7 for 7: Rocket Surgery

Rocket Surgery, How a Veteran Completely Rebuilt His Game.

Every rocket launch begins with a moment of tension. Having counted down the seconds until launch the rocket motors are ignited creating a flurry of flame, steam, and percussive sound. Then the moment of liftoff, when the thrust of the rocket motors are just enough to overcome the oppressive force of gravity, allowing the rocket to seemingly hover as it slowly builds momentum taking it up and away from the launch pad. This is a precarious moment. One that often ends in a triumphant column of spaceward bound rocket exhaust, but at times ends tragically in an explosive ball of flames with a spacecraft that fails to clear the launch tower. The same principles apply in Tapey Beercone with Boyd “The Rocket”, and when Season 3 began he failed to launch.

“We have a problem!”

Boyd entered Season 3 as a weathered veteran of Tapey Beercone. Beyond that, Boyd was a veteran from the per-tape Piney Pinecone days where he had earned his stripes (and his nickname) as the sport’s most prolific pitcher. Boyd took straightaway to tossing a pinecone, and quickly established himself as reliable and controlled on the mound. He was given the nickname “Rocket”, out of jest, for he never threw the pinecone all that fast. What he lacked in velocity, he worked to make up for in command, and in a twisted sense his nickname was fitting. He would slowly build momentum over the course of a game, effectively working the zone and challenging batters, leading to outcomes which would oftentimes end up in his team’s favor.

When the Buckos transitioned from Piney Pinecone to Tapey Beercone, and the prickly plant-based projectiles were replaced with tape skinned aluminum versions, Boyd overcame the switch with relative ease. He was the winning pitcher for the sport’s first game, and he helped lead his team to the 2-1 series win in the sport’s first series. More important than the pitching, Boyd epitomized the new beer drinking tradition born into the new Sport. By the end of that first series Boyd had already established himself as a Tapey Beercone veteran in his prime.

Boyd Batting in Alaska in the “Beer in Hand Stance.

Veteran he was, but along with experience came the battle-scars. By the second half of that first season, Boyd’s pitching arm, sapped and emptied by the paces of pitching pinecones and beercones for years, was already showing signs of wearing down. Through the Alaskan Series he pitched valiantly, but his tired arm left “The Rocket” slowed and aimless. Opposing batters took advantage sending Boyd’s team to a series defeat. Still, all the while, Boyd had gained renown as the Sport’s most ample drinker, and was the first to adopt the “Beer in Hand” batting stance. With the Sport gaining prominence and appeal, “The Rocket” was the first player to land a lucrative drinking sponsorship.

These ads can still be found in bars across the North Slope.

Although Boyd played more sparingly during Season 2, his fame continued to grow. While other players were mastering the on-field play, “The Rocket” had established himself as a cult hero within the sport, a blue collar Everyman whom the everyday fan could identify with. Boyd’s on-field performance continued the trend from the previous season, leaving something to be desired. At the same time he epitomized the spirit of the game, playing for the love of the sport, and drinking readily all the while. “The Rocket” was a star participant in the 2011 Tapey Beercone World Series, where his drinking exploints are now the stuff of legend. While he failed to contribute much as a batter, he pitched in both games, including a gutsy performance in game two where he held his opponents to only 3 runs over the contest. Nevertheless, Boyd ended the season on a particularly low note, giving up a then record 20 runs in a crushing loss at Plover Rock Field. The doubts and rumors could be heard in sports bars and pubs across the Buckos Nation. Did Boyd still have it? Or was a fan favorite on his way out?

Boyd batting at Plover Rock Field during Season 2.

Which brought Boyd to Hell Hole Reservoir to kick off Season 3. A new season brought new hope for resurgence. Those hopes lasted for all of two innings. Known since as the Rout on the Rubicon, the first game of that season saw Boyd pitch for two innings, all without recording a single out, and all the while his team failed to reach base safely at all. Batting for his team with two already out in the second inning, “The Rocket” made the ultimate blunder. While positioned in his typical “Beer in Hand” stance, he allowed an errant pitch to knock the beer right out of his hand! The beer landed on the ground, its contents spilling upon the lakebed sands, and soon after the game was called owing to the advanced inebriated state and overall disarray of Boyd’s team.

Game two was nearly as rough, with “The Rocket” again getting shelled on the mound and looking lost as a batter and drinker. By game three his manager had lost all faith, pulling Boyd and replacing him with new pitcher “The Reverend”, and for the first time in his Tapey Beercone career “The Rocket” wouldn’t be pitching for his team. Now forced to play the field, Boyd was a defensive liability, and his batting couldn’t salvage things either. While “The Reverend” pitched capably, in no small part due to the “Rocket” sized hole in the lineup and the outfield, Boyd’s team again fell in defeat. Worse still, having lost his primary role, Boyd’s pride and spirit were crushed, even his drinking suffered. Boyd left Hellhole with his career on the brink.

“The Rocket’s” career was tracking dangerously off course.

Returning to the civilized world, the hits kept coming. Boyd was greeted at home by a notice in the mail, from Molson Coors Brewing Company, explaining that “Due to recent events, and actions deemed irreverent to the brand’s product, Coors Light would be ending it’s sponsorship agreement.” Later that week a precautionary MRI revealed that Boyd had developed Grade 2 Beercone Thumb in his drinking hand. (A nagging ailment caused by repeated beer can openings.) The diagnosis called for Boyd to undergo Joseph Schlitz surgery to repair the damage, and the rehab and recovery would cost him nearly 6 months of the season. His body in shambles, his stature tarnished, “The Rocket” had reached a new low.

Following a frantic search, Boyd’s agents notified him that among the great many beer brands, only Miller High Life was willing to offer “The Rocket” a sponsorship. Nothing says rock bottom like drinking the high life…

After the procedure, while struggling to guzzle down a promotional 6-pack of Miller High Life from the only brand willing to sponsor him, Boyd questioned his next move. He’d already had a long and distinguished career. He’d tasted fame and glory, but he’d also been stung by defeat many times. Maybe it was time to hang up the ax handle, and take the next natural step and become a part-time beer distributor? But as he choked down the remains of the over-frothed swill he’d be pushing, a realization flashed over him. He couldn’t live with having to sell such refuse to what remained of his loyal fans, and he resolved that his days in Tapey Beercone were not done.

Yep, that makes two 7 for 7 stories with a montage…

If Boyd was going to make it back to the apex of the Sport, he would have to strive and grind harder than he ever had before. His doctors had prescribed a strict schedule of conventional physical therapy to help him recover, but Boyd cancelled after the first session. Instead, he started watching Stars Wars and Bruce Lee movies on loop, gleaning everything he could from the Jedi and Kung Fu masters of this world and every other. He developed his own unorthodox training regime, which included two-a-day hours long beer chugging sessions, meditating to find his “inner strike zone”, and practicing batting while blindfolded. What better way to prepare oneself for batting while seeing double than learning to bat without having to see at all! As his new personal trainer, Former NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, would tell him, “the greatest error is not to have tried and failed, but that in trying, we do not give it our best effort.” When “The Rocket” returned to play in the spring of 2014 he would give his best.

“Failure is NOT an option!”

The site for “The Rocket’s” re-launch would be Traverse Creek Trailhead, less than 9 months removed from his hellish experience on the Rubicon, it was time to test his mettle against a significant foe. Cleared to play, but still unable to pitch due to the “Beercone Thumb” recovery, Boyd was dedicated to making his mark as a batter. He got to work right away in the first inning with two line drive hits, helping his team start the game with a perfect 5 run inning, the first of Boyd’s career. His training had taught him to be more patient and decisive as a batter. Whereas the old “Rocket” was overeager at the plate, looking first to swing, then to make good contact; the new “Rocket” would wait longer before deciding to swing, and was then much more opportunistic and effective when taking swings. He started to take walks, notching his first walk of the season in the contest, and the added wait time before swinging led most of his hits to go the opposite way toward left field. In this first contest back in action Boyd made it until the third inning before making an out, and would record just three overall. In total his team would score 21 runs, a record at the time, and still today the most runs scored in 5 regular innings of play. “The Rocket” had lifted off!

The New “Rocket” spits at your off target pitch.

Next came a series in August at Bridgeside Beach, part of the same stretch of beach that had been the site of Boyd’s woeful pitching performance at the end of Season 2. By August Boyd was fully healed, and ready to play any position for his team, yet he only pitched one inning during the series. Instead he continued to contribute with his bat. In game one he sustained his new batting philosophy, and hit mostly to the left side all game, waiting for the defense to shift further and further to left field to contain him. By inning five the defense have completely sold out to left field. That was when Boyd sprang his trap, slashing a ground ball right down the first base line where no one was there to field it, and the hit ended the inning with a game tying double! “The Rocket’s” training had taught him patience at the plate, but it also taught him how to be precise with his swings in order to direct the ball where he wanted. Now fully realizing his power, Boyd had gained a level of bat control few in the sport had ever dreamed of attaining. It led to another win for his team, but the best had yet to come.

By game two “The Rocket’s” new found offensive firepower was no longer a secret. Fielders were on their toes defending the entire field. As the game began Boyd’s team struggled, and for his part Boyd miss hit a couple of balls which led to quick and easy outs. He kept the defense honest all game spraying balls across the field, and tiring out the defense in the process. But by the last inning his team found themselves in a four run hole, with “The Rocket” up to bat. He led off the inning by sneaking a soft ground ball down to third base line. In his next at bat he made a bases clearing two run double with a ball stroked deep into right field. The outfielder, “The Hammer”, just hung his head, completely exhausted by the repeated running back and forth across the outfield. As he would later put it, “All of a sudden, you couldn’t play defense against this guy. Play him to pull and he’d slap the ball to the opposite field. But set in in left, and he’d pull it down the first base line. It was infuriating!” As if to prove the point in his next at bat, Boyd again crushed a deep fly ball, but this time to left field, scoring the go ahead, and ultimately game winning, run! In all Boyd recorded 10 RBI’s in the game, tied for the second highest single game total of the season, and five of those came in the critical come back last inning.

“The Rocket” at the plate, now ready to do damage.

With his team recording the final out in the bottom of the inning Boyd was again victorious, and with this latest victory came vindication. No longer the journeyman pitcher, “The Rocket” was now the inextricable batter, and all the while he held on to his roots, sporting a league leading 1.72 BPI over the stretch. And with his revival came revelry, as his acclaim reached new heights. The fans clamoured for a chance to meet their hero and Boyd’s agent immediately organized a multi-state speaking tour. Within a week, Boyd had also inked a new multi-season deal with Coors Light, having buried the hatchet handle, Boyd would remain their lead spokesman for years to come.

The Bridgeside Beach series was the last appearance for Boyd in Season 3, but his second half rebuild was enough to earn him honors as the Mark Hendrix Most Improved Player of the Season. His Tapey Beercone career carries on to this day, and over Season 4 and 5 he’s had his ups and downs, but up until now those remarkable games in 2014 appear to be his zenith. But beyond all his other exploits, Boyd’s greatest accomplish may be his revival of the spirit of the game, noone plays for the shear enjoyments of the sport the way he did and still does. Recent under performance be damned, for Boyd the love of the game is what matters most, and for that reason you can never overlook him. He’s done it before he can do it again. Never count out “The Rocket”.

T-minus 10, “The Rocket” rises again.

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