He gets up from his chair in a hotel restaurant with an exaggerated slowness. Carlton Fisk is doing an impression of himself. He remains bent in half as he walks the length of one table, then another table and another. Imaginary aches and pains run through his body. He resembles the Tin Man on his way to Oz, looking for a good can of 3-In-One oil.
"You sit in the bullpen until the seventh inning," Fisk says in his big voice. "Then the call comes to warm up a pitcher. You get up and...whoa."
He is trying to explain his new life in curious exile. Bullpen catcher. Bullpen catcher? He is 45 years old, with 22 years in major league baseball, headed for the Hall of Fame, but after all that time he doesn't know what to do anymore. He sits and he sits and he waits and he waits, and then he drags his stiff body out to warm up young pitchers for action he seldom joins. How is he supposed to handle this? He doesn't know when to eat or when to sleep or when to stretch to make himself loose. The patterns of a lifetime have been disrupted. How do you prepare if you are preparing to do virtually nothing?
Bullpen catcher. He is trapped in the midst of a self-fulfilling prophecy: The less he plays, the worse he plays. He can feel his skills leaving him through disuse. How can he maintain any rhythm behind the plate if he is never behind the plate? How can he be ready for live pitching if he never sees live pitching? He is captive to the powerlessness of his new position. Bullpen catcher.
"I always thought I would wear out," he says. "But now it looks as if they want me to rust out."
Fisk straightens to his full height, which is 6'2". His posture is perfect, shoulders back. There has always been a John L. Sullivan sort of elegance to him, and it has not left. He walks back to the table as if he owned not only the hotel but also the entire national chain. Bullpen catcher?
"One of the things that has always been right about this game is that if you played a long time, on the way out you had valet parking," he says. "You're not supposed to wind up in Remote Lot F with the transporter bus. That's where I am.
"It's not right," he says. "It's just not right."