*this is a continuation of the previous two posts.
The grounds crew room was warm. There were no windows. The overhead pipes looked like stiff, above ground tree roots. The hammock didn’t sway. There was a slow drip of water from one of the pipes, bit it didn’t bother me. It was like the motor on the bus – a consistent, repetitive sound, soothing, a dark lullaby. I slept.
“You awake from your nap Trevor?” asked fungo man. “Or should we call you Butch like they did back home?”
“Doesn’t matter to me,” I said while falling out of the hammock and landing on my feet, standing up, a decent dismount.
“Well, how about we give you a new name,” said fungo man, “since you’ll be doing a job you’ve never done before – a writer for a new league, a new town, a new place to sleep.”
“And new hot dogs I hope.”
We both laughed.
“We’ll figure it out,” said fungo man. “Let’s discover your style and then we’ll come up with a name.”
I didn’t know what to expect about this new league and its 12 teams. But I knew all games would be at Hawthorne Stadium, and that a batter had three strikes to work with and that there would be chalked lines, and the delicious possibility that a game could go on forever, like that two-day, 25 inning marathon between the Brewers and White Sox back in 1984.
Fungo man walked towards me and patted me on the shoulder. “We’re gonna decide everything about this new Continental League. And you, my friend are a member of the Pigeon Committee. You get to vote on all matters.”
“Pigeon Committee? Why Pigeon?” I asked. “Why not Lion or better yet, a Robin Committee in honor of Robin Yount and Robin Roberts. There are no baseball players nicknamed pigeon.”
“No, it’s gotta be pigeons,” insisted fungo man. “They’ve come a long way.”
So much for voting I thought, but didn’t get a chance to express my opinion. Fungo man had more to say.
“From passenger birds carrying messages to them pigeons performing figure eight flight patterns, all together, every morning, looking like an aerial school of fish…that’s how we’re gonna be.”
It struck me as a tad communist, but it did remind me of my dad reeling off teams with a unified theme from the Gas House Gang to the facial hair of the Oakland A’s to Harvey’s Wallbangers and anyway, I had no other place to go and I liked this fungo man….
Wetchy, the pitching coach, was another matter…he struck me as a bit of an ass, someone who always needed to get in the last word, but he had given me a stack of empty notebooks before my nap, the same kind, he said, he used to track pitches, 154 lined pages per book, all that virgin paper. I reached for one of them. I was going to jot down this pigeon concept, but didn’t get a chance. A young man with a turtle neck walked through the door. He was wearing tan corduroys and brown shoes. He had a big smile on his face. He looked like an ivy league honor student. Couldn’t have been older than 20.
“This here is the manager of the Hawthorne Madcaps. His name is Billy Tomcat, but call him Catty,” said fungo man. “He might be young, but he knows his advance metrics and isn’t afraid to follow a hunch either, best of both worlds.”
“I hear from my cronies,” said Catty, “that you will be joining us on the Pigeon committee and that you will be writing about the Madcaps.”
“He’ll be writing about the entire Continental League,” interrupted fungo man.
“The hell he will,” screamed Catty. “He’s writing about the Madcaps and that’s it, that’s all.”
Fungo man removed his cap and bowed. The grounds crew room suddenly felt more like a dictatorship than a commune, so much for pigeon unity.
“And don’t forget,” continued Catty, “it was God who brought you here, as certain as a cow’s moo.”
I knew what had brought me to Hawthorne Stadium and it wasn’t god. It was thoughts of John Briggs and sleeping inside Memorial Stadium, as certain as a suicide squeeze. The door was still rattling when in walked another guy, shorter, with a straight jaw and large forearms. I had him pegged as a third baseman and I was right.
“This is our third baseman,” said fungo man. “Lance Henchman. I’ll leave you guys to it. Let’s get outta here Catty and let these guys talk.” Fungo man winked at me and then he and the skipper exited the scene.
“I deconstructed radios as a kid,” explained Henchman, skipping any hello, how do you do formalities.
“Did you put them back together?” I asked.
“So, you’re a smart ass,” said Henchman.
“Only when someone asks for it,” I replied.
A breeze hit my face. It wasn’t from outside. It couldn’t have been. There were no windows in there and no air conditioning or fan either. It made me feel alone and wondering what the hell I was doing there. I had the suspicion that I was being set up, framed. What was the point of getting involved with this team, this league, this Henchman. It would all suffer the same fate as wood stadiums and the Seattle Pilots – death and disintegration like my mom and dad, six feet under, eaten by worms. I wanted to be alone, to not be attached, to not suffer the here today gone tomorrow fate of us all.
I walked quickly to the door, opened it and stepped into the open air, under the seats. I looked to my left and the outdoor gate was still there, the same one I had entered through, a few hours earlier. I thought about the hill I’d seen when I first got off the bus. I had a tent and a sleeping bag. I could sleep there, under the trees, find a soup kitchen, loiter at the library during the day.
I could feel Henchman trailing me.
“Hold on Butch,” he yelled.
I had no idea how he knew my name. My suspicion grew. I ran as fast as I could and distanced myself from him, surprising since I had the sleeping bag and tent on my back, but Henchman had that belly. I ran until I was out of breath. To my right was a laundromat and attached to it, a giant chimney, a minaret that extended into a bell tower way up there, at least three Fenway Park green monsters high. There was a ladder on the side of the building. I stepped on the first rung, pulled myself up and continued.
“Stop,” screamed Henchman.
I looked down and there was Henchman, shaking. I knew about these practical people, guys like Henchman. Sure, they could deconstruct radios and handle the hot corner, but those were all gravity bound tasks. Ask them to climb a minaret and they would cower like a turtle crawling back in its shell.
I took one rung at a time, easy-peasy. I had a knack for climbing buildings. My dad used to compare me to Ken Griffey, the way he scaled walls and turned would be home runs into outs. I could have gone fast, could have reached the bell tower before Henchman made it half way up, but I wanted to see him suffer. I thought about my parent’s suicide and the injustice of it all, me, alone, orphaned at 23. I wanted revenge on the world.
Henchman was whispering some self-help mumbo jumbo to encourage himself to carry on and I have to admit, I was impressed by his resolve and determination, but it still smelled fake, contrived, like a set-up and yet, there I was, still as a Buddha statue, waiting for Henchman to catch up and he did and we climbed together. It was like I was under some spell.
I or I should say we eventually made it up and over the last hurdle, a short wall. We were inside the bell tower. I was calm, as calm as a no wind, early morning. Henchman was out of breath and sweating, but he had a smile on his face. He started laughing.
“Do you collect baseball cards?” he asked.
The question was delightfully random, completely out of nowhere. He didn’t give me time to answer.
“My favorite all-time baseball card is the 1972 Topps Red Sox Rookie card featuring Carlton Fisk, Cecil Cooper, and Mike Garman.”
Henchman sat down in the lotus position. I did too. I felt seduced, but liked the idea of rookies, of starting over.
“I wondered what happened to Garman?” I asked. I looked at Henchman. He shook his head. He didn’t know.
I suddenly had a lot more questions.