Middle of the Sixth

Heart of the Team

With a scissors in one hand, the Intern flips through the newspaper. It’s a story that has gone national as headline after headline attack the many different angles of a 22-game losing streak, and it was his job to pour through not only the local papers, but as many papers as he could get from other cities on his way in that morning. Michael was in a blizzard of newspapers.

It was a simple job he had … comb through the papers, cut any article that mentioned the team or one of the players, tape them to paper, organize them by topic, photocopy them, distribute them, and file them. Usually, filing was the last thing he would do and there was a three-foot stack of paper sitting on a shelf over his head, waiting to come down on him like an avalanche. It was a simple job, with newspaper ink-covered hands and chronic boredom being the worst part of it. There were worse ways that he could spend the normal hour each morning. Basically, he was getting paid to drink coffee and read the newspaper.

In the last five days, however, it was taking him and another intern nearly four hours to get through the papers because there was so much being written about this streak. It was also his job to answer the phone, and while a typical morning would have just a handful of calls, mornings during the streak consisted of constant calls from media trying to get front row seats to the train wreck and fans threatening to turn in their front row seats if ownership didn’t send the GM and manager out of town on a train.

He was usually there a few minutes earlier than everyone else, mostly because he hated mornings. By getting in early, he could ease into the day. He could get his coffee and start working through the newspapers before the phone started ringing, before his bosses started giving him assignments, and before he actually had to interact with anyone. He hated walking in late and getting bombarded with all the above before he had a chance to settle himself and ease into the day.

In college, on days when he had early classes, he would wake up early, shower, and get dressed to avoid walking to school with his roommates. He loved his roommates, just not at eight in the morning. The 10-minute walk allowed him to set up the day in his mind and prepare himself.

However, during this streak, everyone is arriving early, trying to get ahead of the mess. The calls are coming in earlier, as anxious people can’t wait another hour to have their outrage heard. All week, he was walking into a live and active bomb range, as far as he was concerned. This added to his frustrations, and everyone else was frustrated as well.

On the phones, he was a punching bag for fans, as they voiced their displeasure with the streak and the direction of the team. While a handful were polite, many were rude and belligerent. Some gave lectures on how they had been fans since their grandfathers were fans and how they had never seen a worse team. Some cursed and screamed to the point where he could see them in his mind turning red in the face as spittle flew from their mouths onto the phone. When he was allowed to speak, he would give the company line about how the team was doing their best and how the season was still relatively early. He was told that he could hang up on those fans that shouted obscenities or wouldn’t calm down, but he stuck with them.

As much as it bothered him, he knew what they were going through. While this wasn’t the team he grew up loving, it was easy for him to imagine what they were feeling. Truly passionate fans cannot get as excited as they do when the team is winning without feeling that low when they are losing. When you combine that with a losing streak like this, it feels as if your soul is being crushed and an almost panicked feeling sets in. When you enjoy a team … a sport … to this extent and you are facing the prospects of a long, loss-filled summer instead of the team playing to expectations, you feel the panic and a sense of betrayal. He had been there.

By mid-morning, though, he felt as if he was losing his cool and started to feel the panic himself. Not the panic of the losing streak, but the panic of getting the things he needed to get done, done. The panic that the calls would never end and the anxiety would sit permanently in the office around him.

Then the phone rang one more time and he stared at it for a couple of rings, considering not answering it. But he couldn’t do that. So he braced himself, took a deep breath, and answered the phone. And then he was surprised.

The woman on the other line immediately started talking about how long she had been a fan and how she traced her roots all the way back to having been born on Opening Day and about the love of the team that she learned from her father. The Intern had heard these types of “setups” and waited for the woman to go into hysterical screaming at him. In his mind he pictured the woman on the pitcher’s mound, going through the motions and going into her windup before throwing a blazing fastball at his head.

Instead, what followed was first, a simple thank you from the woman for the joy the team has given her through the years, and then told him how she and her father always said that it’s these types of streaks that will make the winning feel all the sweeter. Then she talked about how she no longer could see her father every day and talk baseball, but that she could still feel him next to her whenever she watched the team. She talked about how she was connected to him through the team, whether they were winning or losing. She couldn’t be with him every day, but she had the team to remind her of him, and it didn’t matter if they were winning or losing. Then she repeated her thank you and hung up.

Michael was stunned as he continued to hold the phone to his ear and stared off into space. His mind raced, and suddenly, somehow, he could feel it emerging from the gloom. Life-changing moments can be born from the most mundane and unexpected moments on any day. When someone, a stranger, can say one thing that shifts your entire perspective, you can suddenly find yourself careening down a different set of tracks in life. That moment felt like that. It was a perspective shift that he needed. Losing sucked, but he was still living his dream and if he didn’t enjoy even these painful moments, the great ones might not be as sweet.

After contemplating this for a few minutes, he picked up the finished set of clips and headed off to make his copies. He felt as if he was in a trance as he went through the motions.

The utter misery he felt just hours before had lifted, and with it, so was his heart. For nearly a week (and actually, most of the season), he felt this team pounding away at his soul. His emotions were pegged firmly to this team and his heart beat with the pulse of these men. Suddenly, he was given his soul, emotions, and heartbeat back … or, more accurately, he was given the power to take them back himself.

As he walked around, delivering the clippings, doing his job, he realized that he didn’t have to be a ship in a harbor, rising and falling with the tide. He could step on shore and dip his toes into the tide as he wanted … He could even turn his back to the tide and walk away.

He decided he needed to get away for a few minutes. He needed to go someplace where he could be alone, but at the same time, have it appear that he was actually doing something productive. So Michael decided to take a small stack of old clips and go file them in the “attic,” the storage room in the top of the building.

He loved the attic … it was a time machine. A place where the very history of the team could be seen and measured, not in minutes and seconds, but in box scores, statistics, and newspaper articles. Every stat and box score drifted in like snowflakes, accumulating into what this team was. Somewhere in the newspaper clippings and the old stadium promotional giveaways, you could find every single hit, out, play, and even error that triggered every single fan’s favorite memory of the team.

And that’s how he saw it. While others might see yellowing newspapers and boring boxscores, he saw memories of first games and the seeds of major league dreams and even the bitter moments that all fans carried with them with a certain pride. It was where both great and not so great writers get immortalized. In that room were not just each and every memorable moment for the team, but, and maybe more importantly, it was all those moments that perhaps nobody remembers. 

A first pitch groundout to first in a July game 43 years ago with the team already leading by 10 runs. A long double off the left field wall that drove in three runs during a game that got rained out after two innings. Perhaps these were moments that some fan somewhere remembers in exact detail. And that was one of the things he loved … That room recorded every moment that every fan, alive and dead, remembered or doesn’t remember. Somewhere in that room is recorded every fan’s favorite moments and every fan’s lowest moments. Moments when they wanted to walk away from the team and moments when they wanted to grab a stranger and kiss them. Every single moment was recorded in that room. That room was the true heart of the team.

To those that care, the fan that proudly collects every giveaway to add them to the collection their grandfather started years ago, the official scorer that reviewed every play to ensure the integrity of the statistics that made and killed careers, the beat writer that carefully crafted every word of his game article, despite a pressing deadline for a meaningless early April game. For those that care, this room was what they are referring to when they talk about the tradition of the team and the loyalty of the fans. This was what gave blood to the stories and memories that make this team.

The Intern often worried about this room. To Michael, it should be a vault. You can replace a stadium, but the contents of this room were irreplaceable. It was the Louvre, St. Peter’s Cathedral, and the Great Pyramid of Giza of this team, all rolled into one room that only a relatively small handful of people knew existed. He felt honored to be one of them.

After spending some time going through the cabinets of old promotional items, he turned his attention to the press clippings. Particularly, the clippings of the Tuck, and he began to read.

The clippings told this man’s career in bits of black on white. Sometimes, a writer was thoughtful about this man. Sometimes a writer was mean for the sake of being clever. Sometimes, merely the facts were told, with no expression of judgment. So many writers over so many years told bits and pieces of this man. However, it was in the whole of these bits and pieces that you could see the man for who he was, a man playing a game. Alone. A game that was not the game of his childhood. It was not the game that he learned. It was not the game his father told him endless stories about. It was not the game that his mother lovingly showed him over and over. It was not the game that he played for countless hours with his brother.

This was a different game because he was alone. The game of his youth was not a game of loneliness. It was something else entirely and the Intern wondered how no one saw this before.

And a thought came to him. A crazy thought that, at first, seemed entirely too big for him. He began to shake, because he knew it was an idea too big for himself. He had no idea if he had the strength and the power to not just be a lone soul at the harbor’s edge. He wondered if he could be the tide itself, if he so dared. He could at least try to lift the boat that had scuttled itself and was now waiting for Winter. He didn’t even have to be the tide … he just needed to be something big enough that could raise the tide.

Then, in a spark of a moment, he somehow just knew all he had to do was throw a baseball into the harbor to raise the tide.

And Winter shuddered.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments