TAKE IT TO THE HAUS: My Brush With a Real, Live Big Leaguer

It has been seven full years since Pete Schourek, a former professional baseball pitcher, meant anything to anybody. If you’ve forgotten his name, you’ll be temporarily forgiven.

With a 66-77 career record and a 4.59 ERA, Schourek was a journeyman who played on five teams, endured four elbow operations, and was out of organized baseball by age 32—and so the fact that he has wound up in the opposing dugout of a recreational league in Northern Virgina isn’t causing too many heads to turn.

My teammates, some married and most in their late twenties, have never even heard of him, and they laugh at me as I stare and chatter ceaselessly. They fail to understand how the sight of such an obscure, washed-up player could make me so excited.

I’m the newest member of the Manassas Mets, a summer baseball team fighting for the 2005 pennant in the local chapter of the National Adult Baseball Association. We have all woken up way too early on this Sunday morning and driven to a deserted field behind a church to take on Schourek’s Red Sox.

I learned about my new team on Craigslist.com, a fun community message board that can be used to find anything from tickets to housing to girls to, as I’ve now discovered, baseball teams.

Schourek jogs into the outfield, and all my teammates see is a skinny, awkward, 6’5” lefty.

They clearly don’t know the stories. They don’t know what this guy has done.

I gaze awe-struck at the player who finished second in the voting for the National League Cy Young Award in 1995, and who, more importantly, was at the center of the baseball universe for a few precious days in October of 1998.

The Boston Red Sox were battling the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS that fall, and a very public and controversial dispute arose over who should be Boston’s starting pitcher for Game Four. Pedro Martinez seemed to be the obvious choice, but manager Jimy Williams stunned Red Sox Nation by selecting reclamation project Pete Schourek to start the game.

In the most important start of his career, Schourek pitched brilliantly, throwing shutout ball into the sixth inning and allowing just two hits. He departed with a 1-0 lead, but the season ended abruptly after closer Tom Gordon, who had converted 43 consecutive save opportunities, gave up a two-run double to David Justice.

Nonetheless, Schourek had come up huge in his moment of truth, and I am thrilled to see that he is still in playing shape seven years later.

The game finally begins, and Schourek is playing centerfield and batting third. He was never much of a hitter in the majors, with a paltry .164 career batting average, but in his first at-bat he laces a ball the opposite way for a double.

He comes to the plate two innings later and clobbers a fastball over the wall in right field for a home run.

I try to glean some information about Schourek from my teammates, who saw him play earlier in the season. Rumor has it that he doesn’t like to pitch anymore, and he only takes the mound for the occasional relief appearance. I look through some results and find that last season, in seven innings pitched, he stuck out 16 and allowed no runs while recording three saves.

Superstars like Albert Pujols immortalize themselves with statistics. Lesser players like Schourek, on the other hand, are humanized and remembered through stories.

Schourek had his brilliant season in 1995, when he was the best pitcher on a Cincinnati team that went to the NLCS. He had his moment of fame in 1998.

He even earned himself a memorable mention in Dan Shaughnessy’s famous book “The Curse of the Bambino”—some Sox fanatics tried rearranging the letters of Pete Schourek’s name, and discovered that it was an anagram for the phrase “Ruth Keep Score.” Schourek’s anagram may not rival that of fellow former Sox pitcher Bruce Hurst, whose letters could be rearranged to form “B. Ruth Curse,” but any press is good press for guys like this.

Thirty-six years old and long forgotten by most, Schourek knows that there are those who will always remember him. Crazy fanatics like myself. He finishes the game 4-for-5, his team wins, and as my teammates smoke post-game cigarettes and leave the field, I sit alone in the dugout and take in the moment.

I’ll never play in the major leagues, but I just played against a major leaguer.

—Staff writer Stewart H. Hauser can be reached at hauser@fas.harvard.edu.