Sunday, April 25, 2010

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."

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