossing a nifty two-hit, eleven-strikeout, 2-1 victory against the Wheatland Pirates, a team that would move on and sweep the Butte View Conference. He then tossed two shutout innings in relief during a 3-2 victory against the Woodland Wolves before taking the mound to start SFL play against the Nevada Union Miners at Grass Valley. After taking a three-hit shutout with thirteen strikeouts into extra innings, his team committed three errors which led to an unearned run in the bottom of the tenth and his Indians suffered their first loss of the season. In his next start, he tossed another 2-1 two-hitter while besting arch-rival and nemesis Yuba City. The run was unearned while striking out ten. It was only the second time the Indians had beaten the Honkers in several years with Van Roth picking up that victory with a two-hitter the previous year. The lanky right-hander pitched two innings of scoreless relief in a 10-5 victory over Oakmont High before tying his own school record of 19 strikeouts with a 1-0 triumph against the Roseville Tigers. The single-game strikeout record still stands today. He then closed out the first half of the league schedule by tossing a consecutive shutout, this time, slamming the door on the undefeated Hillmen of Placer High 4-0. Van Roth had pitched in seven of his team's first eight contests including five complete games.

   The Indians' 5-1 league mark and 7-1 overall was their best start in school history. Van Roth led the way with his 4-1 record while striking out 67 batters in 40 innings averaging better than fifteen strikeouts per nine innings pitched. He allowed no earned runs for a 0.00 ERA at the halfway mark of the schedule while tossing 25 consecutive scoreless innings. The lanky right-hander from Olivehurst-Linda and his Indians were on a roll.

   While other teams in the SFL entered tournaments during the ten-day Easter break, the Indians remained idle, and for some reason, Van Roth didnʼt start the first game of the second half against the co-leading Miners from Nevada Union. There was no mention of an injury, neither in the papers nor his journals. Junior pitcher Ron Barry started the second half of the season but promptly gave up three runs before Van Roth was inserted in an attempt to save the game. It was too late as the Indians fell 3-1, although he upped his scoreless innings streak to 30, another school record that still stands. Van Roth pitched the next game against Yuba City on two days rest and lost 4-3 while giving up three earned runs including a home run by Yuba Cityʼs Tom Ponciano. He struck out ten while giving up nine hits, an all-time high for hits allowed.

   In his journals, Van Roth wrote: We can still win this championship if McCrackin would just get the hell out of the way! Van Roth, however, was seldom used down the stretch. He picked up a win in a relief appearance against Oakmont and a 6-3 win against Placer. He was scheduled to pitch the final game of the season but wasnʼt in the lineup; not on the mound, nor at shortstop where he usually played when not pitching; nor was he listed in the paperʼs box score the following day. It was a meaningless game as far as the Sierra Foothill League was concerned as the Indians would finish with an 8-4 league mark and in third place, two full games behind Nevada Union and a game behind Placer. Overall, the Indians finished at 10-4, a school record for most victories in a season. Van Roth ended the year at 6-2 with a 1.20 ERA while striking out 87 hitters in 58.3 innings. His 87 Ks set a new single-season school record and his 13.43 strikeouts per nine innings is a school record that still stands today.

   Van Roth showed up for that final game of the season against the Roseville Tigers and was swarmed by teammates Jimmie Oakes and Ronnie Aberasturi upon arriving at the ballpark. "Hey Roth, that guy in the stands in the Piratesʼ hat was asking about ya; they excitedly exclaimed. " Said heʼs a pro scout and heʼs here to watch you pitch! The words he had been waiting to hear -- the moment he had been waiting for all his life lay just on the horizon as he headed towards the bullpen to warm up ... but then, coach McCrackin unsuspectedly came out of the dugout and told him to turn in his uniform.

Youʼre off the team, Van Roth. Your hairʼs too long. 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 disavowed 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.


   So, what the hell happened? Why the collapse during the second half of the season? Was it because of the long layoff or an injury, and why didnʼt Van Roth start the first game after spring break? Was there a falling out with McCrackin? Why the renunciation, the limited performance during the second half of the season, and why the aberration? While tabulating the teamʼs results, I came across a large newspaper photo of Van Roth during his first game against Yuba City just a few weeks earlier. He appeared clean cut with neatly trimmed hair, and from my previous interviews, was described as quiet, terse, and well mannered. The Piratesʼ Central California scout would not have made the trip to Marysville unless he thought Van Roth was going to pitch that day and what conjecture did McCrackin give the scout for Van Roth not being in uniform? Generally, a coach considers it a feather in his own cap if one of his players gets drafted or signs a professional contract. How would these events affect the young pitcher in the future? None of this seems to make any sense. Why was Van Roth really dismissed from the team?

   I decided to conduct a little research regarding coach Joe McCrackin. Newspaper articles, including photographs, pictured the inimical coach as a smallish man with a receding hairline appearing somewhat like a grown-up Eddie Munster. With the facial continence of granite, the stern McCrackin wore an austere facade and ruled with a Napoleoniic fist. It was his way or the highway. Off the field, he possessed the gift of the gab which probably landed him positions he didnʼt deserve. His cunning excellence in oratory would later land him a job as a College basketball coach and eventually an Athletic Directorship. In 1966, his Indians went 2-12 before Van Rothʼs arrival, 6-8 the next year, and 10-4 the next with Van Roth winning most of those games. Several newspaper articles dating back to the early seventies reported high hopes for upcoming basketball seasons under the tutelage of head coach Joe McCrackin. The teams started off well but fizzled bitterly after most of the top prospects either quit or were suspended for disciplinary reasons. In 1976, his College team was cut in half and reduced to a mere six players. Evidently, coach McCrackin with his icy temperament, had a problem communicating with young athletes, especially those who had minds of their own, and by all accounts, Van Roth certainly had an unwavering mind of his own.

“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 and Other Essays. Longmans, Green and Co., 1919. pp. 56)

   McCrackin didnʼt get out of the way; instead, looked upon himself as a demigod. He pitched Van Roth sparingly, in relief, and on short rest during the second half of the season. He throttled the young pitcherʼs capabilities, fogging the ballplayerʼs mind and competitive spirit; all the while, taking away his killer instinct. The blinkered coachʼs archaic dictatorship was jaded and lacked enthusiasm. The establishment wouldnʼt allow for any James-Dean-type of athlete, especially one from Olivehurst-Linda, even though McCrackin was supplementing his livelihood with the right arm of Davie Van Roth. The condescending coach expressed no approbation towards his young pitcher -- no pats on the back, praise, guidance, nor encouragement; no leadership nor latitude, and in return, no respect. The renunciation and loathing sense of revulsion germinated and was allowed to fester in an atmosphere of tempestuous silence as the championship began to fade. Both developed unyielding attitudes, becoming intransigent with a camouflaged hidden sense of doubtfulness and suspicious arrière-pensée. They hated each other and invisible sparks flew -- the kind of tension created when opposites come together. Their indignant gears didnʼt mesh while neither accepted each other, never revealing their true thoughts. A nonverbal war of extrasensory perception ensued with angry mental telepathy and wrinkled facial countenance being the only weapons used. Both communicated in silence through their churlish eyes of malice. Van Roth was partially “on strike” rebelling against the drill-sergeant tactics and dictatorship of McCrackin as every dictator demands obedience and surrender. McCrackinʼs tyranny vitiated the young pitcherʼs individuality, not to mention his will to win. The two were at loggerheads with each other.

The Seeds:

"You're pushin' too hard, uh-pushin' on me

You're pushin' too hard, uh-what you want me to be

You're pushin' too hard about the things you say

You're pushin' too hard every night and day

You're pushin' too hard
Pushin' too hard on me
Well all I want is to just be free

Live my life the way I wanna be

All I want is to just have fun

Live my life like it's just begun

But you're pushin' too hard

Pushin' too hard on me " (Sky Saxon, The Seeds. “Youʼre Pushinʼ Too Hard.” 1965)

   McCrackin was not pushinʼ for better performance; not pushinʼ Van Roth to be all that he could be. No, ... McCrackin was pushinʼ Van Roth to succumb; to get on his hands and knees and bow down to the idol McCrackin wished to be, but that just wasnʼt going to happen with Van Roth, for he would bow down to no mortal, even if his career was on the line; thus, there would be no team spirit, no team camaraderie, no family, and as a result, no championship. At the same time, there would be no capitulation to authority; no kneeling before Allah. The championship was lost long before that final game and in the end, Van Roth wasnʼt needed anymore. McCrackin was a leafless tree and his obsolete, Spartan-style of coaching was third-place. He blew it, and so Van Roth became a scapegoat, a sacrificial lamb and was immolated -- fired just before the last game of the season. Davie Van Roth was crucified.

   Baseball had been his guiding light through which he navigated the world -- his moral compass and source of meaning -- his salvation. The diamond was his sanctuary and the dugout his refuge while the raised earthen platform and batterʼs box were his 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. Baseball had been his immunity against aimlessness but his isolated domain had been encroached upon. His supportive buttress was knocked down and the plinth upon which he stood was kicked out from beneath him. His Elysian Field, Homerʼs blessed state of heavenly paradise, was now off-limits. A Trojan Horse had broken through his rampart and his protective levee had been breached. The game had been Van Rothʼs sheltered womb and the water had broke. It was McCrackin who severed the umbilical cord.

   Why was Van Roth expected to succumb and his opportunity to audition stolen? Why wasnʼt he just left alone and allowed to play ball? He had struck out nineteen, tying his own school record against those same Roseville Tigers just a few weeks earlier. Previous performances indicate that he had the ability to “up his game” in important situations, so what if he strikes out twenty this next time with the scout in attendance? In what direction would Van Rothʼs path of life lead to in that situation? Surely, the scout phoned ahead and thought Van Roth would be pitching that day. What inflammatory reason was given when Van Roth didnʼt make an appearance? Who was McCrackin to taint, castigate, undermine, and drastically alter the course of a young athleteʼs life? Would Van Roth now be labeled a Black Sox? McCrackin was playing God while the young ballplayer, although sucker-punched, simply walked away and remained silent.

                                                                                                ---

Van Roth didnʼt go to his senior prom. He didnʼt dance. Nor did he attend his high school graduation. He thought it absurd to march in front of a crowd while dressed in cap and gown, especially with those silly little tassels dangling beside his head. The United States Postal Service would deliver his diploma. For the next three months, he would be free without any commitments, obligations, allegiances, or responsibilities. He had no ties to religion, school, state, community, and now ... not even baseball. He could come and go as he pleased with no more expectations. He was free ... or was he? Would he be able to live his life as he desired without consequences? To be completely free, he would have to rid himself of all the chains of society, but that would involve total isolation. What if the idea of freedom is merely an abstract thought and doesnʼt actually exist? From his mustard-colored, stiff-wrapped book about freedom and revolution by P. J. Proudhon, he underlined:

To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated at, regulated, docketed, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, weighed, censored, ordered about, by men who have neither the right, nor the knowledge, nor the virtue. ... To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality. (Proudhon, P.J. The General Idea of the Revolution; London: Freedom Press, 1923. pp. 293-294)

   Also, ... from J.P. Sartreʼs The Age of Reason: “he was free, free in every way, free to behave like a fool or a machine, free to accept, free to refuse, free to equivocate; to marry, to give up the game, to drag this death weight about with him for years to come. He could do what he liked, no one had the right to advise him, there would be for him no Good or Evil unless he thought them into being. All around him things were gathered in a circle, expectant, impassive, and indicative of nothing. He was alone, enveloped in this monstrous silence, free and alone, without assistance and without excuse, condemned to decide without support from any quarter, condemned forever to be free.” (Sartre, J.P. The Age of Reason. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948. pp. 370)

   For the first time in ten years, there would be no summer baseball for Davie Van Roth. He had three months in which to choose a college or be eligible for military duty. Inside his strongbox along with his journals was an unfilled application for scholarship from Stanford University. He also rejected offers from Eastern Washington and the University of Nevada, Reno even though the Wolfpackʼs head coach was the legendary Jackie Jensen, former American League MVP and teammate of Ted Williams. Van Roth was considering an academic scholarship to prestigious Reed College in Portland, Oregon, arranged by his high school English teacher, Dr. Bernard Ruben. Perhaps, Van Roth would follow in the footsteps of Reed College alumni, some of Bobbyʼs favorite authors -- beatwriters Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Lou Welch. Should it matter anymore that Reed College had no baseball program?

   The Tudor-Gothic campus with a forested nature preserve at its center seemed like a perfect fit for Van Roth, especially the permissive atmosphere that reeked of nonconformism. Her mascot, the griffin, as in Danteʼs Commedia, is associated with the “the tree of knowledge.” The Liberal Arts college required all freshmen to enroll in Humanities 110, an intensive covering of philosophy and the Classics, especially those of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Steve Jobs also attended Reed College. He went on to co-found and become CEO of Apple Inc. and became the hippie billionaire by inventing Pixar. Jobs was a believer in Zen Buddhism and idolized Einstein and Gandhi. Snyder won a Pulitzer, and along with Welch and Whalen, formed the nucleus of the West Coast wing of the Beat Generation. Whalen also became a Zen Buddhist, a key figure in the San Francisco Renaissance, and recited at the famous San Francisco Six Gallery reading that launched the western Beats publicly. Welch became a published poet, an advertising agent with “Monkey Ward” who may have come up with the slogan, “Raid Kills Bugs Dead,” and ironically may have blown his own brains out with a Smith & Wesson revolver.

   A few days after turning in his uniform, Van Roth moved out of his parentʼs house on Cottonwood Avenue and set up shop in the back room of an abandoned saloon. This would become his lair of inwardness where he would turn within; turn within not unlike the monks of the Dark Ages or the stoicism practiced by some of the ancient Greek philosophers when barbarians made everyday life unbearable. He went into reclusion, sequestering and isolating himself from the underbelly of society. An existential crisis began whereby he became suspicious of his own ideology and entered into an intense phase of questioning his own existence -- doubts about his beliefs of subjective meaning and his personal experiences. These stigmatic thoughts would be planted in his brain, leaving an embedded scar that would subconsciously affect the rest of his life. In his restless dreams, he walked alone. Hello darkness. The hell with baseball, he thought ... then became mired in a deep depression.

   Sallyʼs Saloon was a dilapidated and vacant tavern next to the levee on Riverside Avenue that had been closed down for several years. Owner Sally Ballard was once proprietor, bartender, barfly, and “Lady-of-the-Evening,” catering mostly to migrant farmworkers and local drunks. Now, she was an old hag spending most her time on flings to Reno with old geezers sheʼd pick up in the bars of downtown Marysville. The rent was free and Van Roth had the place to himself. All he had to do was make sure the place didnʼt get ransacked. A sleeping bag on top of an antique pool table was his makeshift bed while one-by-twelve pine planks mounted on top of concrete building blocks shelved his library. For three months, he would be free, free of commitment that is, for his baseball career had come to an abrupt halt. Just two years prior, he had set himself up to be the heir apparent to the throne of Northern California baseball, vacated by the great Gary Nolan. “Gary the Great” was now well on his way to leading the Cincinnati Reds and the Big Red Machine to two world titles leaving only Van Roth as his successor. His celebrated victories over Nolan and Baltimore Oriole farmhand Mike Welker were now mere insignificant faint memories. He didnʼt even bother with American Legion Baseball that summer, the league he had dominated just two years earlier as a sixteen-year-old. Seemingly, his lifelong yearning of becoming a professional ballplayer was over. Just as God was dead for Frederich Nietzsche, so too was baseball dead for Davie Van Roth. The game that he loved just died in his arms that day.

DEFIANCE -- THE MAKING OF A REBEL BALLPLAYER