Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Calvin Pickering, 1998 Fleer Tradition Update #U65

In his most recent post at Cardboard Gods, the talented Josh Wilker discussed classic nicknames. As far as I know, super-sized first baseman Calvin Pickering was never honored with a nickname. Being 6'5" and graciously listed at 275 pounds, I think he deserves a moniker. He probably would have made a good "Bonecrusher", but he didn't stick around long enough to make it happen. But believe it or not, I myself once answered to "Bonecrusher".

Let me set the stage. It was near the end of my freshman year of high school, and I measured in at 6'0" or so and all of 145 pounds, with a nondescript mop of hair. Very imposing, you know. One day, we were playing softball in phys. ed. This being high school gym class, the lesson plans were generally mapped out by the changing of the seasons: track and field and football in the fall, gymnastics, wrestling (ugh), and basketball in the winter, and softball in the spring. I hadn't yet found my true calling as a catcher, so I was stationed in right field. Most of the time I just played deep and hoped the predominantly right-handed batters would pull the ball to left, as far away from me as humanly possible. We played on the JV baseball team's practice field. My school was located near the housing projects on the outskirts of Baltimore city, and our facilities at that time were not precisely state-of-the art. The field (particularly the outfield) was littered with rocks and probably other types of debris that I was better off not knowing about.

The second baseman on my team was Tony, a diminutive soccer player. When I say "diminutive", I'm talking five-foot-two, maybe 100 pounds with his pockets full of change. Tony and I didn't hang with the same crowd; I was an eccentric, brainy kid who only ran track and field because it required the least motor skills. The soccer players were the royalty of my school, perennially ranked and swimming in girls. Even though Tony had been on the freshman-sophomore team rather than JV or varsity, he was fairly popular if my memory is correct. He'd probably be moved up to JV at the beginning of the following year.

I'd already had one unfortunate incident with Tony in phys. ed. a few months prior. We were paired up to practice wrestling holds, and I was attempting to escape his waistlock. Being the flailing, uncoordinated sort of fellow that I was (and still am), I soon wriggled free, just to turn and see Tony doubled over on the mat, clutching his groin. I'd inadvertently kicked him down low in my frenzied attempt for daylight. Fortunately, there was no lasting damage done.

Which brings us back to the softball game. From my roost in right field, I watched as the opposing batter lofted a shallow fly ball...toward the right side of the infield. Oh, crap! I made a mad dash into the path of the ball, doing my best to keep my eyes fixed on it. At the last moment I lunged...colliding with Tony, who had drifted back the few feet that would have been necessary for him to actually make a much more feasible attempt at nabbing the ball. I'd noticed Tony in the final moments of my sprint and tried to slide, hoping to cushion the impact and maybe avoid him altogether. I seem to recall running smack into him and maybe even rolling over the top. Needless to say, the ball rolled past us, and I think it was retrieved by the center fielder. A bit sore, very grassy, and pretty embarrassed, I hoisted myself upright and took a few steps. That's when I noticed Tony in a familiar, prone position on the edge of the grass...howling in pain.

At first, several of our classmates assumed he was joking, as did I. His writhing and wailing were so over-the-top, and Tony had a reputation as something of a kidder. But as the crowd around us got larger, and the seconds turned into minutes, Tony did not get up. Finally, a couple of the guys pulled him up, supporting his weight, and half-carried him to the nurse's office. The game was resumed.

The next time I saw Tony, he was on crutches, his leg immobilized. He - or from another perspective, I - had broken his knee. He would not be playing soccer for quite some time. What were the odds? It was obviously a freak accident; I would like to think that I apologized all the same, but I honestly don't remember. Unsurprisingly, I took a lot of ribbing from my classmates about my vicious attack on Tony. Word would spread quickly, and everyone was eager to elicit a reaction from our English teacher, Mr. Keller.

Mr. Keller was a former athlete himself, a collegiate lacrosse player who used intimidation and locker room humor to maintain order in classes full of obnoxious teenage boys. We all thought he was hilarious, and looked forward to the days when he would delve into tangential stories about his personal life (like his dream of installing stadium seating in his house, or the time he hid his brother's car keys as a measure of revenge). He insulted us routinely, referring to us en masse as crackheads and picking at more specific defects in individuals. In my case, he mocked my bizarre, mismatched tastes in clothing. In turn, I actively sought out greater sartorial offenses; that probably indicates that I was a bit starved for attention.

The next time my class met with Mr. Keller, it was late in the afternoon. The other section of freshman English had already been through Keller's classroom for the day, and one of my friends had undoubtedly told him of my softball exploits. But the teacher played his cards close to the vest, quickly getting us started on an in-class reading of Romeo and Juliet. He relished this assignment year after year, doling out the role of Juliet to only the most obnoxious of his pupils. I was never in danger of this indignity, at least. But in the middle of constructing his cast, Mr. Keller looked up and said, "I need a Benvolio." He turned to me dramatically, extending a pointed finger, and bellowed, "BOOOOONNNNEEEEECRRRRUUUUSSSHHHHEEEERRRR!"

So it was that I came to be called Bonecrusher. The nickname didn't really stick for long, but my friend Dillon threw it around for a few years after the fact. Once he even asked our Spanish teacher to translate it into that romantic tongue. Cruzador de Huesos. Has quite the ring to it, I'd say. As for Tony, he recovered, finally making it onto the JV soccer team in our junior year. I've seen him once or twice in the eight years since we graduated, courtesy of a shared friend. We continued to run in different circles.

But wherever Tony goes, I'm sure he cautions those that he meets to never cross the Bonecrusher.

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