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BASEBALL CONFIDENTIAL

Amphetamine Story No. 2
(Notes at the Beginning of a Teaching Career)

By John Poff

Lately I've been thinking about what it will actually be like to conduct classes, what sort of atmosphere do I want to have (or will I have, whether I want it or not) and the goofiest image keeps popping up. This is a long story and it starts with, of all people, Bob Uecker. Uecker was the Brewers radio announcer when I was with them and he was a genuinely, incredibly funny guy. We'd take a bus from the airport to the hotel and he'd get on the microphone and do a thirty-minute monologue that made me marvel (and laugh)—much wittier than his public personality as a dumb fan or Mr. Baseball.

When Uecker was still a player he was traded from the Phillies to the Braves. This was when the Phillies had a legendary brand of clubhouse amphetamine called "Red Juice." It was passed around openly by the trainers and must have really been something, because ten years after it was officially dropped, or banned, you would still hear Red Juice stories. Anyway, Uecker took some with him when he went over to the Braves. He joined them for a day game after the Braves had played the night before, and was sitting around the clubhouse on that first day when Clete Boyer came in and walked directly to the nearest trash can and threw up. Everything in his demeanor made it clear it wasn't a case of the stomach flu. Uecker took Boyer aside and gave him some Red Juice and forgot about it.

Pitchers and reserves hit fungoes during infield practice (I think every child who goes to a big league game early remembers that routine), so Uecker was out on the field before it started. This was one of those parks where the ballplayers emerge from a tunnel in the outfield. Everyone was getting ready for infield—a dry routine but part of the work—when all of a sudden there's a loud, long Tarzan yell coming from the mouth of the tunnel. It's Boyer, of course, and he sprints full speed from the outfield to his third base position where he launches into a headfirst slide into the bag, jumps to his feet, and gives everyone a huge grin. Not a typical approach to taking infield.

I've never forgotten that story. Partly, of course, it is about drugs, and if it's wrong to find humor or feel anything about taking drugs besides Just Saying No, then I'm a bad guy. But primarily it's about waking up out of the humdrum and anxiety and not living in the here and now (whatever it may have taken to accomplish that) to feel the incredible power and joy and smiles of being alive. If you're just alive to play third base today, then play the shit out of it. I think of that grin as a very friendly, inviting kind of communication—literally a kind of satori.

It also reminds me of a famous acupuncture treatment by some old master. A patient's progress wasn't going well (in the case of master practitioners, this is more the patient's fault than the practitioner's), so the acupuncturist waited behind his door and struck the patient hard on the head with a martial arts stick as he walked in for the treatment. It changed everything, partly because of the exact acupuncture point on top of the head.

What does all this have to do with teaching, you might ask? I have no idea, but I can't escape this image of myself beginning a class (don't worry, not the first day) with a huge yell from the doorway followed by a sprint across the room and ending with a magnificent slide into the cabinets. Very important to get up and share the resulting grin. This is not showing off, but trying to give something.

This is supposed to be funny—I'm smiling as I write this and I smile every time I think of the Clete Boyer story. But I'm sure there's a reason I've been thinking this way. This general sense in education of frustration, anxiety, time-on-task, closure, responsibility, desire for results and validation—the idea of school as a place where teachers "sit and hear other groan," this mentality I feel in my observation experience and which seems to be the underpinning of the professional education, like the latest theory is a light that can lift us out of this scary darkness—all this I am going to counter with a simple, joyful, leg-breaking slide. And to hell with the strawberries.

—EFQ

JOHN POFF, a frequent contributor to EFQ, played professional baseball for eight years. He lives in northern Michigan where he has been a schoolteacher for more than a decade.

© 2008 John Poff

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