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?"


"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.


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.

Which of course, is exactly what happened.

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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dickey's Secret of Imperfection

June 29, 2012, 2nd inning

R.A. Dickey stands on the rubber. He knows Thole is there, 60 feet and a bit away, crouching for some reason. Behind him, an old guy wearing a mask. Funny old man, thinks R.A. I bet he wears mismatching socks on Tuesdays. All these peculiar fellows, Dickey knows they are there, but he doesn't see them. He sees that aggressive lad with the wooden bludgeoning object least of all. Sure, there are blurry forms whiffling and waffling in the air. Humanoid clouds, you could say. No, what R.A. sees are lines. They squiggle from the ball that rotates breezily in his hand and take a variety of lost-in-the-woods paths toward the white pentagon. Thole's dinner plate he calls it.

He selects one of the lines, yes, that will do splendidly, winds up and tosses. The ball follows the invisible line like it was on a train track arranged by a think tank of chaotic lunatics. R.A. feels a subtle breeze from that guy to Thole's left waving the stick. He had tried to study the various stick wavers, learn their particular dances, but there were so many dances with so few stories. Rarely a narrative solid enough to hang a hat on. Instead...

January 13, 2012

R.A. Dickey stands on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Winds that could break the sound barrier if they really felt like it lash him from all sides, but he does not mind. He's made it to the top. It's more charming than he ever could have imagined.

"The mountain," he says, dashing a little whiskey in his tea, "it's got a real charisma."

"Sure," says Kevin Slowey, "nice view."

"It really gets to know you. Each step, is like a step the mountain takes into your soul. We've taken twenty-eight thousand nine hundred and fourteen steps on this mountain. It was the least I could do."

Their guide pointed out various landmarks, such as the Sphinx and Norway, but Dickey couldn't hear. He was having a different sort of conversation.

"Sup?" said the mountain. Only R.A. could hear.

"I didn't expect you to be so..." said Dickey. Everyone could hear him.

"I get that a lot. So what brings you here?" the mountain asked. Like a bartender, it had some stock questions to get people going.

"Well, I was sitting in the dugout one day, trying to figure out some stuff about will power and quantum probability, and I got stuck, so I said, 'Shucks! I'm climbing the highest mountain in Africa!' Turned out that was you."

"Oh," said Kilimanjaro. "Easy 'nuff."

A mighty gust blew straight at R.A. He absorbed it completely, though it did sting. Mountain wisdom is not to be turned away from.

He opened his eyes. The people around him were fuzzy orbs, but all the paths down the mountain appeared to him as squiggled lines scratched into space. They hung there, definite and clever.

"Oh, Dickey?" said the mountain, "one thing."

"Yeah dude?"

"The magic will wear off if you ever use it to perfection. In every adventure, there must be one stumble, one error. Do not deal in perfect forms. I mean, I did once and look at me. Now I'm a mountain!"

Dickey and the mountain chuckled (which for a mountain means a small earthquiake).

"Nice one!" said Dickey.

"Sorry, a little cheesy mountain humor," it said.

"No, that was good. I'm going to tell that one to friends back home."

"Nah, it only makes sense if you're a mountain. And remember, at least one baserunner every game or you have to climb back up here to re-up."

"Cool," said Dickey. "Later."

Kevin Slowey stopped taking pictures for a moment. "Hey R.A., great view huh. By the way, who were you talking to?"

June 29, 2012, 3rd inning

Aaron Harang hits a catchable bing bong to centerfield. As Dickey watched it from the mound, he felt perfection welling up within him. The discoball of pure excellence rotated invisibly, threatening to reflect its beam directly into Dickey's forehead.

Just then, Andres Torres thought about his recent trip to a mushroom sorting plant. Well this is interesting, he recalled himself thinking. And then he realized that he had had that EXACT SAME THOUGHT about a falling palm frond that he had observed from a Los Angelos taxi cab. Ain't that somethin'. The ball dropped in front of him for a lazy single. Perfection averted.

R.A. Dickey took the ball again, ready to throw it perfectly straight and bend the world a few inches this way and that while the ball was mid-flight. Somehow Thole always caught them.

Mt. Kilimanjaro watches the game on its laptop.

"Hey Nile," it says, "I taught this guy everything he knows."

"What are you talking about?" gurgled the River Nile.

"This pitcher. His name's R.A. Dickey. I'm the reason he's so good."

"That doesn't make any sense," was the bubbling reply.

"Whatever. Hey, could you throw me a beer."

And then, Mt, Kilimanjaro drank a beer.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Fact: Johan Santana Pitched a No Hitter

Johan Santana awoke. He was in a room: that much was clear. Little else was. There were pictures of...himself...and members. Him and family members. He looked out the window. Cars. Streets. Honk honk. Humans traversing, conversing, commercing. Fair enough. Foul enough too. Fair is foul and foul is fair. I really need to cut my hair, he thought, catching his reflection in a mysterious snow globe of a made up land called New Yorkci.

A phone. Well now isn't this interesting. How satisfying the plastic felt in the intelligence of his hands. So brassy. Clean jazz. An uncountable number of buttons gleamed at him with enough upward jut to catch the rays from the gigantic sphere of fire, so far away. Zero seemed a fine number. He pressed it. He examined the other numbers, wondering which to pick next, when the ear piece purred, and then said, "Morning Johan."

"Yes, that is who I am," he recalled. "Can you tell me where I am?"

"You are on the 57th floor of the Met Tower," said the voice. "And you shouldn't be for long. You are pitching tonight."

"Pitching? Pitching..."

"Johan, why don't you come down to the lobby. It sounds like you need some explaining done."

The doorman of the Mets Tower was mysterious, in that it was ambiguous just how mysterious he was. He was a scruffy old man they called "Pops." He read the paper. When a stranger entered, he said, "Be you Met or be you not? For only Met shall pass." But questions hovered. What was his real name? Where did he live? What plane did he arrive from?

The elevator door opened in the lobby. Santana stayed in it, examining the buttons, dissatisfied.

"Over here," said Pops, absentmindedly scruffling his newspaper in his hands. The consonants started to slide off, leaving a bunch of shapeless vowels, but Pops brushed the consonants back on, and most of them found their original spot.

Santana wandered into the lobby. "See this?" said Pops, holding up a baseball. "You throw these?"

"Do I?"

"You used to be the best at throwing these," said Pops.

"Was I?"

"Observe," said Pops. He stood up into an awkward pose, his legs too far apart, his arms an unmixing combination of ragdoll and robot. "See the wall?" he asked, getting a little trancy, "pick the spot you don't like."

Johan had no trouble with this task. There was a spot eleven inches off the ground that was grimy without grime, shadowy without shadows, cynical without sentience. Johan pointed to it.

"Me too," said Pops. His arms seemed to rotate in slow motion. Torque itself was visible. His legs jimmy-jambled with incredible precision. He released the ball. Somewhere in the world, at that moment, a match had begun to spark. It was in that impossible moment between spark and flame. The ball flew across the lobby and hit the worst spot on the wall. Only as dust erupted around the ball did the flame splash into existence.

"Now you," said Pops.

Johan Santana, his memory empty except for sprinkles of this and that, and the memory of the pitch Pops had just thrown, took the ball, walked back, jimmy-jambled his legs, flamble-rambled his arms, released the ball just so. It thunked the spot with a pleasing boom. He threw another that glammered upward before thunking into the spot. Another swooped to the side and then sashayed into the spot.

"Thanks Pops," said Johan.

"Call me Sidd," said Pops.

This way and that, the ball snarpled and dove against the Saint Louis Birds of Fire. They were under and over it like amateur bettors with too much money. Beltran was cool to fate's peculiar draw. Yadier of Doom waved his doomstick, but Mike Baxter became Achilles for a moment, knowing that he would succeed and then die, and was okay with that. If ends up on the DL, Odysseus will visit him and ask if it was worth it, and won't it be interesting to hear his heart beat as he ping pongs those cliches. To us, however, Mike Baxter is another fly in this non-ending Ninja Turtle drama. On the day that Johan awoke without a history, he changed all of ours. A fire forever unlit in all the backwards of time before Johan's 134th pitch now burns in our memories until infinity walks out or the buggers finally win one.