If you read this on Friday morning there’s a very good chance I’m currently out on a golf course being publicly humiliated. I don’t golf and yet I’m not only golfing, I’m in a goddamn golf tournament.
This is the fault of one of my best friends in the world, former big league catcher Jason Kendall.
To understand how I got into this mess we have to travel back in time to 2010; that was my first year covering the Royals for the Kansas City Star. 2010 was also Jason’s first year with the Royals and as it turned out, the last year he played in the big leagues.
Jason is one of five catchers in the history of Major League Baseball to catch 2,000 games. His career lasted 15 years which is pretty incredible for anybody who makes a living squatting and getting hit by baseballs – I would’ve quit after an inning and a half.
“Isn’t there a position I could play where I don’t take 96 mph foul tips off the elbow?”
(If Jason were here, at this point he’d insist I mention that he got paid for 16 years because he blew out his shoulder and spent that 16th year trying to rehab before deciding his shoulder was permanently fucked and retiring. Getting paid is what makes professional athletes professionals and Jason always wants full credit.)
Back in 2010 all I knew about Jason Kendall was that he had a lot of tattoos, got in a lot of fights and everybody – especially the media – was scared shitless of him. I once wrote he looked like the head of security at a meth lab and see no reason to update that uncannily accurate description.
That’s him threatening to kill someone during a baseball game. One more thing I forgot to mention: he didn’t like reporters.
Jason is the most blunt person I’ve ever met in my life. If you ask if your pants make your ass look fat, he’ll probably tell you it’s the fat on your ass that’s making your ass look fat.
Being honest with reporters got him in trouble early in his career so by the time I met him he was holding them at arm’s length and was very good at letting us know he would really rather not talk to us unless he had to.
So being a dope I walked right up and asked if he had time for a question:
“Do you know how many times you’ve blocked a pitch in the dirt with a runner on third base in a game the Royals went on to win by one run?”
“I’ve got no fuckin’ idea.”
“How the fuck do you know that?”
“I’ve been counting.”
I went on to explain that I was trying to write about the game from the players’ perspective and if he’d hit seven game-winning home runs we’d think he was the greatest clutch player ever, but because he was winning games by blocking pitches in the dirt we hadn’t even noticed.
Jason said if I was going to write about baseball like that he’d help me do it. True to his word he began explaining how things really work and would tell other players and coaches I could be trusted, which made my job a whole lot easier.
At one point he said I ought to write a book and I said no, we ought to write a book.
In 2014 “Throwback: A Big-League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played” was published and I’d say I was co-authors with Jason, but in reality Jason talked into a digital recorder and I transcribed what he said while removing approximately 7/8ths of the profanity.
If I say so myself – and I do – “Throwback” is one of the better books about baseball because, as usual, Jason was completely honest. Among other things, he explained why some fans are assholes, how some ballplayers cheat and why a lot of those players don’t like the media. If you really want to know what’s going on during a big league baseball game, you should read it
Bottom line: Jason Kendall is on the short list of people I would do pretty much anything for because he’s done so much for me.
I once told Chris Getz – at the time the Royals second baseman player and currently Director of Player Development for the White Sox – that I had a lot of friends I could call if I got in need-bail-money trouble, but if I ever got in hide-the-body trouble I’d call Jason.
He’d be pissed that I drug him into my shit, but he’d show up in a pickup with tarps and a chainsaw and ask how many pieces I wanted to cut the body in to and where I wanted to hide it.
When you have a friend like that and he asks you to play in a golf tournament, you say yes.
When I pointed out that I didn’t actually play golf Jason said it was OK, I had two weeks to learn, which is the kinda thing you think is doable when you’re a professional athlete.
I played a little golf in the 1970s and the last time I had to tee off in front of a crowd I sliced the ball so badly it hit a tree about 20 feet down the course, ricocheted back through the crowd and I had to take my second shot about 50 feet behind where I started.
You can see the problem.
The golf lesson
I had to learn to play golf as quickly as possible so I texted my friend Brad Fanning – who is an excellent golfer – and asked for help. After I explained my dilemma I got this text in return:
Wow, I must know more about golf than I thought because that’s exactly what I thought. Nevertheless, Brad showed up at a driving range and tried to improve on what game I had, which turned out to be pretty fucking awful; on my first attempt, I swung and missed.
That’s when I figured out why golf sucks.
In almost any other sport, you have an opponent and if you do badly you have him or her to blame. In golf there’s just you and that little fucking ball which isn’t even moving and if you do badly it’s entirely your fault.
How does a grown-ass man swing a club and manage to miss a ball that isn’t moving?
Having played some baseball I asked Brad if he could walk 60 feet six inches down the driving range and throw the balls at me because I’d probably have a better chance of hitting one.
Brad declined my suggestion and after a little instruction I began making contact consistently, but hooked the ball so badly I probably ought to take a stance 90 degrees clockwise from where I want the ball to go.
But frankly, Scarlet; I don’t give a fuck.
(Most people don’t know it, but that’s actually what Clark Gable said to Vivien Leigh, but they had to change it to get a PG rating.)
As long as the ball leaves my immediate vicinity on the fly and doesn’t go backwards, I’ll be happy. Innocent bystanders, and that includes people playing different holes, having drinks on the veranda or driving by on the freeway, need to keep their heads on a swivel…I really have no idea where the ball is going assuming it goes anywhere.
Brad then gave me the best advice of the day: there’s nothing more miserable than playing golf with someone who sucks, but takes themselves seriously. I hadn’t put in enough work to get mad about anything I did on a golf course, so when I fucked up – and I would – I better laugh about it.
Good advice for golf and life.
After I finished hitting a bucket of balls I offered to get another one, but Brad said I really wasn’t going to get much better no matter what I did so we ought to go to the clubhouse and drink.
More good advice.
So bottom line, today I will be out humiliating myself by playing golf badly, but there’s a bright side:
Jason Kendall owes me one.