A tale of great courage

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“Oh my, that’s a bat.”

I was staring at the ceiling in the front of my apartment in Scranton, Pa., in 2004. It was the end of the Summer of Starvation*, and my brothers were coming the next day to pick me up so I could spend a week home in Brooklyn, N.Y., before returning for my senior year at the University of Scranton.

I ran into my room and shut the door. Panic set in immediately. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “What, it’s just a bat.” Well, I had never come face to face with one before, damnit. And I knew two things about bats: They can fly. And they all have rabies. I know that second one isn’t true, but it is.

First I wondered, “How the hell did it get into the apartment?” Then I remembered that while I was sweeping the front porch, I had left the door wide open for some reason. Dope. Why was I even sweeping the front porch? Eleven college dudes were going to be living in the apartment, it would never be clean (and it was NOT). Then I thought, “Maybe I can just lock myself in here for the night, and it’ll be gone by the morning.” But what if it got in somehow? The raptors in Jurassic Park figured out how to open doors! And also, it was, at least while hanging from the ceiling, quite tiny. What if it crawled under the gap at the bottom of the door? Murdered while I sleep.

I opened my laptop and tried to search for info on bat removal. But since we hadn’t set up Internet at the apartment yet, I was relying on the weak wireless signal from the library and nothing was loading. It was like 2 in the morning, and while this was clearly an emergency, I didn’t think anyone else would consider it one, so I figured a phone call would either be ignored or end up with me being mocked.

I had to get rid of it myself.

I looked for things around my room that could help me achieve this. The broom! I had left it on the front porch. Damnit. I had a large collection of CDs, but Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” and Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave” were not going to be sacrificed in my attempt to drive this evildoer out. Wait, I had an old pair of shoes! Two chances to hit it. My hope was that a direct shot would cause it to explode into tiny light bubbles like when you die in “Mega Man.” Or at least stun it. Then I would throw my dirty bedroom sheets on top and throw it onto the front lawn.

Before I could put my shoe plan into action, I had to armor myself. That armor consisted of two pairs of socks, my winter boots, a pair of jeans, a pair of sweat pants, a T-shirt, fleece sweater and a bubble jacket. Plus a ski cap to cover my head, my glasses to protect my eyes despite the fact that I was wearing contacts, and a Jack Daniels bandana wrapped around my face. Note: It was 85 degrees out. I looked like a lunatic, but had convinced myself that rabies could not penetrate this shield. I wished that I had some type of booze in my room to give me some liquid courage, but sadly I did not. If I’d had the time or the right, I would have said a prayer.**

I opened the door of my room. The bat hadn’t moved. I had a shoe in each hand, and after a few seconds to find what little courage I clearly have, I ran underneath it and launched the first shoe at the ceiling. I completely missed the bat. But I hit the panel it had latched onto. The bat did not like this. It spread its wings, which were approximately 30-feet long, then shrieked and launched itself at me. Hellspawn! I dove to the ground, did a military crawl to my room, and kicked the door shut. After spending 30 seconds on the floor with my hands over my head, I got up, opened my front window, and climbed out onto the front porch.

While I had not got rid of the bat, I had rid myself of the bat. Success!

I took off enough of my “armor” on the front porch so that I could walk around without looking like a crazy person, then headed over to the library, which thankfully was open 24 hours, to calm down. When I returned an hour or so later, I slowly opened the door and peaked inside. I looked up at ceiling. No bat. I looked in my room. No bat. I checked every room in the apartment. No bat. It was never seen again.

But it’s still out there. And it will find me.

Brian Cougar

* When I arrived to Scranton as a freshman, I weighed 250 pounds. Because I do everything ass backwards, I actually lost weight in college. By the end of the Summer of Starvation, due to my job hauling kegs and cases of beer around Northeastern Pennsylvania, plus the fact that I was solely responsible for acquiring/cooking my meals on a limited budget, I had dropped down to about 180.

** A Batman reference was going to happen in this post, and this was it, from “The Dark Knight Returns.”

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A tale of great courage

Glorious endings: Walk-offs and strikeouts

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RIGHT NEXT TO MY CAT IN BRIGHTON, MA — On Thursday night, Derek Jeter played his last game at Yankee Stadium. Captain Clutch — damn right I’m calling him Captain Clutch — came up to the plate in the ninth inning with the game tied, a runner on second and an entire crowd chanting his name. He hit the first pitch to right field — right-field hits are what will pop into my head if I’m ever asked to describe Jeter, along with jump throws and a certain flip throw — and the Yankees won the game. It was a magical end to a Hall of Fame career (yeah, I know, he might play at Fenway Park this weekend).

In the summer of 2004, right before the start of my senior year of college, I was at a baseball field in Bergen Beach with my younger brother, Kevin. He wanted to play catch, field some grounders, have me throw him some batting practice so he could get ready for his sophomore year playing baseball at the University of Scranton, noted Division III baseball powerhouse. I did not play baseball at the University of Scranton. There was a time when I thought I might play collegiate baseball, but when I arrived at the UofS my freshman year, I decided I was done with baseball. Not due to any dislike of the game, I was just 18 and figured I had better things to spend my time doing.

When Kevin and I finished practicing, I picked up a bat and stepped to the plate. I told Kev, a lefty, to throw me one pitch. If I hit it over the fence, I would try out for the Varsity baseball team my senior year. He threw a pitch. I hit it over the fence. (Kevin might deny this, but it’s how I remember it).

We returned to school, and despite my friend Steve telling me that baseball practices and games would get in the way of all the drinking I could do senior year, I tried out. And I made the team! I mean the coach told me outright that he was going to keep me on the roster because he wanted to have an extra catcher to catch bullpens and there was an outside chance he might have me catch when my brother pitched, but, either way, I made the team! No matter how shitty the team, making one is a good feeling.

And it was fun. There were early practices, I quickly realized I was not very/any good at baseball anymore, and we had to run laps on occasion, but it was fun. Playing catch, taking swings in batting practice, team parties, my buddy Dennis hating nearly everything. Despite the fact that it was, indeed, cutting into my senior-year drinking time, I had a great time. I also barely played — rightly so!

The last home game of the season, we played at Red Barons Stadium (which is now home of the Triple-A RailRiders, if I’m not mistaken). One of the cool things about playing at a Minor League stadium was the fact that the bullpen was located all the way out in right field, so the pitchers and catchers could straight up lounge with no coaches around. We goofed around, chewed on sunflower seeds (or dipped tobacco like true badasses) and, every once in a while, I had to help a pitcher warm up. Our team stunk, we were playing a team that started this 6-foot-3 dude who threw gas and we were losing. In the last inning, Dennis — who was also a senior — ran out and said, “McGrath, you’re batting this inning.”

“What?”

“You’re batting this inning.”

“Why?”

“It’s Senior Day.”

“Ohhhhh.”

“You’re definitely going to strike out.”

“Thanks, Dennis.”

So I ran from the bullpen to the dugout. I had no idea it was Senior Day, not that I would’ve asked my parents to drive up from Brooklyn for the game, despite the fact that they probably would have since my parents are great. But, hey, an at-bat is an at-bat. I had actually had one previously, but it went like so:

Me in the on-deck circle, to my buddy JP: “I don’t care if the first pitch is over my head, I’m swinging at it.”

First pitch: Over my head. Me: Swing.

Second pitch: Don’t remember, but it was a strike.

Third pitch: Pitcher threw a curveball. I thought to myself, “That’s a nice curveball.” Strike 3.

So I had experience at the plate that year, but not much. I put on a batting helmet, grabbed a bat and strolled to the plate. I was leading off. As I approached the plate, I heard one of the guys on the team, Steve, say, “Imagine McGrath hits a home run!” I thought to myself, “Imagine McGrath hits a home run!” I stepped in the batter’s box.

Now, as previously noted, the dude pitching was like 6-foot-3 and threw gas. I’m not gonna call him the second coming of Clayton Kershaw, but I’m not not going to, either.

First pitch: Slider. Nasty slider! I did not swing. Strike 1.

Second pitch: Slider. Garbage slider. Slider that bounces two feet before the plate. I swing. Strike 2.

Third pitch: Slider. Most garbage slider ever thrown. Slider that bounces five feet from the plate. I swing. Strike 3.

However …

The slider was so garbage and bounced so far from the plate, it bounces over the catcher’s head. I, rally starter that I am, sprint down the first-base line and am safe at first.

First-base coach: “What the hell was that, McGrath?”

Me: “Whatever. I’m safe.”

Next batter: Hits into a double play. End of my baseball career.

Later that night, I was talking to my friend Dan’s younger brother, who was visiting, and he told me that he attended the game. I asked him if he saw my at-bat. He said, “Yes, that was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

My baseball career ended with arguably the worst at-bat in collegiate baseball history. Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium ended with him hitting a walk-off single. Baseball is glorious.

Brian Cougar

Glorious endings: Walk-offs and strikeouts