What follows represents the first of hopefully many posts in these pages by Mr. Patrick Dubuque. Mr. Patrick (as he’s called by children of the American South) has contributed to various SB Nation sites (including Lookout Landing and Roto Hardball) and Pitchers & Poets — in addition to work that appears at his own site, The Playful Utopia. Perhaps Mr. Dubuque’s most noteworthy quality, however, is his ability to effect the voice of a 19th c. aristocrat with almost no effort — a trait much sought after in these pages.
Sometimes, there’s almost too much going on in a photograph. There’s the popped collar, a rebellious statement made by someone already forced to wear a late-80s Indians jersey. There’s the playfully cascading mullet. There are the eyes, staring either at a mime beyond the camera or, perhaps, the future. Floating above is the omnipresent visage of Chief Wahoo, whose toothy grin renders the most amiable man dour in comparison. Finally, Mr. Nichols appears to be wearing a pair of eyeglasses.
Nichols was a professional, workmanlike pitcher, one who obviously recognized the importance of reducing glare and expanding peripheral vision on the mound. He also understood the aesthetic appeal of accentuating one’s cheekbones. Such a pair of spectacles makes it nearly impossible, in fact, to judge the proportions of the rest of the face: is his nose too large? Are his lips too thick? We cannot compare them to anything, anything except the glasses. We have lost the essence of Rod Nichols behind these panes of glass. He hides in plain sight.
Perhaps those spectacles were an act of defiance against a world he knew would never understand him, one that judged him only on the surface of his win-loss record as well as his eyewear. His 1991 line reads like a tragicomedy: he made the team out of Spring Training, but didn’t appear in a game until May 5. He was demoted to the bullpen on August 29, directly after pitching a shutout. In between, he earned a 3.1 WAR, went 2-11, and lost his job. One can only imagine the staring matches between Nichols, Keith Atherton and Ron Kittle, each searching each other for answers to their shared fate.
All has since been forgotten, all except the glasses that stride Rod Nichols’ face like a colossus. Their convex lenses open up the window to his soul, daring us to look away. We always blink first.