On June 4 conditions were such that Hanales threatened to close down operations if expenses couldn't be cut. On other occasions, he wanted to get rid of the trainer and slash the roster to 16 players, moves Fichman avoided by taking a 25% cut in pay himself. The Pittsburgh and Boston organizations helped by providing five players who weren't getting the chance to play every day. "I was excited at first," says Kevin Grubbs, a pitcher from the Boston system whose record with the Pines is 1-9. "Then I looked up their record in The Sporting News—9-48. Thanks, guys."
The high point of the season came in the first game of the second half, when a 10th-inning walk forced in the winning run for the Pines, and for one brief shining moment they were tied for first place. Things quickly returned to normal, and before long they reeled off that 18-game losing streak, one shy of the league record. When Hanales temporarily refused to pay the players' salaries, the Pines held a meeting to consider quitting. Said Swain, "How can we quit? Where can we go? This is the bottom of the barrel." They voted to stay and play.
"I think the players have a little bit of pride in themselves, as bad as we are," says Fichman. "That's rare at the minor league level."
Oddly, their horrendous season seems to have drawn the Pines closer together rather than split them apart. The pitchers don't blame the anemic hitters; the hitters don't blame the erratic pitchers. Indeed, the Pines have found a way to explain 108 losses without anyone looking the worse. The culprit is depth. Ask any of them: Just why have you lost so many games? Depth. You see, it's not the fault of anyone who's there. What the heck, they're all playing good. It's the guys that aren't there. A safe, faceless fellow called Depth. What's more, it's at least partly true. Hanales limits the roster to 21 players—the league permits 25—and of those, two are now injured and two others packed up and left. The bullpen is down to two full-time relievers, one of whom, Mike Brown, set a league record the other night with his 70th appearance. Says Brown, "The best thing that happened to this club all year was when the team bus broke down outside a massage parlor on the way to Winston-Salem."
Every man on the team is playing as hard as he can with the thought—delusion, more likely—that some major league organization will pick him up at the end of the year. "If you lose 8-5," says Swain, "you come back saying, 'Hey, good game.' You lose 2-1, you come back and everybody's pumped. You take the next best thing, you know?"
"It's no fun losing 108 games," says lefthanded Pitcher Bob Bresnen (1-5, 3.90), "especially in Mayberry R.F.D. The only reason you do it is because you love baseball." He sighs and leans back in the lawn chair that was his bed his first week at Rocky Mount. Four of the Pines share an apartment with him, two sleeping in the living room, one in the kitchen. The air-conditioning has been out for three weeks and it's about 100� inside with the ripe pungence of Ch�teau Sweat Socks, 1980. Says Bresnen, "All I can say is, for my first year in pro ball, this has been an experience."