The Henderson/Olerud Story: Three Adaptations

buddies

As an intelligent baseball fan, you have surely by now read or heard the famous and apocryphal story of Rickey Henderson renewing his acquaintance with John Olerud. If not, here’s the original tale, as told by ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian:

In spring training 1999, Rickey Henderson of the Mets was reunited with first baseman John Olerud, who had been his teammate with the Blue Jays six years earlier. As most people know, Olerud had an aneurysm in college, which required brain surgery. So to protect his head, he was allowed to wear a helmet in the field. As the story goes, Henderson was talking to Olerud one day, noticed the helmet and said “You know, when I played in Toronto, we had a guy who wore a helmet.”

“Rickey,” said Olerud, “that was me.”

Now, for your enjoyment, please partake of three adaptations of this timeless yarn.


1.

It had been weeks now, but John never got used to hospitals. The stinging scent of disinfectant, the hollow glow of the fluorescent lights, the squeak of intern’s sneakers in endless tiled hallways: all of it felt synthetic, unnatural, unwelcome. John reached room A232, took a single deep breath, and pushed through.

There, lying crumpled in the white sheets, lay Rickey, once so strong. The deep lines of his face made his sleep look troubled, pained, but John knew it was just sleep, just a blink of an eye for him. He told himself that. It’ll be over and it never happened at all, he thought. The accident, the head trauma, the hours of surgery, none of it had ever happened, as far as Rickey knew. Just a flash of light, a screech of metal, and then a whiff of Purell. John fought the words of the doctors, the ones who warned that if Rickey did come out of it, he might not be the same Rickey. He’ll be the same. It’ll be the same.

John sat down in the chair and pulled out his book, a worn copy of Ethan Frome. The wrong fucking book, John thought.

“Hey,” a voice said.

John looked up. His eyes were open, looking at him. John couldn’t gauge the feelings behind them, couldn’t see the soul in them. “Rickey,” he said, and waited.

The eyes seem to read him as well. “You know,” Rickey whispered, “when I played in Toronto, we had a guy who wore a helmet.”

“Rickey,” John said, shuddering with relief, “that was me.”


2.

“I was the greatest,” Rickey murmured, staring intently at the black checkers on the board in front of him.

Ten years, John thought. Ten years difference between us, and so much time. He looked at Rickey’s face: folded like origami, creased into a permanent smile. The twinkle in his eyes was still there, but it seemed as though it had been painted in.

“You know where I was when Carter hit that home run? Where were you when it happened? I was on second base“, he said, and wheezed a long laugh.

John moved a red checker and smiled sadly. We all grow old, he thought. We all change. No matter how hard we work, no matter how hard we train and fight, it happens. Senility isn’t a dirty word. It’s our reward for a lifetime of dealing with an uncaring universe. He allowed himself a thought of his wife, knitting sweaters for the new granddaughter on the way, and pushed it down.

Rickey forgot himself for a minute, probably standing on that second base, reading Mitch Williams. Then he opened his eyes, laughed, and made the double jump John had left him. “King me, you bastard,” he cried triumphantly.

As John reached into the box for another checker, Rickey continued. “Ninety-four,” he sighed. “I was… it was…” He looked up and saw John, perhaps for the first time that day. “You know, you remind me. You remind me. When I played in Toronto…” he chuckled. “In Toronto, we had this guy who wore a helmet.”

“Rickey,” John said quietly, sliding a checker, “that was me.”


3.

Spring. Rickey Henderson is sitting by himself in the grass, stretching his calves. Rickey still has great legs, Rickey thought to himself. These legs could still swipe sixty bags. Eighty. Maybe even a hundred. Rickey closed his eyes and imagined each one.

Suddenly, John Olerud appeared next to him.

“John,” Rickey said. “Didn’t see you before. Where’ve you been?”

John smiled. “Oh, I was right here.”

Rickey didn’t like arguing with John, so he shrugged, and switched legs. “What do you mean? I’ve been alone out here. They got the kids running. Rickey doesn’t need to run; he already knows how.”

John but his feet together and did a butterfly stretch, leaning slowly forward. “Don’t tell anyone this,” he said conversationally, “but this helmet is actually the mythical Tarnhelm, magical helm of German lore. It confers upon its user invisibility.”

Rickey was impressed. He should ask for one of those in his next contract, he thought.

“You know,” Rickey whispered, “when I played in Toronto, we had a guy who wore a helmet like that. Also, this morning somebody ate my last doughnut.”

“Rickey,” said Olerud, “that was me.”




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Patrick Dubuque is a wastrel and a general layabout. Many of the sites he has written for are now dead. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.


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AC of DC
Guest
AC of DC

John Olerud once swiped 126 final donuts in a single season — still looked trim as ever. That’s the stuff that doesn’t show up in the boxscore.

Kyle
Member

Top notch adaptationing, indeed.

Damaso's Burnt Shirt
Guest
Damaso's Burnt Shirt

Darth Vader: Ricky, you do not yet realize your importance. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive playoff drought and bring victory to the Mets.
Ricky: I’ll never join you!
Darth Vader: If you only knew the power of the National League. Phillips never told you what happened to “Tall Guy”.
Ricky: He told me enough! He told me Tall Guy wore a helmet on the field!
Darth Vader: *I* am that teammate.
Ricky: No. No. That’s not true. That’s impossible!
Darth Vader: Search your feelings, you *know* it to be true!
Ricky: [anguished] No! No!

DerekJeterGiftBasket
Guest
DerekJeterGiftBasket

A man goes to Rickey Henderson. Says he’s depressed. He says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. The doctor says “The treatment is simple. The great first baseman Olerud is in town tonight. Go and see him, that should pick you up.” The man bursts into tears. He says “But doctor… I am Olerud.”

Dick
Guest
Dick

No.

B.
Guest
B.

You never did the Kenosha, kid!

John
Member
John

A tip of the helmet to you, sir. Brilliant.

Adrock
Guest
Adrock

Well done sir. Here, from elsewhere on the internet, is something that is amazingly well done, and should be of interest to any fans of John Olerud, Rickey Henderson, the Toronto Blue Jays, or 8-bit video games: http://www.thestar.com/sports/bluejays/2013/02/19/blue_jays_fan_creates_video_game_to_celebrate_2013_team.html

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