From the Cheap Seats

Stanford Baseball fans have become deadly serious of late over the question of the Cardinal's Sunday starter. And while there are weighty concerns surrounding this on-the-brink championship caliber squad, we also need to step back and crack a smile. To that end, your Missouri muse has manufactured a comical confluence of these needs in his latest piece. Read on for cleverly-constructed and much-needed laugh...

IT IS TIME FOR A LAUGH

Let’s face it.  This has been a rough three weeks for us Stanford sports fans.  Just before midnight (Central time) yesterday, having hung in there until the last out, I shut off the blasted computer and headed for home plenty ticked off.  Ever since I came out of my cave (and, in typical fashion, did so publicly) just before the baseball series in you-know-where, all hell has broken loose. [Maybe it was my fault for actually displaying optimism.  Sorry!]

So it was with great pleasure that I somehow stumbled on the following piece floating around the internet.  I cannot be sure where this originated. [Does The Onion have a sports page now, perhaps?] Though I want to do nothing to disrespect any of the persons referenced herein (okay – there is one exception that you will probably be able to identify), I pass it on because I think we could all use a good laugh right about now.

[To all who are depicted and referenced herein, I hope you are able to take this in the spirit intended.  With that one exception referenced above, nobody found their way into this piece unless the real author of this piece had deep affection for that person and what he has done for those of us who live and die Stanford sports.  Also, I love Stanford, but every now and then it is worthwhile to poke a little bit of fun at the things that you love.  Most of all, just in case this finds its way into the hands of Huda or his teammates, please let it be noted that I am Huda’s biggest fan.  I love that guy, and I admire him greatly for working through his struggles.  I am even trying to figure out where to get one a couple of the tee shirts (for Nathaniel and I) referenced below, just in case our guys get it going again and make it to Omaha.  We want to show up in style this year.]

The Strange Season of Stanford’s Third Starter

– by Manuel John

(Palo Alto/Stanford/The Farm/Whatever* Saturday, May 22, 2004) Fresh off his team’s desperately needed comeback win against a hated rival, with that team’s dwindling national seed prospects hanging in the balance, Stanford baseball coach Mark Marquess asked and answered the question on everyone’s mind: “Who is pitching for us on Sunday?” asked Marquess.  Answering his own question the same way he has answered it all year, an unblinking Marquess stated, “Huda Helnose.”

Thus, the long, strange trip of Stanford’s third starter will apparently continue for at least one more week.  Helnose will get the nod despite shaky outings in his last two efforts, both of which resulted in Stanford losing rubber games of three-day Pac-10 series.

Anticipating the obvious questions, Marquess quickly added that he still believed in his Sunday hurler.  “Give the kid credit,” said Marquess.  “Every time we really need a win on Sunday, Huda Helnose has been there to grab the ball.  Huda Helnose is a gamer.”  Finally, he added, perhaps with only slightly more hope than conviction, “Huda Helnose will come through for us tomorrow.”

Coach Mike Gillespie did not react well to the news.  “Helnose?” said a clipboard-slamming Gillespie, whose team’s season has been reduced to an all out effort to ruin things for the only legitimate, decent, and honorable Pac-10 private school.  “Darn it.  How am I supposed to get my team ready for him?  You never know what you are going to get when that guy takes the hill.”

Though it is an extremely rare occurrence for him, Gillespie has a point with his “consistency is so over-rated” rant.  Helnose has pitched unencumbered by the baggage of consistency this season.  With an ERA fluctuating wildly between 6.00 and 10.05, Helnose has been intermittently dominant, wild, unhittable, unwatchable, unbeatable, and unbearable in his outings this year.  Those outings have included not just stints as the Sunday starter and as both a long reliever and occasional substitute for regular Stanford closer David O'Hagan, but also in several of the other pitching roles that Stanford has developed in its unique program, including:  “get me three outs, this is Tuesday;” “we are killing these guys, so just throw strikes;” and the newly developed role of “whatever you are going to do, do it quick, because this is painful and we have a plane to catch.”

Certainly neither Stanford’s opponents nor its coaches, players, and fans know what they are going to see when Helnose takes the ball.  He has pitched as a flame thrower, a modestly sized “paint the corners” control specialist, and a towering giant.  On several occasions, Helnose, who usually hurls with his right, has even pitched as a southpaw.  As long-time college baseball broadcaster and journalist Chad Goldberg puts it, “It is almost as if there are different people in that one body.  When he is in the game, you just do not know what you are going to get.  That is why, around here, we just sigh and say, ‘Huda Helnose.’”

According to Marquess, “Sure, he has given me some sleepless nights, but Huda can be great.”  The Cardinal head coach points to Helnose’s considerable pre-Stanford experience as one of his major assets.  In fact, Helnose high school career included stints in Galveston (Tex.), Pacifica (Calif.), Belton (Mo.), Diamond Bar (Calif.), Terre Haute (Ind.), San Antonio (Tex.), and Redondo Beach (Calif.).  Indeed, Stanford’s Athletic Department public relations staff has pointed out in numerous press releases that “Huda Helnose is a one-man example of Stanford’s rich diversity.”  Stanford’s rich diversity, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is one of its primary claims to fame.  In the main, it means that Stanford’s student body consists not just of middle- and upper-class kids who had 4.0 high school GPAs and ridiculously high SAT scores from California suburbs, but also middle- and upper-class kids who had 4.0 high school GPAs and ridiculously high SAT scores from suburbs across the country.

Also, as Marquess points out, Helnose has strong Stanford ties.  In fact, his maternal uncle, Hal F. Ino, is rumored to be the leading candidate to fill the basketball head coaching vacancy on The Farm.

Marquess is not the only big Helnose fan on the Stanford coaching staff.  Pitching Coach Tom Kunis credits Helnose with helping him “really step up my game a notch.”  Kunis explained that, before this season, it only took “a long time” to walk from the dugout to the mound.  “But Huda can really use some help from me,” said Kunis, “so I have made that walk an awful lot.  With all that practice, I have gone from ‘slow’ to ‘interminable,’ and that can make all the difference when you are trying to get a reliever time to warm up.”  Kunis’ claims are supported by KZSU color man Sam Stefanki, who has begun referring to Kunis’ 100-foot walks as “the most exciting two minutes in sports.”

Assistant Coach Dean Stotz, too, is a fan.  Stotz has seen enough baseball to have a sense of its history and points out that, as with Helnose, other “eclectic” pitchers like “The Bird,” “Oil Can,” Sid Fynch, and even the incomparable Satchel Paige, were not instant fan favorites.  “At first, our fans were like ‘Huda Helnose is pitching?  Huda Helnose?!?  Again?’  But now they have really warmed up to him.”

Indeed they have.  According to KZSU play-by-play man Mike Etchepare, when Helnose enters the game, he can hear a rhythmic chant of “Hoo-DUH!  Hoo-DUH!  Hoo-DUH!” [Stanford fans originally tried “Helnose, Helnose, Helnose,” but abandoned it when they realized that it sounded a bit too much like something they did not want to be saying to a pitcher with a somewhat fragile psyche.]

Etchepare admits, however, that the “chant” is rather faint.  “In fact,” he offered, “it may just be some fat guy 1,500 miles away listening to the ‘zoo on his computer, and his ten-year-old son.”  Nonetheless, he optimistically added that “it is really cool what you can hear way up here in the booth.”

Not all of the Helnose fans are so geographically removed.  Indeed, Helnose’s rocky ride has earned him a fan club, “Huda’s Hooters.”  The Hooters president is junior I.M. Intuit, the former president of the Sixth Man club who was impeached from that position this winter following his scandalous decision to actually leave his tent and attend one class the week before the now legendary Stanford-Arizona basketball game.

Making sure that his loyalty will never again be questioned, Intuit has immersed himself in Hudamania.  His latest project, designed to boost the decibel level of the Hoo-DUH cheer, is a cardinal (“not red,” he emphasized, “cardinal!”) tee-shirt with large letters spelling out “H-O-O-D-A.”  Admittedly, the spelling is a bit off, but, Intuit says, “it looks better that way.”  Also, it gave Intuit the chance to add a caricature of an owl, whose eyes are the “O-O” letters.  He claims that this “has nothing whatsoever to do” with a somewhat controversial restaurant chain that has used a similar image.  “Actually,” asserts Intuit, “it is a little dig at the team that beat us in Omaha last year.  Those Rice people are so darn proud of their three starters, and I am starting to get sick of it.  You know who I mean, Niemann and...  You know, Niemann and...  Niemann and those other two guys.  Well, we want them to know that we are just as proud of our starters, even Huda Helnose.”

Of course, there have been detractors, as there often are in “what have you done for me lately” endeavors like sports.  “All of the wild Stanford baseball fans have been on me this year about our third starter,” reported Marquess, “and, to tell you the truth, both of them are starting to get on my nerves.”

Those nerves might have been a bit frayed by an unfortunate encounter that this reporter observed between Marquess and one of the two rabid Stanford baseball fans after the Cardinal’s Tuesday night win against USF.  As the stands emptied, the fan approached Marquess, asking, “What are you going to do about a Sunday starter?”  Marquess calmly replied, “Huda Helnose.”  Pleading, the fan implored Marquess to “give me some hope.”  Marquess again replied, “All I can say is Huda Helnose.”  At wit’s end, the desperate fan asked the coach if “I should make plans to travel to Omaha this year?”  This time, the coach’s answer sounded at least as much like a question as a statement: “Well, Huda Helnose?”

Indeed, the “Huda we go to now” saga, as well as surprising recent troubles with Stanford hitting, have dimmed the hopes of some Stanford fans.  Fortunately for them, indefatigable reporter Joe Ritzo has buoyed their spirits by dipping into his encyclopedic knowledge of Stanford baseball history to find encouraging analogies from past seasons.

Recently, though, he has had to dig deeper and deeper.  As his latest effort, he optimistically points out that in what Stanford fans refer to as “the year” (and they all know which one), “Black Jack McDowell was our big gun, but we spent a lot of time looking for a third starter.”  Reviewing his voluminous storehouse of Stanford baseball memorabilia, Ritzo reports that “up until May 12 at 3:36 Pacific Time, the third starter that year was foreign exchange student Ono Knothymn.”  Ritzo added, “if my recollection is correct, he really struggled, but then we found some help from unexpected sources in the bullpen, and the rest is history.”

Ritzo’s enthusiasm was reduced only a bit when he said, “At least I think it was May 12 at 3:36 p.m., but, to tell you the truth, it looks like there is some infant formula on the score sheet that I meticulously kept in crayon that day, so I cannot be positive.”  He also noted that the analogy might not be perfectly applicable, because the College World Series in that year “started on the first Friday after the second full moon in May, and the Series was scored that year under the modified Stableford system.”

As the country’s leading baseball reporter, I would love to be able to give you more information about this fascinating young man, but my sources are not unlimited.  Try as I might, I could not pry even his date of birth out of the most knowledgeable person in the country about Stanford sports, one Mike Eubanks.  Eubanks admits that he has posted this information on some sort of electronic meeting place for Stanford sports nuts.

Apparently, though, Eubanks has sequestered this and other Helnose data into a “double secret” corner of this website that can be accessed only by those who pay a subscription for premium access to this service.  When I tried to pressure him for the information under “the public has a right to know” line we reporters use endlessly, he suggested that I could know all I want, if I simply paid the fee for the service.

Eubanks’ repeated refusals to give me information he has been paid to acquire suggests to me that he is trying to protect his continued ability to earn some sort of salary.  My own sources inform me that this “salary,” when divided by Eubanks' average 23.5 hour work day (yeah, it is 24.5 on “Fall Forward” day, due to the pressures of football and basketball commitment season, but it is only 22.5 on “Spring Forward” day, so it all works out in the wash at 23.5 hours), would violate minimum wage laws across this country, except in few southern counties where sharecropping is still arguably legal.

When this reporter confronted Eubanks about this “salary” he was trying to protect, he weakly smiled, saying it was “a labor of love.”  He then let on that at least he got paid something for this, unlike dozens of other contributors to this website who actually pay their own money to contribute “posts.”  As a particularly pathetic example of this phenomenon, Eubanks pointed to “this fool in Missouri who writes the longest diatribes you have ever seen, and does not get a dime for them.”  He added that he did not feel one bit guilty about this particular arrangement, because “nobody reads that guy’s junk anyway.”

So I am not in a position to tell you everything about Huda Helnose.  Then again, this story is not over.  Tomorrow, Huda Helnose will climb the mound, with Stanford’s season in the balance.  If, somehow, he puts together one of the masterpiece performances that he has shown himself capable of, he will vault himself into the pantheon of Stanford sports heroes.

Indeed, Kunis has hinted that, if Huda “gets the job done” in his next two outings, the Stanford coaches will consider nominating him as “Pac-10 freshman of the year.  Or is it Newcomer of the Year?  Comeback Player?  Oh, just forget it.  Huda Helnose is just too difficult to categorize.”

Indeed, this Stanford season has taken a crazy turn in the last three weeks.  For months, this team was loaded with stories of unexpected prowess.  Can you believe we are not focusing on the amazing seasons of Danny Putnam and Jed Lowrie?  The coming of age of John Mayberry Jr., Chris Minaker, and Donny Lucy?  The turn around of the hard luck kid, Chris Carter?  The different, but amazing, careers of Jonny Ash, Brian Hall, and Sam Fuld?  The pitching of Mark Romanczuk, Jeff Gilmore, and the aforementioned David O'Hagan?

Amazingly, those are not the main concerns, or the main stories, today.  At this critical moment in the season, and probably for as long as Stanford continues to play baseball this year, Stanford’s fortunes can be summed up in two words:

Huda Helnose.

_______

* What is it with these Stanford people and names, anyway?  I mean, do they play in “Palo Alto”?  At “Stanford”?  I mean how pretentious is that, expecting me to put the name of their school into the dateline?  Even Harvard plays its games in “Cambridge,” not at “Harvard,” for heaven’s sake.  Or is it supposed to be “The Farm,” like it is the only one of those in the world?  By the way, I was just there, and it is no more a farm than “The Big Game” is, in most years, a big game.

While I am on the topic of names, with all those Nobel Prize winners walking around the place, do you think these folks could come up with a nickname for their sports teams, for heaven’s sake?  Is that too much to ask?  Why not name them after some big donor (perhaps “Robber Barons”?) like everything else around there.  By the way, who the heck was this guy “Sunken”?  He must have given them a ton of bucks.


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