The “Clark Kent” of Baseball is a Beanpole

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Nora Ephron, 2005 Photograph

On October 21st of 1979, Nora Ephron, an American journalist and screenwriter, wrote in The Washington Post about her unconventional love for Pittsburgh Pirate’s relief pitcher, Kent Tekulve. With skinny limbs on his 6′ 4” frame and funky glasses resting beneath his ball cap, Tekulve was anything but your stereotypical sports star. However, to Nora Ephron, his atypical body was his most endearing quality.

 

“Love- At Arm’s Length” By Nora Ephron

I have been in love with Kent Tekulve for a little over a week now. It has not been easy. The people I watched the World Series with are very difficult about things of this sort. “You’re in love with Tekulve,” they asked, “when you could be in love with Palmer?” They miss the point.

“He was a beanpole. A gangle. A spindly rube.”

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Kent Tekulve, MLB sidearm pitcher 1974-1989

I am not a baseball fan, of course. I am not even a sports fan. I am one of those people who get involved in sports only during championship seasons- during the World Series, the Super Bowl, Forest Hills. I take a crash course in the sports pages and I pick up just enough stuff about bad wrists and trick knees and feuding managements and upcoming contract negotiations to involve myself over the brief stretch. I am aided considerably in this by my almost unlimited capacity to endure Howard Cosell. I love Howard Cosell. I do not love him the way I love Kent Tekulve, but it was from Howard Cosell that I (along with millions of other people who were watching) learned that sidearm pitchers rarely have arm trouble. This turns out not to be true, but it’s an interesting piece of information, and I am quite attached to it. I learned that it was not true the last night  of the Series, when I quoted Howard to my friends only to be informed of the case of Ewell Blackwell, a sidearm pitcher I might also apparently have fallen in love with had I been fortunate enough to glimpse him in the brief period before his arm gave out.

Learn More about the 1979 World Series Champions Pittsburgh Pirates

I fell in love with Kent Tekulve a week ago last Thursday night. It was the ninth inning, and the Pittsburgh manager had brought him in to save the Pittsburgh lead. He looked like an extremely unlikely person to save anyone from anything. He was a beanpole. A gangle. A spindly rube. He kept touching the bill of his cap in a nervous manner. He wore thick glasses. Later on when I was forced to defend myself against unrelenting attacks on my taste, I occasionally attempted to compare him with Donald Sutherland but the truth is that his main resemblance to Donald Sutherland was around the Adam’s apple, which is not necessarily the best place around which to resemble a movie star.

He stood on the mound. He played with his hat. And the he delivered the first pitch- a whiplike fastball that instantly transformed him from an innocuous assemblage of knees and elbows into an awesome meanie. I gasped. Honestly I did. I may in fact have gasped the first gasp of my life, because I am not given to gasps. “Look at that,” I said, along with the gasp. My husband looked. He had seen sidearm pitchers before. Besides which, he was for Baltimore. I had been too, for an entire day. But at that moment, I switched allegiance to Pittsburgh. I couldn’t help myself.

“I know what Kent Tekulve’s real name is. It’s Clark Kent Tekulve.”

When it first began, I was somewhat mystified about how all this could have happened to a cautious, conservative person like me; but as the Series went on and my feelings for Tekulve deepened, I began to have an idea. It has nothing to do with Donald Sutherland. It has nothing to do with the resemblance between Tekulve and great ballet dancers- a suggestion made by a close friend who was trying to help me work this thing out. It has to do with a myth of my childhood. And that myth is that underneath- pick one- a) those glasses b) that shy demeanor, c) those pathetic shoulders, d) that ill-fitting T-shirt is a man of steel. Kick sand in this man’s face at your peril. He is not what he seems. He has a secret. I know what Kent Tekulve’s real name is. It’s Clark Kent Tekulve.

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Pittsburgh Pirates World Series 1979

I have read a great deal about sports during my intermittent immersions in championships. I understand why people worship athletes, and I understand that there is a poetry in watching the perfect body execute the perfect maneuver. But the true romance of it all, if you ask me, is in watching the imperfect body execute the perfect maneuver. It means we can all go on having the fantasy of they-all-laughed-when-I-sat-down-to-play, because if Kent Tekulve can do it, we all can. I means that the grandstand in my head, the one that’s waiting to cheer when I master the top-spin serve, has another season of hope. It means that anything is possible. I love Kent Tekulve because he turned me into an optimist again. I expect it will pass, but in the meantime, it’s been swell.

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Nora Ephron’s original Washington Post article as it appeared in 1979
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