Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sex, Drugs & Baseball

With nothing but a beat-up band touring van emblazoned with "Fuck the Yankees" on the back door, a 1975 baseball glove found languishing in a closet, and the recognition that a diamond of dirt and a patch of green could possibly represent the other side of trouble, the Griffith Park Pirates came into being.

John Albert's book Wrecking Crew: The Really Bad News Griffith Park Pirates was published in 2005, but I recently discovered it and instantly devoured it. I love it for its honesty, dark humor, and inside peek at the gritty lives of the almost famous and always struggling "Hollywood underclass." Albert describes the unlikely rise and ultimate success of his Griffith Park Pirates baseball (real baseball, he affirms, not softball!) team from a scrappy bunch of rebellious musicians and artists -- drug addled, whoring, gambling, psychotic, and perpetually broke and broken down men.

Albert, co-founder of the cross-dressing band Christian Death and formerly a drummer in the band Bad Religion, got involved in the Pirates while helping a friend get through rehab.

A few excerpts:

"You never know what's going to save you. Most of the time, salvation comes from the usual suspects -- god, pharmaceuticals, romance -- but occasionally, as in this case, it arrives entirely from left field."

"I noticed Mike's hand trembling as he retrieved a single, bent Marlboro from his pocket, carefully straightened it out, and lit it. There was a silence as he smoked, punctuated by the sniffling of his constantly running nose. Eventually, Mike looked over at me, wiped his nose with the back of his hand like a little kid, and asked, "Hey, do you wanna play catch?"

"Chris warmed up to pitch the final two innings. Before taking the field, he stopped and looked over the rest of us, then yanked down his uniform pants just enough to show everyone that he was wearing a sexy lace thong underneath. He then went out and pitched two of the nastiest innings I've ever seen and closed out the game."

This book is about so much more than baseball. It is about real and difficult human struggles explored within the framework of creating something powerful -- a team. Albert's memoir is about self-respect and seeking true strength. It is about creating something worth living for from the dust of broken-down lives. The unlikely cast of characters that becomes a baseball team are into weird sex, hard drugs and self-absorbed fantasies of stardom and fame, but you can't help but root for them as they beat back their demons and experience the thrill of becoming part of something greater than themselves.

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