Phil Rosenberg’s Montreal Expos uniform is steeped in sweat as he studies the crouching batter. On the line is his future.
My first workout was February 15th in Hollywood. That Sunday-afternoon outing around a high school track was torture. A quarter-mile was all I could manage. My lungs felt as though someone had lit a firecracker within them. I knew I needed to psyche myself up. The vision of my paunchy body waddling into a dressing room crammed with trim athletes bothered me no end.
I have the most regular digestive tract of anyone I know; it’s always in a cataclysmic state. Therefore it is of little surprise to me the morning of my professional baseball debut, March 27th, that I spend the dawn with palms flat down on my motel room’s toilet seat. I have just downed a breakfast of Rolaids, paregoric and Metamucil when the phone rings.It’s Jim Fanning, the Expos’ vice president of player development, who has consented to setting up my participation in spring training.
As I dress, my mind goes back to my youth. I once dreamed of getting to as high a baseball mountaintop as Triple A, Denver’s level. Growing up in a Polish neighborhood on Buffalo’s East Side, I would dedicate masses at St. John Gualbert Church for God to arrange it so I had a daily fix of horsehide.
Out on the playing field, soft-spoken Gebhard sees me eyeing the confusion of many diamonds and many players. “How are you doing?” he asks, his eyes narrowing.
Precisely at eleven, the Bears’ batting practice begins, and I hustle over to join freshman manager Felipe Alou. For the first time, I am in awe. Alou and his brothers, Matty and Jesus, were among my heroes growing up. I remember reading some seven-digit figure for how unlikely It was for three brothers to make the majors. Felipe’s 16-year career featured a respectable .286 lifetime average, and he helped lead the San Francisco Giants to the 1962 National League pennant.
Playing a little later in an exhibition game for the Class A Jamestown Expos against Montreal’s Class A West Palm Beach Expos, I am having trouble concentrating. My mind is still out there the inning before, when I’d booted that ground ball and stuck Rosenberg with two unearned runs.
With new determination I rejoin the Bears for theirgame against the Orlando Twins. Alou meets me as I lope over to the bench.”You’re leading off,” he says and ambles away to coach.
Back at the motel, I mosey inside a still-unmade room to see Phil Rosenberg. Also in the room is pitcher Joe Hesketh, who has known Rosenberg for five years. The two were once bulwarks of the University of Buffalo pitching staff, and both are hard-nosed, talented competitors. But Hesketh’s future is bright. Last year, his first as a pro, the Blasdell (NY) native, 22, had a 9-2 overall record for West Palm Beach and Memphis. Montreal thought so much of him that they invited him to their major league camp this year. Phil Rosenberg, on the other hand, is leaving camp.