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LIFE'S A PITCH

part 1 of 2
Lisa didn't stir when her husband slipped out of bed and walked to the bathroom. It was six in the morning, and he had to get to the ballpark. The desert dawn had already crept past the hotel curtains; outside, the Tucson air smelled of sun-warmed dirt, fresh-mown grass and springtime. Baseball weather.

The kids were back home in Loveland with Lisa's in-laws, and she had nothing to do but relax until Brad returned from practice. So she lay dreaming, oblivious to the sounds of the shower.

She thought about all those lonely nights waiting for her boy of summer to return from the arms of his other lover, the game of baseball. About all the hurried partings, packings and cross-country drives while Brad chased his own dreams. She saw him walking to the mound in a Rockies uniform, pausing to tip his hat to her. She dreamed of a house with a white picket fence surrounding a large yard where her children played in the Colorado sunshine--baseball's payment for all the groupies, the overdue bills, the lack of permanency.

For once, she had good reason to believe such things were possible in the waking world. For once, everything was going well. Brad had pitched himself into the Rockies' starting rotation in that Wednesday's spring-training game against the San Diego Padres. Four hits. Three strikeouts. One walk. And no runs in five innings.

The next morning, Rockies manager Don Baylor had finally said something nice about Brad to the newspapers. And then some reporters had told Brad that, according to the way they were figuring his spot in the lineup, he'd likely start the first regular-season game ever played at brand-spanking-new Coors Field.

Imagine that: her Brad going down in the history books for something that could never be taken from him, even in a sport that dotes on ever-changing statistics. Brad Moore, graduate of Loveland High School, living the fantasy of every little boy who ever laced his cleats, grabbed a glove and ran out of the house without kissing his mother when the gang called.

Of course, the strike had something to do with her thirty-year-old minor-leaguer, now only a former major-league prospect, getting another shot at the bigs. A chance to show his stuff. To prove he belonged in the magic land.

Personally, Brad hoped it would end and the regulars would come back to start the season; he'd give up his historic footnote for the opportunity to make the Rockies' Triple A team in Colorado Springs. And from there, with a little luck and perseverance, who knew? But Lisa thought Brad deserved this chance. Brad and a lot of guys like him who were trying to make the replacement teams, guys who'd been lost in the minor-league shuffle. Many had major-league talent--and major-league bad luck.

Bad luck. Sometimes Lisa thought she had a monopoly on it. The last three times she'd visited Brad where he was playing, one thing or another had gone wrong, and he'd wound up going home early with her. They'd even joked about it before she joined him in Tucson. But what could happen now? Brad pitched a great game the day before she arrived and earned a spot on the roster. He didn't have to pitch again until after Lisa left, so there was no way she could jinx things.

Then came a crash in the bathroom. Jumping up from bed and her dreams, Lisa ran to open the door. Brad lay on the floor, his face screwed in pain. He was holding up his right hand. His pitching hand.

Unlike lightning, bad luck had a way of striking the Moore family again and again.

If she were a superstitious sort, Lisa could say that it first struck the day she was born. Her family was as poor as an empty pocket, subsisting on welfare and food stamps. Her father rarely worked, and he disappeared into a bottle every Friday.

She grew up in Clearwater, Florida, a beach community north of St. Petersburg. The family had moved there from New Jersey when she was two. That was in 1969, and she, her parents and seven brothers and sisters spent the next few years sharing a tiny two-bedroom house with cockroaches.

It got a little better when the church gave her father a steady job and they moved into a four-bedroom home. But working around religious people didn't put an end to her father's weekly binges or the screaming fights with his wife. Friday nights, when he'd lurch home drunk and belligerent, Lisa's mom would pack up the kids in the ancient station wagon and they'd spend the night in some parking lot.

The kids had been born one after another over just eight years. There was never much in the way of affection from either parent--no hugs and kisses goodnight, no "I love you" as Lisa ran out the door for school. She'd see other families laughing and holding each other and dream of someday having that for herself. Someday she'd live in a big house, with a white picket fence. Her husband would never yell or come home drunk, and he'd always treat her like she was the most important person in the world. In other words, he'd be the exact opposite of her father.  

Still, Lisa was a lot more like her father than she cared to admit. She had a mercurial temper and could lash out at the slightest provocation. He was a poor, uneducated man, but he prided himself on never letting anybody walk over him---and he had the scars to prove it. If she learned anything from him, it was that.

It is perhaps a tribute to her toughness that Lisa turned out as well as she did. She never backed away from a fight and wasn't above a schoolyard brawl if she thought someone was looking down his nose at her. But she was loyal to friends. Pretty, bright and outgoing, she was popular in high school.

But her parents wouldn't let her participate in extracurricular activities until her best friend, a boy on the high school baseball team, invited her to be the team statistician. He had his own car, so her parents couldn't grouse about having to pick her up, and his father was a police officer. So she even had her father's blessing--after all, it never hurt a barroom brawler to have a friend on the inside.

Baseball itself bored her. Pitchers, especially. But the game was an excuse to get out of class and, besides, she had a crush on one of the players. As it turned out, he wasn't interested, but her friendship with the other boy blossomed into young love. Thank God he was a shortstop.

Lisa didn't trust love, though, and certainly didn't know how to return it; she had never learned. She was constantly testing her boyfriend. A favorite trick was to start a fight, then run away to see if he would follow to apologize. She once started a fight shortly after he had surgery to remove bone spurs from his heels; he split the stitches trying to catch up with her. Now that, she thought, was love. When he eventually tired of the games and left, that too, she believed, was love.

She graduated from high school at seventeen and left home, glad to be gone. She lied about her age and got a job at Melons, a bar where the waitress uniform consisted of short shorts and tight tank tops.

She didn't like the way men ogled her, but she was raking in $150 in tips on a good night. She had never had much, and now she wanted things. Nice clothes. A new car. A nonstop party. She put her dreams of a home and family on hold. But even then, baseball was weaving its magic around her.

It started subtly in the summer of 1987. She and two other girls from Melons were picked to ride a hot-pink fire truck in the annual Clearwater Sun&Fun Parade. A couple of minor-league ballplayers from a local team walked up and asked to have their pictures taken with the pretty girls.

Lisa was only obliquely aware that such a team existed. Some of the other girls dated ballplayers, but baseball didn't interest her. She hardly paid any attention to the shy young man who stood in front of her as she sat on the fire truck, a leg draped over each of his shoulders.

Five months later she was hauling beer at another establishment, the Frat House, which differed from Melons mostly because the hot pants were exchanged for a short tennis skirt. One night she was finishing her shift when a rowdy group of young men sat down at a table in her station.

Lisa sighed. She was tired and wasn't in the mood for a bunch of obnoxious fraternity boys, or whatever the hell they were. "I'll give you ten dollars to take the table," she begged the other waitresses, but there were no takers. So she grabbed her pad, forced a smile and approached the group with all the enthusiasm of someone going to the dentist.

They were as bad as she thought they'd be. Loud. Rude. Then the one quiet guy at the end of the table spoke up. "Hey," he yelled. "She wants to do her job." When his friends didn't respond, he simply ordered for them all. A mess of wings and a few pitchers of beer, please.  

Lisa smiled gratefully and went to place the order. Standing at the bar, she stole looks at the guy on the end. He was certainly her type. Blond. Blue-eyed. Nice body, and when he smiled, lines radiated from his eyes and mouth and across his tan face like Japanese fans. And he seemed nice, sure of himself without being a jerk. The exact opposite of her father in looks and demeanor.

She talked about it with her friend the bartender, who suggested that she invite the guy to meet her after work at another bar to go dancing. To avoid embarrassment, she invited the whole group, hoping it was clear that she was really inviting him. And to her delight, he showed up with a couple of the others.

Lisa practically had to drag conversation out of him. His name was Brad, Brad Moore. He was from a small town in Colorado and in Florida on "vacation." He expected to be there another couple of weeks.

Like the north and south ends of a magnet, the two opposite personalities were drawn together. They started seeing each other every day. She knew that she was falling for him, hard, but love still wasn't an emotion she trusted. Besides, she told herself, he would be leaving soon. That, too, she thought, was love.

Several days after she met Brad, a friend persuaded Lisa to attend one of the minor-league baseball games. She wasn't really interested, but since she wouldn't be seeing Brad until later, she agreed, unaware she was being set up.

Lisa was sitting in the bleachers waiting for the game to begin, trying not to look too bored, when a ballplayer walked by on the field in front of her seat. As he did, he turned his head to look at her. It was Brad. In a Clearwater Phillies uniform.

He paused a moment to reach up and tip his cap to her, grinned shyly and then continued on his way. It was the most gallant gesture she had ever seen.

After the game, she pouted. "Why didn't you tell me you were a baseball player?"

Brad studied her face. There were plenty of guys who used baseball to get girls into the sack. But that wasn't the way he was raised. "I wanted you to like me for me," he said, "not because I'm a baseball player."

In a moment, she was in his arms. Lisa liked him all right, but it had nothing to do with a silly old game.

Fall instructional league ended and Brad left for Colorado. But like the small-town kid he was, he invited Lisa to spend the holidays with him and his folks.

Lisa arrived in Colorado a few days before Thanksgiving and immediately fell in love with the Moores. They were the family she had always dreamed of--a mother who told her sons she loved them, a father who'd worked hard all his life and still came home to play with his kids.

From the start, Barbara and Lew Moore treated Lisa like a daughter. Christmas had never been a particularly happy time for her, and she wasn't expecting much that year--she rarely spoke to her own family anymore. So as she joined the Moores around the old-fashioned tree, she was surprised to find a stack of presents for her. They were from Barbara and Lew, in equal measure to what they had given their sons.

Over the next few days, some of Brad's friends couldn't seem to say enough good things about him. He'd been such a shy shrimp in high school that he didn't have many girlfriends, although he seemed to have been everyone's friend and confidant. But he wouldn't talk much about himself, and she wanted to know more.

Brad's room had pictures on the wall of his baseball teams from kindergarten to the pros; trophies stood on the table. Barbara Moore showed Lisa the albums she'd spent years putting together, with photographs of Brad's childhood and neatly clipped newspaper accounts of his exploits on the baseball field.

Everywhere there were reminders of baseball. Appropriately, Brad had even been born on the first day of summer in 1964. Forever a boy of summer. His earliest memories were of the game and a place outside of Loveland called Sunny Jim's. All day long, young boys would get dropped off at Sunny Jim's to practice baseball. And at the end of each day, they'd form sides and play a game.

A woman who helped run the place promised a free soda pop to any player who hit a home run. On the very last day of his first summer, Brad cleared the fence with a shot. Soda had never tasted so sweet.  

He loved the game and was never far from a ball and glove. Even in winter, as long as the sun was shining and the skies were blue, he'd be outside practicing. If he couldn't get one of his brothers or a friend to play, he went out anyway--hitting balls or just walking around, tossing a ball up in the air and catching it on the return trip.

But most of all, he lived for those spring days when the air began to smell magically of baseball. Of sun-warmed dirt and freshly mown grass. Base paths emerged from beneath the last snow, and dust devils leapt about the infields like the spirits of Little League shortstops past.

There was nothing like the aroma of a well-oiled mitt left in the sun. No sound like the crack of a Louisville Slugger meeting a hardball. He dabbed shoe polish beneath his blue eyes to cut down on the glare of the sun. For him, heaven was standing on a field, sweat dripping from beneath his cap and into his eyes, senses on full alert as the coach urged the team on: Hey, let's look alive out there, fellas.

When Brad was ten years old, he was one of two players "drafted" to play with the big boys--the eleven- and twelve-year-olds. They were even called the major-leaguers. The other ten-year-olds, he was told, were only minor-leaguers.

Then it happened. In the seventh grade he stopped growing. His friends all shot up, gained weight, added muscles; some even began to sprout a few whiskers. But Brad seemed stuck in time. His junior year at Loveland High School, he stood only five-foot-three and weighed 115 pounds. The coaches said he had the talent for the varsity team, but they were worried that he'd get hurt playing with the big boys.

It was hard for such a competitive kid to stomach, but at least in his senior year they let him move up from the junior varsity.

The Loveland team won only about half its games, but Brad emerged a star. His work in the field earned him the title of Defensive Player of the Year, and his teammates voted him Unsung Hero because he was so often overlooked due to his stature. But it was as a pitcher that he became a dominant high school player, second-team all-conference and invited to play in the state all-star games that summer.

Even so, Brad received not a single letter from a college coach asking him if he'd play for his school's program. But he just wasn't ready to give up the game.

Brad worked that year as a landscaper, then the next summer tried out for the Stan Musial League, a semi-pro game out of Loveland. He made it. He confided to a teammate that he wished he could play college ball. But where? His friend suggested he check out Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kansas. They had a pretty decent baseball program, and he'd heard the coach was looking for players.

Two weeks later, Brad was in western Kansas. Over the next two years he established himself as a pitcher, going 8-2 both years. He also finally started growing again, eventually reaching six foot even. His deeds on the field got him noticed by a few small college programs, and he accepted a scholarship from Grand Canyon College in Arizona.

It was at Grand Canyon that his coach suggested Brad had the personality of a relief pitcher--the guy who comes in when the game is on the line and, with fire in his eyes and smoke on the ball, shuts down the other team. Brad excelled at the new role. Other coaches and other players suggested he might be good enough for the pros.

In 1986 he was 8-1 as a starter and had another eight saves as a reliever. In part due to his success, Grand Canyon was in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championship game against Lewis & Clark College in Lewiston, Idaho. No one gave Grand Canyon much of a chance; Lewis & Clark had beaten the school five straight times during the regular season. To make matters worse, the game was being played in Lewiston before a hometown crowd.

Brad entered the game in the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied five to five. The crowd was on his case. He leaned forward, got the signal from the catcher, tossed a strike. Then another. And another. The crowd grew quiet as he smoked their batters.

He pitched the ninth and tenth, allowing only one hit and no runs. Grand Canyon won the game and the championship.  

With the small college national championship under his belt, Brad finally allowed himself to hope that when the major-league teams drafted college players in June, he'd get a call. The prevailing theory was that you got drafted as a junior, or you could forget pro ball. Brad was already at a disadvantage; he had lost a year working as a landscaper, and in another year he would be 23, an age major-league scouts considered a bit long in the tooth.

Draft day came and went without a call. Brad realized that his chances weren't good. But ever since he'd stopped growing, he had been told he was a long shot at best. Then he had gone out and done the job. One. Two. Three strikes and they were out. He couldn't stop now.

A friend saw an advertisement in the newspaper announcing tryouts for the Philadelphia Phillies farm organization at Cherry Creek High School. Brad went to the field to show his stuff. His fastball clocked a respectable 88 miles an hour on the radar gun.

"There might be a spot for you in Bend," a scout said, referring to the Phillies' Low Single-A club in Oregon. "They need pitchers."

The scout wasn't promising anything, but it was all Brad needed. He went home feeling like he had just been chosen number one in the draft. Four days later he packed his things and left for Oregon.

He pitched well enough that summer to get invited to the fall instructional league with the Phillies organization in Clearwater, Florida. It was a real coup for an unheralded player; the league was a place for players who might have the raw talent to become major-leaguers.

Again, Brad performed better than expected. When he returned to Loveland, it was with an invitation to join the Phillies training camp in Clearwater that spring.

Spring training came and went. He didn't make the major-league roster, didn't expect to, but he was signed to a contract with the organization's High Single-A club in Clearwater, a couple steps above the Oregon club, for the 1987 season.

By July he had tied the club record for earned run average and for saves. The fans were getting to know him, and he was asked to participate in the Clearwater Sun&Fun Parade. He went along when some of his teammates suggested they walk over to where the girls from Melons were sitting on their fire truck. Someone asked for a picture, so he stood in front of the pretty brunette. But he was still just a shy, small-town boy, too tongue-tied to say much of anything. He figured that was the last he'd see of her.

At the end of that month, Brad got called up to the Phillies Double-A team in Reading, Pennsylvania--the Reading Phillies. There he finished up the year pitching nineteen more innings with a phenomenal 1.76 ERA.

He sent newspaper accounts and box scores faithfully back to his mother, who carefully clipped and pasted them into her albums. That fall he was again assigned to the instructional league. This time he went not as a skinny kid whom no one had heard of, but as a bonafide major-league prospect. In the minor-league hierarchy, prospects were kings.

One night he went with his teammates to the Frat House bar for wings and beers. He could tell the waitress was tired and growing frustrated with his noisy companions. It wasn't like him to take charge, but there was something about her that made him feel protective. Call it coincidence. Call it magic. She was the girl from the fire truck, though it would be years before they knew it.

A week after they met, officially, Brad and Lisa were walking along the beach. It happened that he and his roommates were living in a house only a block from where she had spent those first years with her family in Florida.

The memories were too much for Lisa. She began telling him about her life. As they walked, she began to cry. The next day she was worrying if her emotional outburst had scared him off, when the telephone rang. It was Brad, making sure she was all right.

Several months later, following the best Christmas she'd ever had, Lisa quietly closed the albums and left Brad's room. Luck had smiled on her that night when he walked into the Frat House. She hoped it would last.

Before Lisa returned to Florida, she and Brad made plans for him to come stay with her before spring training started.

He soon learned what a handful she could be. One of the guys on the team fancied himself a ladies' man. He was the sort who traded off his baseball-player image for sex, and he couldn't bear the idea that Lisa apparently hated him.  

She had her reasons, one of which was that he'd hurt one of her girlfriends with his philandering and nobody, but nobody, hurt her friends and got away with it. At a bar one night, he came over and demanded to know why she didn't like him. She got in his face and told him.

Brad was shocked to inaction when his teammate pushed her and called her the "c-word." Lisa socked him in the face. Enraged, the player began to come back at her, yelling, "You dumb bitch" as Lisa prepared to meet his charge. He never got that far. Brad recovered and put him in a headlock, flinging him over the table.

Afterward, Brad was shaking his head, trying to calm Lisa down. He sure liked the way she stood up for herself, but he hoped she wasn't going to make a habit of brawling in bars with big guys.

After spring training, Phillies manager Lee Elia thought enough of Brad to keep him on the big-league roster through the last two exhibition games. But before Brad could get his hopes up too high, he got sent down to the Double-A ball club in Reading.

Lisa continued to live in Florida. Brad was making $800 a month, an amount she made weekly on tips, and somebody had to earn a real living. But she was able to schedule her work so that she could fly to Pennsylvania when Brad was home from road games.

At the ballpark, Lisa discovered something new to worry about. Groupies. She saw them at the games, hanging all over the players, willing and waiting. It hardly mattered that most of them looked like they were trying to pack way too much into far too little. She didn't trust Brad, even though he hadn't given her a reason not to.

When she complained to some of the other girlfriends and wives, they sighed and nodded. It was worse the closer to the major leagues they got, the women said, urging Lisa to get over it.

But that wasn't Lisa's style. If she saw one of the groupies getting a little too fresh with Brad, she was in her face like spit in the wind. Sometimes words were enough; other times it came to blows. And though she was barely five-foot-three and a featherweight, she scared the living bejeezus out of bigger girls by snarling, "I am the one person you don't want to mess with."

However, management frowned on girlfriends and wives accompanying the players on road trips. So she had to sit at home, stewing over the image of groupies draped around Brad's neck. At times, she was nearly consumed with jealousy. She would call Brad every night to make sure he was there, alone. He was always where he should be, but she still played games.

During one visit to Reading, she manufactured an argument and threatened to leave him, her old trick from high school. He didn't respond. She said she didn't have the money to leave; he gave her $50. She stormed from the room, slamming the door, and marched to her car. Still, he didn't follow. She'd reached the turnpike before she turned around and went back, afraid that her insecurity would cost her the most important person in her life. But Brad was there waiting for her, and she never left again.

She still didn't get the point of baseball. There were too many rules, too many silly little traditions she didn't understand. Her interest was Brad. But as Lisa slowly learned how much the game meant to him, she made an effort to understand its many nuances. And she began to share Brad's dreams.

Lisa was back in Florida in June 1988, a few days before Brad's birthday, when he phoned her. He'd been with the team in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, when a call came to the bullpen in the third inning. "Moore," the bullpen coach yelled. "The manager wants to see you."

Brad had walked to the team dugout full of misgivings. His pitching had been pretty mediocre of late, and he prayed that he wasn't about to be sent down to Single-A, a death knell for his career.

Manager Bill Dancy was standing by the bat rack when Brad approached. Dancy was a stocky former player, known around the league for being a fair but hard-nosed sort of guy. His face was stoney as he said, "Brad, the organization has decided to make a move."  

Since Dancy was taking his sweet time, Brad's mind raced ahead. A move that could mean up to the Phillies' Triple-A club in Maine...or back down to Single-A.

"It's not to Maine," Dancy said, as if reading his thoughts. Brad's heart sank. He would spend his last days in the game as a prop for younger players.

Then he saw the smile on Dancy's face. "You're going to the big leagues," he said, patting Brad on the back.

Brad practically skipped to the bullpen to fetch his gear and tell his friends the news. Each hoped for the same opportunity some day, but when one made it--especially a guy as well-liked as Brad--they all made it, just a little bit.

Brad was still in a daze when he grabbed a taxi to the airport. Jumping from Double-A, past Triple-A, to the majors was rare. He was going to get his chance faster than he'd dared imagine.

At the airport, Brad made a big mistake. He called his mom first to tell her the news. Then he called Lisa.

"You're kidding," Lisa yelled and then started screaming. When she calmed down, he slipped and said he had already told his mother. It was years before she forgave him.

end of part 1


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