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The first big grownup book I ever remember reading cover to cover was, not surprisingly, about baseball. It was called "Snap Me Perfect!" and it was written by Darrell Porter, a catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. Porter was not just any catcher; he was my hero. The first year I cared about sports – I was far more interested in playing four-square and doing math problems during recess, much to my father’s chagrin – was 1982, when I was turned on to the Cardinals. That team was full of memorable characters, from Ozzie Smith’s backflips at shortstop to Willie McGee’s leaping catches in centerfield to Joaquin Andujar’s lunatic antics on the mound, but my favorite player was Darrell Porter.

Porter was a squat little man, with big huge thighs, tiny arms and a wide ass; he was a catcher straight from central casting. He


wore those late ’70s style of eyeglasses, with the enormous, thick lenses and black frames as thick as copper tubing. His batting stance looked like a man leaning backwards after being startled by something; he arched his back and crouched to the point that his left ear was almost parallel with the ground. He had recently been acquired by the Cardinals’ new manager, Whitey Herzog, from the Milwaukee Brewers, in a trade in which the Redbirds had given up their popular starting catcher Ted Simmons. Porter wasn’t popular with the St. Louis fans for most of the 1982 season, but that didn’t matter to me. I’d never watched Simmons play, but I loved the way that Porter looked like a regular guy, like someone in my family, really, and battled his heart out every game. When the nine innings were over, you could always count on Porter look like he’d just been beaten repeatedly with something blunt and heavy, he’d survived and he couldn’t wait to get out there again.

My faith in Porter was rewarded when the Cardinals, shocking all prognosticators, won the National League East and advanced to the playoffs. St. Louis beat the Atlanta Braves (managed by Joe Torre) in three games, and Porter was the hot hitter, batting .555 in a three-game sweep and earned Series MVP honors. But Porter shone brightest in the World Series, a seven-game war with those same Milwaukee Brewers. His clutch hitting and leadership of the fickle Cardinals pitching staff were vital, and when he caught Bruce Sutter’s final ninth-inning fastball past Gorman Thomas, clinching the Cardinals’ first title since 1967 (and, to this date, last title), he was awarded the World Series MVP trophy. Porter was finally everyone’s hero, but he was mine first. I immediately told my baseball coach – my dad – that I wanted to play catcher from then on, and I did, up until my final game, 11 years later.

My family and I attended the First Baptist Church in those days, but only because my grandparents did, and not with any real urgency. In 1985, my father and I were both baptized, but more out of obligation than anything else; I was of the age, and Mom had been bugging Dad to go with me so I’d feel more comfortable. My minister, Rev. Sanders, an old fishing buddy of my grandfather’s, knew I was a huge Cardinals fan and took me aside the day of my baptism and asked me if I’d read Darrell Porter’s autobiography. I had no idea he’d written one, and gleefully took it home and scoured through it.

In the late 1970s, Porter had played for the Milwaukee Brewers and Kansas City Royals, I learned, but he was run off the team (by Brewers owner Bud Selig and, later, Herzog himself) for a reason I couldn’t comprehend: He was addicted to drugs. Specifically, cocaine. The first half of the book chronicles – poorly; neither Porter nor his collaborator, an editor at the Christian Guideposts magazine, were particularly adept at sizzling prose, not that I would have noticed the difference at the age of 10 – Porter’s early career, and his insatiable need for cocaine, including an paranoid episode where he became convinced the Kansas City Royals’ play-by-play announcer was telling fans that Porter was shooting heroin before games (Porter went after him with a shotgun). This was heady stuff for a 10-year-old, and I couldn’t imagine why my minister, on the day I was baptized, would give it to me.

But, of course, halfway through the book, Porter has a spiritual awakening, joins a church, cleans up and resurrects his career, and the book ends with him hugging Sutter and the Cardinals winning the World Series and Porter hugging his baby girl and quoting Scripture. The title "Snap Me Perfect!" comes from Porter’s wishes that God could just cleanse him and "snap him perfect," and his final realization that his road would be a rocky one that he could only survive through Christ, and so on. He traveled the country after his career was over, preaching and telling his story of recovery to church groups. My youth minister had actually just seen him speak, and he had received the book and given it to me.

I was deeply inspired by the book as a child, and I took it to youth group meetings through the beginning of high school, when I’d decided to become a youth minister. Later, I discovered women and alcohol and all the trappings and glories of a sinful life, and I kind of dropped the whole Christian thing, and I really haven’t given it much thought anymore, save for going to church with my family on holidays. I’ve pretty much been snapped pretty-freaking-far-from-perfect, and, frankly, I’m OK with that. I mean no harm.

But back then, I read that book cover-to-cover, over and over, and once, on a Cardinals promotional tour throughout the Midwest, I even met Porter himself, and he signed my book "Jesus Saves. – DP." I’ve lost that book in the clutter of the years. I should check my parents’ attic sometime.

Last August, I was at work when I received an email from a fellow Cardinals fan sending me to a Yahoo news sports story. It was a brief, two paragraphs, a minor story about a player baseball fans had long since forgotten about. Darrell Porter, former catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals, had been found sitting alone in his truck, dead of an apparent drug overdose.

There was no mention of his book, or his past recoveries, only a small line about the 1982 World Series and an upcoming toxicology report.

I ordered his book the other day. It should be here any day. Why do I want to read it again? What is it that I’m trying to remember? Am I being morbid and just looking for clues? Or do I just want a nostalgic look back and a time when anything looked possible, when nothing could not be overcome, when I was hopeful and wanted to believe everything would be OK?

We are all struggling with our private demons. As we grow older, we hope that we will become wise and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. But we are who we are, and sometimes, that’s too much for anyone to overcome.

I want to be that seven year old kid who just wants to play baseball and be free. Perhaps I should have learned then that the world is harder than it seems, that humans fail and struggle and lose and die. Perhaps that’s a lesson I could have used. Because now, to be honest, that seven-year-old kid just looks like a fool.



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