(This short story appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2014)
Bruce Bochy, a pleasant slow moving man, is the longtime manager of the San Francisco Giants. A former catcher known for his gruffness rather than the poetry of his speech, Bruce seems much older than his fifty-nine years—his gray hair turning white and his reactions to exciting moments during games oddly delayed, as if he requires a few extra moments to come back into his body before responding to a great catch or a home run or a game-winning strikeout.
Though many pundits and fans find Bruce dull and often a batter too late in removing exhausted pitchers, he has won two World Series and been continuously employed as a major league manager for nineteen seasons. Because his after-game press conferences are invariably wooden and uninformative, few people are aware of Bruce’s two great talents: he is a master at instilling confidence in men who lack confidence, and his dreams frequently provide him with information he uses during games.
Only Bruce knows of this latter talent, for he has never revealed his baseball dreams to anyone, not even his beloved wife of thirty-five years or his best friend Dave Righetti, the Giants’ pitching coach.
The first time Bruce used dream information to make a managerial decision came during his second month as a major league manager when he stunned San Diego Padres fans and players by pinch-hitting for Andy Ashby who had thrown seven dominant shutout innings, exhibited no signs of tiring, and had a one-to-nothing lead over the slumping Phillies. At the post game press conference, Bruce explained, “I took Andy out because his pitch count was high, the bullpen has been real good lately, and I wanted to get that run in from second.”
What Bruce did not share with the public was that the night before the game in question, he dreamt that Phil Plantier, pinch-hitting for the aforementioned Ashby, beat out a slow grounder and set the table for Brad Ausmus to follow with a three-run blast, which is exactly what transpired in the actual game.
Bruce was no fool and knew better than to reveal the source of his inspiration to a society wholly unprepared for such nonsense. Indeed, Bruce ignored his dream visions for many years because he didn’t believe such metaphysical hoo ha could possibly prove true, and he probably would have continued to ignore his dreams had not curiosity gotten the better of him.
Today, nineteen years after that fateful game against Philadelphia, Bruce routinely uses dream data to help him make decisions in much the same way he uses baseball statistics. His dreams by no means guarantee victory, but they do suggest possible strategies and substitutions Bruce might not otherwise consider. Thus he now trusts his dreams in much the same way he trusts his sense of when a pitcher is tiring or when a player needs a good talking to.
But the greatest value of Bruce’s dreams is not so much strategic as emotional, for his relationships with his players in his dreams are much richer and more complicated and enjoyable than his relationships with those same players in real life, and these dreamtime relationships greatly amplify Bruce’s fondness and respect for his players when he is awake.
Brandon Crawford, the Giants acrobatic shortstop, once said of Bruce, “It’s hard to explain, but I feel like he really knows me. Not just how I play, but who I am. You know what I mean? I know that sounds quasi-mystical, but that’s how I feel sometimes, like he knows me better than I know myself.”
In last night’s dream, Bruce inserted Juan Perez, recently up from Triple A, into a game as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning, and Perez proceeded to foul off several pitches before hitting an inside-the-park home run. What makes this dream especially interesting to Bruce is that he hasn’t given Perez many chances to pinch-hit because he prefers to use him as a pinch-runner late in games. And though the dream does not necessarily presage Perez hitting a home run, or even getting a chance to bat in today’s game, Bruce knows the dream is telling him something important, so he will definitely keep the dream data about Perez in mind as the game unfolds.
Hensley Filemon Acasio “Bam Bam” Meulens, the Giants graceful multi-lingual batting coach, a former outfielder from Curacao who often appears in Bruce’s dreams wearing a tuxedo, leans into Bruce’s office and croons, “Buenos, Bruce. Good batting practice for Blanco and Pence today. They’re both seeing the ball much better now since they had those hypnotherapy sessions, and Crawford’s bat speed is finally picking up now that he’s attending aerobic yoga classes.”
“How about Perez?” asks Bruce, recalling Perez’s dreamtime smash into triples alley—Perez a blur rounding the bases.
“He needs to get into a game,” says Hensley, doing an impromptu cha cha. “He’s struggling with self-doubt from lack of playing time and the existential stress of going back and forth from the minors to the majors. His swing looks good. Level. Smooth. Quick hands. But he’s definitely getting a little sour sitting on the bench.”
“Might let him pinch-hit today,” says Bruce, smiling at Hensley’s dance. “Give him a start tomorrow.”
“Superb,” says Hensley, miming the swing of a bat. “Feels right, Bruce. He’ll be so happy.”
Bruce laughs drily. “Yeah, might let Perez pinch-hit today and start him tomorrow.”
“Love to see that kid run,” says Hensley, dancing away. “Kid can fly.”
And four hours later Perez does, indeed, fly around the bases, his inside-the-park home run the game winner.
When asked by reporters after the game about his decision to use Perez as the pinch hitter instead of Ishikawa who is hitting better than .350 in pinch-hit situations, Bruce shrugs and says, “We liked what we saw from Juan during batting practice and he’s been needing playing time, so…just a hunch.”