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.

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