To get ready for the 2012 baseball season, we’re looking at each team by way of a short story or one-act play. Why? Why the fuck not. We kick things off with the best division in baseball, the American League East.
Boston Red Sox (Predicted finish: 93-69)
Carrying his Red Sox logo gym bag, Josh Beckett ducks into the trainer’s room, where media members are not allowed. He sits at a small side table in the corner of the room, facing the wall. He wears grey gym shorts and a sleeveless Sox pullover. His feet are bare.
Digging into the gym bag, he delicately pulls out an overstuffed bucket of fried chicken. He reaches back in and pulls out a six-pack of Milwaukee’s Best cans. He sets them on the table, then remembers to get up and lock the door. The trainer’s room door isn’t supposed to have a lock, but through mysterious circumstances a simple deadbolt was installed during the winter.
Josh takes one of the paper napkins that came with the chicken and tucks it into the collar of his shirt. He grabs a drumstick and holds it close to his mouth, taking in the greasy aroma. After peeking at the small window on the wall adjacent to him to make sure he has no audience, he pulls the trigger. Opening his jaw as wide as it will stretch, he eases the drumstick in and begins to take a huge bite.
But he doesn’t bite down quickly. No. He lets his teeth sink into the tender flesh slowly, methodically. First, he feels the extra crispy skin crumbling and breaking under his molars. He caresses the bottom of the chicken piece with his tongue, savoring the coarse texture. The teeth dig in deeper, through the skin, piercing the thin membrane protecting the meat. Josh listens for the tiny snap of it bursting, never to regain its integrity. Then: the rush of juices filling his cheeks, swirling in his mouth, trickling over the tongue and down the throat. The warmth. He wishes his teeth were strong enough to shatter the bone, to leave no part of this chicken behind, to devour it in full.
After the leisurely pace of that first bite, Josh flips the switch. He turns into a savage animal, attacking the chicken, shoving it into his face-hole. He becomes a perfect devouring machine. The mastication ideal. The drumstick is followed by breasts and thighs and juices swiped up with hands then licked clean.
Josh sits on a stool, hunched in a way that his ample, pale paunch rests on his upper thighs, slightly exposed from underneath his pullover. Chicken juices run down his chin and onto his clothes and legs as he stuffs his maw. God, this used to satisfy him so completely. The feeling of fullness after a bucket and a sixer (and two large orders of mashed potatoes) appeased him and made him joyful, which was always a rare achievement for Josh. But they ruined it. The bastards ruined it.
Those cocksuckers in the media and the front office with their leaks and their complaining fucking ruined everything. Now, this ritual can only be done in secret and never during games. The nerve of fans to blame Josh and Jon and John — the three best pitchers on the team — for the collapse sickens him to his stomach. The chicken still tastes amazing, of course, but it’s lost its transformative power. There’s more rage with each chomp now and less delight. Tears mix with the juices on Josh’s chins. He tosses a drumstick bone to the floor in disgust and resignation.
Josh doesn’t notice that a round face has appeared in the window to the trainer’s room. Curt Schilling peeks in, after completing an interview in which he complained about the team culture and about Bobby Valentine and about the pitchers’ lack of commitment to winning. He again called out Beckett, Lester and Lackey for their untoward behavior with the chicken and the beer. But now, watching an unknowing Beckett crush that bucket of chicken, watching scraps of flesh and skin flying through the room, Schilling’s stomach rumbles. His jealousy courses through him, and he feels guilty about throwing Beckett under the bus with the media. He knows now that had he still be on the team — and the good Lord only knows that Schilling can still grip it and rip it — that he would have been in that locker room eating that chicken. The intangibles of winning are strong, but the stomach and the will are weak.
New York Yankees (92-70)
Every year during spring training, Joe Girardi gives his squad a day off and takes them on a team bonding day. In past years, he’s taken his squad bowling and to a pool tournament. This year, he brought them to an improv comedy class.
INT. – COMEDY THEATER – DAY
IMPROV GROUP LEADER
OK, everyone, we’re going to start off with a little game that was inspired by a great man named Del Close in Chicago. Can we get….
He looks out into the crowd of players.
…Mark and Robinson up on stage? OK, great. Don’t worry, guys, we’ll go easy on you since you’re our guinea pigs. Now we need a suggestion from the audience. Someone yell out a person, place or thing.
An airplane pilot!
IMPROV GROUP LEADER
Airplane pilot…perfect. OK, Robinson, you are going to be in character as an airplane pilot. We want you to make up the rest of the details about your character, and act out a scene with Mark. The most important thing to remember about improv is the concept of “Yes, and…” Whatever one of you says, the other goes with it, and affirms it to be true, then takes it a step further. Never negate what your scene partner says or does. Everything they say is true and valid. Got it?
I think so.
IMPROV GROUP LEADER
OK, Robinson, you’re a pilot, and you guys take it from there. Go!
The assemblage of players giggles in anticipation of watching their friends and teammates perform for them.
My name is Johnny America and I am pilot in the war. But oh no, my hand has been burned off in this explosion and I can’t land the plane. I need you, Ace Johnson, my co-pilot, to bring it down for me!
My name is Mark Teixeira, and I play first base for the New York Yankees.
No, you’re Ace Johnson (snickers), and I need you to land my plane. Look, my hand is gone! There’s blood everywhere.
No, I am Mark Teixeira, and my I cannot land your plane. My skill set allows me to play first base, and my current contract does not permit me to take part in dangerous activities like plane-landing. I am committed to the New York Yankees organization and their fans. Also, your hands look fine to me.
Come on Mark, play along. Please help, we’ve taken another hit. The Army needs our help. I am going to pass out and someone needs to land this plane!
I have already told you, I cannot and will not land this plane. I am Mark Teixeira, first baseman for the New York Yankees. And honestly, I don’t even see a plane anywhere.
(jumps on stage)
I’ll land the plane. I’m Michael Scarn, FBI! Uh oh!
He shoots Mark and Robinson with a finger gun.
You’re both under arrest and dead.
IMPROV GROUP LEADER
OK, OK…uh, good try. It’s hard going first, guys. Let’s get some fresh meat up here. Derek and Alex, get up on here!
Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez climb on stage. Alex is accompanied by a man in a dark suit and Torrie Wilson.
IMRPOV GROUP LEADER
We need another suggestion from the crowd.
Joba Chamberlain on a trampoline!
Derek plays Alex and Alex plays Derek!
IMPROV GROUP LEADER
Oohh…juicy! I like it. OK, Alex, you’re Derek Jeter, and Derek, you’re Alex Rodriguez. Have fun with it!
The man in the suit whispers in Alex’s ear.
My agent has advised me not to participate for fear of self-incrimination.
C’mon, Al! Loosen up. In the name of team camaraderie.
The man whispers in Alex’s ear again.
OK, I accept your proposal, but you’ll all have to sign gag orders before being allowed to leave the building.
Hey everyone, I’m Alex Rodriguez. I’m one of the best baseball players ever!
Awww, thank you, man.
Here are some things about me: I love muscles…my own muscles, lady muscles, doesn’t matter. All of the muscles.
What!! Well, uh…uh…I’m Derek Jeter and I’m going to hit .220 against righties this year.
I also love creatures that are half-horse and half-man. What are they called again? Centaurs! Especially if they’re muscular Centaurs.
Boo hoo, I’m Derek Jeter, I haven’t come out for drinks once all spring because I’m crying because I miss Jorge Posada so much. My poor beloved Jorge is gone and I don’t know what to do with myself.
I’m Alex Rodriguez and while my good buddy Derek was getting with Minka Kelly, Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Alba, I was knee-deep in Madonna’s wrinkled crevice of a snatch.
I’m Derek Jeter and I can’t fucking go to my left.
I’m Alex Rodriguez and I own a 45-foot yacht but have zero friends to go on it with me.
I’m Derek Jeter and I’m….I’m….
He breaks down into sobs. The man in the suit and Torrie Wilson usher him off stage.
IMPROV GROUP LEADER
So who’s next?
Tampa Bay Rays (90-72)
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon sits in his office, enjoying his post-game meal of Brussels sprouts with a balsamic glaze and a bottle of a nice Rosé Crémant de Loire he’s been saving. He idly thumbs through the pages of a new biography of Kant, occasionally highlighting a line he thinks would translate well to his management style. He’s already changed into his bike shorts in preparation for the ride home.
Maddon feels good about his team. The talent’s certainly there, and a lot of the guys are just good quality men. So many of them shaved their heads for children’s cancer in the spring — that shows real compassion and empathy, essential ingredients for winning, in Maddon’s view. He has only one concern. He looks up and stares at his office wall, knowing exactly who sits behind it, and wondering if their presence is enough to derail a promising season.
Fifteen feet away from Maddon but separated by a thin plaster wall, Kyle Farnsworth and Luke Scott flank a seated Evan Longoria. Scott hefts Longoria’s AK-47 from hand to hand.
“Don’t get me wrong, Longo, this is a real nice gun,” Scott says. “Great all-purpose weapon. But for home protection, you need a sawed-off shotgun. This AK ain’t gonna blow a perp’s head clean off.”
“That’s right,” Farnsworth says. “And for huntin’, that gun’s kinda cheating. Don’t give the animal a sportin’ chance. You need a non-auto rifle for huntin’. But armor-piercing bullets are still cool. Some of them deer and shit got real thick skin.”
Longoria looks back and forth at them.
“Though you know what this would be nice for?” Scott says. “Some neighborhood watch patrol. Like if you got a thug-with-a-hoodie type situation, this gives you real nice range and good flexibility. You can do a lot of things with this gun. Ain’t no Trayvon Martin piece-a shit boy gonna give you no trouble with this badass motherfucker in your hands. We’re just saying you need some more weaponry for other uses, you catch my drift?”
“You stick with us, kid. We’ll take you to the range and show you some shit. We got wings to take you under,” Farnsworth says.
“Yep. You’re a helluva ballplayer but we’re gonna show you how to be a real leader, and how to take this team all the way,” Scott says. “Hey, you guys want to join me at the Santorum 2012 rally over in Kissimmee later on?”
Toronto Blue Jays (86-76)
During the 9th inning of a 1-1 game at the Rogers Center, Eric Thames stands in the vast expanse of left field. A couple hundred feet away, he can see Sergio Santos lean in for the sign and begin his windup. Thames tries to concentrate. He tries so hard. But that old familiar feeling is back.
He stands with legs apart, hands on his knees, the webbing of his glove spread agape.
He knows it’s behind him.
He knows that hotel is back there, that fucking Marriott or whatever, with its windows facing the field and the beds behind them.
Oh to have eyes in the back of his head!
He hopes for a deep fly ball to center, so he can turn around but so he doesn’t have to field the ball himself. He can just watch Rasmus track it down. He can practically feel the heat from the glass of those windows, wafting in waves toward him. Don’t turn around, Eric! Focus on the game!
But he knows. He knows. He knows that people are having sex in those rooms right now.
He sees it all without seeing it. He hears the panting, the moaning, the rubbing sounds of flesh on flesh. He sees the hair tangled in knots, the mess of legs, the tits pressed up against the glass.
Don’t turn around!
Every single home game since he was called up to the big leagues, Thames knows it’s happening behind him, and he just wants to catch a glimpse. Sure, when he trots out between innings or takes a quick twirl between hitters, all is calm. But he knows that as soon as his back is to the hotel, the sex parties start. Threesome. S&M. Orgies. He just wants to see it one time, to have it burned in his memory forever. Then he could relax and play some ball.
He saw some amazing-looking women around the park that morning. Any one of them could be staying at that Marriott, having sex in one of those windows, right now. Maybe just one quick little peek.
He glances behind him over his left shoulder. The windows are all empty.
And that’s all it takes. By the time Thames turns back around, the ball is already coming off the bat, a shallow liner to right that he’s a step late starting in on. It lands in front of him for a leadoff single, which of course kicks off the rally that buries the Blue Jays.
And that’s how Toronto finishes in fourth place yet again.
Baltimore Orioles (65-97)
Nick Markakis takes batting practice. He hits the ball well but not well enough. The contact is solid but not always centered. He directs the ball well but not perfectly. More balls land on the warning track than over the fence.
Nick Markakis practices taking his lead from first base and getting a good jump. He practices the crossover step. He practices his secondary leads. He reads the pitchers. He listens to first base coach Wayne Kirby recite the home-to-first times of the opposing team’s pitching staff. He works hard.
Nick Markakis shags flies. He does more than shag — he instructs the coaches to fungo balls in the gap, and he runs them down. He runs most of them down. He dives, risking injury even though he’s only practicing, and he catches some sinking liners on his dives. Others fall in. He throws the balls back in toward home plate. The throws are nice, clean and straight, but they lack that extra zip Markakis would love to have.
Nick Markakis retreats to the locker room, where he opens mail: fan letters, correspondence from his agent, and a package from Topps that includes his 2012 baseball card. He flips the card over without looking at the picture on the front, focusing on his slugging percentage (.756) and his RBIs (73) from the previous year.
Nick Markakis drives home.
Nick Markakis sits alone in his kitchen, the numbers and missed plays filling his head. He asks himself what happened, and when. He asks himself if this is as good as he will ever be. He was the Orioles’ great hope, the five-tool player who would help revive the moribund franchise. He’s a good player. He’s a good baseball player. But he’s not what he thought he’d be, and not what others thought he’d be. Could it be possible he lacks the talent to be anything more than good? He eats his Lean Cuisine.
Nick Markakis hates the word “mediocre.” He hates the sound of it on his tongue, and he hates embodying it at anything he does. But this? This is too much for Nick Markakis to take. The very idea that he might be mediocre at the sport he lives and plays for a living chills him. He thinks about his own limitations. He knows he can’t hit 50 home runs. He knows he can’t hit .380. He’s always known these things. But he is more than this. He knows it. He’s an All-Star, a borderline MVP candidate, a beloved hometown hero, right?