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Bateman Rises

No, citizen, that's not a typo

By Wayne Alan Brenner, 1:43PM, Tue. May. 22, 2012

Shotwell plays with the jacks.
Shotwell plays with the jacks.

Ken Webster of Austin, Texas, spends a lot of time inhabiting the personality of a Major League Baseball player who's been dead since 1996.

Webster is the artistic director of Austin's Hyde Park Theatre, and a fine actor in his own right, but what he's doing with the spirit & image of the late John Bateman has nothing to do with stagework.

Well, except for how Twitter and the Internet in general – all the world, as Shakespeare put it – is a sort of stage.

John Bateman, native of Killeen, was a catcher for the Houston Astros back in the 1960s, and in 1966 he set a franchise record with 16 home runs by a catcher – a record that still stands today. Ken Webster, native of Port Arthur, has been commemorating that winning year and its cultural surround tweet by tweet
as John Bateman.

I recently asked him why.

"We moved to Houston when I was a kid," says Webster. "That was the summer of 1965, and it was the first year that the Astros became the Astros. (In '62-'65, they were the Houston Colt 45s.) So I was about eight when we moved to where there was a professional baseball team. And I sort of followed them a bit that first year, but as I got a little older and started to understand the game better, I got really interested in baseball – and the Astros in particular. And John Bateman was my favorite player, mostly because I wanted to be a catcher."

Webster chuckles, remembering.

"Turns out that I wasn't a very good catcher," he says. "But I loved Bateman. There was just something about him that was … endearing. He wasn't the handsomest player in the league – which is kind of an understatement – but he was the starting catcher for the team, and in 1966 he had his best year. He probably should have made the All-Star team that year, but he was gypped out of it."

And how'd Webster get the idea to become John Bateman on Twitter?

"My original plan," he says, "I was gonna talk about the Astros of today. But, for a couple of reasons, the Astros were really bad in 2011 – they had their worst season in the history of the franchise. And a lot of these people who tweet and blog about the Astros, they can get kinda nasty about the team and certain players and the manager. And I decided I didn't wanna do that. And I got the idea of re-telling the 1966 season from a couple of different things. There was this book called Ball Four by Jim Bouton that came out in the early '70s, about Bouton's baseball season of 1969. He'd started with the Seattle Pilots and then he played for the Astros, and it was a kind of tell-all book. And I was also inspired by people who tweet as characters from Mad Men, like they're back in the '60s. So I thought, Hell, I'll do this as if I live in 1966, and I'll tweet about the Astros season and about current events in 1966 – popular culture and things like that."

"So I did that for the entire Astros '66 season," says Webster, "starting with their spring training in March. And I had so much fun doing it, and had such a positive response that I've gone ahead and now I'm doing the 1967 season as well."

Who follows Webster-as-Bateman on Twitter? A few hundred people by now. Among them: Bateman's ex-wife, Freda Bateman; Bateman's oldest child, Bill "Tiny" Bateman, now a minister in South Carolina; Astros '63-'66 pitcher Bob Bruce; former SNL writer T. Sean Shannon, who does "Baseball Card Theatre" on YouTube; Statesman sportswriters Kirk Bohls and Suzanne Halliburton.

And here are some sample tweets from the stream:

At breakfast, Rusty Staub said, "Beware The Ides of March."
I don't know what he is taking about half the time.

Thruster problems caused Gemini 8 to land early, around 3AM this morning.
Scary. Armstrong and Scott are fine. We play SF this afternoon.

Koufax and Drysdale signed movie contracts yesterday.
They both claim they are going to retire if their salary demands aren't met.

@_DonDraper We play the Mets in NYC May 10.
I'll leave a couple of tickets for you at will call.

Excited about Dodgers game tonight. Not excited about facing Koufax.
Also will miss Batman tonight. If only there was a way to record it.


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

You can follow Webster and Bateman forward into the past right here, sportslover.


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