It was now October and I spent the weekend going to the batting cages to maintain my stroke. Then I went home to watch the MLB playoffs, which were occurring at the time. Monday, I brought my Charvel San Dimas to school and met with Valerie, giving her another mini guitar lesson. She went home with me. I made dinner for the two of us and we jammed until 11, when I had to take her home. I taught her "Stone Cold Crazy, " a Queen song, and we had a nice blow on that since it really lends itself to jamming. Her fluidity was already improving and she was good before, but now she seemed ready to take that next step. She still had some work to do, but it indeed appeared she was putting in the practice time.
Tuesday, I went to our school’s art teachers and told them I was holding a contest with a $250 prize to devise a logo for my band, Red Sentinel. I added that the winner would also receive a dime for each album copy sold if we got signed and started releasing albums. The logo had to be flashy and cool and I didn’t want any death metal band type stuff. They would have by December 31st to come up with something suitable.
Wednesday, I finally got a response to my musicians wanted ad that wasn’t a waste of time. A 21 year old drummer, Chris Ellis, who had previous band experience wrote me and I set up an audition for Saturday at my place. He turned up with a full double bass drum kit and his playing was powerful, crisp and you could set your watch by his meter, so he was in. I told him what I was going to do with the band from A to Z and he was on board with it. The thing that did it for him was that we had some money to work with for marketing and equipment. Now I had a backbone to build from.
The following Monday, I put up notices on music and drama department (the latter for vocalists) bulletin boards at a few local colleges. Out of that I got a bass player, Johnny Burrell, and a lead singer, Phil Dorsett. We still needed a keyboard player, but at least by early November, we could begin hammering out material. I also didn’t have any other option, so I formally asked Valerie to join my band as our second guitarist. Getting a load of the songs I presented to the band really lit a fire under Valerie’s ass because she liked what I was writing a lot and wanted to be a part of performing it. Thus, she upped her practice regimen from four hours a day to as much as eight when she wasn’t rehearsing with us.
I bought all new equipment for the band. Valerie was stunned that she now had a backline of four Marshal 100 watt stacks (I played through Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifiers) instead of just her little 50 watt half stack, several new guitars and a full pedalboard of effects. At that juncture, I was playing all the keyboard parts during our rehearsals, which I held four days a week. However, in mid-December, we all went to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show at the Forum and, just for a laugh, before the show started, I yelled out to the other audience members around me, "anybody here play keyboards? " "Yeah, I do, bro! " I asked him to tell me more. He had some classical training in elementary school when he was a kid, but was pretty much self taught from junior high on. His name was Barry Mullaney. He had a You Tube channel, so I told him I would get back to him after seeing his videos.
The TSO concert was uber kick ass as was usual for them, but I could hardly wait to get home and see Barry’s videos, hoping I wouldn’t be disappointed. I wasn’t. He had a full keyboard rack and amplification for it and displayed his prowess on a range of material from Elton John to Deep Purple to jazz to show tunes. I wrote him and brought him down for an audition on my keyboard setup. After just a couple of songs, we asked him to join and he signed up. I suggested he use my gear and tweak it however he felt he needed to. And he was blown away by my compositions.
School was becoming tougher to handle for Valerie and I since our rehearsals would often go past midnight. My personal life also took a dive because I was just so focused on dealing with my little combo.
We took the Christmas holidays off to rest and recharge. When we came back to school the first week of January, I chose a logo from those that were submitted and presented the winner his money, in cash, during his art class. I also had a contract for him and his parents to sign that I had my band’s lawyer draw up. There was a provision in it that when he turned 18, if he didn’t re-sign the deal, we would seek another logo and abandon the one he created. I then asked him to submit art work to us for our first album, which would be self titled, saying that it was likely going to take at least a year for us to get a record together, so he had a deadline of July 1st. It must be done in a hyper real style. We would also have first right of refusal to all of his other creations. He would be paid 25 cents per album sold
I hired a web designer I knew and opened an official website, a You Tube channel and Facebook and Reverb Nation pages for us and incorporated the band. I also trademarked our name and started a publishing company, Sentinel Songs, to handle defense of our tunes. I bought a warehouse to use as both our office and rehearsal space. I brought in an architect to come up with renovation plans for said use. By the time I got all that done, it was mid-February and baseball tryouts were to begin a week later. Our rehearsal schedule would now be Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. The latter two days, they would be all day affairs, with lunch and dinner included.
The first day of baseball tryouts at my school, I stepped into the batter’s box and hit the first pitch I saw 450 feet over the 20 foot high leftcenterfeld wall into the middle of the street of a cul de sac that was behind the school. The outfielders didn’t have much to do since I dialed long distance on pretty much everything I saw. During other’s bp, the way I was chasing down liners and fly balls and then the velocity I displayed on my throws knocked my coach and my fellow players out. My coach came up to me afterward and said that the earlier reports on me were definitely valid and he looked forward to seeing me in game action.
The tryouts lasted a week. I wanted seven since it was my lucky number and also the late Mickey Mantle’s uniform number. My coach decided to hit me leadoff in order to get me as many at bats as possible, figuring that we would score the most runs that way. He was also hoping that we would commence many of our games with instant 1-0 leads as a result and maybe get inside the heads of the opposing pitchers early.
We had our first faceoff the second week of March. The first pitch I saw from the opposing hurler was a thigh high middle out fastball at about 90mph that I torqued 500 feet beyond the rightcenterfield fence at their home field. The guy began muscling up after seeing his heater taken so far downtown and he walked our next two hitters. Then he grooved one to our leftfielder, who spanked it off the leftfield wall for a two run double. By the time I came up again in the inning, the bases were loaded and we had a 5-0 advantage. His coach went out to get him and they brought in a little lefthander who tossed me a curve ball that didn’t bite so much as roll and I mashed it even further than my first homer for a grand slam. The contest was over at that point and I suggested to my coach that he give the bench guys some ups in my stead. That proved popular with my teammates. My coach was also impressed with how selfless that was and sat me down. So I never saw an inning on defense, but we won 11-4.
Our next match was at home and there were a bunch of pro scouts there to watch us. We got behind 1-0 in the first and then I got a hold of a second pitch slider and flamed it off the top of the rightfield wall for a two bagger. I stole third and scored on a dribbler to the rightside to tie it up. Then I made a running catch of a gapper, which brought applause from the about 50 people in attendance. I came up again in the bottom of the second and was thrown a fastball on the inside corner and up, but letter high rather than around my noggin, and I tophanded it over the roof of the house that was directly in back of our leftfield fence and on to the lawn of the domicile across the street. I got carried away during my next at bat, though, and overswung on a changeup down and away and hit a little topper to first for an easy out. I came back to the dugout cursing myself for being an idiot by muscling up.
This may have inadvertently done me and our team a favor. We were down by three with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth when I came up. I got ahead 2-0 and then he threw me that change up in the same location as my previous at bat. I punished it just inside the rightfield foul pole and cleared the bases. The first baseman bobbled the relay throw and I slid home with the winning run on the error.
Our third game, and we played two games a week, one on Monday and one on Friday, I got a mid-80’s fastball up and just destroyed it. I have no idea how far it went, but it was one motherfuck of a long way for a quick 1-0 edge. That rattled the pitcher real bad and he got pulled after our next two hitters walked. We went on to trounce them 17-1 and I came out of the game after my third homer of the game in the fourth.
During the succeeding tilt, I drilled a slider that was down, somewhere below my knees, but over the middle of the plate, and it just kept rising and was still going up when it disappeared from view. I never saw a pitch to hit after that, as I was walked the next three times up. I stole second and third all three times and scored on two of those occasions and also threw two men out at the plate. We still lost, though, 6-4.
By then, the titanic shots I was unloading was getting around school as well as the scouting community. At our next home game, it was standing room only. (the seating at these games was just a couple of bleachers, so it didn’t take much to fill them) Adding to that was that the other club had a pitcher named Dave Farrell on it, who was also drawing a lot of major league interest. They scored three runs off of us in the first inning and then I came to bat. Farrell threw me a fastball up that I let go by for a ball. He came inside and that was off the plate, too. He had really good movement on that pitch. Then he threw another heater he tried to bring back over the outside corner. I hit it over the rightfield wall, but I was just a hair late and it sliced foul. He hung a slider and I got every bit of it, this homer being highlighted by the sound of the ball crashing through the window of the house across the street from the home that backed up on to our leftfield fence. Everybody got a good laugh out of it, but with coach’s permission, I dispatched a teammate to the house in question with my phone number so we could set up a payment plan for the broken pane.
My second time up, they intentionally walked me with nobody on. There was a lot of booing from the 200 or so people in attendance. I stole the next two bases, but there were two outs and our number two hitter couldn’t get me home.
The next time up, though, got ugly. When the catcher held out his hand to indicate I was to be given four wide ones with nobody on, everybody started booing loudly. One of the scouts berated Dave, telling him to "throw the ball over the plate like a man! " "Oh shut up! " his coach blasted back. "You guys walked Bonds and Pujols the same way. Go fuck yourself! " That infuriated coach Addison, who was there scouting me as part of his bird dog (scout without portfolio, basically) duties for the Angels. He walked up behind the opposing team’s dugout and asked, "so what are you going to have this kid do when he faces the Yankees? Walk everybody until he gets to the eight hole? Teach him to make a pitch or teach him how to sell shoes. But you can’t do both! " The crowd began chanting, "pussy! pussy! " toward Dave, who was caught between a rock and a hard place. I stole second. They pitched out when I went to steal third, but their catcher threw the ball down the leftfield line and I hustled home for our second run. The audience chanted that epithet the entire time Dave was on the hill and when he came up to hit.
I was back up in the ninth leading off. They had a 5-2 lead with nobody on. "You better not walk him this time you asshole! " someone shouted at the opposition’s coach. Dave had exhausted his pitch count, so I stood in against a reliever, who threw me four balls that were off the plate and I walked. I stole second and third and scored again on a fly ball before we went down to defeat 5-3.
After the game, a couple of scouts, one with a vein popping out of his neck, could be seen letting our opposition’s coach have it. "What the fuck do you have that kid prove when you do that? " the scout wondered rhetorically. "You’re not doing him a favor. He’s not Barry Bonds or Pujols, he’s a high school kid (referring to me). Let the kid (Dave) figure it out up there. "
The incident was written about at length in our school paper and there was video footage on You Tube which got picked up by baseball websites and on our students’ Facebook pages. Monday, the phone at our school was ringing off the hook wanting to know when our next game, which was on the road, was. "Fuck, we might have to play this next game at Angels Stadium if all those people show up, " my coach joked.
It seemed like every seamhead in southern California showed up at our next outing. My first at bat, I missed a good biting slider down in the zone but in the middle of the plate and only hit it hard back through the middle instead of over the wall for a single. I stole second and third and scored on a squeeze. In my second appearance, the pitcher got behind to me 2-0 and tried to run one down and in on the inside corner. Unfortunately, that was my biggest happy zone and I just about made it disintegrate, depositing it into the rear of the parking lot to gasps and hoots from the standing room crowd for a three run homer. The pitcher lost his nerve and couldn’t throw a strike to save his life from that point forward, walking two runs in before he was pulled. I was the next hitter and smoked a weak fastball into that same spot in the parking lot. We won going away 15-7.
The game after that was against Dave Farrell and his team. The problem was that it wasn’t much of a home game for them because there were scouts from every major league team there and even some front office people as well as the baseball press and a large contingent of baseball nerds. When I came up in the top of the first, people were already ranking Dave out for the last time he had to take me on. His coach, not wanting to be shown up or something, had me intentionally walked. The "pussy, pussy " chant started up again and it got a lot nastier than that from individual hecklers. The police were called, hauling away several spectators for being intoxicated. The cops were not thrilled about having to, in effect, referee a high school baseball game. There was nothing they could do about the crowd because yelling, "pussy, pussy " wasn’t against the law.
All of this threw Dave off of his game and he couldn’t command the strike zone at all. The next time I came up, there were two on and one out. Once again, the manager wanted me walked. The 1500 or so spectators started hurling every invective in the book at Dave and his coach when the catcher gave the sign to give me four wide ones. Stuff began being thrown on the field and the umpire notified the crowd that he would forfeit the game if the onlookers didn’t cool their jets. The cop who headed the detail ordered Dave’s coach to have Dave pitch to me to prevent a riot. When I was standing up there, I reminded myself to be calm and just focus on staying short and quick to the ball. Dave threw me a room service fastball and it left the grounds in the blink of an eye. Dave was crying by that point since he was unfairly put in the middle of all this and his coach finally yanked him. We won 6-5. I stayed afterward to sign autographs and take pictures with fans.
Our school decided to hold our next game at a local park that was much more equipped to handle the crowds that were now turning up. It was the same one that I had worked out with coach Addison’s squad at. There were at least 2,000 people there and when I leadoff the first inning for our team, the pitcher hit me in the left hip. Then he plunked the next batter, too and walked the man after that. He was totally overwhelmed by the attention. Our clean up hitter singled up the middle for two runs. Later, the pitcher walked a run in. We scored a run on a groundout and then the bases were refilled via the base on balls. That brought me up. He aimed a fastball over the outside corner, but it got a lot of the plate and I jacked it well over the rightfield wall and it was 8-0.
I had to stay in because of the audience size. So I came up in the second with us now leading 10-0 and a couple men on and golfed a rolling curveball on to the freeway beyond the centerfield fence. My third time up, there was nobody on and I took a strike on the outside corner. The pitcher tried to come back with the same pitch, but missed his spot and I unloaded a screaming mimi more than 450 feet to rightcenterfield. I begged out of the game after that.
Over the course of all this, interview requests came flocking in, but I turned them down unless I would be allowed to do them during my athletics period and they would mention my band and link to our Facebook page. The ones who refused I didn’t talk to. I wouldn’t meet them after practice because I wanted to work on band stuff. Besides, I was only a junior.
During our last game the first week of June, I homered three times and drove in eight runs while also making a diving catch of a drive in the gap. Again, about 2,000 people showed up. By that time, Red Sentinel had 15 songs nailed down for our set, about half a dozen covers to spice things up and we were completing and adding two tunes to our repetoire a day.. The renovations on our warehouse were finished, too, except for a studio I belatedly decided to create in it. We moved our gear into the rehearsal space, which made things a lot more comfortable at my house. Now I had to hire road crew and someone to do our sound and lights. In addition, we needed folks to work in our office once things really started happening.
Valerie was a much improved guitarist, too, with all that concentrated work on her skills. She was well chuffed with herself and she had every right to be.
The school year ending was such a blessing. I was named league, county and state High School Baseball Player of the Year and got a whole host of invitations to play for club teams during the summer, but I was more concerned with my band. We could now knock off our rehearsals at more reasonable hours and have more time for individual practice and songwriting. The ideas continued to surge through my mind