There isn't much better than making your pro debut by Josh Trudell Sometimes freelance assignments are a drag. People are bored, they don’t want to talk, you’re being a pain in their backside…it happens.

Sometimes, however, they are gold. This was one of those golden times.

In March, I was contacted by Beckett Sports Card Monthly and asked if I could follow the winner of the Topps Make Your Pro Debut contest around, documenting his day in words and pictures. (The resulting story ran in the July, 2013 issue of Beckett Sports Card Monthly.) An early shorter piece is here.

The winner’s prize was a day with the Corpus Christi Hooks – signing a contract, getting a uniform, working out with the team, and meeting team owner Nolan Ryan. I couldn’t say yes fast enough – I love baseball, and this sounded like a great assignment.

I met Tim, his son Peyton, and his wife Dani around 11 in the morning, and followed them through a tour of the park. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and the grin on his and his son’s face when he saw his jersey with his name on it was priceless.

After Tim got into his uniform, he started throwing with the team. This is when this assignment started really getting fun – I was asked by a Topps representative to photograph Tim for his baseball card.Tim Kane Card[2]

Not a promotional gift thing – a real baseball card. The 2013 Topps Pro Debut Set will feature a card of Tim and Peyton with my photo.

Head. Explodes.

After Peyton threw out the first pitch and presented the lineup card, he and Tim stayed in the dugout for the first three innings. Then, they moved up to sit in the owner’s box with Nolan Ryan.

The Nolan Ryan. The same guy my father and I had talked about for years – he was Dad’s favorite baseball player, and he always wanted a copy of Ryan’s rookie card (which he finally broke down and bought when I was in my late teens).

Now here I was in a room with the legend, listening to him tell stories about his favorite parks (Kansas City, Anaheim) and his least favorite (Cleveland, Candlestick), the hitters he liked to face (big power hitters like Reggie Jackson and Jim Rice) and least liked (slap hitters such as Tony Gwynn).

Head. Explodes. Again.

After Ryan left, Tim and Peyton headed back to the dugout, where they stayed for all of a 19-inning marathon. I had to head back home – I had to work at the day job early in the morning – but I left with a full notebook, a full memory card, and a smile on my face.


The end of an era by Josh Trudell

And just like that, everything’s changed. The Boston Red Sox blew it all up Friday – trading Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers for four minor leaguers and first baseman James Loney. The Sox shed about a quarter-billion – B like you see on the McDonald’s signs - dollars in bad contracts, and vowed to start over – younger, hungrier and cheaper.

This by itself isn’t much more than a headline on SportsCenter. But that trade is the end of an era for me.

When the Red Sox signed Crawford and traded for Gonzalez in one whirlwind week in December, 2010 – a weekend that might have been the last time Red Sox Nation was this overwrought – I called my father in New Hampshire from my house in Texas to talk about the new additions.

We had many of these conversations after I left home – he didn’t always understand what I did for work, and I didn’t always understand why he didn’t want to explore the world – but baseball brought us together.

When I lived in southern New Hampshire, we talked about how amazing Pedro Martinez was, coming out of the bullpen with a dead arm to no-hit the Cleveland Indians for six innings.

We marveled at the sheer majesty of Manny Ramirez’ first swing at Fenway Park, a shot that bounced off the Coke bottles on the left field light standards. He loved the wiles of Tim Wakefield's knuckleball - always enjoying the story of a guy getting it done against the odds.

When I moved to Texas in early 2004, we dissected Nomar’s mental state as he sulked his way off the team, and celebrated when the band of Idiots finally brought home a championship. I remember him telling me that so many people he knew had lived and died without seeing that happen, and that he was more than a little amazed to see it come to pass.

When Crawford and Gonzalez were signed, I called him, and we talked – me doing most of the talking, as usual, about what those players would bring to the team. I was enthusiastic – I thought Gonzalez would be another great thumper, and Crawford would be as electric as he had been in Tampa Bay, stealing base after base for the Red Sox instead of against them.

Three days later, Dad was gone, taken by scleroderma, an illness that had been dogging him for years. In that last conversation, I was trying to be upbeat – I knew he didn’t have long, and I was trying to cheer him up.

Now, nearly two years later, the Red Sox have gone young and hungry, with players like Pedro Ciriaco and Ryan Lavarnway. I don’t know if they’ll be world championship material again soon, but I know this is a team my father would have liked better than the overpaid, underachieving group that has been the Red Sox signature of 2012.

Catch this doubleheader by Josh Trudell

The dog days of summer are my least favorite time of year. Everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion – the 95-degree sun across the sky, me at the gym, Jon Lester’s fastball… you get the idea.

Baseball slogs through these days. Trying to take my mind off the Red Sox, who are slogging their way to oblivion, I’ve been listening to books about baseball.

My most recent doubleheader has been The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach and Calico Joe, by John Grisham.

The difference between the two is the difference between a 90-mph fastball down the middle and an artfully shaped curveball thrown by a lefty – one of those that when you see it on TV, it looks as if it is going to wander out past the first base batter’s box and hit the on-deck batter. Then it snaps back and thumps into the catcher’s mitt.

Harbach’s book is a lyric little bandbox of a novel, detailing the struggles of several figures brought together around a phenom dealing with confidence issues.

This could easily devolve into a paint-by-numbers jock book, but Harbach brings a sense of depth and reality to his characters that far surpasses the situation.

Baseball is the nominal backdrop – Grisham’s novel has more recognizable baseball moments – but Harbach crafts his story so well, the characters could have been playing cricket or sitting on a raft in the ocean.

He crafts several viewpoints, all dealing with different issues. I identified with some, didn’t with others, but couldn’t tear myself away from any of their stories.

Read it. Today.

Grisham’s novel, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same surprise or craft of language – it’s a simple little tale around a bitter father, an angry son, and what, at least partially, heals the gap between them.

I found the bitterness between the son and father so harsh as to be almost unreadable – my father and I bonded over baseball more than anything else.

It’s a decent read (or listen, in this case – both of these were on audiobooks), but it’s a John Burkett to Marbach’s Pedro Martinez.

Work:I've got a new piece in the San Antonio Express-News about Corpus Christi. Another piece is coming soon about the turtle release I wrote about here. The photo show at the San Antonio Public Library is still ongoing.

Movies: Plenty of thoughts about The Dark Knight Rises, which was epically long and included plenty of awesome, but was tragically overshadowed by a mass murder at a Denver theater. Still working out some thoughts about this.

October 27, 2004 by Josh Trudell

The radio whispered in time with the soft whistle of air through tubes, rising, falling and rising again. Outside, the season’s first snow fluttered down, catching the window’s glow before landing on maple leaves still tinged with orange and red. They would be brown and dead when the snow melt uncovered them in the spring.

Inside, framed yellowing photos of men in wool uniforms, wearing caps at the jaunty angle of a seven-year-old boy, covered the walls. Neat stacks of plastic cubes, each holding a ball with faded blue ink on one side, lined a bookcase.

The radio sputtered a bit, and his rheumy eyes rolled in response. “Foulke…” he muttered, squinting in pain and frustration.

A crumpled blue cap with a spoked red B hung from the top right corner bedpost, where it had been religiously placed every night for the last three weeks, after being thrown and catching there during a blowout loss. The effort had cost him a bloody coughing fit, but he couldn’t stand it any longer.

The next night, a miracle had happened, and like people all over New England, he didn’t change a thing for the next three weeks, so the cap stayed where it was.

Now, he couldn’t change anything. He listened, but his eyelids grew heavier and heavier. They settled closed as the radio sputtered again.

“…"Swing and a ground ball, stabbed by Foulke. He has it. He underhands to first. And the Boston Red Sox are the World Champions. For the first time in 86 years, the Red Sox have won baseball's world championship. Can you believe it?"

The roar of the crowd was as loud as if he was sitting at the game…and then it broke off into static, which died out.

The growing storm whipped away the signal, leaving him silent, in silence.

Living in Fantasyland by Josh Trudell

“Zack (*^%ing Grienke!!”

The big man’s forehead reddened, then purpled. “&^(&, Steve*, you do this to me every year! $&*@!”

As we roared in laughter, he paced around the room, crumpling pieces of paper and throwing them in different directions, fuming. Empty Styrofoam cups and plastic bags went flying, before he finally calmed down.

Ah, the raging torrents of emotion, wrought to the surface by fantasy baseball.

It’s one of the touchstones of spring, for me - flowers start to bloom, the air conditioning starts to run constantly, and I get together with a small group of friends to hash out our fantasy baseball auction.

Without delving too deeply into the nerdity, it’s a group of eight guys – one brought his girlfriend one year, and hasn’t lived it down since – sitting around bidding on their favorite American League baseball players. This is New England, after all - none of that National League crap goes here.

This has been my first fantasy league, and the only one that’s ever stuck. The group’s core is made of people I worked with at my first real job – a reporter and editor at a small newspaper in southern New Hampshire.

One of the clichés about newspapers is the camaraderie – long hours, low pay and high stress forge a deeper working relationship than other jobs. These guys are my proof that it exists, and it’s why I fly 1,500 miles to hang out with them for a few hours.

Distance makes it harder now – I’ve only made it one of the last three years, and I can’t remember the last time I saw Steve (the guy who seems to win it EVERY YEAR).

I’m not a charter member of the league – there are a couple of those left – but I’ve been part of it long enough to see most notepads give way to laptops. During the most recent auction, held just a couple of days ago, we retired an old easel and huge sketch pad in favor of a high-definition TV and Google Docs to keep track of who chose which player.

Red Sox players are always expensive – it is New England, after all – but it’s the only time Yankees players might be valued just as highly. Old jokes are revived about Nomaaaaaah, new stories told about the latest indignities of the newspaper business, and the bids go round in circles.

Ironically, the process gets more competitive later in the game – the outburst above was during the last stage of the auction, when a promising pitcher was taken before the outburster’s next pick.

It’s become part of the history of this group, rolled out any time someone gets too excited about losing a bidding war.

After a rousing third-place finish last season, I’m hopeful about this year’s team – since, hope, like baseball, springs eternal.

*Names changed to protect the outburster and bursted-upon.

Cleaning out the camera... by Josh Trudell

Jason Varitek of the Boston Red Sox and a parody of O Captain My CaptainA few snapshots while waiting for my camera to return from the repair shop…

Camera freak out: I had a momentary panic attack when I logged into Sony’s repair tracking web site to see how much fixing my camera was going to cost.

Staring back at me was a figure almost twice what I had been initially quoted over the phone. I cracked the display screen while at a wedding, and had been working somewhat blind until I saved the money to get it fixed.

I called in to see which quote was correct, and after some rigamarole, was told, “Well, the website isn’t always updated.”

That seems like a significant customer service flaw to me, but I’m not saying anything until my camera is safely back in my hands.

The funny bit about this is that Sony’s repair center for this region is in Laredo, so it would at least be a relatively short drive to go get it back.

Lesson learned: Always call and double-check.

O Captain, my Captain:  I am a fan of the Boston Red Sox.

These days, that brings either a snort of derision or a fist bump of pride.

It was more fun to root for the Sox before they became successful, because then there was some unity in the fact you knew the other person had had their heart broken at least once.

Once – or twice – a generation, the Sox would get close to winning the World Series, and then something heartbreaking would happen and another dream would be snuffed out. It was part of the fabric of New England.

I would never swap the satisfaction of the 2004 and 2007 titles, but it’s kind of sad to see fans now complaining about the team being more like a corporation and less like the lovable losers they once were. After 86 years of losing, it may take that long again to learn how to win gracefully.

Jason Varitek, one of the last ties to the pre-championship Sox, is retiring Thursday. I’ve never met or spoken to Varitek, but I always liked the way he carried himself. Quiet, strong, and did the hardest job on the field with pride and purpose.

He was named the Captain in 2005, and naturally there was a lot of 'Oh, Captain, my Captain,' floating around Fenway Park after that. (Which led to my little rewrite above. Apologies to the Whitman purists.)

Good luck, 'Tek. It won't be the same without you.

Geeking out: The new Avengers trailer is out, and it is a Hulk-sized dose of awesome.

The nerd saliva is hip-deep around here with the drool over Avengers, Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises. It’s shaping up to be a fantastic summer for comic book movies.

Now, I’m a Joss Whedon fan from his Buffy and Angel days, and I have had high hopes for Avengers since I first heard he was going to be directing. But I thought the Dark Knight would be the highlight of the summer, with Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale wrapping up their dark and twisted trilogy.

That trailer made me change my mind. All that badassery, plus Robert Downey Jr. delivering Whedon’s snarky script is like watching Walter Iooss Jr. take Gisele Bundchen’s picture. It just doesn’t get any better.

Next week’s assignment: The Superwife and I are headed to a renaissance festival, assuming I kick this cold and my camera comes back in one piece. Those are always fun to shoot, so I’m looking forward to a good time.