The hardest part of turning 30 was acknowledging the fact that I would never make the major leagues. Until then I had always retained a faint hope that some sharp-eyed scout would stop by the softball field one Sunday morning and detect the raw talent laboring there undiscovered and unheralded. Once I left my twenties, however, I knew the scenario could no longer have a happy ending.
“You sure swing that bat good, son,” the scout would say. “Ever been to a major league tryout camp?”
“Nope,” I’d answer calmly, “but I hit .333 in Little League in 1954.”
We’d talk a little longer, but eventually he’d get around to the dreaded question. “How old are you, son?” he’d ask, and I could envision his face changing, frowning, as I confessed to three decades on earth. “Too bad,” he’d say. “If only I’d found you earlier…”
My pessimism proved unfounded, however, for this spring I actually made it to the big leagues as a member of the Texas Rangers traveling party. (The club even issued a cherished press release, which, with a few well-placed ellipses, can be edited to read: “Paul Burka,… will join the Rangers today…”) And so, on a warm April afternoon, at about the time my regular Sunday morning softball game would be breaking up 200 miles away, I opened the door to the Ranger clubhouse and stepped inside.
Dallas. “Hey, Nelson. Lend me a dollar.” Infielder Lenny Randle came over to second baseman Dave Nelson expectantly. This request would not have been unusual except game time was just five minutes away, and all but a few stragglers in the clubhouse had already headed for the field. Question: why does a fully uniformed ball player need a dollar bill during a baseball game? I never did discover the answer to this riddle, although there was plenty of time to mull over the possibilities during the next two-and-a-half hours. The Rangers did nothing to focus my attention on the playing field, as they succumbed meekly to Kansas City, 2-0. It was their third consecutive loss to the Royals and their seventh defeat in eleven games—not an auspicious start for a team many people thought would lead the American League’s Western Division.
The Rangers’ only real chance came in the sixth inning. Randle, who couldn’t buy a hit all day (despite the dollar), reached first on an error. With one out Mike Hargrove,