Bringing new meaning to playing on the road

Beat author Kerouac traversed diamonds with Fords, Plymouths

Sports Plus

October 21, 2001|By Andy Knobel | Andy Knobel,SUN STAFF

Talk about the ultimate fantasy baseball game.

The New York Public Library acquired the archives of Beat Generation novelist Jack Kerouac last week - and among the documents are records of an elaborate league Kerouac nurtured from youth, dating at least to the mid-1930s.

"This should give you an idea of the breadth, and the richness, of his imaginary life," said Isaac Gewirtz, curator of the library's Berg Collection of English and American Literature.

Kerouac's rosters included Lou Gehrig and Pancho Villa - a center fielder to Kerouac - as well as imaginary heroes Homer Landry, Charley Custer and Luis Tercerero.

Author of On the Road, Kerouac used blue, orange and plain-colored paper, index cards and the backs of business cards to create a six-team league that included the Boston Fords, Pittsburgh Plymouths (with the author as manager) and St. Louis Cadillacs.

Games were played with marbles, toothpicks and white-rubber erasers thrown against a target some 40 feet away, and Kerouac recorded the games pitch by pitch - even down to foul tips.

He wrote accounts of the league in a newsletter, Jack Lewis's Baseball Chatter, and a broadsheet, The Daily Ball, which included summaries of the day's games.

"Writers create vast kingdoms for themselves to control and to let their imaginations run loose," said Ann Douglas, a professor of American studies at Columbia University who has written often about the Beats. "Think of William Faulkner and his Yoknapatawpha County. Think of Thomas De Quincey and his brother making up whole worlds of imaginary inhabitants who were at war with each other. Writers like to be gods of worlds where great dramas are played out."

Douglas said Kerouac, the son of French-Canadians, didn't speak English fluently until his teens and considers his fantasy league a classic immigrant experience, using baseball to access American culture.

But Kerouac, who died in 1969 at the age of 47, kept the games going long after he had mastered the language. In one entry, written during his 30s, Kerouac refers to a season that was to be continued in the next notebook. Alas, in a parenthetical aside recorded later, he relates that the sequel was lost on a trip to Mexico City, with the Cincinnati Blacks in first and Villa leading the league in stolen bases.

A true Schaumburg flyer

If former Orioles catcher Matt Nokes were to write a book, it wouldn't be On the Road, but In the Air.

A player-coach with the minor league Schaumburg (Ill.) Flyers in the independent Northern League this past season, Nokes had no patience for riding buses, so the licensed pilot flew his Lans-Air 4P to all the team's games.

He credits flying for a batting average hovering near .370.

"I'm definitely more rested," Nokes, 37, said. "Our longest trip is to Winnipeg [856 miles], and I make it in less than three hours. The longest you make in the major leagues is five hours coast-to-coast, but that's in an easy chair watching a movie."

Get your kicks on Route 66

Colin Montgomerie drove 10 hours from Duluth, Ga., to Akron, Ohio, after the PGA Championship, spending much of his time on Interstate 77 through Virginia and West Virginia.

"I was staring at 77 for a long time," Montgomerie said. "That's a bad number. I hope I'm not staring at it again Thursday."

Driving the fairway

Steve Jacobson of Newsday thinks all golfers should be allowed to ride in golf carts.

"And if the PGA is concerned that there won't be time enough for commercials," he wrote, "it could sell space on the carts, just like racing cars."

Danger ahead

Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle L. J. Shelton had one problem as he returned to practice Aug. 29 after suffering minor injuries when his car was struck from the rear.

He couldn't find his helmet.

When it was found, the Cardinals' logos on the sides had been replaced by black-and-yellow emblems typically worn by crash-test dummies.

"I'm going to get them back as soon as I figure out who did it," Shelton said. "I've narrowed it down to about 60 guys."

Compiled from wire reports and Web sites.

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