My life is such that just about any moment I can connect the dots to baseball. As I watched the Dodger press conference and saw Kuroda for the 1st time I was struck by his resemblance to an old ex-worker of mine. 23 years ago I started working for a Japanese subsidiary and met some great people from Japan.
Our company at the time employed about 50 Americans and around 10 Japanese. Other then the President, each of the Japanese was only here for a short stay in the US. Usually one - two years and they would go home and continue their movement up the chain of command. When my company found out that I played softball they urged me to form a company softball team. I agreed and created a company team that would play in Culver City on Saturday mornings. I called the team "Go Deep" because we had no one with any modicum of power. It was a motley crew and our 1st year was a disaster as we only won one game, but it was a lot of fun.
For the next 20 years I ran a competitive softball team but for the 1st year it was strictly a company team so anyone who worked for the company and wanted to play was allowed on the team. My Japanese co-workers were a mixed bunch on the softball field. We had one guy name Slim who was a natural athlete and could do everything easily but he didn't put much effort into it. His is the one with the resemblance to Kuroda. Other then the Volleyball player (Tex) he towered over the other Japanese players. He was 6'3 and Tex was 6'2 and no one else was over 5'7. He was young and undisciplined but very graceful. His counter point was the assistant to the president who probably had been a good athlete at one time but now was over 50. He made up for his lack of ability with effort. During one practice he hurt his hamstring and couldn't take groundballs anymore. So he left the practice field and started doing pushups to make up for the fact that he couldn't practice with his teammates. Everyone on the team had some semblance of softball ability except for one American co-worker named Roger Levin.
Roger was the most unskilled athlete you would ever meet in your life but he wanted to be on the team and I had to let him. Baseball players are referred to as 5-tool players. Roger was a negative tool player. I could literally walk faster then Roger could run. He would have had trouble competing in the Special Olympics. Most of the time he would sit on the bench but during the year I'd try to get him some playing time. In softball you can hide a lousy player as a catcher since his main job is just to throw the ball back to the pitcher. Roger couldn't even do that. Every throw was a bounce. At the beginning of the year Roger was an embarrassment to me, by the end of the year I had only admiration. It befuddled me that someone with no skills whatsoever would continue to want to play. Later as I got to know Roger better it was more the idea of being in a social setting that enabled him to ignore his shortcoming and continue to try. That admiration didn't keep me from telling him that he couldn't play anymore after I changed the team from a company team to a competitive team following that 1st year. While I was a jerk at the time I wasn't a complete jerk and I asked him to help me out in running the team. He accepted, and was happy just to be part of the group even if it meant he'd never awkwardly swing at a softball again.
Roger was not quite an albino but about as close as you can get. As a man he was very unattractive and he had a bit of a of a repulse button when it came to the opposite sex. There was not a sport he wouldn't' try nor a girl he wouldn't ask out. He was always a failure at the sport and the girls always rejected him. Rejection or failure never stopped him. He would just keep giving it his best shot. To my knowledge he never had a girl accept any of his advances. Some men were born to be alone and Roger was one of them. I never asked a girl out that I didn't know a head of time was not going to say yes. Luckily for me that was never a problem but it sure did limit my scope. For the 1st 30 years of my life I never tried anything more then once if I wasn't good at it the first time I tried. He was unaware of it but over time he did teach me that failure was just a process and not something to be afraid of.
He was a hanger oner. The kind of guy who had a lot of acquaintances and might call all of them his best friends but those same friends would never think of him in the same manner. Desperate to belong he would do anything to make sure he was involved in whatever social activities were being planned. It was a running joke that if you were going have a get together Roger would need to be told 1 hour later then anyone else or else he'd show up way before any guests were expected. When I learned about Rotisserie League Baseball in 1987 he was the 1st to join. When I decided to run a pro football pickem league(sports gambling is a bit of a thread in my life) he was the 1st to join that. Poker, you bet he was always there and you bet he always lost. When I organized river-rafting trips he was always the 1st to sign up. Skiing, you can bet he was the 1st on the list. When this new thing called the Internet showed up he was the 1st person to sign up with me for Prodigy. He was the kind of fringe friend you take for granted. During those 15 years, those of us who knew Roger knew several things. One was that he was a musicologist and the 2nd was that he was destined to die before the age of 45. His father, his father's brother, and his oldest brother had all died of complications resulting from high cholesterol. After his 2nd brother died, we learned of this deadly link to heredity that he expected to be his undoing. No wonder he never accepted failure, he didn't have time. He wasn't working on the same clock as the rest of us. Luckily for him advances had been made and they gave him some experimental drugs to work on his cholesterol. It worked and over time his numbers improved enough to the point where he had hope he would see his 45th birthday. Then irony intervened and he became the 1st friend I had who was diagnosed with cancer, then he taught me how to die with bravery. He never saw his 45th birthday.
He was born on the South Side of Chicago and became a life long White Sox fan. He was a Salukis graduate and loved his team. He would have loved the blogging world. It would have given him that social community he desperately wanted so much to be a part of. Several years ago when the White Sox were on their way to a World Series Championship I was taking some hits for rooting for a team that was so unlikable in the sabremetric world. I had my reasons. The same reason I root for the Salukis during March madness. Failure still scares the crap out of me, but in all probability if I had never met Roger I never would have had the balls to attempt to write here when Andrew asked me to.
Unbeknownst to him he helped me evolve as a human being. When I knew him I didn't have access to the tickets that I do now. As I search for companions to go to the Dodgers, Clippers, and Lakers I selfishly miss him, because he would have been a great companion to talk sports with. Roger was that guy who made you feel better about yourself because he has so many problems. But you also wanted to protect him. Man I miss him.