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Knocking on Heaven’s Door

Six Minor Leaguers in Search of the Baseball Dream

Marty Dobrow

Publication Year: 2010

The rich slice of Americana found in minor league baseball presents a contradictory culture. On the one hand, the minors are filled with wholesome, family-friendly entertainment-fluffy mascots, kitschy promotions, and earnest young men signing autographs for wide-eyed Little Leaguers. On the other, they comprise a world of cutthroat competition in which a teammate's failure or injury can be the cause of quiet celebration and 90 percent of all players never play a single inning in the major leagues. In Knocking on Heaven's Door, award-winning sportswriter Marty Dobrow examines this double-edged culture by chronicling the lives of six minor leaguers-Brad Baker, Doug Clark, Manny Delcarmen, Randy Ruiz, Matt Torra, and Charlie Zink-all struggling to make their way to "The Show." What links them together, aside from their common goal, is that they are all represented by the same team of agents-Jim and Lisa Masteralexis and their partner Steve McKelvey-whose own aspirations parallel those of the players they represent. The story begins during spring training in 2005 and ends in the fall of 2008, followed by a brief epilogue that updates each player's fortunes through the 2009 season. Along the way Dobrow offers a revealing, intimate look at life in minor league baseball: the relentless tedium of its itinerant routines and daily rituals; the lure of performance-enhancing drugs as a means of gaining a competitive edge; the role of agents in negotiating each player's failures as well as his successes; and the influence of wives, girlfriends, and family members who have invested in the dream.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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pp. 1-4

Title Page

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p. 5-5

Copyright Page

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pp. 6-8

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Prologue. “If They Make It, We Make It” (Agents)

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pp. 1-7

When the cell phone rings, Jim and Lisa Masteralexis shake their heads. It is late on a summer night, and their three young children have finally fallen asleep. Toys and puzzle pieces and picture books are strewn around the living room. Dinner dishes still sit on the kitchen table, macaroni and cheese on the floor. ...

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Part 1. Spring Training 2005

........................................... 1 Spring Training 2005...

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Chapter 1: Crash Davis Territory (Doug Clark)

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pp. 11-18

A few weeks in the Southwest have awakened Doug Clark’s freckles from hibernation. They have blossomed on his powerful forearms. They have started to create sheet music on his slightly lined forehead. And they have cropped up on the temples flanking his hazel eyes—alert, penetrating eyes that are now focused on a television screen in his room at the Days Inn. ...

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Chapter 2: Can’t Miss (Brad Baker)

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pp. 19-35

The pressure on the mound? That comes with the job description. Going after the three toughest outs in the game as a closer? Brad Baker can deal with that. Hadn’t he proved it? He was recently named the 2004 Southern League (Double- A) Pitcher of the Year, ...

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Chapter 3: Fluttering Away (Charlie Zink)

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pp. 36-50

For three long, unforgiving days, Charlie Zink points his blue Yukon Denali down Highway 10, leaving his native northern California, heading south, then east, mile after mile of cruise control, lots of time to reflect. He thinks long and hard about the rocket ship season of 2003, the crash to earth of 2004. ...

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Chapter 4: Manny Being Manny (Manny Delcarmen)

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pp. 51-65

In the grand scheme, eighty-six years is a heartbeat, but in New England the period of time from September 1918 until October 2004 had been a historical epoch along the lines of the Pleistocene Era or, more accurately, the Dark Ages. Had ever a people suffered so much? ...

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Chapter 5: A Dream Deferred (Randy Ruiz)

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pp. 66-80

There was always one question; it was always the same. When Luz Ruiz would confront her grandson in the Section 8 apartment they shared on East 136th Street in the South Bronx, she would fold her arms, look him in the eye, and say, “Are you going to go this way, or that way?” ...

Part 2. Opening Day to the All-Star Break

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Chapter 6: “It’s the Life— the One Everyone Wants to Live” (Baker)

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pp. 83-92

Veteran catcher Michel Hernandez is still chasing the American pot of gold he had decided to seek long ago. Back in 1996 at age eighteen, he bolted out of a stadium in Mexico with four Havana Industriales teammates, leaving behind his island nation, family and friends, and the only life he had ever known. ...

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Chapter 7: Opposites Attract (Delcarmen and Zink)

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pp. 93-103

In the fog, in the April chill, on the spongy green grass of Hadlock Field, young men play catch. It is a meditative rite of spring. Back and forth. The ball snapping between them. Pop–pop–pop. ...

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Chapter 8: Baseballtown (Ruiz)

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pp. 104-118

In the fi rst summer of the first year of major league baseball, George Bradley was a superstar. Just eleven days after the nation’s centennial celebration, on July 15, 1876, Bradley turned in an American classic, pitching the sport’s first no-hitter. ...

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Chapter 9: “They Got Him!” (Agents and Matt Torra)

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pp. 119-140

Outside Fenway Park at 5:30 on Sunday afternoon, June 5, business is booming. The highest ticket prices in the major leagues do little to dissuade the fans, who have filled the old ball yard for the 171st straight time, and now stream out wearing their souvenir T-shirts paying homage to Big Papi or Manny or Johnny Damon. ...

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Chapter 10: Waiting (on Deck) for Godot (Clark and Torra)

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pp. 141-156

On the first full day of summer, Wednesday, June 22, 2005, there is still a cascade of sparkling sunlight as the 7:05 game time approaches at PGE Park in Portland, Oregon. The Beavers, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, are hosting the Fresno Grizzlies, top farm team of the San Francisco Giants. ...

Part 3. The Second Half

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Chapter 11: Suspended Disbelief (Ruiz)

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pp. 159-167

The full-page ad on the back of the sports section of USA Today on Monday, July 18, 2005, looks slick. The ad consists of three images. On top is a picture of a handsome man with a dark mustache, designer sunglasses atop the brim of his Baltimore Orioles cap, his expression calm and focused. ...

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Chapter 12: The Three Hardest Outs in the Game (Baker)

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pp. 168-173

Broadcasting on the evening of July 13, Dave Barnett tells his audience: “Tonight, fans will be treated to the best in minor league baseball. It’s the 2005 Triple-A All-Star Game presented in stunning high definition on ESPN2. . . . It is one level below, one phone call away from The Show. ...

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Chapter 13: Goose Bumps (Delcarmen)

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pp. 174-186

The MBTA’s number 23 bus is Javy Colon’s usual route. Back and forth he goes, driving between Ashmont Station in Dorchester and Ruggles Station on the site of the old South End Grounds, home a century ago of the Boston Braves. This is one of the three busiest routes in Boston, carry ing over twelve thousand passengers a day. ...

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Chapter 14: “If You Make It, We Will Come” (Zink)

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pp. 187-198

On a sparkling Saturday, July 16, 2005, Charlie Zink stands in the home dugout at Hadlock Field, “Sea Dogs” across the front of his jersey, a familiar logo and the words “Boston Red Sox” on his left sleeve. He stares long and hard at the pitching mound. It is a place where he has known some dazzling success. ...

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Chapter 15: At Heaven’s Door (Clark)

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pp. 199-214

Doug Clark steps out of a gray Ford Escort in the familiar parking lot at Springfield Central High School. It is Monday morning, September 12, and it is already steamy at 6:50 as he enters the building, his brain fuzzed with jet lag. He didn’t get home until Saturday night, and after seven months out west, his body is protesting: ...

Interlude. The Off-Season

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Chapter 16: There’s Always Next Year, Sometimes

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pp. 217-231

In New Britain, Connecticut, a between-innings promotion featured a competition of “Musical Toilets,” involving four kids and three plumbing fixtures as the PA system blared out “Go Johnny Go.” The Bowie (Maryland) Baysox went one better—or worse—with their third annual attempt at an alleged record for whoopee cushion use on the Fourth of July. ...

Part 4. Opening Day 2006 to August 12, 2008

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Chapter 17: Going Home Again (Delcarmen)

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pp. 235-238

Big beams of sunlight shine through the ominous purple clouds that roll into Boston in the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday, August 12, 2008. The natural spotlights touch down everywhere: on the sailboats bobbing along the Charles River, on the brownstones of Beacon Street, on the scalpers hustling tickets on Yawkey Way. ...

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Chapter 18: A Giant among Legends (Clark)

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pp. 239-246

While the Red Sox get ready to take on the Texas Rangers on the night of August 12, 2008, Doug Clark heads back to join his team, far, far away. Over eleven seasons as a professional baseball player he had known hundreds of thousands of miles of travel, much of it bad. ...

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Chapter 19: Knockin’ after Midnight (Ruiz)

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pp. 247-265

The post on waswatching.com, a blog billed as a “laconic commentary from a Yankeeland zealot,” came from “hopbitters” on April 25, 2006. It read: “I never heard of Randy Ruiz before, but, my God, is the guy the ultimate loser.” ...

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Chapter 20: “Just Hoping to Have It Be Over” (Torra)

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pp. 266-268

Matt Torra warms up in the bullpen on August 12, 2008, trying to feel strong. He is pitching for the Tucson Sidewinders on a warm and windy night in Colorado against the Sky Sox. ...

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Chapter 21: On the Big Screen (Baker)

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pp. 269-274

The first phone call Vicki Baker received on May 14, 2006, came from her eldest son, Bradley. He was down on the field with his Richmond Braves teammates, getting ready for a game against the Toledo Mud Hens. He just wanted to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. ...

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Chapter 22: “The Path of the Knuckleballer Is Rarely Linear” (Zink)

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pp. 275-291

It is late on a Tuesday afternoon outside Fenway Park. The Texas Rangers, the top-hitting team in baseball, are in town as the Red Sox, in second place with a 68–51 record, begin a critical home stand. The game is sold out for the 444th time in a row—just eleven shy of the major league record—but there are, of course, tickets available outside the ballpark to fans willing to shell out big bucks. ...

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Epilogue. The Strangest Luck

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pp. 292-302

A year later, almost to the day, Charlie Zink is back on the mound at Fenway Park, the words “Red Sox” splashed across his chest. But this afternoon, August 8, 2009, serves merely as a cruel piece of irony. ...

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pp. 303-305

The baseball metaphor is overplayed. There is no larger meaning, no cosmic significance. It’s merely a game: hit the ball with a stick, run counterclockwise. ...


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pp. 307-314


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pp. 315-323

Back Cover

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p. 371-371

E-ISBN-13: 9781613760185
E-ISBN-10: 1613760183
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558498426
Print-ISBN-10: 1558498427

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 49 illus.
Publication Year: 2010