The Rise and Fall of Brian Dinkelman
HUNTINGTON PARK – I’m sitting along the first base line with my kiddos, 10 and 12. The night air is crisp and cool, but not cold enough to put on the zip-up hoodie tied around my waist. The Clippers are leading the Rochester Red Wings 2-0 when we hear the announcer in tone Now batting for Rochester, Brian Dinkelman.
I lean over to my daughter and say “That’s a great name. If I was writing a kid’s book about baseball, I’d call it The Curse of Brian Dinkelman.”
She thinks about this for a second, and then suggests I change it to “Finkelman,” so that the real Brian Dinkelman “doesn’t get mad.”
“People probably make fun of his name a lot,” she notes. “That’s not nice.”
As if on cue, a woman one section over and three rows down lets loose a loud and nasally “How’z it goin, DINKELMAAAAN?” as if the name itself is a sing-songy insult to be savored in all of its drawn out glory.
I’ll note, too, that part of me is pleased that it’s a woman doing the shouting, third beer and in her mid-50s and seeming (as far as once can guess seeing only the back of her bleached hair) to have some sort of axe to grind with life. I’m all for gender equity among hecklers!
Brian Dinkelman, Rochester’s second baseman, takes no apparent note of the heckler. Professional athletes rarely do. Instead, he steps up to the plate and wordlessly drives a long, long fly ball down the left field line, the crack of the bat silencing the Clipper faithful for a moment as the ball begins to tail off, curving left, please a little more left. Dinkelman is halfway to second when it flies into foul territory and lands in the outfield stands.
“Wow,” says my daughter. “Don’t Mess with Dinkelman.”
As he trots back to the plate, however, the heckler again raises her voice.
“Better luck next time, Dinkeeeeelmaaaaan!” she shouts.
Which I realize is the perfect title for the sequel to the children’s book I suggested writing just two minutes earlier. I’m not sure if the heckler realized that a foul ball means Dinkelman gets to swing again, or if she’s simply drunk on the night, her warm beer and the sweet sound of the name Dinkelman rising deep from her gut and singing out across sections 5, 6 and 7, a long fly ball tailing off towards foul territory.
But Dinkelman does. He picks up is bat, gives it a couple swings, and steps in again.
This time, the crack of the bat seems louder and some how angrier. Dinkelman has driven it deep, deep into center field, where the Clippers’ center fielder Tim Fedroff is racing backwards. This is a straightaway as straightaway center gets, and if it’s going to clear the fence, it needs to be well over 400 feet to do it.
Two steps onto the warning track, and Fedroff makes the catch.
My lovely ten-year-old daughter says “Damn’t.”
The Curse of Brian Dinkelman strikes again.
He trots from second base in towards his dugout, where my guess is his teammates will slap him five and say things like Almost there, Dinks, or Way to give it a ride, Bri.
So I’ve been thinking about why the name Dinkelman inherently funny. For one, it starts with Dink, which means “overaly and unattractively small.” A dink hit. A dinky apartment. It also recalls dinkus, which I always thought was a cute way a Mom might talk to her 3-year-old about his equipment during potty training. It turns out that dinkus has some seriously worse meanings if you were to consult the Urban Dictionary about it. (Most things do, I’ve noticed.)
The name Dinkelman is also three syllables, three strong staccato syllables that clearly delineate each sound. It’s pronounced with a High-Low-High tonal sequence, DIN-kel-MAN, which gives it a bouncy, flippant feel. Then there’s that final short ‘a’ sound in ‘man,’ that can be drawn out as long as the speaker likes. And if the speaker is from Cleveland, that short ‘a’ is better described as a harsh ‘a’ sound, one that is so unholy it could grate a block of cheese if given the chance.
These are the traits that make the name unique. SNL writers clearly thought of to them when they created the character of Ira Needleman, an Oral Surgeon who’s video dating profile devolves into a Madonna-like dance video in which ‘surgeon’ and virgin” are rhymed no less than 17 times.
But I should point out, too, that Dinkelman himself never seemed to acknowledge his heckler. It’s likely that her jeers never even registered with him. The Heckling of Brian Dinkelman (Hey…title for the third kid’s book in my Dinkelman series!) was, by any standards, pretty tame, and my guess is that Dinkelman himself has always let last name jokes roll off his back.
But my daughter is in fourth grade, and thus a veteran of no less than 10 different anti-bullying programs. She get’s upset if I yell at an umpire “Come on, Blue!” or “What game you watching?” (Admittedly, I always drop the ‘are’ when I yell this, and then I always feel a little bit like Arnold Jackson for having done so. Whatch’u talking ‘bout, Umpire?)
So I asked her if she was upset that someone was heckling Dinkelman.
“No,” she said. “But it’s a better story if he hit a home run. That would keep that lady quiet.”
And indeed it would.
But the thing about baseball is that stories can go on and on. The “Roy Hobbs Homer into the Lights” is a pretty rare (read: only in the movies) kind of occurrence, and Dinkelman’s story is far from over: had three more at-bats that night, and I don’t recall any further heckling.
He went 1-for-4, and is currently hitting .212 with one home run, thus far the lowest batting average in his seven-year career, which included 23 games in the show in 2011, where he hit .301 in 73 at-bats fo the Minnesota Twins, and where, upon making his MLB debut in a game at Kansas City, fans chanted “MVP, MVP” and “DIN-KEL-MAN, DIN-KEL-MAN” when he came to the plate and his team mates dumped Gatorade on him during his post-game interview.
That sounds like the ending to a great story, maybe the fifth and final installment of my yet-to-be written series of kid books: The Rise of Brian Dinkelman.