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?"

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