Hunting Kuntz by Karl Koweski

     Beneath the glass counter at Bleacher Bums card shop lies a modern day reliquary for the memento mori of the only saints who matter any more.  Rather than the knucklebone of Saint Andrew or Saint Felix the Eviscerated’s toenail, Bleacher Bums deals in the relics of sport’s saints, those enshrined in the Hall of Fame and those yet to be canonized.  There are bits of game worn jerseys and scraps of game-used bats pressed into cardboard.
     I hover over the artifacts from the patron saints of the north side.  A swath of Andre Dawson’s all star jersey and a section of elastic band from Ryne Sandberg’s jockstrap offered by Topps Triple Thread.  Only one of three in existence and a steal at the low price of two hundred and fifty dollars.
     “Can I help you, fella?”
     The guy running things looks old enough to have witnessed the last Cubbies World Series appearance.  His shirt pisses me off immediately, two disparate tees sewn together down the center like a Windy City Frankenstein. The blue side bears the Cubbies insignia, the black side… The bullshit White Sox.
     “You suppose to be some kinda Chi-Town Switzerland?”
     Swiss Miss cocks a bristled eyebrow and crosses his arms above his Old Style keg of a belly.  “You come in here to bust my balls?  Or is there something else you might be needing?  Cause Zambrano’s on the mound, buddy, and he’s carrying a no-hitter into the bottom of the second.”
     “I’m hunting Kuntz.  Rusty Kuntz.  The greatest .230 career hitter ever to swat a lazy fly ball to center field with the bases loaded.”
     “Hmph.”  He braces his hands on the counter, flexing the beer flab in a vaguely muscular way.  “Kuntz, you say?”
     “Rusty Kuntz.  I have the largest collection of Kuntz memorabilia in the country.”
     Granted, that only encompasses about five years of baseball cards from the late seventies to early eighties.  There are no game-used paraphernalia cards bearing Kuntz swag.  I procured a Twins jersey worn by Kuntz for ten dollars and a half case of Schlitz.
     “I seem to remember a Koontz coming up with the White Sox organization.  Retired from the Tigers after the ‘84 World Series.”
     “That’s him.  Except it’s Kuntz.  Like a vagina.”
     “It’s Koontz.  Like the writer of Phantoms.”
     “Kuntz, I say.  There ain’t no Os in his name.”
     “So, you’re a Koontz expect?”
     “I know a thing or two about Kuntz.”
     “What?  You a relative?”
     “More like a brother-in-arms.  They call me Philip Kuntz.”
     “Yeah, buddy, I can tell by the way you’re standing, you couldn’t fill up a shot glass.”
     We stand there on opposite sides of the counter, arms crossed over our chests.  He stares at my forehead.  I stare at a plaque of Nolan Ryan, blood dripping from his nose onto his jersey, as though the picture were saying “see, baseball’s not a sport for pussies.”
     “You can’t tell that by the way I’m standing.”
     “I can tell that by you being a thirty-something year-old man asking for the baseball cards of a man with a funny name.”
     “All right, I’ll concede your point, old man.  So you gonna get me all your Rusty Kuntz or not?”
     “No.  I don’t have any Rusty Koontz for you.  You bought all the Rusty Koontz cards I had in the inventory when you came sniffing around here for Rusty Koontz last year.”
     “You not remember having this same exact conversation with me last time?”
     “I actually have this conversation all the time.”
     “Yeah, I suspected as much.  You see that bat hanging up there?  The one autographed by Keith Moreland, Jody Davis and Leon Durham?”
     “Yeah.  Three hundred bucks is a little steep to be asking for it, ain’t it?”
     “Next time you walk in here asking for Rusty Koontz–”
     “Next time I catch you in here, I’m gonna take that bat off the wall and hit you in the face with it.  Understand?”
     “Good.  Now fuck off.”
     I walk out into the hazy sunlight and breathe in the refinery tinged air.  There’s time to kill and not a lot of murder implements at my disposal. 
     Somewhere, Rusty Kuntz possesses a World Series ring and Ryne Sandberg does not.  That’s the kind of world we live in.

4 Responses to “Hunting Kuntz by Karl Koweski”

  1. alan catlin Says:

    Baseball memorabilia sure has gotten more exciting since I was a kid. Or even since my kids were kids. Yeah a Clete Boyer signed picture would have been something in 58…. Kids did score a Henry Aaron autographed baseball for like ten bucks, Willie Mays for like seven..,probably cost more than that to get in More than two Ron Swoboda’s and a Choo Choo Coleman. How did you pronounce Rusty’s name again?

  2. Kinda like collecting Marv Throneberry (Mets) memorabilia. I remember Clete Boyer playing third base for the New York Yankees. His brother, Ken, who was a homerun hitter, played for the St. Louis Cardinals. I’ve got a couple of great DVDs of the old “Homerun Derby” with Ken Boyer and all of the great homerun hitters of the late 50s early 60s. $2000 to the winner–$1000 to the loser. Big money in those days.

    Very enjoyable story Karl.

  3. M.P. Powers Says:

    Well Karl, you’ve certainly brought to light a man-among-men in Kuntz. Anyone who’d willingly carry around that cross for a name (his real name is Russell, right?) deserves
    some credit. At the very least, MLB should accept his jockstrap as a peace offering and/or use it as a pinetar rag. Wasn’t he drafted when Veeck was still commandeering the Pale Hose? I believe so…

  4. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!

    You rule Karl.

    Does it help that Mark Grace has a ring?

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