The last time I spoke with Dirk Hayhurst was 2009. He was standing about 375 feet from home plate at Wrigley Field in Chicago, shagging batting practice fly balls — but mostly he was just standing there with the other Las Vegas pitchers — before a special 51s game against the Iowa Cubs.
Hayhurst, as I recall, had a pocketful of ivy. He had snatched some leafy vine from the center-field wall by the 400-foot marker. Souvenir. Cheaper than a bobblehead, and certainly more organic.
He was 28 then. The dream — and his fastball — were starting to fade.
Deep down, he probably knew he wouldn’t be back trodding such hallowed baseball ground while wearing a traveling gray uniform.
By then, another dream already had begun.
Hayhurst was becoming an author — an author of books about playing baseball in the minor leagues, and the thought processes that go into it. His thought processes.
The first one, “The Bullpen Gospels,” came out on Opening Day 2010. It jumped onto the New York Times’ best-seller list the way the ball jumps off Mike Trout’s bat.
So the strapping right-hander from Canton, Ohio — which is how he never would describe himself — now has written four books, the same number of games he won for the 51s. It’s four more than he won during two cups of major league coffee with the Padres and Blue Jays.
I read “The Bullpen Gospels,” and it’s excellent, a fascinating read, and no doubt partly responsible for Hayhurst landing a gig as a TBS studio analyst during the 2013 playoffs.
The other part? Hayhurst is what you might call eccentric. His thought processes are a little different from, say, Lenny Dykstra’s. For instance, he signs his autograph by drawing a “Garfoose” — a fire-breathing figment of his imagination that’s part giraffe, part moose. Yellow with purple spots and antlers.
Hayhurst is not afraid to speak his mind and to slap the knee of The Game that has made him sort of famous in an eccentric Bill Lee, Garfoosey kind of way.
He says the Garfoose has two sworn enemies: Hayhurst’s grandmother, and a guy with a Twitter account who calls himself Evil X-Ray Halladay III.
This is the fertile mind that came up with the idea for a curious new video game.
It’s called “Bush League.” You can get it for the iPhone and iPad for $2.99.
It’s advertised as a role-playing game about ballplayers who turn to PEDs — performance-enhancing “dots” — to become stars.
It’s meant to be satirical, I think. It’s also wickedly clever and irreverent.
It’s probably gonna make some baseball people mad.
“I expect to take some hell for ‘Bush League,’ ” Hayhurst wrote in self-describing the game for the Sports on Earth website.
“It mocks too many beloved stars not to warrant some kind of reaction. But, hopefully, the game will also succeed in drawing attention to the irony and idiocy of immortalizing flawed human beings based on how they went about their business, when their business is playing a kids game ...”
I told you it was gonna make some baseball people mad.
In the pantheon of baseball games, “Bush League” is the Bizarro World Strat-O-Matic. The object is to vanquish 24 “baseball bosses,” who also are jacked up on performance-enhancing “dots,” and whose cartoon likenesses are eerily similar to real bigger-than-life baseball personalities.
You can play as one of five characters: power hitter Hank Hammerhack, pitcher Digs Downaway, base stealer Jackie Jett, defensive specialist Webby McGrabbit, and a wild-card character called Petey Popoff, who I think is supposed to represent some wild-eyed clubhouse lawyer, or former Pittsburgh Pirates ace Dock Ellis.
There’s also a Player To Be Named Later. How could there not be?
After paying my $2.99 to Dirk Hayhurst by somehow remembering my iStore password — talk about clutch — I chose the persona of slick-fielding, PED-popping Webby McGrabbit. I was matched against a cigar-chomping lout called Herman Bambino: “The Constable of Clout.”
One of Bambino’s power-ups is “Call the Shot.” Another is “Big Appetite.”
Even Lenny Dykstra could figure out who he is supposed to be.
The game, which is more like a puzzle, is way more fun than it is difficult. But because I am more of a Strat-O-Matic guy than a Super Mario Brothers guy, it took me about 45 minutes to line up spinning baseballs and K symbols and PED greenies to finally defeat trash-talking Herman Bambino.
“Come on kid,” Bambino says when you take too long to make a move. “My hot dog is getting cold.”
Stuffy executives, bawdy announcers, buxom groupies. If it’s in The Game, it’s in “Bush League,” though I think that catchphrase already is spoken for.
“As tongue-in-cheek as ‘Bush League’ is, it might be closer to real baseball than we’d like to admit,” Hayhurst says. “In the minors, boys do run into cleat-chasers who give them rashes.”
There are 24 levels in “Bush League,” eight in each of three minor league classifications: A, AA, AAA. While I don’t think I’ll ever make it all the way to The Show, the next time I am standing in line at the DMV or to use the restroom at Cashman Field, I plan to give it a try.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.