I’m filing this entry under Writing instead of Baseball because of my timing, which, as you read this post, you’ll discover is quite terrible. It’s sometimes stunning that I ever get anything done
when it’s relevant on time. I’ll interject a few obvious comments as I proceed, but the focus will remain on the writing aspect of this.
In this post I mentioned that I want to be a writer. I haven’t so much wanted to be a writer all my life because I can’t lie and say I’ve wanted it “since I can remember”. But I have wanted it since I discovered that I love it. Several teachers during my school years sparked my Eureka! moment that hey, maybe I can do this. Little notes on biology papers saying “Well written” or “You’re a good writer” were enough to open the possibility. To those teachers I owe a debt, not because it’s led to anything (yet), but because it woke me up to myself, for want of a better term.
I didn’t suddenly start writing feverishly in those days. My interest trickled through from high school into college. Around my sophomore year, I began to get more serious. I started reading beyond the required college course curriculum. I started penning little scenes. They weren’t great in terms of story or character development, but they allowed me to build dialogue and scene. I learned the basics of my natural strengths and weaknesses. An end goal of writing something longer and more developed began with the obvious dream of publication. Despite how big and daunting the task seemed, I already had my proof of concept. I’d already been published.
I’m a huge baseball fan, something that anyone who reads RollingDoughnut.com already knows. As a kid, I had more time to indulge that passion with morning box score perusing and the gift of TBS. (What I could do today with that much free time and the internets is beyond any rational fathoming.) Every year I anticipated the yearly baseball preview magazines. I had no favorite, preferred magazine, so I bought them all when they came out. I read them cover to cover. I memorized statistics. I even cut pictures from them and made
scrapbooks manly photo collections of my favorite players. I devoured every prediction and projection. I was always a little disappointed that my Braves were never picked to win even though I believed. (For more on how I became a Phillies phan, click here.) I counted the days until opening day, the season schedule having already been posted above my desk, a ritual that perpetuates to this day.
In 1988 I had an unexpected bonus. Flipping through the pages of that year’s Grandslam magazine, I found this page:
Greed took over. Baseball cards exploded as an “investment” in 1998 as internet stocks exploded ten years later. An unopened, factory-sealed set of 1988 Fleer could allow me to retire a minimum of 5 years earlier than I could without them. I just knew it, so I had to have them. What was a little distraction like a writing contest to get in the way?
I sat at my desk, the one with the peeling white paint and wood-carved etchings of “this sucks” and black-markered ramblings, and wrote my masterpiece. I wrote it long-hand because computers were of the Commodore 64 variety, which we had, and printers were of the expensive variety, which we didn’t have. Typing didn’t seem to offer me the immediate connection to the page and the brilliant words. So I wrote, putting only my best thoughts forward. I scratched out the bad parts that didn’t project my creation forward. I put everything I had on paper and left only what was necessary. I finished, wrote my word count, then my revised word count, then my revised revised word count, before finally narrowing it down to the perfect number, requiring only 80% of the maximum words allowed. Every great writer knows that the later drafts should be shorter than the first. I was the greatest.
Seventeen years later, I still have this creation. Behold my genius:
Holy crap, am I embarrassed. Not because of the quality of the writing, which was good considering I was only fourteen when I wrote it. (It was extra good when compared to the other entries, but I fast forward too soon.) No, I’m embarrassed because I was so ignorant that I sent my edited rough draft as my final draft. I’ve learned since then, but I can only admit that I was an amateur. But, my God, I knew it didn’t matter because those cards would be mine. Oh, yes, they would fill my greedy fifteen-year-old hands by the fall of 1988. I had no doubt.
Expanding on the brilliance of my essay, I must now explain my choice of subject, which naturally seems silly in 2005. I chose Jose Canseco for one reason: I was a whore. I could’ve written about Dale Murphy, who any right-thinking American knows was the greatest player of the ’80s. He’s my favorite player, yet I sold my soul for the riches. Even then I understood the media bias involved in any story. I couldn’t win with the truth; I had to win with the sexy. Nothing more, nothing less. I
compromised my values made an intelligent editorial decision to get my hands on the bounty.
I mailed the essay.
Six months later, I lay bandaged on our living room couch from what is now known as The Macaroni and Boiling Water Incident™. The Macaroni and Boiling Water Incident™ offered one unexpected, desirable benefit: while my brother wasted away in school, I stayed home to heal, allowing me to watch Oakland and Jose Canseco smash Boston in the 1988 American League Championship Series. Baseball hadn’t quite come to its intention of scheduling every game to start in primetime, so I had afternoon baseball. One of these days I was home, the mail arrived bearing forgotten fruit. The editors of Grandslam chose my essay. The letter was even signed in ink. In ink!
I didn’t care about the baseball cards and my soon-to-be-realized riches. I’d won. The 1989 edition of Grandslam would have my name in it. I could not wait to see my name on the page with words I wrote. Along with every other writer in the magazine, baseball fans all over the country would read my essay and say “Wow, I see why that guy won. Is an essay in Grandslam eligible for the Pulitzer? I hope so because that guy really deserves it.” Wow.
With publication 4 months away, I had nothing else to do but wait for the cards to arrive. By this time, doubting my stupendous ability, I’d purchased a complete set of 1988 Fleer. Double the riches! I waited and waited and waited. I received another letter telling me that the editors ordered my cards and they would arrive soon. In the meantime they sent me a framed poster of “my idol” Jose Canseco to placate me until the cards could arrive. And it was signed in ink again! Behold:
Flabergasted at their generosity is all I can say. The cards were so scarce and in such demand that it delayed the order. The wealth multiplied. As a reminder of my spectacular skill with sheet of looseleaf notebook paper and an 89¢ Bic, I hung the poster on my wall until we moved a few years later. (Somewhere between the move and
today, it disappeared. I don’t miss it.)
A few weeks later, my cards arrived with another note from the editor. Again he signed it in ink. Damn I was important. The set had the seal still intact and he wisely pointed out that the set would be worth more with the seal intact. I knew this, but I appreciated the personal care.
The set was worth $35, so I couldn’t believe what the numbers would be when I projected them out into my future. I filed the boxed set away in my closet. I should’ve opened a safe deposit box at the bank, complete with insurance for the value that I could expect in the future. Since I was too young for that, I placed it in the back of the closet and told no one outside of my family that I’d won cards to complement my essay’s publication. I will always remember the fall of 1988 as the Wonderful Season of Greed™.
In the spring of 1989, I began scouring bookstores much earlier than in previous years. I had a mission to see my name and enjoy my fifteen minutes of glory. I always knew before I walked into the store whether or not the 1989 issue of Grandslam had arrived. When there were no balloons and banners celebrating my achievement, I knew I’d have to check another day. But it was only a matter of time.
The magazine arrived in stores with little fanfare, which surprised me given my reasonable expectations. I scanned the Table of Contents and thumbed the pages to find Page 4. Oh. Oh my God. This was even better than imagined. “I’m on page 4,” I thought! But where were the balloons and banners?
I found page 4. My spirit deflated. There, stealing all my glory, thirteen essays stared at me and not one of them was mine. What? But I won? I read the words in horror:
…our original plan was simply to print the outstanding response and award the prize – a complete set of baseball cards of the winner’s choice.
However, the flood of mail was so great, and the variety of arguments so magnificent, we’ve decided to publish not only the winning essay, but also to expand the format and share some experts from the many other letters that came to us.
That wasn’t part of the deal. How could they do that to me? I can’t believe they cheapened my moment of glory by publishing the losers. They were losers, not winners like me. Ugh.
I scanned the page for my name and didn’t see it. What? I finally found “Continued on page 54…” What? Page 54? I’m buried in the middle of the magazine? But I won! These people didn’t win, I did. How can they be on page 4 and I’m on page 54? “Drink my fucking Ovaltine, indeed,” wiped every other thought away.
I flipped to page 54 and saw this.
Nine essays ahead of mine. Nine and thirteen meant twenty-two people had their glory before I got mine. And I was the “winner”. The superiority of my essay consoled me. I’d addressed the argument in a direct manner, supporting my thesis with clear facts. I addressed every aspect of the game, unlike the others. My essay required intellect and knowledge of baseball to write. I felt better. I did plan to use some of my future baseball card wealth to hire goons to prevent future publication by the other twenty-two “writers”, though.
Today, of course, the reality is different. I’m still working. I still have that set of baseball cards. Today, on eBay, sellers have the factory-sealed set listed at $8.99, with no bidders. But I was published once and that keeps me going.
Post script: One final thought. Every part about me being upset at having twenty-two essays printed before mine, that was believable, right? Writers are jealous by nature, you know, so I had that part of it, too. But, here’s the thing about my jealousy… I made that part up.