New adventures and old stories
Dust off the old login and one finds that Felix isn’t fat any more, JJ Putz has an extension, and Jose Guillen has turned into a “potential thumper.” Derek’s been an Atlas both in terms of holding up the site on his own and in terms of supplying encyclopedic information. That last one isn’t altogether surprising.
It’s not that the offseason has lacked action. Rather, I think of it as when a physical confrontation begins with a series of furious slaps, and the bewildered recipient — who had thought himself strong, or at least inured to such assaults — slipped into something akin to catatonia. Then, when the action did actually slow, so did the poor survivor’s capacity for commentary. Stunned drooling became a realistic (if not preferred) alternative.
Offended by the analogy? It’s not the whole fanbase rendered to drooling disappointment. Like Ash says in Army of Darkness: Just me, baby. Just me.
For distraction’s sake, Okinawa is a fine place to be. I hide from sports news. Hibernate a little bit. Wrap myself up in the book I’m writing, seeking solace in new adventures and old stories — a few of which even involve my favorite baseball team. The loosely organized theme: loyalty is a virtue, and virtue is its own reward. Hang in through the tough times.
Let me load three tales into the chamber and see what spins out. One old, one new, one borrowed. Nothing blue, ’cause I don’t work that way.
TALE THE FIRST: THE TALE OF LAS VEGAS (OLD)
Before dipping to the land of Pachinko, I ventured once more to Gomorrah with a group of friends. You know, for the canyon hiking.
After bumping into the hit king on my last trip, the plan was to get Pete’s picks for the afternoon games even if I had to pay a ridiculous amount for an autograph to do so. With no Pete Rose — not sure where he was — I was forced to take alternate measures.
That’s right, I was forced to bet on Gil Meche.
By forced, I do not mean that the Yakuza threatened to take my finger or that a rare form of Louisiana mind control overwhelmed me. My pals Casey and Mike were in the sports book, peering over the betting lines like the soulless degenerates they are.
Gambling on sports doesn’t hold much appeal for me, so if I had become a major leaguer, I would not have shared ol’ Charlie Hustle’s fate. My friends insisted, though, that I place at least one bet. My plan to bet on the Former World Champion Seattle Storm was foiled by scheduling — we’d fly out before I could cash in.”Look,” Casey said, stabbing a finger toward multiple spots on a parlay sheet, a whirl of numbers I didn’t understand, “bet these games here.”
Rather than throw my money away on a wager I didn’t fully grok, I decided to throw money away by betting my heart. Swallowing hard — remember, we didn’t have Potential Thumper Jose Guillen then, although we did have Potential Bambi Willie Bloomquist — I placed the princely sum of $10 on your Seattle Mariners. See, Casey? Loyalty.
“Yeah,” he aptly pointed out, “but look at the pitching match-up. You’re betting on Gil Meche.” The proper response to this was “don’t remind me,” but instead I insisted that this merely demonstrated my firm commitment to the hometown nine. Then I went off to ponder the error of my ways.
Gil is so money and he doesn’t even know it. I have photographic evidence. Virtue might be its own reward, but like pizza, everything’s better with extra cheese. Another reason I didn’t begrudge Meche that ridiculous contract.
Which, thankfully, he signed elsewhere.
TALE THE SECOND: THE TALE OF DOM PERIGNON (BORROWED)
Wandering the streets and trails of Okinawa with a camera and notebook is harder work than you might estimate. There’s always more going on than I have time, energy or expertise to catalog. After these days, there are the nights.
Usually my preference is local establishments catering to locals. One night, though, I happened upon an expatriate bar, that hallmark of literary excellence. The Lost Generation had theirs, Stein and Hemingway. With luck, I thought, this spot might serve as my Cafe de Medecis, Max’s Kansas City or even my Rick’s.
Better yet, the place has an international feel. The owner’s from the Phillipines and speaks three languages, the staff friendly, the clientele a hodgepodge of American military, Aussie wanderers, university professors. On a given night you can be talking about Baudrillard or buying drinks for a couple of young men headed for Iraq. Or both, and sometimes with the same people.
When I came here, I brought a case of Pinot Gris from Oregon, my home state. These would serve as gifts for people I met who helped with the book. Lively conversation and the occasional piece of information certainly assist, so the bar owner qualifies. It was her birthday on Wednesday, so I thought I’d swing by and drop a bottle off.
Giving liquor to someone that owns a bar is kind of like giving Dave Cameron advice about prospect analysis, but hey, it’s what I had. It’s the gesture that counts, right?
After I finished karate, I stepped into the low blue light expecting no one to be around. It was 10 p.m. on a Wednesday, hardly prime watering hole time. Yet there were the bar owner and staff with their families, having a small private party. I hadn’t expected anything but to drop off the wine and chalk up my good deed for the day.
They’d just opened two bottles of Dom Perignon, one 1997 and one 1999. Would I like to stay and sample them, since I’d never had such vintage?
Virtue is its own reward. Dom Perignon is nice, too.
Did I say this middle tale had anything to do with baseball? Wait, we’re getting there.
TALE THE THIRD: SEATTLE PHANTASM’S OKINAWAN VACATION (NEW)
I finished my Dom. Was feeling large. Also, in charge. Other customers were beginning to trickle in. It was time for me to leave a tip commensurate with my own feelings of large-ness and head home. That’s when I caught a scent of burning and heard someone call a name that wasn’t mine.
It was a voice from the barstool to one side. I knew before I even turned around. He’d followed me? Evil Rick Rizzs had followed me here? He clapped me on the shoulder and put a warm, brimstone-smelling arm around me. The remnants of the Dom turned to wormwood in my mouth and the guy next to us saw the milk in his White Russian began to curdle.
Look, I told him, I’m in no mood. My favorite team hasn’t just run up the white flag, they’ve impaled the fan base with the flag standard and sold the bloodstained cloth on eBay as a handmade tie-dyed shirt. It feels like I have constant low-level food poisoning.
“C’mon, Jimbo!” began the leather-clad nightmare, eyes glowing red in the dim light. “I know all that! Malevolent figures designed to haunt the faithful need vacations, too. Lucky for me, the timing’s perfect — your front office did most of my work for me, trading away good, cheap young players for worse, decrepit older players. I mean, on the one hand, I’m kind of jealous. Demoralizing you all is supposed to be my gig.”
I was going to need another drink. Gee, I told him, I’m real sorry your work got outsourced.
Note to self: when confronted with a demonic incarnation of pure malice, do not use sarcasm. It’s like throwing water on an oil fire. Well, maybe kerosene. He sneered, lit a match on the abrasive “no smoking” sign, and touched off a clove cigarette. When the bartender gave him the evil eye, he blew her a kiss, swallowed the clove and chased it with the match. Then he ordered a shot of Aftershock.
“You misunderstand me, Johnny. They’ve just done the heavy lifting, beating you down enough so I can take a vacation before I put the cherry of misery on top of your suffering sundae. It’s all timing, you see. Your cynical friend — you know, the one that’s actually funny, the one with the book deal — has some hope left. I’ll let him keep his warm feeling of “if the swing players do this, and blah blah, maybe we can make the playoffs!” for now. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy kicking you while you’re down. Call it a working vacation.” He threw back the Aftershock and continued.
“Eventually, I’ll delight in dancing on the shattered shards of his aspirations, too. Timing, son! Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!” He threw some punches at the air, boxing with my shadow. He doesn’t have one of his own.
Is that what you’re doing here? I asked. I travel halfway across the world to find peace, and of all the gin joints in all the …
He didn’t let me finish. “Say, friend” he said, lips curling up at the end in the parody of a smile, “Didn’t I just hear you say that this place could be your “Rick’s”? John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, that’s my name too! This could be my spot! Evil Rick owns up in this piece!”
I tried to lecture him about perverting already perverse slang, but he’d already bought a round of Jagermeister shots — hell’s own party favor. This drew deafening hoots of approval, shouting me down.
Also, I realized I wasn’t sure if I’d said that bit about “Rick’s” out loud or not, raising the disturbing prospect that Evil Rick was in my head, reading my thoughts. I put my head in my hands while E.R.R. began leading the crowd in a karaoke sing-a-long of “You Oughtta Know.” Then I headed for the bathroom, wondering if he’d buy it if I tried to threaten him with tap water passed off as holy water. When I returned his seat was empty. Smoldering, but empty.
Evil Rick’s signature was on the bill, but he’d left behind the credit card he’d used to pay. As I suspected, the card was mine. He’d lifted it from my shirt pocket during the greeting. Next to the tab was a note scrawled in red ink on a cocktail napkin. It is reproduced here verbatim:
Jimmy, thanks for the liquid lightning. I’m sure the rest of the bar would thank you too, if they hadn’t already thanked me.
You might think of what I’ve done tonight — buying the whole bar drinks, getting myself wasted, putting it on your tab and taking your car home — as evil. Don’t get me wrong, my job is being evil, and I love my job. But I prefer to think of tonight as an object lesson in loyalty. You give yourself to something, like this ridiculous baseball franchise. You’re loyal for years and years.
More than that, you, the fan, supply the fuel for the machine. You buy tickets and garlic fries and Snelling jerseys. You pay out, and then others take what was yours and give it away, like your precious Doyle, for five yen on the dollar. The whole experience ends with you feeling as if you’ve been punched in the face by Robocop. See the parallel? I’m not doing anything to you that you haven’t put up with for years.
Don’t be confused by the words “object lesson” above. It’s not that I’m really trying to teach you anything here — still evil! — I just figured you’d be used to this sort of thing happening by now.
I feel a laugh coming on. If you could imagine me ending this note with an evil vampiric cackle, though, I’d sure appreciate it.
He’d signed it with a drawing of my severed head wearing an Aquasox cap. I looked outside. My car was indeed gone, tracks deep black with rubber in its place.
Virtue is its own reward. Because it has to be.