Flashing #31: Sports Fiction

Monday, May 04, 2009

Quick announcement. This month's Northern Virginia Magazine features a two-page piece I wrote on independent bookstores in NoVa. Pick up a copy and give it a read. Ok, story time...

This is the first chapter to a baseball graphic novel I always wanted to do. The big story's about a young player who brings media attention to a team that doesn't want it. This is just the set-up but it works well as a stand-alone story, playing off of the original memoir's theme of realizing the thing you always wanted isn't what it's cracked-up to be.

If you want more Flashing stories head on over to the main page. Tomorrow I'll be posting a Sword and Planet story that I'm actually quite proud of, so come back and check it out.

____________________

Rogers’ office was built in the 70s and it hasn’t been renovated once. Shag carpeting and an iron desk that’s covered with papers that have probably been there since the 70s as well. A collection of box scores and notes and newspaper clipping left behind by coaches who actually thought they could turn this franchise around. There’s an old TV in the corner, rabbit ears sitting on top, and surrounded by boxes filled with VHS tapes of games from the past four decades that have probably never been watched. He stubs out his cigarette and turns to Jamie Jones.

“People come ‘n play for us for one ‘a two reasons. They either want to retire, or they want to prove to the world that they deserve to be elsewheres. I’m assumin’ your gonna be the second one, am I right?”

Jamie’s dressed in his father’s suit – he looks wildly out of place with this room. He’s pristine, his auburn hair is neatly parted down the middle and he cheeks are fresh with slight razor burn. He sits straight, his hands placed in his lap, his feet flat on the floor, and his eyes wide with excitement.

“I’m just here to play, coach. I appreciate the opportunity to help this team succeed.”

“Hmph,” Rogers lights another cigarette. “I’m gonna let you down now, kid, ‘cause I’d hate to see you slowly die out there. Ain’t nobody on this team has any delusions that they can ever do anything to help this team win. Believe me – if that’s what you’re truly looking for – worst thing that could’ve ever happen to you was Johnson’s injury. But you’ll come around. Play for a trade and don’t piss off your teammates and you’ll do just fine.”

Jamie stands up with his duffle bag, tells Rogers he appreciates the advice, and holds out his hand. Rogers looks at it and says, “You’re in locker 23. You’re playing third today – go suit up.”
______________________________

Two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Runners are on second-and-third. Jamie’s at the plate, his team’s down 4-1. He’s staring down Sanchez. Every newspaper and sports program in the nation simply calls him Game Over. The man hasn’t had a blown save all season and he’s well on his way to breaking Rodriguez’s single-season save record. Jamie gives a smile – the situation simply feels right.

Sanchez delivers a breaking ball inside. Jamie jumps on the ball and stumbles as he swings over it. He falls down, causing the handful of people left in the stadium to break out in a chorus of drunken boos and laughs. “Nice cut,” Baldino says as he throws the ball back to Sanchez. Jamie picks himself back up and gets right back in his stance, locking eyes with one of the leagues most most-feared and well-paid pitchers.

The second ball is low and away, about six-inches outside of the strike zone. The umpire lazily calls it a strike. Jamie turns and argues the pitch. No-one gets his back – Rogers isn’t even watching the game. Jamie sets back up, defeated, down 0-and-2 in the count.

Sanchez shakes off the split-fingered fastball and settles on a change-up – Jamie’s swinging ahead, his timing’s way off and he’s probably going to overcompensate this time around. Sanchez sets up and delivers…

Jamie hears the unmistakable pop of cork on ash. It’s a good pop – he got all of the ball. He feels the bat rattle in his hands. He sees Sanchez quickly spin and turn towards center field. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Baldino getting out of his stance as he watches the ball fly deep into the outfield. And then he runs, as fast he can, towards first.

He doesn’t even realize he hit a homerun until after he rounds first. No-one cheers. His bench is quite. There are no cameras flashing and no fanfare coming over the loudspeakers. His first major league hit, his first major league home run, Sanchez’s first blown save of the season, and yet he runs around the bases realizing no-one even cares.
_____________________________

The game ends up going 14-innings, five-hours of ball, before Jamie finally picks-up his first major league loss. The final score was 5-4 and the final pitch seemed to hang over the plate for hours until Baldino finally decided to knock it out of the park. The ball might as well have been sitting on a tee.

Jamie sits in front of locker 23, everyone’s eyes are fixed firmly on him. No-one speaks to him. No-one congratulates him on his first major league hit. The young players are already gone. The old timers are icing up their joints and seething.

Briggs, the team’s veteran right fielder, walks up to Jamie with a smile across his face. He’s missing several teeth, the type of smile you expect from a man who starts plenty of fights on and off the field. Briggs got his first championship ring in ’95. He’s received three rings since on three different teams, always as a back-up.

“Good game today. Too bad we couldn’t pull it off,” Jamie says to his teammate. Briggs just stares at him, his shit-eating grin showing his few remaining yellow teeth. The two men share uncomfortable silence, prompting Jamie to hold his hand out to the weathered journeyman.

Briggs looks at Jamie hand. Without warning, he violently slams Jamie’s head into the locker, causing the rookie to collapse onto the floor; his head gashed open, blood streaked on the locker’s rough metal surface.

“I had plans tonight, you fucking cunt.”

No-one in the locker room moves. No-one protests. They all look at Jamie in disgust, nursing their sore knees and elbows.

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