“It was like coming this close to your dreams, then watching them brush past you like a stranger in a crowd.”
I think this line from Field of Dreams was intended to stir some sense of sympathy for Moonlight Graham, who famously played one inning in right field for the New York Giants but never came to bat. For me, though, his character is not a very strong embodiment of that sentiment. After all, the name of Moonlight Graham is etched forever in The Baseball Encyclopedia. For the rest of his life, presumably, he could tell strangers like Ray Kinsella about the day “old John McGraw pointed a bony finger in [his] direction.” He was one of the fortunate few granted entrance into the beautiful promised land, and we’re supposed to feel for him because he never got to taste the food or spend the night?
All this occurred to me last Thursday while watching Brian Mazone toss six shutout innings for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He looked too wrinkled and weathered to still be a prospect, yet he did not appear in my mind’s extensive baseball rolodex. I simply had to discover his story. Mazone is a guy who spent five years in the independent leagues… then went 0-7 with a 9.31 ERA when he finally got his chance as a 26-year old in A-ball. A guy who stuck with it and battled back and became the “Most Spectacular Pitcher in AAA” in 2006… and here’s where it gets interesting. On September 5 of that year, the Phillies needed a spot starter. Mazone got the call, but the game against the Astros was rained out. Even though they could have kept him (rosters had expanded to 40), the Phillies sent him back down. He has yet to throw a single major league pitch. Brian Mazone came this close to his dreams, only to see them brush past like a stranger in a crowd.
Bruce Dostal was a speedy center fielder in the Phillies organization in the early ’90′s, when I first fell under the spell of the game. By June of 1994 he was hanging on with the Rochester Red Wings, when he finally got the call that validated eight years’ worth of bus rides and fast food, bad lights and small crowds. Dostal found an Orioles jersey with his name on it in the ancient clubhouse at Fenway Park. He ran some sprints and played some catch in the shadow of the big Green Monster. It was a gray, gloomy, glorious afternoon. On two separate occasions over the next four days, manager Johnny Oates told Bruce to get ready to pinch run for Harold Baines should the venerable DH get on. Baines made out both times, Dostal was sent back to Rochester, and soon started a title company in his native New Jersey. You won’t find his name in The Baseball Encyclopedia.*
*(I don’t think they even print that anymore, but saying “you’ll only find him on the minors page of B-R” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)
I’m sure history is littered with ashes of the stillborn dreams of men who know they were good enough yet through some cruel twist of fate never had a chance to make the slightest mark. To posterity it’s as if they were never there at all. These are the guys who truly elicit the emotion that Dr. Archibald Graham does not. Moonlight, quit your bitching.