Well, here goes nothing!
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[Welcome to the 200_ season of the Hope City Spartans. Having lost in the first round of the playoffs last year, it's now been twenty years since they've won a championship. ]
#8 Peter Towers, Manager
“—You’re a great asset to this team—“
“—And Hope City loves you, but—“
“—You’ve been managing the Spartans for a while now, but—"
“—The Spartans haven’t gone past the first round in the playoffs—“
“—And the thing is, some of the people are getting restless—“
“—And it’s a big question, of whether or not to renew your contract—“
“—So, basically, what it comes down to, is you have to produce, Pete—“
“—You have to get us a Championship if you want to be with the Spartans next year.”
“I’m sorry to do this to you, Pete, really, I am. You’ve been with this team since you started playing…God, how many years ago was that? You’re the face of this franchise, and you were a great player, but it’s been so long since this team has won a Championship, and, well, I do have to answer to the fans. I mean, they can’t fire me, but I’ve got to be able to fill the seats and fifty thousand seats is a lot to fill year after year.”
“Mr. Haus, it’s all right, I understand.”
“You do? That’s a terrible burden off my shoulders, Pete. You’ve always been a blessing to this team.”
“No I haven’t. We’d have won something, if that was the case.”
Charlie Haus, the jolly-faced, white-haired owner of the Spartans, has no response to that, so Pete gets up from the black leather chair in Charlie Haus’s office, and makes his way down the creaking stairs and towards the practice field in the Spartans' Spring Training complex.
Stepping into the Florida sun dulls Pete’s thoughts for a moment, but not for long. His body has changed a lot since his playing days—he’s no longer lanky, and even the term ‘athletically built’ is a bit of a lie. His hair has turned to a mopish brown, with streaks of grey beginning to crop in, and, if at all possible, his eyes have dulled a bit with age. However, his mind is just as anxious as ever.
The conversation he’s just had with Charlie Haus doesn’t come as a surprise, except that Mr. Haus had waited so long to have it. The call for the conversation—Pete, we need to talk. Come find me, okay? —had not come until yesterday, the first day of Spring Training, and Pete had expected it much sooner. All of the papers, anyway, ran pools at the end of the playoffs last year to see just when Pete Towers would lose his job managing the Spartans. It didn’t happen, and Pete nearly called Mr. Haus himself two days ago to make sure he still had his job, before his wife handed him his suitcase, packed and ready to go.
It is, at least, still early, Pete thinks, as he walks onto the field. So far only pitchers and catchers have reported. The papers are still busy dealing with the fallout from the end of the football season, too busy to pay baseball much heed for another week or so. Pete can, for the moment, just take in the sights and sounds of baseballs pounding catchers’ mitts, and imagine for himself just the type of October he’d like to have.
The moment won’t last long.
#18 Paul Green, pitcher, rookie.
Paul Green is an hour early, and clueless.
Standing at the entrance to the Spartans’ Spring Training complex in Florida, he looks around for someone to tell him where to go; his bag is heavy and he looks odd, just standing there in the parking lot. Short, stick-thin and baby-faced at age twenty-three, Paul can still pass for a high school student. The security guard walking up to him, Paul thinks, is probably going to tell him—
“Kid, you want autographs, you gotta wait till four, and then it’s cards and baseballs only, so you might want to put that bag back in your car.” Yep, it’s just as Paul expects.
“I’m early. I’m here to pitch.”
“My name’s Paul Green, I was drafted last spring.” The name seems to ring a slight bell for the security guard, who is probably triple the size of Paul.
“Paul Green? You sound familiar…”
“I was drafted out of State, just down the road from here, actually…we made it to the college championship last year.”
“Oh!” The security guard’s face lights up. “You’re the one that held the guys from Dakota hitless through seven, right?” Paul nods, trying not to think about how he lost that game, when Dakota had a two-run home run in the eighth. “Sorry about that! It’s just you—“
“—Look really young. I know. I haven’t even found a campus bar where I don’t get carded. Anyway, where am I supposed to go?”
“Just this way.” The security guard leads Paul around the building towards the players’ entrance, and then through to the Spartans’ clubhouse. “Here you are, the field is out the clubhouse door, to the left and through the tunnel.” The security guard departs, leaving Paul alone in the clubhouse.
At least, whatever happens now, Paul thinks, no one can accuse him of showing up late. As the lockers here don’t have names, Paul’s not sure which one to take. The locker room looks like a labyrinth, and it’s far too cramped for a professional team. His locker room at State was at least twice as spacious. Of course, at State, he didn’t have to try out for his spot on the team; he was recruited from high school. Here, it’s different. Here there are don’t-know-how-many trying to be one of twenty-five. So it’s excusable if the setting is a bit cramped, Paul thinks.
He’s thinking about which locker is the least likely to be the property of some other player, debating between the one closest to the showers and the one closest to the manager’s office, when he hears the door open again. He sets his bag down on the bench by the locker near the showers and makes his way to the front of the locker room, hoping to see someone that might be able to help him without laughing at him. Paul can’t tell if his hopes are met, though, as he soon finds himself staring in the face of his childhood idol, Graeme Johnson.
“Uh, hi?” Paul cringes as he says it. Why does he feel like he should be on his knees bowing to this man? Graeme Johnson’s the ace of the Spartans, to be sure, but he’s no Leonidas (though Paul thinks, with the amount of muscle Graeme has, it’d surely make any real Spartan jealous).
“…You the ball boy?” The tone isn’t harsh or bullying, rather, it’s inquisitive.
“Hah, no. Worse. The rookie.” The humor, which is only half-forced, cracks a smile on Graeme’s rough, bearded face.
“Ah, okay, I get it. You’re a rookie rookie, aren’t you?”
“A rookie rookie?”
“You’re early. Either you’ve got the best work ethic I’ve ever seen, or you’ve never done this before.”
“If only it was both…” Paul drifts off, thinking that it’s probably funnier to himself than to Graeme, but Graeme still laughs.
“For all I know, maybe it is. I’m Graeme.” Graeme pauses for a moment, and then adds, almost ashamed, “Johnson.” He extends his hand.
“Paul Green.” Paul takes Graeme’s hand, and then lets go quick, as if shaking the hand of the Queen of England. Graeme’s expression turns to one somewhere between abashment and insult.
“What…hey, you’re not scared of me, are you rookie?”
“Sorry…it’s just…I don’t really know how to say it,” Paul says, buying himself some time and then going at it as if there’s nothing to lose, “but growing up, well, umm, I had pictures of you on my wall.”
“Had?” Graeme laughs. “You tore them down?”
“No, they’re still there.”
“You’re a baby! Are you even legal?”
“No way. No way I’m that old.”
“I refuse to believe I’m twice your age!”
“You’re not. I’m twenty three, and you’re…well…not twice my age.” Paul knows better than to say forty.
“You’re twenty three? You’re a baby, rookie.”
“Yea, yea, I’m a baby. Should I go ask Mommy to put me down for a nap?” This draws a hearty laugh from Graeme, who slaps Paul on the back, a bit too hard to be a love tap.
“Rookie, I want to see what you got. Take the locker next to mine, it’s always empty. Go put some baseball clothes on and meet me on the field.”
“No nap for baby?” Paul chides.
“No, and better make sure no nap doesn’t make a cranky baby. I hate cranky babies, rookie.”
As Paul goes to grab his bag, way on the other side of the locker room, he can’t help but feel a tremendous sense of anxiety disappearing, if only to be replaced by disbelief. Graeme Johnson wants to see if he can pitch.
Welcome to the bigs, rookie.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Well, here goes nothing!