The Origin of Story

Strathcona School Jr. Baseball Boys' Team. 1922 Champions

Strathcona School Jr. Baseball Boys' Team. 1922 Champions

Time has come between us friends, fans, and followers. We’ve seen some things. Either firsthand, or through others, we’ve felt loss. We’ve witnessed defeat. We’ve experienced the euphoria of success, and what it takes to win. We’ve felt what it’s like to be on top, and had the end of its fleeting presence haunt us from the moment it arrived. But most of all, together, we’ve felt the warmth of friendship, shared values, and community. And throughout the infancy of this league, faces turned familiar, narratives became known, and rituals were formed from the stories we told each other, born simply from a need to communicate.

Now, don’t think for a second, that as I lie here writing this, sagging into the middle of my mattress at the Patricia Hotel, with East Vancouver just out my window, that I’m not thinking what you’re thinking — that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. That I’ve got a fat baloney sandwich stuffed in my face! That I’ve no right throwing around such bravado and assumptions when it comes to the absurdity and unpredictability of life! Well, I might just so happen to be holding the morsel of a convenience store hero between my teeth while I type away, and hell, it might even be made of compressed and unwanted meat friends, fans, and followers, but it doesn’t matter. Any doubts about the message I bring you today can be hacked down with the power of a single word: baseball, friends, fans, and followers. Baseball.

This game. Really, it’s just a series of activities that offer a venue for all facets of life to make themselves visible. It’s a garden that waits for water and sunshine to bear fruit. An empty closet waiting to be filled after anthems are sung. But trivial as it may seem to some, it’s baseball that brought you to this crap I’m writing. It’s what took us all from strangers to brothers and sisters! Yes, friends, fans and followers, through East Van Baseball’s inaugural season and yet to be chronicled results of this current one, you’ve come to know Roy Madison.

I told you about my waning interest for writing about baseball in the big money, big business, and big egos of the big leagues in New York. Confessed my impotence at the typewriter and lack of interest for life in that easterly state while everything I cared about up and left. I shared the feelings of hopelessness that sent me to the bottom of a cold hotel pool in Hollywood. Described the delight of coming to the surface, and into the comfort of a new beginning in Vancouver. In the wet grass of spring, I broadcast with joy the purity of sport I found in East Van Baseball’s first few games. I subjected you to constant musings from my room in English Bay, at the Sylvia Hotel, until summer turned to fall and the season bore its first champions. Then I returned to Hollywood, only to face the failures of love, which forced me into exile in Japan from both baseball and my girl Tina. And after all that, I didn't say a goddamned word until the league could start again. In short, friends fans and followers I told you my story. My origin.

But now I’m done my sandwich, and I realize there’s a missing stitch to this chronology. Now that I call East Vancouver home, I’m embarrassed to admit that your official league laureate doesn’t know much about how the ten East Van Baseball teams that were birthed in the neighborhood that’s welcomed me with open arms. So friends, fans, and followers, before I sign off, in no particular order, let’s take a moment to learn about these clubs, formed from players, made of solid men, of better women.

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White sox, black sox, red sox. Why the hell is baseball so obsessed with socks friends, fans, and followers? Perhaps the answers can be found in my own sock drawer where this simple garment awaits my feet each day in many shades and accents. I have striped socks, polka dot socks, socks with alligators, socks with sharks, with happy faces, with popsicles. I have pink socks, yellow socks, and grey socks. But what I don’t have friends, fans, and followers, much to my surprise, are any black socks.

 

I’ve never been to Clark Park, so I decided to go on down there late one afternoon to have a look. It’s like most parks in East Vancouver. A clump of trees in one corner, a playground in another. I took off my shirt in the setting sun, and said, Brawlers! Roy Madison is here. Make yourself known! All I wanted was an interview. All I heard was the sound of crickets.

 
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Snake charming has been an interest of mine for many years, friends, fans, and followers. I’m well versed in the ways of the snake. Staring into the eyes of a venomous demise under the hypnotic influence of beauty is how I spent most of my evenings in Hollywood, poolside in the heat of a California night, my shirt open, the BBQ on, ribs basking in an open flame for my darling Tina. I came close to death almost every night.

 

Most of my decisions are based on the stories and mythos of what I see in the evening sky. All you need to know about anything can be answered in the cosmos. I’m not sure how these kids make decisions when it comes to the roster, who should be pitching, and whatever else burns into the minds of a young club, but the Cosmos better be looking up into the sky at night for the answers if they expect to get anything right.

 

Sitting in front of a Mets game in the bar downstairs at the Patricia last week, some fella with mustard on his chin told me that the remnants of an old prison can still be found in Gastown. So I brought a newspaper and sandwich to some French affair of a restaurant that was supposedly where the jail used to be. I ordered a coffee, black, just so I could add to the mystique of my own origins by saying that I spent time in prison. Well, after two hours in the glass atrium of my cell at the back of this joint, stealing bites from my contraband submarine, with my newspaper spread out over the table, trying to pull some lottery numbers out of the morning’s box scores, they finally asked me to leave. I picked my personal belongings up off the table and walked out a free man. Hard time, friends, fans, and followers. Hard time!

 

I just called down to the front desk to ask Anja what the hell a goddamn Isotope is. She said she didn’t bloody well know what the hell an Isotope was and that I need to stop sitting in the lobby without my shirt on. The guests are complaining. Goddamn tourists.

 

Let me tell you friends, fans, and followers, there is nothing pleasant about a mountain when you’re trying to reach its summit wearing wool windowpane slacks and a broadcaster’s jacket. Even worse when there’s seventy-five bloody degrees of summer heat bearing down on your brow, and you left your hat sitting on the back of your hotel room’s toilet. The Murder were the team to beat during the league's inaugural season last year so I spent a recent afternoon in their natural habitat, in search of a scarlet and sable crow so that I might be infused with a better sense of their fearless and winning spirit. I made it halfway up the hill, my pants sagging half way down my buttocks, jacket drenched in sweat, calling out in desperation for the bird of victory. Caw! Caw! Caw! And in my delirious state, I didn’t find the bird friends, fans, and followers, I became the bird. Caw! Caw! Caw!

 

Someone once told me trains are responsible for a lot of longing because getting on one means you’re either on your way to see someone, or you’re leaving someone behind. Well, I’m here to tell you friends, fans, and followers, that sitting in my hotel room, late at night, listening to the crash and smash of trains behind the Patricia is an orchestra that can keep a fella awake with lustful thoughts of leaving the lonely existence of a sportswriter behind. One day I’ll get on that path of steel and wood, held together by spikes, and you’ll never hear from me again.

 
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To expose the origins of the newly formed Stilettos, in-depth research was required. I observed the effects of higher elevations and curvaceous calves while prancing about my hotel room in bloody painful 6-inch patent leather power pumps. I took my notebook into the darkness of various gentleman’s clubs around my hotel. I interviewed several women, and some men, in tall heels, on salacious side streets, in malls with faux lighting, and in conservatively decorated office lobbies so I could file a report on how a shoe that represents so much sexual power, pain, and erotic innuendo found its way onto the chests of such a respectable crew of guys and gals. Finally, I arrived at the truth. These kids aren’t referring to shoes at all, their idea of a stiletto is a stabbing weapon! A knife! But really, friends, fans, and followers, is there any difference between having your throat sliced wide open by your adversaries brandishing a bayonet on the end of their arm, and a high-rise heel made from Italian leather coming down on your chest while the object of your desire puts out a cigarette butt on your forehead?

 

Oh christ, another convoluted, mysterious reference. Stevedores, Steves, Stevies, dock workers. I call them meat hooks! I guess you’ve probably figured out by now that Roy Madison has never done a day of real work in his life. Instead, I watch people, I sit in parks — both baseball diamonds and gardens. I listen to my colleagues on the radio, I read the newspaper, drink if I feel like it, sleep late if I want, watch cinema, dine at tables sized for one, and listen to jazz most evenings. Hell I might even take in an opera every so often. But what I don’t do is work, friends, fans, and followers. It’s probably what has left me so undesirable, alone, and unworthy of the hearts of many. But it’s only in total solitude that I can begin to sit down and explain what needs explaining in this goddamn world.

 

There! Now that we fully understand where these ten teams came from, I think it’s safe to say friends, fans, and followers, we’re on even terms. Now we really know one another. Hell, we’re a family now! So I think this is the right time to tell you, without shame, remorse, or regret, that I don’t give one goddamn about baseball. Well, at least when it comes to the score at the end of day. Most sportswriters won’t tell you this, but Roy Madison isn’t like most sportswriters, and I say scores can only tell one story: who won and who lost. But we all know this game is more than that, don’t we? It’s a thing that gives life to so many other things we strive to be, try not to be, and hope to obtain. It all depends on what makes us, and how you found your way here in the first place. And if you made it this far, I applaud you for your patience, you’re a true fan.

Anyway, back to me friends, fans, and followers. I sit by the sidelines, I watch the innings play in and out, and I use the field in front of me as an elaborate window into our collective existence. Under this circumstance, the diamond is not a field, it’s a table, where cards are placed upon it to reveal present, future, and past. The cards have names like shortstop, pitcher, outfielder, and so forth. Through their movements, and the people watching, they tell us a story. Oh hell, not just about me. About themselves. About us. About you. And I’m here to tell it. I’m a sportswriter, godammnit.

Slouching Towards Spring

Roy Madison is back, and here to tell you that another season of East Van Baseball is about to get underway. Of course, no dispatch from the desk of your newly appointed literary laureate of the league would be complete without a large portion of the play-by-play devoted to my innermost feelings. So before the bats start swinging, the meat starts sizzling, the suds start flowing, and the dust and dirt of our competitive nature gets kicked into our faces all summer long, let me tell you about my very off, off season.

Starting a new schedule of games always casts the last ones into an uncertain fog of recollection. If you remember friends, fans, and followers, the East Van Baseball’s championship ended with me standing behind the beaten, mighty and tall, cold steel fence of Strathcona Field while I stood to watch the Mt. Pleasant Murder triumphantly make their way to What’s Up Hot Dog? in celebration of their win. Over the course of that inaugural season, and summer in Vancouver, I found a new appreciation for being alive. Now the league that gave it to me was breaking for winter. Suddenly, amidst all the cheer, I felt the breeze of fall wicking cool from the sweat on my brow. Within hours, I left my hotel room in English Bay, and was on a flight back to Los Angeles, where my poolside suite at the Highland Gardens Hotel in Hollywood had been waiting for my return all summer long.

Reliving the past is beautiful friends, fans and followers, but it’s wrought with peril too. Hell, it’s goddamn dangerous. But baseball’s never ending waltz with departed time is what makes it so bloody delicious. As a sportswriter, I can always detect a scent of doubt, even from players spouting the most fearless rhetoric of sport during an interview, because everyone damn well knows you’re only as good as your last at bat, pitch, steal, or game-saving catch. Every time you return to the game, the questions will inevitably come: is my arm done? Can I do it again? Will the pain come back? Is this the end, or should I keep going? And when the end finally does arrive — and we all know it will friends, fans, and followers — well, then you’re just history.

We were trying to recreate something that didn’t exist anymore. Friends, fans, and followers, we were history.

My return to the past was in California. My last play at the plate took place there at the bottom of a hotel swimming pool. And last fall, I was standing over it, wondering if Tina and I could be like we used to be, or if we were just history.

“Sal de aquí, asqueroso bastardo!” Suddenly I was flying forward, face first into into the tranquil, cool, and silent waters of the pool I had such a hard time leaving before I knew what East Van Baseball was. This time was different though. I left air in my lungs and maintained a buoyancy that ensured an easy return to the surface. When I opened my eyes, Tina was standing above me.

“Roy Madison! You think you can just show up here. You’re not registered guest no more!” she said. This dame was hot! I knew this was not going to go well, but I couldn’t help but look at her with a big grin on my face. Fully clothed and treading water in my suit and tie beneath her, with my hat floating away behind me, I knew I still loved Tina. Once I got out of that pool, I made quick work of making things right again. I took her to our regular table at Musso’s for dinner. Fixed her Dubonnet on ice just so. Played her favorite Gene Pitney songs. Danced with her on the pool deck as the sun fell behind the Hollywood hills. And held her like a woman needs to be held goddamnit! But through it all, I could hear the voice of doubt in the words she spoke, the way she moved, the way she sipped her Dubonnet, and the way her eyes passed over me with sadness even though we were laughing. Doubt and mistrust was present in every nuance of her delivery. We were trying to recreate something that didn’t exist anymore. Friends, fans, and followers, we were history.

Not long after I arrived, I decided to leave all over again. With my hypochondriac, neurotic, obsessive, insufferable, souffle baking houseguest Oliver asleep on the couch, I left my key with a note telling him that he wouldn’t have to clean up after cards with the fellas anymore, and that the Madison Suite was now his. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew once I set foot outside the Gardens I would never be allowed back. By the time I got to Hollywood Boulevard, I was already regretting what I had done. Now I was really lost. I had no action to cover, no story to tell, no Tina to love — so I just kept going. Into the Metro, onto the Red Line, down to Union Station, onto to the FlyAway bus, and up to a ticket agent at LAX for a one-way flight to Japan. It was the off season here, so it made perfect sense to my injured disposition that needed to be put on the designated list, that baseball would be in season on the flip side of the world. Everything would be better there. Well, hell, was I wrong.

Mid-November was in full. The Nippon League in Japan had just finished for the season, East Van Baseball was a distant memory, and the Chicago Cubs had won the World Series. There was nothing left. I finally accepted defeat and gave up on the idea of finding some action to write about, and accepted the long slouch towards spring we all had to deal with.

Roy in Japan catching up on the latest headlines in the world of sport.

Like you kids that actually play the game of baseball, Roy Madison is a slave to the rituals of routine that offer faith when success is in doubt. I wear clothes that connect me to distant pasts, I live in a hotel, I read newspapers instead of the internet, I refuse to dine in restaurants that play recorded music, I never have a Manhattan without a hint of Fernet in it, and I will only play cards with decks that had their suits made in China.

It didn’t take long friends, fans, and followers, to construct a parallel universe for myself in Japan while I awaited baseball’s return. Just like the Gardens, the hotel I found there was a two-level triangular complex with a pool in the middle of it that time seemed to have forgotten about, even though it was surrounded by the tall buildings and tourists in Shinjuku. It was run by three lovely sisters, and I would often entertain one of them each evening with Gin Rummy and Madison charm in exchange for a deal on my digs. I walked around. I looked at the sky. I fried my own pork chops. I baked my own ribs. I bought a shirt around the corner with a tiger on it, and read from a stack of vintage Sports Illustrated magazines the gals kept at the front desk until suddenly, it was spring.

Now we’re back, and we’ve all changed a little. Even this league goddamnit! A batch of new teams: the Stilettos! Cosmos! Brawlers! Cobras! Gaolers! All set to do battle, all summer long, and let’s not forget the new website with my very own Broadcast Gondola. Of course, the weather is still bloody awful here at this time of year friends, fans, and followers, and I’m sure I’ll get my slacks filthy from the mud of Strathcona Park on opening weekend like I always do, but right now, from my room at the Patricia Hotel — after a renovation The Sylvia upped the prices of drinks, so forget it! I’m East Van proper now — I can see the clouds over East Vancouver dumping their last bit of dismal before they make their departure and the sun comes out. This is the story we’ve all been waiting for. With new teams, new players, new dramas about to unfold, the averages set to zero, and the schedule ready to come to life, the air smells of nothing but opportunity. What you do in the park, friends, fans, and followers, is up to you. Let’s play ball in East Vancouver.

Goodbye Goes on Forever

Idon’t need to tell you Friends, fans, and followers, signs of finality are everywhere. The haze of darkness arrives earlier than you expect each night. The air in the morning has a chill in it. The leaves in the branches above your head cling to life while their thin membranes turn to dust, and the diamond at the south west corner of Vancouver’s Strathcona Park sits silent. It’s time to say farewell.

The East Van Baseball League saw their last game of the season play out. A 16 to 2 defeat of the Railtown Spikers at the end of a weekend long tournament of post season playoff games that produced the league’s first champions: the Mount Pleasant Murder. The Murder turned in an impressive record all season long and counted only two losses during the league’s inaugural regular season.

The Railtown Spikers

The Railtown Spikers

After the dust settled, everyone went up to the league’s hot dog provider, What’s Up Hot Dog? to celebrate. Suddenly it was the off season friends, fans, and followers; a time when there’s little use for Roy Madison. I took one last look at the green lawn of Strathcona Park darkening in the setting sun, and hired a car back to the hotel to pack up whatever belongings I had worth keeping. I went downstairs, ordered a final round in Sylvia’s Bar, and said so long to everyone there that made my stay so pleasant and welcoming. Then I high tailed it to the airport and got the hell out of town.

That was some time ago. I’m back in California now. Tina is nude and just out of the bath behind the sliding glass doors of my small patio here at the Highland Gardens Hotel. We’re going to Musso’s for dinner to celebrate my return, and I have just enough time to file this final East Van Baseball report from where I can see the teal-blue void of the pool that started this whole business in the first place, glowing into the night sky above. It feels good to be back, I’m a lucky fella to have managed to keep a setup like this intact. Tina runs the Gardens, and kept my room ambiguously occupied and unavailable while I was in Canada. Now I have to occupy her evenings every Tuesday for the foreseeable future.

The sign outside What’s Up Hot Dog? said it all.

The sign outside What’s Up Hot Dog? said it all.

Some might call me a goddamned prostitute, but for chrissakes what do you expect friends, fans, and followers? A sportswriter doesn’t make much of a living without a steady beat, and I haven’t had one in years. Hell, it was probably in Tina’s best interest to have me off the premises anyway. My crisis in front of the other guests at the Gardens seated around the pool on the day I decided to fall into it without a plan to return to the surface, likely brought plenty of questions Tina didn’t have answers for. Oliver helped out a bit too, by playing the part of a paying guest while I was gone, making it easier for Tina to keep my room out of the hands of holidayers until I was ready to come back.

Don’t go thinking Oliver is some kind of saint though, friends, fans, and followers. He was holed up in my place long before this whole East Van thing got started, and was likely ecstatic at the prospect of having the Madison suite to himself. Oliver and his wife Alice have been on rocks since I don’t know when, so he’s up in my corned beef sandwich on a regular basis. I can always tell a stint at my place is in Oliver’s forecast. He’ll come over for cards, something he rarely does — he says he can’t stand all the smoke — then he’ll stay late to clean up and never leave. All spring he was on my pull-out sofa, and we were bickering with each other night and day. Thank the lord above that he cleared out about a week ago so I didn’t have to put up with him when I got back from Vancouver.

I threw that damn soufflé in the trash and ordered a bucket of chicken.

Want to know why? Because Alice missed his cooking! For chrissakes friends, fans, and followers, can you imagine? His cooking! Hell, I can’t figure it out. I thought his cooking was a pain in the neck! The constant worrying over cooking times, the non-stop berating for a critique of his efforts, asking how it tasted, if there was too much salt, if there was something he should have done differently, then professing that there wasn’t enough turmeric, and finally that it was completely ruined. And I hadn’t even had bite yet.

When I got in from Vancouver, Oliver was gone, but his presence still greeted with me a tidal wave of cleanliness. He had sprayed the living bejesus out of the place with Lysol and it just about knocked me over. But that’s not all friends, fans, and followers. Oliver left one of his goddamned soufflés in the fridge with a note under it.

Welcome back. I whipped up this little something for your arrival because you just can’t trust food on planes these days. And please stop ashing your cigarettes in the window sill of the shower, it’s disgusting. 
— Oliver

Not a word about how to cook the thing, so I threw that damn soufflé in the trash and ordered a bucket of chicken.

Oliver and Tina weren’t the only ones to miss me while I was gone. The fellas I have over on Wednesday’s weren’t too pleased to show up at the Madison suite to find Oliver in an apron, about to put a lasagne in the oven and forgo cards for charades! And Manny, my bartender at Musso’s thought I might be in some sort of distress when I didn’t show up for my usual. Tina said Manny actually came all the way up Hollywood Boulevard before dinner service one night to check up on me. Helluva guy. I’m telling you, I don’t need a doctor or a dame, just a bartender to sit in front of.

Now that I’m back, I realize Vancouver had a good effect on me. In the spring, when I didn’t have an inkling of where Vancouver was, another season of Major League Baseball was set to open and I could care less. Actually, come to think of it friends, fans, and followers, I didn’t have much interest in anything. I had no desire to take part in life’s greatest pleasures: not writing, not swimming, not eating, not smoking, christ not even drinking. Ok, I was still drinking, but I sure as hell wasn’t writing.

The Highland Garden’s pool, as seen from the Madison suite

The Highland Garden’s pool, as seen from the Madison suite

I was flat out on a lounger in my housecoat by the pool one morning in March under a haze of dilaudid, tomato juice and beer when I heard some kid floating on a yellow donut out on the water, talking with some actors about how he was from Canada and was set to play baseball for a new sandlot league in Vancouver. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but some days later, when I was waiting to run out of air on the floor of the pool’s deep end, I got the idea to come back to the surface and go to Vancouver to check it out.

All I needed to hear was the tell tale hiss and pop from a ball hitting leather, and hell, I got it.

I was in attendance for the first exhibition game of the season that spring, but didn’t leave the front seat of my car parked outside Strathcona Park. I guess I just wanted to see if what that fella was talking about in Hollywood was real, because there isn’t a goddamned ounce of truth in that town. But when I saw that group of guys and gals, just playing ball out there, in a roughed up park, in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, the mixture of familiarity and foreignness roused an interest in me that said: get out of the bloody car Madison! But it was too soon friends, fans, and followers. I had to take my time. My return to regular coverage had to be taken slowly, seriously, methodically. At that point, all I needed to hear was the tell tale hiss and pop from a ball hitting leather, and hell, I got it.

The next game, I left my car to sit on the grass, but still maintained a safe distance from the diamond and stands so as not to create any interest in my presence. It was still damp, and that goddamned, cold, wet, Canadian lawn put two big wet circles on the ass of my slacks. I snuck out of there somewhere in the fourth inning with my tail between my legs. I certainly wasn’t going to introduce myself in that state. Back in my room at the Sylvia Hotel, with my pants hanging in the window, drying in the breeze of English Bay, I filed my first East Van Baseball report to make it official, by simply stating: this was my beat.

Every time I returned to a East Van Baseball game, I moved a little closer. The fans in the bleachers, the cheers, the scent of the open air, the crack of tin cans being pulled open, the dust and dirt getting kicked up from wild plays around the bases in those early months when players were getting the tightness of winter off their throwing arms and catching hands, everything just felt fresh and full of promise. Finally one morning, as if possessed by the vast turf of Strathcona Park itself, I walked up to a few of the Black Sox to introduce myself like any other good citizen of the free world and said, “Fellas. I’m your writer, Roy Madison.” And that’s how it all got started.

The Splash Zone at Strathcona Park

The Splash Zone at Strathcona Park

Even though my coverage of East Van Baseball competed with the unexpected hypnosis of ocean surf that held me transfixed in my beach-facing room at the Sylvia Hotel, forcing me to report on games from my dining room table instead of an East Van ballpark, the league appreciated whatever words I managed to put together. All season long, players, friends, fans, and followers came up to me, shook my hand, thanked me for the stories I told, the games I managed to attend, and welcomed me into the community of what’s only getting started up there in Vancouver. I don’t think those kids knew just what the hell I was, where I had come from, or what I was doing, but by the time the season ended I was handed a microphone for the championship tournament.

In the final days of August, when East Van Baseball’s first playoffs were set to begin, Strathcona never looked better. The fields were kept green and lovely by the grounds crew ladies, the washrooms were open, the bbq was on and sizzling with weiner, the spa bus — painted red, and parked just behind the field — was hot, and hell even the goddamned sun decided to come out, making it one of the warmest weekends all summer long.

Friends, fans, and followers, it’s time for East Van Baseball!

When I sat down in the official Roy Madison broadcast booth and asserted myself with a clearing of the throat, a flood of memories came through the worn out grass beneath my feet, up to my ankles, through my legs, across my heart and down to my left hand holding the mic. In that split second of amplified silence before I spoke, I heard a child’s cry crossfade into the sound of hard soled shoes on a sidewalk, the thunder of the 7 train pulling into Grand Central on its way to Shea Stadium, felt the warmth of a good meal cooked by someone that once loved me. I smelled exhaust in the autumn air from the car I bought new with the spoils of a good year at the Daily News, and pictured the fat little fingers of fellas I saw every day in the press box plucking away at a keyboard, jawing on about the sight of some sweet dame in the stands. Like a current of nostalgia that ran through the park all around us, it gave me a shock, and electrified my voice with the grandfatherly tone of knowledge I needed to profess to the fans in attendance that Friday evening — “Friends, fans, and followers, it’s time for East Van Baseball!”

The Roy Madison Broadcast Booth.

The Roy Madison Broadcast Booth.

And just like that, I had made a return to broadcasting, but christ was I rusty. Thankfully I had a crew of great fellas to help me out. Some fella from the Mount Pleasant Murder, named Rob, kept me on the course of balls and strikes. And Andrew, my color man and sound technician knew all the players, because hell I didn’t know who was at plate half the time. They were just swell friends, fans and followers, and obviously enamored at the chance to work with a self-proclaimed legend! I could see a glint of wonder in their eyes, as I stumbled my way through inning after inning to the annoyance of the umpires, and some of the players that weren’t much impressed with the idea of hearing their motions translated into my brand of poetic play-by-play.

My life is a good one, it just took a summer in Vancouver to admit it.

I’m sure those fellas with me in the box thought they might want to get into the press box game one day, so I did my best to make the life of a sportswriter sound terrible. Because it is friends, fans, and followers! I warned those two that every meal would be lunch — an endless cavalcade of plastic wrapped sandwiches, chased with concealed beer in a paper cup. Every town would start to look the same, and the highway at night would start to speak to them through painted streaking signals of light, so that by the time they stepped up to a microphone they would talk in an alien language few people could understand. Home would be a filthy hotel room, an ice machine down the hall their fridge, a vending machine their pantry, an adult movie their lover, and if they happened to check into a joint with a pool in the parking lot… Aw hell, who am I kidding? Sportswriting is great! My life is a good one, it just took a summer in Vancouver to admit it.

Well, Tina’s turned off her hair dryer. That means she’s just about ready for dinner, and any second now she’ll be stepping onto the patio to complain that I’m still in my underwear. I don’t know why I thought Hollywood was ever so bad in the first place. A writer can only spend so much time courting modesty. Eventually I had to give in and accept that what I have is exceptional: solitude, sun, a swimming pool, sex on Tuesdays, a steady card game every Wednesday, and the desire to spin a yarn to anyone that will listen. I’m a sportswriter. I’m the guy that tells people what’s really going on in that split second between a ball leaving the sweat-glistened hand of a pitcher on its way to the dry wood of a bat — redemption! Friends, fans, and followers, redemption.

  Manny: Roy Madison’s official bartender at Musso’s

 

Manny: Roy Madison’s official bartender at Musso’s

But that’s a story best left for another season, because this one has long since finished. The end is good. The constraints of finality are needed. “The last,” defines things, and gives them meaning and purpose. I’m sure you thought Roy Madison was just going to go on forever, didn’t you friends, fans, and followers? A thank you is in order if you made it this far into my endless goodbye, but the only story I have left is for Walter, my usual waiter at Musso’s. It starts like this: a martini and shrimp louie salad in one of Musso’s luscious booths, followed by a rib eye steak, baked potato, and bottle of wine that Walter suggests by just bringing it to the table. The climax is dessert, with a tawny port, and several healthy doses of tobacco appear throughout the whole thing. It ends with a late night swim under palm trees that blot the darkness of the sky with their even darker, ink black crowns.

Oh hell, friends, fans, and followers, I’ll be back — or maybe I won’t. I don’t know. That’s the thing, nobody can tell if the air entering their lungs is their last breath or not. Life will always be without a natural, convincing closure. So I’ll just stop.

At the End

Friends, fans, and followers I am slowing down. As the days progress through the weeks of summer, and the sun hits the horizon earlier each evening, I seem to have more trouble responding to the things that need the attention of a sportswriter. I just finished telling you all about how the East Van Baseball League was in its mid-season stretch, where everyone involved had a moment to take a breather. Some spent the time watching the majors take their rest over the all-star break, others spent it away from the city with friends or family, and some just kept playing baseball in exhibition pick up games around the city — I’m telling you friends, fans, and followers, you cannot get the game out these kids. And myself? Well, I spent the down time doing what Roy Madison does best: covering the action. Not baseball of course, without gameplay to report on I had to find some other things to apply my trade to.

I’m telling you friends, fans, and followers, you cannot get the game out these kids.

I spent most days on a bench just in front of my room at the Sylvia Hotel, taking notes and adding verbal color to the simplest gestures of life and nature that require a little play-by-play to reveal subtle beauties to the rest of the world. I’m talking about bird watching, friends, fans, and followers; but that story is best left for another time, because while I was watching seagulls effortlessly glide through blue skies at maximum velocity and a scraggly little crow trying to beg a meal from the underbrush, the 2016 East Van Baseball season ended with the Mount Pleasant Murder clinching the pennant with a commanding 10–2 record. Which brings us to the front door of baseball’s reigning crown of drama: playoffs.

Well, I’m a little late, but still ahead of the game for the time being. The short season, seven inning sandlot style these kids have been playing up here in Canada has taken some getting used to. After years in New York covering the Mets, I’m used to bearing down to the beat of a 185 game season and never looking up out of fear that if I did, I’d never make it another day. Everything back then was base pads, box scores, corned beef sandwiches, whiskey in a paper cup, the machine gun fire of a typewriter pounding itself into paper, and a constant anxiety to find the juice of a story, a nugget of truth, a metaphor for life in the way the manager looks out on the diamond from the dugout, a child watches spectators respond with unprecedented fury at a disagreeable call, or how some rookie ties their shoelaces — and before each day’s deadline, with a prayer the other guy doesn’t get to it first.

All of us at one time or another fool ourselves into the fallacy of forever, some worse than others.

Well friends, fans and followers, one day I did make the mistake of taking my thoughts out of the daily rituals of the season and came to the realization that my wife and kids had up and gone. After that I was never really able to get back to the park life that great sportswriting requires. Eventually I stopped going to the stadium altogether, and instead would try to cover the action from a barstool in Queens. Deadlines came and went, and eventually so did my copy in the Daily News, then I up and left for Los Angeles. Let me tell you friends, fans, and followers it’s easy to fall into a pattern of waking up and assuming life will be the same as it was the day before. All of us at one time or another fool ourselves into the fallacy of forever, some worse than others.

It joys me to report on this kind of an end though, friends, fans, and followers. The final days of East Van Baseball’s 2016 season is welcomed and deserved. Less of a league, and more of a community that’s thread itself into the tightly wound streets of East Vancouver over the past few months, the guys and girls that have come out to play in these gorgeous, roughed up, little parks around town have been a real inspiration to those who have come from far away places in an effort to connect with something real. I found something to write about again, in the stands, on the benches, and at the plate: new found friendships, playful jeers, slovenly side antics away from the play, and lightning bolts of action from every position in the park, all of it from a simple game called baseball.

Your weekend tournament matches.

Your weekend tournament matches.

If you haven’t already had a chance to do so, friends, fans, and followers you must see this lovely sight for yourself before it’s over for the year. Heroes will be made, defeats will be suffered, and almosts will be endlessly agonized over. I’m happy to report that, in true EVBL form, I’ve been welcomed by the league with open arms and will once again take a seat at a microphone in an effort to transmit the pitches, hits, misses, outs, strikes, and those little moments that make a day great to the crowds assembled for three days of baseball at Strathcona Park. So when you hear my rusty voice call out across the eastward facing diamond, “friends, fans, and followers it’s time for East Van Baseball!” You’ll know that we’ll be moving towards the end, together.

Mid-Season Breaking Point

The sound of waves. It was about 4 o’clock in the morning, friends, fans, and followers when I was brought to consciousness from the sound of aquatic rhythms coming from my open window and was forced to ponder the past few months. They were golden hours. The only reward for being awake at such an ungodly, goddamned hour is an empty city. It was just me and the crashing surf of English Bay. I lay there listening to it, thinking about Roy Madison in this country, in this city, in this hotel, in this bed, with a self-assigned assignment to cover a baseball league of self-starting, beer swilling, dugout smoking, tattooed, diamond hustlers that gathered in the less desirable parks of Vancouver’s easterly regions with hangovers, bruises, and sunburns, just to play ball. They didn’t have a writer, and they sure as hell didn’t ask for one either. A question came in the sound of those waves that morning: with the mid-season break approaching, I had to ask myself, what the hell was I doing?

Just over four months have passed since the day I decided to come to Canada. The events of my arrival are soggy, but lying awake on a morning like that one, where nothing but memory exists, things were vivid. I left Hollywood in a state of confusion. Tina, my landlady, was yelling about the scene I created for the other guests at the Gardens. Oliver was fretting over a set of sandwiches he was making so I wouldn’t go hungry on the flight. There were worried looks, followed by a train to Union Station on the Red Line, then a bus, an airport, a plane, a takeoff, a landing, the overcast skies of a foreign place, and a cab to the Sylvia hotel in Vancouver.

It was freezing, but I was soaked in sweat. I stepped towards the front desk in a white shirt stained yellow under the arms. The silk, black band of my hat was worn with white wavelength-like patterns of salt, made from a series of Hollywood heatwaves. My slacks were covered in teriyaki sauce from too many poolside rib dinners with Tina — goddamn I miss that gal, but there’s no time for that right now. Oh, and the bag on the floor beside me was bursting at the seams from Oliver’s last minute, frantic and neurotic packing; it wafted the scent of cured meats every time I shifted in my well worn leather shoes.

It’s no goddamn wonder they gave me the least desirable room in the building, an obvious and direct result of presenting myself to the Sylvia’s desk clerk 36 hours after trying to drown myself in a California swimming pool. A coffin for the dead but still alive, placed on top of the hotel’s bar. Neon spills onto the walls of the living room from the large “S” of the hotel’s namesake, just outside my window. Notes from a rotating cavalcade of circuit lounge performers fumble their way into the kitchen, usually while I heat up a late night snack of bacon cooked two days ago. Most guests wouldn’t want a room above a bar that features the garish glow of neon and the unpredictable talents of hired entertainers, but there’s something in my desperate, uncomfortable demeanour that warrants this kind of mediocrity. Hell, friends, fans, and followers, I’ve even managed to find a certain pleasure in the things nobody else wants. I’m sure it’s a relief for the staff here to know that I’m not a deranged, slovenly animal about to take the next step towards complete insanity, and that room 222 has been filled on a monthly rate without complaint.

Sometimes the noise keeps me up, others it doesn’t. That Saturday it did. My open-eyes embraced the lack of comfort insomnia delivers to its sufferer until the sound of a fella named Kentish Steele, who was performing downstairs, was replaced by the sound of surf, and the pink fuzzy neon light, licking the walls of my bedroom, was swallowed by the more powerful rays of the day’s first sun. After that, there was nothing but emptiness and hallucinations of solitude. A welcomed unbalance to routine that I rely upon for very slight, disorienting visions throughout the day. Small derailments like these were impossible to predict, but I knew they were always a prelude to long sieges in front of a keyboard.

There were waves, and there was baseball. The Black Sox were set to play the Stevedores later that afternoon, and instead of worrying about a lack of sleep effecting my inability to properly cover life on the field, I treated the events of that night as a gift. I found myself unusually prepared for the day ahead; both spiritually and physically. My failures at trying to cover this league so far are well documented in the lack of documentation I’ve managed to produce since the season began. Despite the ambitions of my arrival, a lot of my time here so far has been spent complaining about the weather from the warmth of my hotel room, where I’m reduced to covering the Black Sox through their own updates on the East Vancouver Baseball League’s Facebook page. When I do make it to the park, my observations are maintained from the edges of the field, or worse, the passenger seat of my car. And that’s when I actually manage to make it to a game, friends, fans, and followers! It’s fine. Being a sportswriter is to live within your own thoughts, and to cover life from the edges of others. After witnessing the the sky slowly turn from a regal purple galaxy to an intense vastness of blue, and with it, the arrival of heat I’d been missing since leaving California, I knew this day would be different. The game ahead was one of the last the Black Sox would play before a break in the season. It was obvious this wasn’t just baseball. This wasn’t just a game. This was the progressions of nature, the sounds of jazz, the sizzle of late night bacon, pressed slacks, a well-worn Italian panama hat that was dying for the kind of weather that would warrant a return to my head, a waiting crowd, a rivalry between two teams, a series of ties that needed to be settled, a breaking point for all involved — this friends, fans, and followers was destiny.

The city was alive again. Cyclists, joggers, swimmers, bathers, kids in their goddamned cars with the engines revving. The city had returned itself to a new and fresh representation of hell, but today it was a different kind of same. Instead of being repulsed, I was transfixed by the sights out my window. Rather than escape the view for my usual pregame routine of fetching the morning papers from the 7-Eleven on Denman Street, along with a disgustingly weak, hot beverage they call coffee, I phoned the kitchen downstairs for breakfast. While I pressed my slacks through the heat of an iron one last time, I waited for a coffee service to arrive at my door and continued to watch the scene outside. It was still morning when I left, and it was already hot. I had to get to the park early because the territory was unfamiliar. Although the Black Sox had played a few games from Sunrise Park, a much further destination than their usual grounds in Strathcona, I had missed each one. Worried I might spend the opening innings hunting for the game, I made a smart decision and deferred my arrival to a professional driver.

Which is why I arrived without incident. The park was gorgeous. You’ve probably seen it already friends, fans, and followers, but there’s nothing like stepping into the panoramic expanse of a field that’s been etched in dirt with the shape of a diamond, so allow me this. The dugouts are well appointed with ample seating that provides players the luxury to sit and rest between at bats; the grass, lush and green, stretches far beyond the needs of sport and fills an entire city block; the fences, in their factory appointed dullness of grey and silver, are pristine and rust free, fully confident in their task to keep spectators safe. The whole park sits on a pedestal that offers itself, and everyone in it, to the north shore mountains just above center field.

It’s a shame that my work in broadcasting has been reduced to using Twitter as a means of communicating the action on the field, limiting me to short, 140 character dispatches. Such restraints will never allow for the endless interstitials Sunrise Park can provide; like the way the cloudless sky looked that afternoon, the way planes lazed overhead, or how the crowd crooned its neck to get a look down the first base line when something exciting would happen, and then returned to the sharing of a story, a beverage, or sunscreen. Moments like those friends, fans, and followers, where a broadcaster is able to bring the scene on the field, and in the stands, into a higher meaning that connects the game with life’s larger pursuits — that is to say, things that help us satisfy an endless desire to distract ourselves from the fact that we are all dying as we sit there — are moments that I live for as a sportswriter and broadcaster. Instead, I am a shamed man. There was, and will likely never be, a radio station waiting for Roy Madison to take to the air again. So rather than worry about things beyond my control, I set forth in the best way I knew how, by thumbing my phone, and pounding out the action in an attempt to capture the story that was unfolding on the field.

As much of an upgrade Sunrise Park was to its more disheveled sister park to the west, I was dismayed to see that there wasn’t an area designated for the press. Suddenly I missed the filthy couch I had been using as a means to comfortably cover the play at Strathcona Park. In previous games, it was the ideal spot, just down the third base line. From there, I was strictly bound to the role as observer, not participant — a very important distinction for any serious journalist. For chrissakes friends, fans, and followers, did you ever imagine a time when Roy Madison, sportswriter, would lament a filthy old couch used as a stand in for a park’s broadcast gondola? Well I missed that damn love seat! And if I didn’t have the sense to shove a towel into the shopping bag that held my usual seventh inning stretch sandwich before I left the hotel, I would have had to sit my damn slacks straight into the grass at Sunrise.

I’m sure nobody noticed just how ridiculous I looked, tucked behind the fence at home plate with a towel under my ass, because all eyes were on the field, and rightfully so. The Sox and Stevedores had been exchanging shots from the outset of the game, and were head-to-head going into the bottom of the second. That’s precisely when the stage was set for victory. The Sox’s Chris Cullen hit an RBI single off Kevin Wood’s delivery from the mound, which scored Rohan Karnick, who had been waiting patiently on the pads. Now that he was allowed to touch home and add a point to the scoreboard, he trotted back into to the dugout. The sun began to beat down on the field, forcing everyone in the bleachers to react in unique ways in an effort to protect themselves from the heat. For the Stevedore’s, there would be no relief. Two more Sox runners would add to the score from a single hit by Dave McEwen. Mick McDiarmid delivered the final blow, with an RBI that would put the score at 6–4. A deficit, friends, fans, and followers that the Strathcona Stevedores would never recover from.

With the lead set, Al Smith came onto the mound as pitcher for the Sox. The heat was taking its toll on the players and press now too. The beauty of a cloudless sky, which I had celebrated with such enthusiasm only hours earlier, had commingled with my inability to sleep the night before, and took on a demonic intensity that was almost palatable. Despite the wide brim of my hat, I was an easy target out there on my official broadcast towel, where the fury and heat of a late afternoon without cover funnelled in thoughts of the past. My earlier life as a beat writer for the Daily News, where I was assigned to the Mets, was near impossible to keep in check. Back then I would usually spend the innings of a game reclined in my padded, corduroy chair in the comfort of an open front, but quaintly roofed, press box. Every once in awhile I would lean forward in my chair to view the packed stadium, where the crowd was forced to sink their chances of survival into park-priced beer, with the hopes that their money would last long enough until they could return to air conditioned homes. As much as I tried to stay focused on the present, it was damn near impossible to stay out of the past.

There was no escape for Smith either, at least not until he delivered the mandatory outs required to rest the Sox defence. I could see tension manifesting itself with sweat on his brow as he struggled to throw a single strike. I couldn’t take it anymore. Roy Madison, Californian sportswriter, was melting in the rays of a pacific northwest sun. I picked up my broadcast towel, put it in my shopping bag, and headed for any sliver of shade I could find on the bleachers, something I had yet to do all season. This was new territory. This was life. Close up, crowded, loud, and loose. Beer cans were being tossed to the ground, dogs had their tongues hanging out, sundress straps came off tattooed and tanned shoulders, and babies wearing sun hats with vacant stares wondered just what in god’s name was going on. Jeers and cheers were being hurled towards Smith on the mound, still trying to find the strike zone. I found a spot on the bottom bleacher just as Smith pulled it together. That’s when the outs started coming, building up on the Stevedores, one after the other in freak acts of flies and grounders. Smith was he relieved of his duty with success.

At the top of the 5th, the ball was returned to the Sox, and given to Scott Fogden who came in to close things down for a victory. Like Smith, he had a hard time finding the strike zone, but found it somewhere out there in a place only he knows, because suddenly, the Stevedores were sat in succession: first Chong, then Watt, and finally Cuellar — who stayed on the field to take up residence on the mound in an effort to try to keep a win within reach for the Stevedores. And by golly, friends, fans and followers, Cueller came in there and made it look easy, sitting the Sox one, two, three, in an up down inning. But the bats couldn’t return the call. The Stevedore’s had to get back up against Fogden. Despite being forced back to the mound after little rest while the Sox bats tried to add some runs to their lead, his three inning closing session was near flawless during his tenure in the heat at Sunrise Park.

I called a car immediately, and got in as soon as it arrived. The last Black Sox game before the East Van Baseball League’s mid-season hiatus I would cover had been played. To my shock and horror, as the driver was pulling away, my last vision before returning to my temporary seaside home and the hypnotic rhythms of the ocean, was of the Sox and Stevedores organizing themselves on the field for another game. Spectators were even taking up available positions, creating a mix of friends and enemies, winners and losers in silhouette against the falling sunset in Sunrise Park. I realized then that the game never really ends.

Hot Snap into a Cold Season

Friends, Fans, and followers, it’s time for an update from the desk of Roy Madison, and the green lawns of the East Van Baseball League. It’s been a tough season for your overly seasoned writer so far. Summer has taken its sweet as a peach time to arrive here in Canada, and a short stint under the radiantly gorgeous California sunshine to cover the celebrations at Chavez Ravine for the Dodgers’ opener, and Vin Scully’s street naming ceremony, didn’t help any. Hell, I’m lucky I even had a room to return to at the Gardens after Oliver damn near burnt the place down. Tina was waiting for me at the front desk after I dragged my suitcase across Franklin Avenue. I could hear her before I even opened the door to the lobby.

“Es muy larga, Roy!” She yelled, holding a long list of charges in front my 5 O’Clock shadow that was glistening from a late afternoon blast of heat. I can still hear her playfully barking between drags of her cigarette once I smoothed things over with some poolside Dubonnet. “es muy larga,” now she was saying it with a giggle instead of a growl. If that gal wasn’t saddled with her duties at the Gardens, I would have scooped her right up then and there and brought her back up to Canada with me.

Behold friends, fans, and followers: the Highland Gardens. Yes, that’s the pool I tried to drown myself in.

Behold friends, fans, and followers: the Highland Gardens. Yes, that’s the pool I tried to drown myself in.

The life of a sportswriter is a lonely one though friends, fans, and followers. After things had quieted down some at the Gardens, and my assignment in Hollywood was complete, I was alone again in Vancouver. Standing in the solitude of my living room at the Sylvia Hotel, ironing my slacks in my underwear and looking at the dark, moody clouds that were taking shape over the waters of English Bay, my thoughts quickly returned to poolside sunsets, Dubonnet, and pre-cooked BBQ ribs, picked out of the Fresh N’ Easy at North Sycamore and Hollywood Boulevard. “Es muy larga, my darling,” I whispered to the open window while the iron in my hand spit out a plume of steam. The East Van Baseball League Season was going to open at 6:00pm that evening, and all I could think about was what could have been.

The lonely life of the sportswriter at the Sylvia Hotel.

The lonely life of the sportswriter at the Sylvia Hotel.

That’s right, friends, fans, and followers, the season hadn’t even started, and already it was apparent that my attempts at covering this new league were off to dismal beginnings. Standing there in white Jockey briefs, I realized if this was going to go anywhere, I needed to forget Hollywood, the Gardens, Oliver, and especially Tina. I had to get my head out of the sunshine, and into the atmosphere of uncertainty that lay ahead in Canada. In just a few hours everything on those goddamn east Vancouver fields would start to be officially recorded! Heroes would be created! History would be made! I needed a drastic act to snap into it, and before I even realized what I was doing, my mind decided on one. “Es muy larga!!!” I screamed in pain as the hot iron met my bare forearm in an attempt to expel the demons of comfort and love. Then, I put my shirt on and went to the park.

Friday April 15–6:00pm: Black Sox vs Isotopes
I didn’t even get out of my car. it was so goddamn cold, friends, fans, and followers. I just sat there with the gear in park and the motor running. With a clear view of the diamond, I got out my pencil and paper with a sigh as I prepared to score the game. Then, something wonderful and unexpected happened. Just before the Isotopes were getting set to challenge the East Van Black Sox, one of the gals on the Mount Pleasant Murder — scheduled to play the next day against the Railtown Spikers — opened the East Van Baseball League’s season with a rousing rendition of Canada’s national anthem. Something in those words and in that voice reminded me what I was there to do, friends, fans, and followers, and I got to it! By the time I was finished scoring the game, I had a final of 13 to 11 for the Black Sox. One of the fellas for the Sox by the roster name of Peter Plett, hit a homerun. Bygolly friends, fans, and followers, in the sweet words of Tina back at the Gardens: it was very long.

Saturday April 16–12:00pm: Murder vs. Spikers
Day two: Opening Weekend. I thought the bloody sun might pull through for the two games scheduled for that Saturday afternoon at Strathcona Park, but I forgot about the weather pretty damn quick once I was treated to just about the worst goddamned thing a sportswriter could suffer: getting scooped! And not even two games into the season. I know I haven’t made myself known to these kids yet, and that baseball is a complex game that requires many hands to record the complexities of life it plays venue to, but that doesn’t discount the plan I hatched to be the one that would introduce the East Van Baseball League to the world, and the fact that I had planned on doing it all in good time; you can’t rush this stuff!

Grounds crew at Strathcona Park is top notch! They’ll take your concessions before you’re even done if they think it might wind up on the field.

Grounds crew at Strathcona Park is top notch! They’ll take your concessions before you’re even done if they think it might wind up on the field.

You think that once these kids figure out there’s a bonafide professional from California watching their every move, translating their slides, steals, and singles into poetry that could melt oil-based paint off the back of a slaughterhouse, they’re not going to get stiff hands? It doesn’t mean a bloody thing now anyway. Before I could get my pencil out to start scoring the game, some local author stepped onto the diamond of Strathcona Park for a ceremonial first pitch and then wrote about it in one of the rags here in Vancouver. Roy Madison, officially scooped. I suppose this author fella threw the ball down the plate alright, which only made the fury of jealousy burn hotter. Sometimes it’s just not your day, or your life. The score was 11 to 5 for the Murder, but I’ll be honest, once I realized the story of the East Van Baseball League had slipped through my hands, I took refuge in the Strathcona Park Sauna Bus for some much needed R&R. Yes, you heard that right friends, fans, and followers — a sauna bus; finally I was warm.

Saturday April 16–3:00pm: Stevedores vs. Black Sox
It’s amazing what a little heat and Canadian beer can do to warm the soul. The previous night’s winners, the East Van Black Sox, took to the field for a match against the Strathcona Stevedores, and I was roused from the Strathcona Park Spa Bus with a sense of purpose after sweating out the self revulsion produced by the ceremony of the previous match. I settled into the Official Roy Madison Broadcasting Gondola to watch the action unfold through my field glasses and began scoring the game. I tell you friends, fans, and followers, covering the action at Strathcona Park can be a challenge when there’s no replay to revisit the past, no outfield board to reacquaint yourself with the score, or count indicator to figure out where a player sits in the count. Even the slightest distraction: a mustard spill on your slacks, a quick nip from a paper-bagged beverage, or a sultry look from a sweet looking dame in the stands will have you lost in the plot unfolding on the field in the fraction of a second.

The Black Sox. It’s a family affair, friends, fans, and followers.

The Black Sox. It’s a family affair, friends, fans, and followers.

The throwback, sandlot style these fellas and gals have brought back to baseball keeps a broadcaster on their toes! But old Roy didn’t need a scoreboard to see that this Black Sox team was a different one that had produced victory the night previous. Oh don’t get me wrong, I witnessed some hustle — Sean Elbe showed some great versatility, and Mick McDiarmid has an inspiring arm in left field — but it wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit that the Stevedores kept piling onto the Sox almost every inning. I suspect some of the celebrating that was going on after their Friday night win might of had an effect on their ability to pull out another win. I’ve seen those tired eyes before my friends, fans, and followers. If you’re not careful, life can just turn into an endless series of nights turning into day, unless you have something to help you snap back into it: like the sun, or a burning hot iron.

Saturday Among the Living

Friends, fans, and followers, it’s time for another update from the fresh spring fields of Canadian amateur baseball. If you recall, I’m up here from California on a personal assignment to cover a new club, the East Van Baseball League, in an attempt to rediscover the thrill of the game. But we all know that’s not the only reason I’m here, don’t we friends, fans, and followers? I’m not one to pull wool over the eyes of my readers, so I’ll come clean. Sure, I’m up here to find something in baseball I haven’t seen for awhile, but really, after an ambiguous attempt at suicide in the Highland Garden’s pool in Hollywood, what I’m really looking for is a reason to keep living.

I’ll be the first to say it, sportswriters are among the worst of people.

I know it’s all a bit heavy handed, but goddamnit fans, being a sportswriter is a tough racket! You try spending a lifetime nosing around for the faintest hint of weakness, thirsty for the grit of survival, hungry to document failure, desperate to uncover the tawdry behavior that lays dormant within us all until it’s unleashed by the money and fame of a game played at the professional level — or maybe it’s not, some of us are the devil incarnate right from the start — it matters little, we are a species always able to find an excuse to partake in evil. Spinning these kinds of tales for the dailies, where they’re consumed over a bbq, bed, table, or martini has led the cheapo-drama artists of my profession to a certain degree of madness untold. I’ll be the first to say it, sportswriters are among the worst of people, damned to a life peddling lies and false tragedies all in an effort to get words in the minds of others quicker and longer than the other guy.

Which is why I’m here. Since reporting on the East Vancouver Baseball League’s very first practice of 2016, I have felt a palatable promise in the winds of change that are currently billowing the sails of a refreshed Roy Madison. We are headed towards a summer of rejuvenation friends, fans, and followers! There’s something in the way this has all come together that just feels so bloody right. But what about the game? It’s why we’re all here isn’t it? I got word of not one, but two such events brewing this past Saturday, March 19th. A double header between two of the league’s teams: the Isotopes and Black Sox, followed by a matching of the Mt. Pleasant Murder and Strathcona Stevedores — hah! Murder! I doubt that would fly in the big leagues, fans. It was going to take place at Strathcona Park, the official field of the EVBL, and Roy Madison, Sportswriter was going to cover it.

This is how the game breathes, getting its air from references to past histories with the tossing of a ball in the present.

Much like the games it’s devoted to, sportswriting is mired in routine. That Saturday morning, I went through mine: wake up, take coffee, then get up to gather every possible paper I can get my hands on. Back in California, I would sometimes walk from the hotel, down North Sycamore to Hollywood Boulevard in my robe, pajamas and slippers to get my papers, but not up here fans! It’s too damn cold. Then, and without delay, I return to bed with the day’s news strewn about my room so I can pour over the box scores and editorial bits, gathering the intelligence I need to bring numbers to life. Questions are answered: like just what the hell is a Stevedor? Well, friends, fans and followers, it’s a fella, or I guess a gal nowadays too, that unloads cargo from a ship. Dockworkers! This league has a real blue-collar element embedded into it that’s rooted in the spirit of neighborhoods, trades, and cultures that have helped to shape Vancouver. This is how the game breathes, getting its air from references to past histories with the tossing of a ball in the present. It’s the details like these that I try to find from the bed of my hotel room before any writing is to start. They act as magnets for what else will occur that day. Instead of pounding out the ruts, the streaks, the injuries, and the heaves and sways of a game as it makes its way to a final score, I fill a blank page by trying to catch myself off guard with the way the air smells or how the wind lifts and trickles its way from English Bay to my open window at the Sylvia Hotel. Then, once I have a few things down, I get cleaned up, order a sandwich wrapped in wax paper from the kitchen downstairs, apply my uniform of slacks and blazer with a hat that acts as both reprieve from the elements and notification to others that I’m press, and make my way to the park. This is how good sportswriting gets done.

I told her I had no time for casual talk! Then delegated her eyes to the press card in my hat.

Things were looking grim for the Black Sox, who were already in a rut they never got out of by the time I arrived by cab at Strathcona Park. I took up a spot just beside the well-weathered wood bleachers, got out my notepad, and got to work. The last innings only confirmed the inevitable: a final score of 15 to 5 for the Isotopes. At least I think that’s what the score was, fans. Most sportswriters would balk at the thought of covering a game without a press box staff delivering all the minutiae required for a writer to cover their beat, but not Roy Madison! I’ve yet to get acquainted with all the players, but that didn’t stop me from keeping track of the rotation and score with a zest for the way things should be done. At one point a dame came up and wanted to know where I got my socks, and I told her I had no time for casual talk! Then delegated her eyes to the press card in my hat and told her to come by the Sylvia Hotel for a drink where we could get into, or out of, the subject of socks all we want. Such is the nature of the business, there are many distractions, but you have to stick to the story that’s unfolding, not the wone that’s been told a thousand times.

Things took an ominous tone as the day headed into its later hours and the Murder took to the field. These kids look tough friends, fans, and followers. Real roughnecks: cut off sleeves, mullets, and straggly beards. I was tempted to have a sartorial word or two with these guys and girls about the honors involved with getting in front of an audience, but thought better of it. Besides, that’s what makes this whole experience so unique. Not a damn chance these players would be put under the lights of a major league venue, but at Strathcona Park major doesn’t mean a goddamn thing. As for the Stevedores, they look bloody young. Hell I had to ask myself if these kids had even started shaving yet! It was really something to see, because this team came onto the diamond full of moxy, and went hard against the Murder. Hell, I put them at something like 9 runs over the Murder’s 5; a real inspiration!

But then it came time for a piss, friends, fans and followers.

Now, a word or two about Strathcona Park, friends, fans and followers. I love it. There are no amenities, shelters, ground crews, cheerleaders, or seats for sale, and as I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, no press box. Although rain constantly threatened both games, passers by out walking their dog or strolling aimlessly about the neighborhood would find themselves curious about the small crowd gathered around the caged diamond, only to be hooked by the action on the field. Chinese women collecting cans worked the crowds, picking up anything worth something at the depots. I’m telling you, these ladies are in the wrong racket. Instead of picking up the trash they ought to offer up some hot dogs. Jesus, one of them had a NASCAR hat on, and I thought she would have made a good outfield for the Murder while she was at her can game. But then it came time for a piss, friends, fans and followers. It was my first visit to the park john, and I was pretty surprised to see a couple guys smoking a crack pipe in there. I said for chrissakes, fellas, there’s a goddamn ball game going on, and I kicked their asses out of there, not because they were smoking crack, but because there was a damn fine ball game going on out there. I don’t have much to say about some of the things I’ve seen during my short time here in Vancouver so far, because some parts of life just don’t give in to a sportswriter’s point of view.

It’s been awhile since I’ve had to cover that many innings, fans. All that pencil pushing in the fresh Canadian mountain air had me slung over a Manhattan at the Sylvia later that evening, but all I could think about was the games I had witnessed, and the schedule ahead. The EVBL is still in preseason, so I’ve got to get in shape! But Oliver, the neurotic pain in the ass, sometime roommate I have — well, let’s just say Oliver is my roommate when he and his wife aren’t getting along — has been stirring trouble back in Hollywood, so I’ve got to pay the Gardens a visit. But hasn’t this been fun so far, friends, fans, and followers? The consolation of sport is so temporary, we should enjoy these moments while they last, because life is always so quick to begin again.

New Season, New Beat

Well friends, fans and followers, a new season is upon us and it’s time for your sportswriter, Roy Madison to put away the cards, put down the sandwich, and pick up the pen. I should probably tell you what happened to me about a week ago. I was going through my usual pre-season ritual of shedding whatever dame I had hanging around, kicking any fellas having trouble with their wives and using my place as a test-flight for a second attempt at bachelorhood off the couch, emptying the ashtrays, and filling the fridge with Bud Light so as to not be interrupted in my efforts to report on the minutiae of another season of men at play, when I realized something was different.

Usually this time of year fills me with excitement and anticipation, but after years of seeing the same stories, and writing the same words about players coming up, going down, finding fame, losing grace, and not to mention the same old cronies in the press box pushing pencils and whatever else they can push around, I realized that I’ve been caring less and less about baseball. Which frightens me, fans. It fills me with a certain kind of palatable fear. Without baseball there is no way to view the constant flux of society through the controlled lens of a game, with crowds assembled around it, regularly played in the same fashion that it’s been played since the beginning of time; well, at least the beginning of my time.

Without baseball there is no way to view the constant flux of society through the controlled lens of a game.

I like repetition. The only damn way to tell if anything is right in this world is to measure whether or not it happens over and over again, and in the same way it did before, but during the winter months, something in the comfort of same felt a little off. Here in Hollywood, the weather is reliably predictable and unwavering. This is a good thing. My days by the pool here at the Highland Gardens hotel — where I’ve been residing since I was run out of New York some years ago for my slovenly behavior in the press box, on the busses, and beside the field — was something to behold because I felt like nobody else had the guts to live a life dedicated to something that left them behind, that didn’t want them anymore.

My days start early. I wake up, assess the sky, look at the box scores if a season is in play, watch a little I Love Lucy if there isn’t, then get out for a swim, some sun, and a six pack with the radio transmitting anything I needed to know about from Dodger Stadium. As evening approached, I would put a shirt over my still wet shorts, walk down the Boulevard to Musso’s for dinner (usually only on Thursday’s, I’m not made of dough you know) and try to get a few rounds of cards in if I could rouse up some of the regular fellas that are known to skulk about. Finally, and only after the sun set behind the hills, I’d file a story. Year upon year, season after season, this was how I lived my life, and I wouldn’t change it for a bit. Published or not, I was goddamned sportswriter! And there wasn’t a thing anybody could say about it.

Then something strange happened. Just last week, I was sitting by the pool when I got up without a thought of warning, and dropped myself into the deep end where I let myself float to the bottom of the pool, just to sit there. Jesus, I think I might have been trying to drown myself! Yes, friends, fans and followers, I was clearly trying to drown myself, but don’t worry, I finally surfaced, gasping for air and wanting a change. I realized that another season covering the Dodgers down here in Los Angeles wasn’t going to provide me with the usual feeling of purpose that it had in the past. How long would it be before I wound up blowing bubbles to the bottom of the pool again? I was drowning in the repetition of the game, and would soon be drowning where the game of life is concerned, fans.

Christ, this kid was a real playboy, what I wouldn’t give to swap his body with my wrinkled ball bag for an afternoon.

We get all types here at the Gardens, making the pool scene quite a thing, which is why I usually do all my work there. The place is a bit of a dump, but it’s cheap and it’s just behind Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a less of a hotel and more of a flop house where actors who come here from all over in the spring take up residence to see if they can get picked up for a show in the hopes of extending their dream a little longer. Come to think of it, it’s not unlike spring training. A lot of them are from Canada, and I got to talking to one kid, Romey, a young Venezuelan fella from Vancouver, British Columbia that would usually take the lounger beside me with the shortest goddamn shorts on with an unbuttoned blue denim shirt. Christ, this kid was a real playboy, what I wouldn’t give to swap his body with my wrinkled ball bag for an afternoon. Anyway, he didn’t have much to say. He’d just sit there in his Ray Bans on the lounger beside mine, smoking Marlboros, waiting for his phone to ring in an audition. Finally, out of nowhere, we got to talking one day about baseball of all things, and he told me about a new league up in Vancouver that was formed from a bunch of kids who played music at night, and baseball during the day. Other fellas, and girls too for chrissakes, caught the bug and started playing, forming their own teams, designing uniforms, the whole shebang. Now there’s something like 4 teams. Romey says that not a dollar changes hands, and that playing in an East Van park is like that scene in Rocky when he punches the meat for practice — ok, those are my words, not his — but Romey said there’s no place to sit, nevermind concessions or a press box. Just the field. Just the game.

This was a fresh league, with no other crumbs holding pencils in hand, hanging around, shooting bull, trying to scoop a story before the other guy got it.

I told Romey that was just about the most delightful thing I ever heard, and when I went to bed later that night, it was just about all I could think about. By morning, I had an idea! Roy Madison: on assignment! It was all set. I was going to go up to Canada to report on the early days of the East Van Baseball League. Now don’t think for one second, when this whole plan together, that I didn’t think of this as being a way to relive my time travelling with the Mets. Those days were plum! The hotels, the girls, the late night steak dinners, it wouldn’t be a different city every day, but it would still be different every day. This was a fresh league, with no other crumbs holding pencils in hand, hanging around, shooting bull, trying to scoop a story before the other guy got it. Just me. In a new city! A new start! A new everything! A new me.

So, friends, and followers, it begins. A new season is upon us. I’m now reporting to you from beautiful British Columbia, Canada. As always, I’m living in a hotel. It’s called Sylvia, and what a dame she is, fans! There isn’t a pool, but there’s a bar in the bottom, a beach out front, and it’s covered in vines. It’s bloody freezing up here, but the mountains and waters, with their tides rolling in and out, just outside the window of my room on the 7th floor, has given me a new perspective on the game through the idea of writing about this league. And these kids should be so happy, that a seasoned professional is going to devote his beat to their bats, because a baseball league isn’t worth a lick of spit if it doesn’t a have writer in the stands. Or in this case the, rocky, mud covered, wet ground. Things have turned out to be a in a little rougher shape than what i anticipated, but no worry, we’re in the early stages here.

I’m a sportswriter, it’s my job.

Shortly after my arrival I took a rental car out to the park where the teams were gathering for an open practice. I didn’t want to freak these guys out by falling out of a dark cadillac in my grey window pane slacks and club blazer. So instead i just sat there and watched from inside the car, getting acquainted with the team, the players, the park. It was a Saturday afternoon and I really had to admire these guys for getting out there just after a rain dumped wash all over the field. There was about 50 guys and 5 girls, in all types of interpretations of uniform, all types of talent. I could spot the stars, the characters, the picker uppers, the feel goods. I’m a sportswriter, it’s my job. Hell, there was one fella wearing an oxford shirt! I loved it. They were out there a good two hours with a coach emceeing the affair by running them through standard warm up and throwing drills, followed by a little batting. I saw the true essence of the game come to life right there in that damn rented Cadillac. And just as I was about to pull away, one player laid straight out for a diving catch, only to come up covered in the filth of a wet park, a smile on his face, and the ball in hand. I sped off, back to the hotel to file this report which you now have in your hands. Expect more friends, fans, and followers. East Van Baseball has just begun, and so have I.