April 11, 2008
In June of 1973 I was playing for the Twins in Wisconsin Rapids, living in a second floor apartment of a home owned by an 87 year old fan named Minnie Marzofkowicz. It was a nice little three rooms within a short ride of our ballpark. After games, Minnie would often ask me to sit with her as she asked questions about the team and that night's game.
We had three straight days of rain and I hardly left the apartment spending my time watching tv and reading a great book called The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, the story of a young girl possessed by a demon, and the two priests who attempt an exorcism to drive out the evil spirit.
The book opens with the girl's mother hearing noises from her attic during the night. She thought it might be rats or squirrels, but as the story progresses, we soon realize the noise is not rodent related. As the Wisconsin rains poured down on Minnie's old house, I too heard strange scratching sounds above my bedroom. Luckily for me, I saw two squirrels running along the branch of the old oak outside my bedroom window. The little guys were seeking shelter from the storm in Minnie's attic.
I was safe.
My demons would come later and take a different form.
Wednesday night we headed to Coral Gables for our second of three games against the University of Miami. Fresh off pounding us last week and being named #1 in four of five national polls, the Hurricanes weighed heavily on my mind.
In 21 years at FAU, I've taken that bus ride down 95 more times than I care to count. Most of the rides home have been silent, disappointing trips. As I considered our pitching options against one of the best hitting UM teams I'd seen in years, it would be false to say that optimism reigned supreme.
The miles rolled past and I remembered many of the games which have served to haunt me like some silent spirit, intent on taking hold of me. Charles Johnson's Texas Leaguer which bounced high over the head of our outfielders as runners raced around the Astro Turf to beat us in the eighth, Alex Fernandez tossing a no hitter the day after Joe Grahe one hit us, my boss not renewing my contract in '92 the morning of the UM game and Ron Fraser asking me how they were treating me, losing the Regional final 3-2 in '99, followed by four more season ending appearances at Mark Light Field - those scenes all occupy a dark place in my baseball soul.
OB opened the season as our closer despite looking bad in all our pre season scrimmages. He assured me his lost velocity was because of an ankle injury, but opening weekend he struggled. Mike had been one of our best pitchers last year, but as '08 unfolded he got battered each time out.
Finally he admitted his shoulder had bothered him since Christmas. His folks live in Tuscaloosa so they brought Mike to Dr. Andrews in Birmingham. A cortisone shot and two weeks rehab were supposed to do the trick, but Mike's subsequent outings were pretty inconsistent. I finally told him he'd have to find his stuff in practice and throwing bullpens; I doubted I could throw him in a game.
Last weekend in Mobile Mike's Dad and I discussed using a medical redshirt and trying to scope his shoulder and start fresh next year. But Tuesday Mike asked to see me in my office and said he didn't want to redshirt. He thought he could help us now. In fact he felt he could help us against Miami.
He wanted to start.
In the first inning, we had a reliever getting ready. I wasn't taking any chances.
As the game unfolded you could see things were different. OB had good stuff, was locating his pitches, and his change was pretty effective against all the UM lefties.
Every inning I kept expecting the bubble to burst.
Meanwhile our offense had started off strong just like last week, scoring five times in the first three innings including Will Block's first of two homers of the night.
In the sixth I asked Mike if he minded if I changed catchers. When a pitcher is throwing well he usually doesn't want anything changed, but Mike smiled and said "fine with me".
I never looked at him again until I took the ball from him in the ninth and said "thanks".
Ob faced his own personal baseball demons and for eight solid innings performed his own exorcism. Now we needed freshman Glenn Troyanowski to finish the job. Two runs and two outs later, the baby faced kid had the sacks juiced and a 2-2 count on a dangerous hitter. The game, and the exorcism held in the balance.
A nasty curve ball yielded strike three.
On the bus ride home I knew the title of this entry.
Thanks to OB, "The Exorcist", it was a sweet ride home.