Monday, April 14, 2014

Lagares Goes On A Residency


“There is a time in every young whackstick player’s life that they must experience the power of strength,” said Terry Collins to a curious Juan Lagares, during a break in Mets throwing practice at Cobble Hill Park. “The time for you is now, Juan, I am giving you a residency in being a good hitter.”

“Cool,” said Lagares, as he watched Daniel Murphy receive a throw from behind a cement dolphin. “I definitely don’t understand.”

“Think of it as a retreat, like when people go into the woods to paint stuff for like two weeks,” Collins explained.

“I’m good on that concept,” said Lagares. “Never tried it myself, except for a certain incident in which the spirit of yage commanded me to make the mark of my soul on a tree above a wasps nest several hundred feet above the ground, but I don’t think that’s what you’re getting at.”

“Well,” said Collins, leaning forward, “I’m glad you had that experience. There is no doubt in my mind it will help you with this. I’ve been talking with Sanderson and the others, and we all agree that you are the best fielder in the world. Actually, it’s between you and this Tibetan lady, but she doesn’t play baseball. Anyway, we are going to have you be a superior hitter for a few weeks to see if it takes.”

Lagares lowered his glove and snagged a baseball that had darted his way. He signed it with the name of his favorite sandwich, then threw it over the park fence to Lucas Duda, who was standing next to Ted and Honey. Duda abided, and went into Ted and Honey to get Lagares his lunch of choice. He also picked up some artisanal honey and expensive yet irresistible crackers. The cashier mentioned to Duda that those crackers inspired him to come up with his own spread, which is a combination of several nut butters and habanero paste.

“I’ll take three jars,” said Duda.

Back at the park, Terry Collins was looking at birds and saying stuff.

“I know what you’re thinking,” said Collins, “because you just told me while Lucas ordered your sandwich. If you could suddenly become a better hitter, you would do it. But—and not that many people know this—that’s not how baseball works. You can always try being someone else for a little while. We call it the Agbayani Project. You don’t have to do anything. In fact, most teams don’t even tell their players about their residencies, but we’re trying to be ethical about it. Which reminds me, we’re also going to give you a silver fingernail to scuff up the ball whenever you catch a fly. It makes the pitches bend more, and no one suspects the centerfielder.”

Lagares nodded, for this last he knew to be true. No one ever suspects the centerfielder.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Opening Day, 2014

It was opening day, and the Mets were jazzed. Imaginary little musical notes emanated from their struts.
“Wright year!” declared the star third baseman, pulling on his cleats in the clubhouse.
“It’ll be grand,” agreed Curtis, their well paid acquisition, as he chose from his 42 baseball gloves.
“I’m kind of the best human at baseball,” Lagares noted.
Standing in the middle of the room, nervously cupping his hands, stood Terry Collins. He had to give one of those beginning of the year speeches. Everything that went wrong for the next six months would make him think of whatever he was about to say next, and wonder if they were connected.
“We all have dreams,” he began, and then he snuck in a quick fist pump, because that seemed like a really good intro.
“I’m really glad you brought this up,” said Ike Davis, jumping in. “I had a dream about this team last night. I was riding a horse through a pretty badass field, and I just felt really free and optimistic. It made me think this is going to be a big year for all of us.”
“How does riding a horse relate to the Mets?” asked Travis d’Arnaud, who was a rookie, and still had so much to learn.
“Oh yeah, I left that part out,” said Ike. “See, last year right before the season started, I had this dream where—you know that scene in The Iliad where Achilles’ horse turns to him, and the horse is like, ‘You’re gonna die in this war, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s just how it works in this Greco-Roman mindfuck?—I had a dream that I was Achilles, but I was kind of also the horse, and Achilles was sort of the Mets. Then LBJ was there for some reason, and he said something about how ‘don’t worry, no one’s perfect,’ and I said, ‘yeah, but this still sucks,’ and the horse told me that I should have seen this coming.
“Last night’s dream also had a horse, but it wasn’t foreboding like the one I had in 2013, and 2013 turned out to be truly sub-optimal.”
The Mets nodded sagely. Ike’s dream was good news indeed.
“Yeah, um, good,” said Collins, trying to salvage his speech. “So listen, this is going to be a long year.”
“Because nothing lengthens time like success!” interrupted Eric Young.
The outfield high-fived each other in response. Collins nodded anxiously. He was already planning to say “nothing succeeds like success” at some point, but  he felt like he couldn’t now.
“But baseball is,” Collins paused for effect. He wanted his next words to sound well thought out.
The Mets all jumped and cheered on being reminded that the sport they play for a living exists. With no one saying that they should do so, they trotted out of the clubhouse on to the field, filled with exuberance.
Only Bobby Parnell hung back. As the closer he wouldn’t be needed for a while, but that wasn’t why. He had somehow forgotten to put on pants. Fortunately no one seemed to have noticed.

Collins did notice, however. Because he’s a good manager, he pretended not to. He couldn’t help but think that for Parnell, the start of the year was like a bad dream. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

In Which John Buck & Marlon Byrd Appear To Have Been Traded To The Orioles



John Buck tried to maintain his cool when he stepped onto the elevator on the 44th floor of the 100 story
Met building. He could not maintain his cool. He wore the mortified expression of a man who has invited everyone to his home for a barbecue, given specific instructions on what everyone should bring, and only half an hour into the gathering does he realize that he owns no grill on which to operate. He tried to say hello to Marlon Byrd as he stepped onto the elevator, but it came out as,

“Help!”

He tried to cover for it by singing the Beatles’ song by that name, which he did for the remaining 56 floors on their not especially fast elevator journey to Sandy Alderson’s office.

Marlon Byrd was also an ecosystem of emotions, but not related to the fact that he assumed that his GM was almost certainly about to tell him he had just been traded. Byrd’s emotions, for reasons that would take a lot of explaining, had mostly to do with the GDP of Luxembourg. He wore Google Glass within his shades, and used it exclusively to monitor the minute fluctuations of the tiny European country’s gross domestic product.

The elevator opened. The two men advanced forward, dancing to different beats. Byrd entered with a strut, related mostly to an unusually large order of pizza, muffins and vintage scotch for a poorly planned but well funded party in Ettelbruck. Buck tried to look upbeat by doing his special shamble gallop, which is his fastest means of self-propelled locomotion, and can occasionally be seen on close plays.

“Gents,” said Sandy Alderson, wearing a fedora, “have a seat.”

Byrd and Buck sat in large, almost throne-like chairs across a formidable desk from Alderson.
“Scotch?” offered the GM. Both players nodded, thinking that this was their final scotch as Mets. As residents of the Met building. As humans who could answer in the affirmative when the Met doorman asked “Be you Met or be you not, for only Met shall pass.”

“Help yourself to food too,” said Alderson, gesturing to a table with partly eaten pizza pies and tumbled muffins. “We were just hosting a few other GMs. People with strange amounts of power and money prefer to have strange tastes so that they can claim some sort of logic to how it all shook out.”

Alderson turned to face the window, pulling a lit cigar from somewhere in the rim of his fedora. He puffed. Buck started to take his shoes off, and then realized there was no reason to and he was just doing random stuff because he was nervous.

“Before long, you will see reports that both of you have been traded to the Orioles for Gausman and Bundy,” said Alderson.

Buck made a noise of mourning. It sounded like the average noise that people imagine walruses making.
“I did notice,” said Byrd, eyeing his GM through impenetrable shades, “that you said we will see reports. 

"That’s a funny way to say we’ve been traded. So maybe we haven’t been traded. Maybe there’s another explanation.”

“You have a mind for this business, Marlon,” said Alderson. “Neither of you have been traded, but try not to explicitly deny it when reporters ask you. Come look at something.” Alderson waved them over to his computer. There was a dark and grainy video of the inside of a truck bumping along the highway. There was something large in there. Long muscular legs, cloven hooves, a submarine of a body, and its head was crowned with mighty antlers.

“An antelope?” tried Buck.

“A buck,” answered Alderson.

An orange flash whizzed by the camera.

“A  bird?” asked Byrd.

“An oriole,” said Alderson. “And also an Oriole.”

At this point he let fly with a truly mighty laugh. Buck and Byrd laughed along, because they were confused and intimidated.

“Amidst all the language of passing physicals and insurance policies, no one notices when you swap out ‘John Buck’ for ‘John the Buck’ or ‘Marlon Byrd’ for ‘Marlon the Byrd.’ Players with animal names are the new market inefficiency!”

“So…” said Buck, slowly processing, the Orioles think we’re getting us, but they’re getting an actual buck and a bird?”

“Correct,” said Alderson, returning to his scotch and cigar.

“One question,” said Byrd. “In any trade the players have to pass a physical before the deal is complete. How’s that going to work with these animals?”

“You really think that buck is going to fail a physical? That thing is a natural miracle! And as for the oriole, the thing can fly!”

“One more question,” said Byrd. “We’re…not good enough to get either Gausman or Bundy. How did you get both?”

Alderson grinned. “The Orioles are also getting an invisible rabbit named Matt.”

Byrd and Buck smiled as the elevator doors closed. Buck sunk his teeth into a blueberry muffin. Byrd was pleased with a series of credit card transfers made solely to get flight miles, but which also served to raise the GDP of Luxembourg. 

And they were both Mets.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Baxter the Flying Sleepwalker

 "So, Mike Baxter walks into a bar," said J Bay. The Mets guffawed like panthers. They were, as they always were on mornings in San Diego, at Maple Mary's Home for Young Coconuts. They were swigging from young coconuts.

"Every time Mike Baxter comes to a street corner, both signs change to walk," said Andres Torres. The Mets snickered like whales.

Scott Hairston had one: "Mike Baxter was running errands, and I was like, there's no need for that." The Mets chuffed like mailboxes.

Ruben Tejada waggled with anticipation: "Mike Baxter drinks only Johnny Walker." Baxter nodded. The Mets chortled like rivulets.

Ike Davis was finally ready: "Mike Baxter was at the opera, and he was like, 'what's going on?' and someone tried to explain the plot to him, but he still didn't get it, because he hadn't noticed the subtitles above the stage." Everyone, even Maple Mary, was silent. "And then he walked into the lobby." The Mets hollered like faraway sirens.

"But on a less fluffy note," Valdespin began, and the Mets quickly became less fluffy to be prepared for the remainder of Jordany's sentence, "how did you draw all those walks?"

Baxter thought back to his days in the Met Hospital. Sometimes he played cards with Gee and Santana. He watched the Mets on TVs in every room. He chatted up Paul Wilson, who still came by just to say hi.

But mostly, he slept. Out of fatigue and boredom, sure, but also because sleep brought him closer to something. As he slept, he had vivid dreams of Citi Field. He walked over the metal bleachers. He tiptoed across the bullpen wall. He fluttered on down to the field. An inky figure flitted through the air. Then another one. They were tall, nearly two-dimensional. Blotty secretions of a fountain pen, hovering and zipping through the air.

"Slards. All of them slards." It was Razor Shines, sitting besunglassed on the bullpen wall. Fans flooded the stadium like someone had left the faucet on. Mets arrived, as did Gnats. The slards remained. The Mets clobbered the baseball and baseball itself with pure success, but at every last moment, a slard nudged the ball just a little bit that way, causing pop-ups, strikeouts and other-team victory. Failure itself mingled in the air.

"Damn slards!" shouted Baxter.

"Sleep," said Shines.

"But I'm already-"

"Sleep anyway."

So within his dream, Mike Baxter went to sleep. As he drifted off he heard a scurrying noise, and he knew that somehow, the slards were repulsed by his sleep.

A week later he was back on the team, wondering how he would ever beat the slards. And then it happened. He fell asleep within his inner sleep, and his outer stayed awake the whole time. It was indelibly crispy, and I'm not just saying that.

"Ready for some baseball?" asked manager Collins in a rhetorical, "let's get excited," sort of way.

"My spirit animal is the aye-aye," said Baxter.


For the entire game, the slards could do little to help the Padres, and got the hell out of there whenever Baxter came to bat. Dude walked five times. It was boggle-minding.

Back at Maple Mary's, Baxter sipped a coconut, as he pondered what to say to Valdespin.

"Mike Baxter got a job as a dogwalker," said Mike Baxter, "because all he needed was the dog." The Mets laughed like lampshades. With each zuoprring (the standard unit of laughter), they woke a little more within waking. They slept a little more within sleep.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Reason the Mets Lose


Terry Collins looked out over Brooklyn. Behind him, his apartment percolated in stillness. A tube of red lipstick, and the charming burn of roasting coffee beans wafted about his smaller table. He could explain neither. But that was not the conundrum on which he gribbled, as hot clouds made everything, if not a considerable nuisance, than at least something which could be considered a nuisance. Everything was a little bit crowded. A mood stung the entire outside like a coat of gesso. The Mets--the Mets--had just been swept by the Braves.



A text sprang from his phone. From Turner: "Put me in coach!" Maybe, Collins sighed.
Terry Collins was, by most metrics, a simple man. He thought that sunglasses looked cool, though he didn't dare wear them. He liked being around people and being alone in a 3 to 1 ratio, though being alone was his favorite part. His favorite lunch order was "the usual," wherever the staff knew what that meant. And, simplest of all, Collins did not like to lose. He listened to Phil Collins in times like these, on the theory that they are probably distant relatives.

His phone rang. Alderson. "My office." Click.

In two cognitive steps, Collins was on the elevator. The ascent from the tenth floor was gradual enough to allow Collins ample time to think on the climb to floor one hundred, but not so slow that he could think only of the slowness itself.

"They wouldn't fire me, would they?" he said to the nothing. "We'll rise again. I still have this group ready to tap dance at a wave of my hand! I should show that to Sandy! He'd be impressed!"

The door opened to darkness. Anonymous fear gurgled in Collins as he stepped forward.

"Advance ten steps in darkness," came the voice of the GM.

Collins walked. One, two, three, three, five, six, six, eight, nine, ten. A light clicked on. Alderson and Depodesta sat in gothic shadows behind a gargoyle of a desk. Alderson gestured to an open seat next to him, behind the desk. Behind the desk, thought Collins. Whoa. He walked over and sat down. The three of them facing outward.

"For years, I have studied why baseball teams win and lose."

Collins gave several urgent nods. "OBP, wOBA, park factor," he stammered. He had been studying.

"Yes," intoned Depo, "those are charming distractions, aren't they?"

"Distractions?"

"Look at these," said Alderson. A series of photographs lay on the desk. Murphy swinging over a curveball, Torres hitting a weak chopper to second, Duda losing a chess match with the right field wall. And then others: the team joshing about in the clubhouse, the bullpen warming up with a little croquet, Bay ordering a sandwich.

"Do you see?" asked Depo. Collins was silent. "Look for an inky presence, a pen line hanging in space."

"It's clearest in this one," said Alderson, pointing to the bullpen shot.

Collins stared, but still did not see. Perhaps it was like one of those magic eye things. His vision fuzzed for a moment, and he lifted his hands to rub his eyes. Then stopped. A mostly vertical swoosh, so close to two-dimensional that it seemed to bend the space around it, lurked behind Beato. Alderson noticed Collins' recognition.

"And this one," he said, indicating Murphy's feeble swing. "See?"

Again, there was nothing, save what was obvious, until Collins fuzzed his eyes, and then...yeah. It was like a misplaced shadow. Tall, shaped, perhaps, like a ghostly, swooshing letter P.

"And here," said Sandy, pointing to Duda's wall fail. Terry found it quickly this time. An inky presence hovering around him. Near the top, spooky and unmistakable, Collins saw an eye.

"What?!" he gasped, "what in the grib snibblin...what in the crish crash...what in the itchy edgy alzarootog..." He leaned against the desk to catch his breath.

"What is that?" he asked.

Alderson looked at Depo, then at Collins, then at life itself.

"It's a slard," he said. "We don't know what they are, not exactly anyway, but we know this: they make us lose. If we ever are to win, really win, truly truly conquer, we must first deal with the slards.

The elevator ended its slow, hundred-story descent and deposited a frazzled Collins in the lobby. Turner approached him, a wide-eyed puppy dog.

"Hey Skip! Just the guy I was looking for! Say, I'm feeling different. Like maybe I could really whack some spheres! Whaddya say, Skip, how bout some starts at second?"

Collins looked at him through a haze of thought and emotion. His eyes blurred from the moment. Turner was merely an excited fuzzy presence. And behind him. Behind him, an inky presence. Strange. Lonely. Determined.

"Whaddya say, Skip?"

Friday, July 6, 2012

Wright Wrights Himself, Conquers Phillies

In the somber of October, David Wright wandered the streets of Manhattan. His team, the Metropolitans of More Recent York, had won only 77 games in the recently ended season, which might sound like a lot, but, dear reader, you will be shocked and perplexed to learn that a baseball season consists of 162 games. I know. So, while the Improbable Red Birds continued their unlikely flight toward glory, Wright wandered through Battery Park, observing improbable red birds. One of the birds said, "eetootapyeyeploosswaneekwallsssero."

"Yeah, I know Euler's identity," huffed Wright, perhaps harsher than he meant. See, it wasn't just another losing season that bothered David. It was his Wright Time. It hadn't been truly Wright for a while. Many overlong afternoons, he had lambled in his apartment on floor 5 of the Met building.

"Whose Wright?" he asked, in a boxer's pose. "I'M WRIGHT!" throwing a punch.
"What stuff?" ducking imaginary attacks. "The WRIGHT STUFF!" tackling invisible adversaries.

And somehow it just didn't have the same magic.

David purchased a bagel.

"You know," said the bagel merchant, "it's only a matter of time before the ostrich within us swallows the ostrich without us."

"Yeah," sighed Wright, "I know."

He stepped out into the street with a hearty bite. He heard a commotion.

"Mic check!" "MIC CHECK!" "General Assembly..." "GENERAL ASSEMBLY..." "is called to order." "IS CALLED TO ORDER."

Humans, so many of them, gathered together. Yeah. Wright approached.

Over the course of three hours, many things were said, and all of them were repeated by the masses. Through this strange practice, decisions were made, resolutions enacted, societies built, bagels consumed.

"You there," said Max, pointing to Wright, "you look like you have a thing to say, and a missile to whistle, if I may." Hand gestures from the crowd indicated that most people agreed that he may.

"Well I suppose..." said Wright, nervously fwapping his batting gloves. He walked in front of everyone. So many eyes.

"Whose Wright?" he started. "WHOSE WRIGHT?" The eyes gleamed at him. It was the gleaming that did it. He felt catharsis lingering in his nose, as he said.

"I'M WRIGHT!"

Hundreds of voices: "I'M WRIGHT!"

A flock of red birds flew past. They heard a larger flock of people below, saying these words:
"What angle? WRIGHT ANGLE!"
"What's on? WRIGHT ON!"
"What this minute? WRIGHT THIS MINUTE!"

David Wright felt majestic. Like he was ready to crush dreams with his fist. The resident of Zuccotti Park felt pretty nifty too. They hadn't been planning on keeping this whole occupation going, but all of a sudden they felt the resolve to survive weather, dicey internal politics and even dicier external politics.

July 5th, 2012
In the third, Hamels pitching with two on: "WRIGHT WHACK!" for a single.

In the fifth, with a man on. Hamels winds up, and Tejada, leading off first, asks, "What kablango?" To which Wright: "WRIGHT KABLANGO!" for a home run. "Doesn't that bug you?" Ruiz asked Hamels as he gave him a fresh sphere. "In spite of myself, I'm pretty into it," said Hamels.

And then in the ninth, it might not have mattered. All that fine whack-stick from Wright, and yet the Philistines led. More than that, they were ready. Wright would unleash his Wright power and whack a line drive. They knew it was coming.
Tejada led off first. "What game-winning single?" he asked.
Wright grinned a grin. He saw how they angled to cut off his Wright angles. Well he had a sneak attack.
"BLOOP GAME-WINNING SINGLE!"

Which of course, is exactly what happened.

"Turner!" barked the skipper. "Get the pie!"