Friday, April 30, 2010

Pre-game interview: Jon Niese

Jon Niese stopped by Mets Fan Fiction to discuss his upcoming start against the Phillies.

JN: Alright, let's do some talking!

MFF: Appreciate the enthusiasm. The Phillies have a strong lineup. What's your plan of attack?

JN: Sure, they've got thunder. But you know what comes before thunder? Little particles forming clouds, and then a lot of messed up sh** with electrons. Then lightning, then thunder. What I need to do is disrupt the process before it gets that far.

MFF: Chase Utley recently called you a sparrow. How do you respond?

JN: I'm no sparrow!

MFF: What's the best part about being a Met?

JN: Being in New York, living in the house with everyone, it's all just real exciting. [While saying these words, Niese was pointing enthusiastically to the young coconut in his hand, then rubbing his belly in a display of satisfaction.]

MFF: Describe Jon Niese in three words.

JN: Vicious, viscous, sparrow... NO!

MFF: Thanks for your time Jon, good luck tonight.

JN: Wait, who did you say you were?

Jose Reyes Is Prepared to Play the Phillies

Jose Reyes is walking down the street with a mission. There are people all around him, watching his every move, and this is what he wants, but he wants no one else to even see him. He would have sent someone else to do the job, someone not a celebrity, but he's the man for it. No one else would do. He doesn't wear sunglasses or anything else to hide who he is. He just acts like he's anybody else. Not a famous baseball player. Not a man with a plan. Not Jose Reyes.

A homeless man steps forward just enough to be poking into Jose's path.

"I just got powdered water. I don't know what to add," he says. Jose gives him a signed baseball and keeps walking. He did not fully process what the man had said, and with much of his focus already absorbed, most things that strangers say to him sound like requests for autographs. He has brought along a sack of signed balls to deal with these people quickly.

He turns on to a residential street, and his focus goes a step higher. He notices insects, dirt on cars, the length of people's fingernails. He can see from the way a man is walking that he is thinking about growing a beard. Reyes is not telepathic. He's just that locked in.

All around him, his helpers follow. They communicate through a cricket-like chirp, that they, under Jose's tutelage, have learned to communicate complex ideas through. At the moment they are gossiping about how one of them has a date, and it will be awkward and amusing if he wants to bring the date back to his apartment, because all of them live together in that apartment. They have mental space for these frivolities, for they only need follow Jose and watch for the symbol. Then it came:

"Pollo loco!"

Through intense observation Reyes had determined that this street was unoccupied and would remain so for at least another three minutes. He had also identified a target, a red house whose paint was chipped and worn. Lastly he had chosen the design. Out of necessity, certain templates were sketched out ahead of time, but even these would respond to the environment. The shape of the house, location of its doors and windows, and the whims of Jose and his helpers would all factor into the final product.

Still, the initial design goes a long way to determining their course, and immediately, large splotches of white paint are applied to the front of the home. One of the teams two detail specialists sets to work carving ridges into the white, while Jose called out more orders and colors were applied at striking speed.

Certain sacrifices had to be made due to their time constraints. Jose wants to avoid detection for obvious reasons, as do his helpers, all of whom intend to go to college, so the moment anyone approaches the street, Jose gives the signal to hide, and he goes back to pretending he is no one at all, which he can do so well, he has been to known to have long conversations with people, after which they immediately forget that they were talking to someone, and may even experience it as a sudden jump in time.

The team is trained to complete the mission in three minutes, but circumstance allows them two more, and an extra second for Jose to admire it.

Jeff Turbine returns from work. He has been thinking about dinner for two hours now. Yesterday, a friend called and asked if she could give him a lot of asparagus. "I have way too much," she explains. Jeff accepted the offer without further questions. She had too much, he had none. What's to question?

Two things actually. One: given that he planned on steaming all three bushels (not even a third of his friend's unexplained supply), and putting it over risotto, when should he add the rice wine vinegar. Probably toward the end, right? Second question: Who the hell painted an enormous chicken, fire in its eyes, venom in its beak, bristling threateningly at a life size crowd of horrified onlookers on the front of his house? The chicken had one clawed foot perched on top of Jeff's front window, and its pose was more upright than might be imagined so that its head would fit between the two second-story windows. A large egg covered all but the corners of his door.

Jeff proceeds into his house, and finding the interior unchanged, makes himself dinner, checked his email and went to bed. The next day he goes to work and noticed the chicken again on his way out, but within a few days it is normal to him. People laugh and ask him about it all the time, and he generally answers in whatever way he finds simplest for the situation. As time passes, the origins of the chicken become blurrier in his mind. Maybe he did have something to do with it. Could it really be there if he didn't?

Reyes foresaw, not just the opportunity, but these aspects of Jeff Turbines character, via the character of his house. He does not do this out of mischievousness, malevolence or charity. He does it because it requires intense focus. It makes him responsible for others and himself. There's a big series against the Phillies coming up. He needs to be in the right state of mind.

As for his helpers, they return with Jose back to the tallest building in Brooklyn Heights, chirping excitedly. When Jose says goodbye and walks up to the seventh floor, they go down a floor and push open the door with a utilitarian 00 painted on it. To everyone else, they are the Mets ball boys and girls. To Jose Reyes, they are his aids in achieving a higher focus. To Jeffrey L. Turbine, they are the strangers who one day painted a giant menacing chicken on the house he will one day raise a family in. He now has actual memories of doing it himself. He teaches his children to question societal norms. Just like dad did when he painted the chicken. It's what makes his wife fall in love with him.

"You've been moved to third in the lineup after being a leadoff guy for all these years. How does that affect your mental preparation?" Walter Elbow of Baseball Moonthly asks Reyes as they drive together to Philadelphia.

"Sometimes you want to be aggressive hitting third," Reyes counsels. "You start out subtle, just doing what you can to help the team, then BOOM! A giant chicken all over your house!"

Reyes often found he could speak openly about his travails because people tended to assume that they had misheard, or that this was an elaborate metaphor. Walter Elbow does neither, but despite the fact that he was driving the car, Reyes makes himself unimposing, barely noticed, and shortly after the drive finishes, Elbow is casually mentioning to others about how he drove in from New York by himself.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Hernandez Way

The doorman roused as the doorknob turned and someone walked in. In the blurry haze before he fully woke and put on his glasses he saw a form- a bit more portly than most that walked through those doors. Familiar? Perhaps, but not a regular.

"Be thee Met or be thee not? For only Met shall pass!" he declared while clambering around the desk for his glasses.

"Met? You betcha! Here, need proof?" The man produced a magnifying glass and held it up to his handlebar mustache. The doorman squinted forward, and yes, he believed he knew those follicles. His hand found his glasses, and now the mustache was magnified to the point that for a normally-sighted person it would be a sight reminiscent of a high-school science class.

"Keith, what are you doing here?"

"I want to personally welcome the new first baseman. Davis. Y'know, there's all kinds of whispers about the kid's potential."

"They're saying he could be the next-"

"John Olerud! I know!" said Keith, cutting him off. "Of course he needs to work on his footwork before we can really talk in those terms but-"

He was interrupted by the front door opening. Ike Davis was backing in, dragging a short leather couch.

"Let me help you with that," said Keith, jogging over to grab the other end.

"Thanks mister," said Ike. "You wouldn't believe what people leave out on the street! It's like a furniture store where everything is free, the quality varies greatly, and there are no employees!"

"Sounds like my kind of place!" said Keith, hitting the button for the elevator. Ike found this an odd comment, but he was happy that this man, with his confident air, was agreeing with him.

They managed to squeeze the both of them and the couch pushed vertically up against the wall into the elevator.

"Floor-" started Ike, but Keith had already hit the button for 29. Keith gave a smile, intended to interpret his now apparent familiarity with Ike into friendliness, but this expression, though practiced, was tinged with just enough smarminess to keep Ike off balance.

"Ike Davis," said Ike, extending his hand. This would establish a base to work with- something the man clearly already had- but the formality would make the situation a touch easier.

"I know," said Keith, shaking his hand. "I watch all your games. I believe you know me as well. I'm the guy people think of when they hear the words 'Mets First Baseman.'"

Ike's eyes widened. "Mr. Dave Kingman? Well this is an hon-"

"Kingman!? Do you know what that guy's average was?" said Keith, more pissed off than he intended.

"My dad said the most towering home run he ever gave up came off Kingman's bat," said Ike apologetically.

"Oh, he could whack 'em," Keith acknowledged with an asymmetrical smile.

The elevator opened into Ike's apartment. They carefully tipped the couch over and carried it in.

"Anywhere's good," said Ike. "We can just leave it here."

"Here? You'll cut the room in half! You need to think about where people will be and the angle they are most likely to face. Leave it here and your parties won't have any sense of community." Keith suggested and Ike agreed that the couch ought to be along the wall by the coffee table.

"Well, if you're an old Met, I bet you'd like a coconut!" said Ike, moving toward the refrigerator.

"Nah, we didn't really do that in my day. The coconuts- y'know, I mean, I guess management's really into 'em right now. There's always something. With us, if you got Davey mad during a game, he'd make you do a shot with him right there in the clubhouse."

Meanwhile, on the 20th floor, Howard Johnson, another former victim to Davey's odd punishment, had a bad feeling. He was writing poetry on the walls of his dwelling to try and get to the heart of it. This, as he told the lady in the scarlet dress that night she came over, is how he really knows what he's thinking.

It's like I've got an itch
but I don't know where it is.
I've got all this money,
but it won't buy me what I want,
which is a flying car.

HoJo thought about it. Yeah, he really did want a flying car. He had never articulated this desire to himself before, but now that he was envisioning the city whizzing by, the wind throttling his head, the thrill of the speed. Yeah...

He whacked off the top of a young coconut with a machete and got in the elevator to go take a walk. Perhaps when he was done with the coconut he would toss it into the Gowanus Canal and watch it float away.

"Afternoon, Pops," he said to the doorman as he crossed the lobby.

"Didja see your friend?" asked Pops, not looking up from his newspaper.

"Sure did, but only in my imagination. Her name was Violet. She was a flying car."

"No, the other guy." Howard looked at him puzzled. Pops passed his finger between his upper lip and nose to mime the full-bodied caterpillar of the last man to pass through. Johnson was so shocked he dropped his coconut, but caught it with his other hand.

"Still got those reflexes," admired Pops.

"Where is he?

"Helping Davis with some furniture."

"Oh no!" said Hojo, dashing for the elevator. "That's bitter sunlight for our brightest seed!"

The elevator wasn't as fast as some of the modern ones, but it got the job done. At this moment though, its deliberate speed frustrated Hojo to no end. In the brief trip from the first floor to the twenty-ninth, he found time to shout "GO GO GO!" The "goes" were heard, disembodied, by Angel Pagan, Gary Matthews Jr. and Jeff Francouer on their respective floors. Frenchy and Little Sarge were separately inspired to do nearly identical dances. Pagan happened to be flipping through a magazine and glancing at an ad for sessions in a floating tank. When he heard "GO!" he said, "Fine, I'll just do it. Will that make you happy?" There was no one there to answer his question, so he did it himself. "Perhaps it will."

As the elevator arrived at Ike Davis' apartment, Hojo could hear his old teammate's voice.

"But you can't cross your legs up like this or you'll end up like, like-"

"Like a cross-eyed ballerina!" offered Ike. 

"I like you kid," said Keith. They were bent over in anticipation of imagined ground balls. 

"HoJo! Great to see you buddy. I was just showing the kid some things here. I've noticed he gets a little crossed up sometimes."

"This ain't your place Keith," said HoJo, barely containing himself. You're not on the staff."

"Whoa, alright, I just have some knowledge that can help him out. You want to get these good habits started early."

"He's got great habits!" roared Johnson. "We don't need what you have to teach! We're doing something new here!"

"Something new? We were champions!"

"And what are we now?" Johnson was close enough to smell Keith's cologne. Desert Spice. He had worn the same one for twenty-four years. Keith's smell preference had been old enough to drink for three years. This thought hit HoJo like a fang, but the poison made him all the more righteous.

"Come on man, I was like Fred Astaire out there!" Keith went back down into his first baseman's crouch and mimed a diving grab, then taking it to the bag himself, working in an unnecessary spin move. "Hernandez gets them out of a jam again and you can PUT IT IN THE BOOKS!" he narrated.

"You just don't get it," said Johnson, brooding behind his coconut.

Keith shrugged. "I had a good time talking ball and social dynamics," he said to Ike. He got back in the elevator, which didn't seem overly slow to him. In fact it felt just right. 

Of course, his ride was shorter than Johnson's had been because he hit the button for floor 17. The apartment he stepped into was full of plants, perching, sitting and hanging everywhere they could fit. Fernando Tatis was relaxing on a bean bag chair, an electric fan only inches from his face.

"Wow, there are so many more plants than when I used to live here."

"This is obvious," said Tatis.

"Say, you play some first, Fernando," Keith started.

"Also obvious," said Tatis, "and inconsequential."

"Inconsequential? Of course it's consequential! I'll show you inconsequential!" Keith gargled the first part of the William Tell overture. Tatis had to agree, this action was of no consequence. "There's a lot of tradition behind Mets first basemen."

"Tradition? There was you. There was me. There were others. All humans. Clever fools, just doing their jobs. Soon I will be gone, and there will be others who do my job. I am merely holding a place until another human occupies it. Plants have been around for many millions of years. That is tradition. That matters. Mets first basemen are plumbers with nothing to fix. I like Ike though."

"Yeah..." said Keith, scratching the back of his head, forgetting why he'd shown up. Then he remembered. "Hey, mind if I open up vent duct for a second?" Tatis made a casual assenting motion, and Keith walked over to a corner and pushed a potted plant to one side.

"Replace the plant when you are done," he said.

Keith took a Swiss army knife out of his pocket and pulled out the screwdriver (after mistakenly going for the saw first). He took the cover off the vent and reached his arm all the way in. Tatis had been barely regarding him up until now, but he sat forward to see what came out of the duct. It was a long, tinted bottle covered in dust, half-full of a murky blue liquid.

"I used to have this with Davey Johnson, our old manager. It'll, uh... heh, y'know..." Keith made a series of expressions to indicate that he didn't have the words to finish his sentence, but this was a powerful drink.

Seventeen seconds later, Keith was pouring small amounts of the liquid into two glasses. The two players clinked glasses and downed their swigs. It was as much a feeling as a taste that hit Fernando. It seemed to awaken every cell that it touched, setting off a harsh but beautiful cacophony of sensations. Keith flashed him a knowing smile.

"This," said Tatis, "this matters."

A coconut shell lay on Howard Johnson's floor.
An old coconut
has a handsome husk,
but no water.
Like a snake, I shed my skin.
And slither on the ground.
And swallow my food whole-
sometimes taking weeks to fully think it through.
You may find it grotesque.
But I call it living.

"Not bad," said the lady who lay supine on the sofa.
"Thanks for coming on such short notice," said Howard.

"Of course." She sipped wine the same color as her dress. "What's it about?"

"This is it," said Howard, defiantly. "This is how I'm expressing what's inside of me."

She considered this as she sat up, pushing her auburn hair out of her eyes. "If you had to distill it to one sentence. If you were in court and the judge said, 'Howard Johnson, bare your soul in one complete sentence,' how would you respond?"
Howard looked at the words he'd written on his wall, taking in each one, letting each one hit him. He picked up a piece of the young coconut off his floor.

"Sometimes I feel the weight of time, like three hundred boulders pushing on me from all sides." He held eye contact with the lady for a moment brimming with meaning. "Also, Keith Hernandez is a bastard."

Nine floors above. Ike Davis was dreaming. He saw a fork in the road. Down one way, Keith Hernandez was tap-dancing, magically fielding grounders from all sides. He would pick them and then toss them into the air, where they would explode into fireworks. Down the other fork was Jerry Manuel, Dan Warthen, and the rest of the coaching staff. They stood together, mostly still, as if posing for a picture. Howard Johnson held out a young coconut, open with a straw in it.

"I guess you could call us believers," he said, echoing the first thing he had said to Ike.

Behind Ike stood his backup, Fernando Tatis. He was drinking something strange and blue. "I know which way you will choose. And I also know it is inconsequential."

"Of course it's consequential," said Ike.

"All that matters," said an old, bald man appearing behind Tatis, "is that you bring down the military-industrial complex."

"Look dude," cried Ike. "I just got called up! I know people have a lot of expectations of me, but I'm just trying to stick around!"

"Right," said the old man. "Sorry."

Keith Hernandez launched one final ground ball into the air, and everyone, even the coaching staff, watched as it exploded in blue and orange glory before fading into ash in the sky.

"You must admit," said Tatis. "That guy is cool."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Wright Time

"When to win?" his back grazed the floor. "WRIGHT NOW!" He sat up. "Am I a winner?" His shoulder blades kissed the floor in unison. "WRIGHT ON!"

David Wright was doing sit-ups. There would be time for cavorting and bandying about. This was not one of those times. This was Wright time. "I'm really a pretty chill guy. I like to hang with my buds, play a little X-Box, go for walks y'know?" This was an interview with the popular magazine Baseball Moonthly, but he had said similar sentences more times than he could count. He could enjoy his social life as long as it was balanced with Wright Time. Without Wright Time, he became moody, despondent. Instead of an even give and take in conversations he would alternate between silence and rants.

He had a narrow window before Tuesday's doubleheader, but he was making the most of it. "What's that stuff?" Lifting up, "THE WRIGHT STUFF!" When he was in the Wright Zone, images of balls well seen and well hit, groundballs stabbed and bases stolen flashed through his mind. When he said "The Wright Stuff," inevitably an image of him post swing next to those words on the back cover of the Daily News appeared on his mental screen. At this point, he was unsure if it was a memory or his imagination. He told himself that it didn't matter, but he would check every time he walked by a newspaper stand.

"Who's Wright?" Down. "I'M-"


This was weird. Damn, what was up? Everyone knew about Wright Time! You do not come to floor 5. Period!

"Who is it?"


The rookie. He'd been on the team a week. The kid didn't know. Don't be angry David- the man didn't know. He stood up and leaned casually on a pillar.

"Come on in, son!"

Ike entered and David offered up a high-five. "High-five, good to be alive!" He was trying to channel some more of the Wright Energy, but there was no denying it- the flow had been broken.

"Sure is," said Ike. "Say we're facing a knuckler today. That's like going on a jungle safari and seeing a blue whale!"

"And let me guess," said Wright, flexing, "you've never been whaling." Ike nodded. "Well then siddown and grab yourself a coconut Ishmael. Ol' Queequeg's gonna tell you how it is."

They spent the rest of the time until the team bus carried them to Flushing discussing the ins and outs of the knuckleball and how to hit it. Ike left feeling great. David felt like he had done good, but his stride was off. His Wright Time had been interrupted.

Through game 1, David managed. He had a single, a walk, a run scored on an alert play. A good game, right? Right. But not Wright. There was a short break between the two games. He knew what he had to do.

Ah, but this would be tricky. He needed privacy, and there was no obvious place to find it. The clubhouse was always occupied, the bathroom would never do, and anywhere among fans he'd get mobbed.

??      ?    Where? Where?? Where???       ?      ??
There isn't much time!!

Then it hit him: The umpires green room. It was where the umpires relaxed before and after games. It was taboo for a player to enter, but garb nangit! Ike walked in on Wright time, so if he had to pay it forward, so be it. The idea struck him while he was putting on his shoes, and he didn't take the time to put on the second one. He raced through the hallways, down paths he'd rarely been and into the umpire's green room.

"OUT" yelled Paul Nauert.

"Ignore me!" It wasn't a plea, it was a command.

"David, this is sacred territory!" said Brian Gorman. "This isn't half the respect you showed me on the field when you asked about my German shepherds!"


The umpires complained, but there was nothing they could do. David was pumping out push-ups, yelling "Which turn? WRIGHT TURN! You mean here? WRIGHT HERE!"

Now it was the umpires who were thrown off their game. The only one who didn't mind was Dan Bellino (pictured left, looking typically affable). He sat on one side of the room, puffing a pipe. "I've had better success arguing with the weather than the likes of what befloors us," he mused. "He's just a boy, distilling in his own vapors."

After ten minutes, Wright stood up. "Sorry," he said. "See you on the field!"

"Wright on," said Bellino, while the other three grumbled.

David Wright, Tuesday, April 27th 2010, doubleheader against the Dodgers:

Game 1: 1 for 3 with a single, 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 1 stolen base, 1 run.

Game 2: 3 for 3, including a 3-run triple, a double and an RBI single, 1 walk, 1 run.

Stuff and Nonsense

Through April 26th, 2010
Mike Pelfrey: 4-0, 26 innings, 18 hits, 2 earned runs, 13 walks, 19 strikeouts, 1.19 WHIP, 0.69 ERA, 1 save
John Maine: 0-1, 16.2 innings, 25 hits, 16 earned runs, 10 walks, 14 strikeouts, 2.10 WHIP, 8.64 ERA

"Let me show you irony," said Mike Pelfrey as he pushed open the door to the Lemongrass Grill on Court Street.

"Where?" asked John Maine.

"Just keep sipping that coconut, and it will come to you," said Pelfrey slyly.

"I'm sorry," said the hostess, "We do not allow drinks from outside in accordance with the health code."

"And we are not ones to be discordant," Pelfrey stated.

"I think that was George Clooney," whispered one waitress to another as the two pitchers stepped outside.

"Did you see it?"

"I think the waitress thought you were George Clooney."

"Clooney ain't got my fastball. But you saw the irony? Why is Thailand on the map? Coconuts! Why'd they kick us out? Coconuts!"

"Thailand's got a lot-"

"I know, I know, I'm oversimplifying things. It's a valid point, thought right? I'm asking you for real now John, was that a truly ironic moment?"

"For sure it was Mike."

They watched the Court Street traffic go by. A steady drizzle made everything feel busier. A homeless man approached them.

"Department of redundancy department. Hello hello!" he said in a gravelly voice. Maine gave him a nod. Pelfrey, for reasons not entirely clear, said "Goddamn!" and threw his arms up. It wasn't about the homeless man. He had barely noticed him.

"Spare some change?"

"I'm all out," said Maine. He was. "But I'll give you the meat of this coconut. It'll fill you right up!" The man accepted. Maine asked him to wait there while he went into the restaurant to ask if they could open it for him. It was taken to the kitchen where banging was heard and the coconut emerged dented but intact. Back outside, the homeless man pointed out the irony of the situation- a Thai restaurant unable to open a coconut when so much of their cuisine involves coconuts- while Pelfrey shook his head and said "You're damn right," and Maine was able to break open the coconut by spiking it on a fence.

"Let me buy you lunch," said Pelfrey. "I've got some stuff on my mind."

"This places looks good," said Maine, indicating the Lemongrass Grill with his nose. "And the staff seems nice."

"I'm not in the mood for Thai. Let's hit that deli on Court and Warren."

The first half of the lunch was silent. Maine was perpetually drawn to the motions, orders and conversations of the others in the small space, and Pelfrey was brooding, searching through thoughts, looking for the right words.

"Last year I threw three-quarters fastballs," he said finally. After everything else and those heaps of silence, Maine was expecting something deeper and less factual.

"You've got a good one," he said.

"Yeah, I'm like a bulldozer. Artless. You know what's coming. I need to pitch with more irony."

John Maine started several sentences, but none of them had middles, let alone endings, so instead he picked at the various offerings he'd picked up at the deli bar and waited for Mike to put some sense behind those words.

"We're paid like kings to hit a target. But the thing is, the target is guarded. Best guards in the world just waiting, and you don't even get to sneak up on them. So you learn to be too fast. You wheel that ball so fast you can't see it. Ah, but the guards, they're good, and they have more time than you. They catch up to your pitches. The only way past is irony. Throw it too slow. Throw it where you don't want it. Be a king and they'll knock you down, but act like a pauper and they let you pass."

At the same moment, both pitchers realized that Pelfrey was the only one talking in the deli, and he was talking loudly.

"You haven't lost a game this season," said Maine.

"I will soon if I'm all stuff. To win, you need stuff and nonsense."

John Maine only partly understood what Pelfrey was saying, but he understood well enough- well enough to be a friend and see him through to the end of the conversation. He felt a tingle in his left arm, the one he doesn't throw with, and that told him that there was truth in Pelfrey's words, and he hoped that Mike recognized this.

After the meal, they went back to the Met building, turning the doorknob with "Believe" inscribed on it, and greeted the doorman who awoke from his slumber to record their return in his notebook. They elected to take the stairs all the way up, Maine stopping on the 33rd floor, Pelfrey the next one up.

Maine looked out his window, alone now, absorbing, and then got in the elevator. He hit the button for 52, nervously imagining a conversation in which he explained that he had left some batting gloves on Razor's floor, but no one else entered the elevator and the conversation never happened.

Moving past the crimson curtains and into his candlelit den, John saw Razor Shines emerging from a trance. There was a large symbol like a spiderweb painted on one wall and a pungent incense wafting up from the floor.

"Back spasms, eh?" said Razor, donning a robe after he'd emerged from his trance and his room and they'd exchanged pleasantries. "You'll pitch on Wednesday."

"Will I be better by then?"

"That's too much future."

"You said the spasms, like everything else, they're just symptoms."

"That's right."

"Of what?"

"We'll find it."


"Peace, baby. There is no when. And when it happens, you'll be an explosion."

John wanted more, but that's all Razor had- for now anyway. He was a busy man.

"Oh and John?" Maine was just about to leave. "I can't solve all your problems before your next start. But wear these batting gloves, will ya? They might just work for you."

"Yes," he said. "Thank you Razor."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Frenchy and the Demon

Jeff Francoeur's 2009 stats, with the Atlanta Braves:
With the New York Mets:

The phone rang in Jeff Francoeur's room.

"Why hello there!" He didn't know who it was, but this is his standard telephone hello.

"You can run, but you can't hide, Frenchy."

"I didn't run, I was traded. And of course I can't hide. My employer publishes my schedule and I'm on television almost every day."

"You know what I mean!" The voice was tinny and raspy. "Enjoy your success. Soon I will I find you again, and you will swing at everything and you will once again be a factory of groundballs, pop-ups and strikeouts!"

"I just don't know if that's true," Jeff said, and hung up.

Francoeur went to his window and found ten things to laugh about. His eyes went first to the hot dog vendor on the corner of Court and Amity. That always amused him. The man with a cap and a mustache somehow finding room to pace in his little vendor box, the passersby with their newspapers, dogs sniffing in his direction.... It wasn't a joke with a punchline, just a scene he found funny. From there, he laughed about a red building, an excited dog, four people converging on the Trader Joe's entrance at the same time, a hook-shaped cloud, a church spilling tens of well dressed people out on to the street, a mailbox, an ad on a taxi cab, the fact that someone was taking a cab at 1pm, and life itself.

He withdrew from the window, laughing from laughing so much. He stumbled over to a soft rubber spot on his floor that he had especially put in to roll around when he was in a particularly feisty laughing fit. This was his joy. This was his light. This was what he did to keep the demon away.

The demon had tormented him his entire time in Atlanta. It had called him on his first day in the majors, introduced itself as failure, and announced that it would be with him until he retired. Despite this warning, the demon was a frequent, if not completely constant presence. At times it was preoccupied with other things, but its great passion seemed to be suppressing Francoeur's great talent for playing baseball.

Jeff was of two minds about the demon. These perspectives contradicted each other factually, but Francoeur was happy to keep them in a superstate of veracity. They were both true, both false, or, of course, it was one or the other. It was all these options were live at all times, though often one of them would take hold for a little while before subsiding again.

The two perspectives were this:

One: The demon was real. It existed outside of Francoeur, and was probably much older than him. This would explain, among other things, why it seemed to know things, such as the name of the president of Madagascar and the French language, that Frenchy did not. This perspective seemed to make the most sense about a third of the time.

Two: The demon existed only in Francoeur's head. He had created it out of neurosis, anxiety, and other troublemakers that lived in the subconscious. This is the assumption that Jeff worked with most of the time. It helped explain, perhaps, why the demon communicated exclusively over the phone, though not why he could hear the phone ring.

Through intuition and the help of a trusted friend, Francoeur had devised exercises that would work regardless of what the demon was. The laughing he did daily. He also had taken to walks in which he would try to hear all sorts of sounds, and see as many different colors as he could. Just once, he had done something more drastic. We'll get to that later. The next week he would be traded to the Mets. Did the ritual cause his success, or did he simply escape the demon- as the demon claimed? Did the ritual cause the trade? If he did it again, would it bring him more success, cause him to be traded again or both or neither? All were possible. All were true.

Francoeur poured a full pitcher of water on himself while lying on the floor. He felt an electric giddiness as it soaked through his shirt and wet his skin. He felt tears of joy approach his eyes from within. He didn't know why and it didn't matter. He had been worried that the Braves might come to New York and bring the demon with them, but he had doubled in the first game and again in the second. That second double scored the game's winning run.

"Today, I'll just make it rain," he said out loud.

He had meant that he would get a bunch of hits, or at least that's what he assumed he meant. He thought back to those words when the umpires called for the field to be covered in tarps to fend off the pouring rain. The Mets were up 1-0. They had been in danger almost every inning, but the Braves had not scored, and if the rain, not the pitchers or anything else but the rain, could hold, well they had just finished the fifth inning. The game was official.

Francoeur kept things loose in the dugout, joking around, asking Bay to do the Bay Bridge, juggling coconuts, but inside he wondered. Had he found a good demon? Or was he the good demon? Or was it all in his head? All these things were true and none of them were. The umpires were waving their arms to signal that the game had been called on account of rain. The Mets had swept the Braves. It just tickled him to be alive.

A Very Long Walk

The man looked over at the stranger sitting at the bar. He knew he was a stranger. He knew the whole town. He was at the bar every day. There weren't too many places to go in these parts of southern North Carolina. The stranger just sat there, looking straight forward, a cumbersome sack on each side of him. He was drinking water. After some time the bartender brought him his food, which was a plain salad, the only flavor coming from the scant carrot shavings. No one ever ordered just the salad. It was on the menu just to be there. To hold the place of "salad." The bartender probably had to purchase the ingredients from next door. The stranger picked at it methodically. A machine refueling- but the fuel barely offered more than what it took to absorb.

"May I?" said the man, making an easy approach. No need to be unfriendly unless the stranger gave him a reason. The stranger silently indicated the stool next to him.

"We don't get too many visitors to these parts."

"I won't be here long." He had a Mexican accent to match his tan skin.

"Are you here on business?"

"Only my own."

"And what might that be?"

The stranger reached down and lifted one of the sacks that was slumped on the floor. He reached in without looking and produced a baseball and gripped it with two fingers over the top, and the others carefully arranged along the side.

"I throw this," he said.

"What, you're a pitcher? For like a baseball team?"


"Have I heard of you?"

"Have you heard of Oliver Perez?"


"Then you have not heard of me. You have only seen me. And before long, I will be gone."

"Well where are you going Mr. Perez? Or is it Senor Perez? And by the way, how are you going? I didn't see a car or a motorbike or nuthin."

"I am walking."

"Walking? Here? You ain't near anything here. Where you walking to?"


The man guffawed and fell off his stool laughing. Several people came over to help him up.

"This guy's walkin ta FLORIDA!" he hollered. "And after that, he's gonna SWIM TO MADAGASCAR!"

"I have walked here from New York," said Perez, still staring straight ahead. "Florida is not much further."

Oliver Perez had many such interactions on his long walk. Mostly though, it was a solitary venture. When he had a revelation, he would pull out a baseball and throw it. Often it was the slider, sometimes the changeup, sometimes the fastball. When he needed nourishment he would reach into his other sack and pull out a young coconut. Often he would need his creativity as much as his strength to open it without losing the precious water inside. He would throw them, drop them, hit them with sticks- anything that worked. He subsisted largely on coconut water and meat for his sojourn. When he needed a little variety and a chair to sit on, he would stop somewhere such as the bar. He did not do this often, for the interactions he had were so often odd and distracting, but this was part of the journey as well.

On Friday, April 9th, Dan Warthen, the team's pitching coach, took the elevator down from the 59th floor to the 46th.

"Ollie, it's me, Dan, Dan Warthen. Can I come in?"

Perez was sitting on a comfortable chair, sipping water, staring straight ahead. He indicated the seat next to him. Warthen removed his shoes and joined him.

"Ollie, it's your first start tomorrow. I want to talk about how you are going to approach the National's lineup.

Perez sipped his water. He crossed his right leg over his left, his feet sore but knowledgeable; his arm with several conclusions and many ideas; his shoulders burly from carrying both sacks for so long. He sipped his water again and looked Dan Warthen in the eye.

"I will throw my fastball. I will throw my slider. I will throw my changeup." He leaned back, enjoying the delicate leather texture of his seat. "And then I will swim to Madagascar."

Enter Ike

Ike Davis looked up at the building, so much taller than the others around it in Brooklyn Heights, but otherwise inconspicuous with its grey facade and worn down awning. The only thing distinguishing it from an oversized apartment building were the letters on the doorknob that he turned with just a hint of tentativeness: "Believe."

A scraggly doorman slept on the sports section of the Daily News as he entered. "Hello?" tried Ike, trying to simultaneously make this man aware of his presence and respect his wishes to sleep. He repeated himself louder when the man didn't stir, but still to no avail.

At last he resorted to ringing the bell, hoping someone else might come out.

Like a shot of electricity went through him, the scraggly doorman burst into activity.
"Well now well now, be thee Met or be thee not for only Mets shall pass."

"I'm Met I think," said Ike with a tepid self-deprecating chuckle.

"You're new then," said the little man, squonching up his already barely visible eyes.

"Yes. Just got called up today. I'm the first baseman." The man leafed through a notebook with hundreds of pages worn down through the subtle forces that wear all things down given enough time. A potted plant that looked just a little bit sad looked down at the notebook too.

"Ah, there you are. Davis. Ike. You gonna make the boys proud Ike?"

"I'll try my best to-"

"To what son?"

"To score a lot of runs. And hit them too."

Ike Davis thought about the awkwardness of his phrasing. He had had an inexplicable urge to say "to end the military-industrial complex," but managed to swallow it before it came out. He had plenty of time to think about it as the elevator brought him up slowly enough to notice every floor on the way to the 42nd. The buttons went up to 99.

The elevator opened up onto an apartment with stylish leather couches, a dining room table littered with glasses and bottles, a TV blaring in one corner and video games firing up in the other. Also in the room were 27 other men. A Dominican with dreds, lithe and shirtless, half-leaning against the wall, said "Es Ike! El savior esta aqui!" Ike recognized his from TV as Jose Reyes. He recognized many of them, but he had his own life to attend to, and he hadn't seen all of them.

A man wearing a shirt with a lion looking nobly into the distance. He led with his pecs, stepping them forward as he walked. He stuck out a handshake, and said "David Wright. Glad to have you on the team. Take a seat. Razor, open this man a coconut!"

Ike was sat down in a chair at the end of the dining room table as an African American man who was older than all but a few of them there took a machete to a young coconut and poured the liquid into a glass.

"To your health and continued success in your short little moment in this slammin cosmic dance," said Razor Shines through a grin and sunglasses.

The coconut water was intensely refreshing, and Ike felt more vivacious with every sip. Soon he was chatting lively with anyone who would come over to his chair. He spoke to Alex Cora about the various mountains they had climbed and to Rod Barajas about the most embarrassing things they'd said in the middle of a class. Jason Bay spent most of the night playing video games, but he did come over at one point to ask if Ike wanted to see the Bay Bridge. "The..." said Ike, hoping Bay would finish his sentence.

Without warning Bay leapt toward the ground and caught himself with his hands, bringing himself down slowly. He then flipped over, caught himself in a bridge lifted himself into a handstand and then folded himself perfectly into a standing position. "That's the Bay Bridge baby!" he shouted, punching the air. He and Davis high-fived, and then Bay whacked open another coconut and went back to Mario Kart.

Jerry Manuel was in the midst of rubbing a light blue cream on his nose when Ike Davis walked in, but he stopped what he was doing to welcome his new player.

"You'll be on 29 once the week is out, but for now I can only offer you this corner of the den."

Ike looked at him quizzically.

"You will have the entire 29th floor," repeated Jerry. "But this week we are all staying here."

Ike didn't want to be rude, but given the enormous size of this building and the compactness of this one floor, and the great number of Mets...

"I know what you're thinking," said Howard Johnson, who had appeared behind him with a coconut with a straw sticking out of it. "You are thinking we are all insane. That the vapors of untruth have whirled into our nostrils. And at that you may be correct Ike. But we are the Mets. We do things this way, because- well Ike, I guess you could call us believers. This week we're all wearing 42 because it's Jackie Robinson week. So we're all staying on 42 too. That's how it works."

"Well," said Ike. "I do sure like this coconut water."