The comeback of 45-year-old Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd for the Brockton Rox of the independent Canadian-American League was only seven innings old (no runs, eight strikeouts), and already big things were in the works.
"I'm writing a book,'' said the Can. "But it's going to be hard because every day, a new book starts. We're even talking about movie rights: The 'Oil Can' Boyd Story. The newspapers here said Denzel [Washington] or Jamie Foxx might be best to play me, but I'll probably have to play me because as we know, there's only one 'Oil Can' Boyd.''
Indeed. Dennis Boyd was 78-77 in his 10-year major-league career, which ended in 1991. There was never a dull moment, whether he was throwing shutouts (he had 10), screaming about something or speaking a language that few could understand. But it was always fun being around him.
When a Red Sox game was postponed due to fog in Cleveland it was the Can who said, "That's what you get for building a ballpark on the ocean.'' It was the Can who was not allowed to leave spring training in Winter Haven until he returned some overdue adult movies, which he eventually did, but not before one member of the Red Sox family, in the greatest line ever, called the incident The Can Film Festival.
The game is better when the Can is playing. Now he's back, pitching at one of the lowest levels of professional baseball. He says he wants to get back to the big leagues. He says he's throwing 90 mph, which is what he threw when he was at his best. He says he weighs 157 pounds, only slightly more than in his prime in the late '80s.
"I have a couple of love handles,'' he says, "but other than that, I haven't changed much.''
Indeed, he hasn't. He's still the fun-loving Can, the guy who talks incessantly, who has no need for periods or commas.
Here's a snippet of the Can talking:
"I'm doing this because I can. Secondly, I'm doing this because I love it. I have an opportunity to show what I can still do. This is a traveling circus. People will still pay to see me play. I just have to polish it up. I want to bring joy to people across the country. We're talking about starting a barnstorming team, with the 'Oil Can.' So I'm going to kick my leg up and show I can still do it. My arm is still sound. I haven't stopped throwing. It hasn't been high-intensity throwing. Three or four days a week I play long toss. I've thrown a lot of BP to junior Legion ball kids. I was at about 65 percent. I had to turn it up.
"I just woke up one morning and I could flame again. I have longevity. The Lord gave me the ability to do this. He gave the ability to maintain this. I threw through the pain. I heard a story about a guy who had a dead arm, and he wound up pitching until he was 59 years old: Leroy Paige. My father had a relationship with him. They played together in the Negro League. My uncle once pitched against Satchel Paige. He beat him in a game, 1-0.
"When I was a kid, about 12 or 13, I'd watch 45-year-old and 50-year-old men pitch. They showed me how to trick people. One of those men, Early Moore, is 68 years old and he's still pitching. He coached the semipro team that I played for, he'd come in and close the game. He threw changeups and breaking balls. His fastball was as fast as his changeup because he was an old man. But no one could hit him. That was willed down to me.
"I threw an eephus pitch when I was a kid. I tricked kids in Little League. It was so cute. They'd say 'that little boy can't be hit.' I learned how to change speeds. Those Little League boys looked real bad. I always had good control. I still do. I used to warm up throwing a ball through a tire hanging from a tree. I threw rocks at cans on top of a fence post from 100 feet away. It was real primitive stuff, but that's how I developed my control.
"I would love for a major-league team to give me an opportunity. I'd like to give something back. I know I can do as well as anyone right now. It's a lot easier pitching now than it used to be. The nervousness has gone away, I know how to calm myself down. I used to talk to myself so much. Now, my body just does it. I have mastered me. So, send me to [Triple-A] Pawtucket. Send me to A-ball. I don't care. Just send me anywhere to pitch.''
Yes, the game is better when the Can is playing.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight.