Two-Seam Fiction: Playing Out the String

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As the manager peered through a cracked window blind at a row of sad-sack faces, he was hit by simultaneous revelations.

He’d broken his team—somewhere back in May, when they’d started to slip and had nowhere else to turn, when he knew he finally had their begrudging trust, when he began chipping away at their cocky façade to build a better replacement where it once stood.

And they’d broken him—he’d denied it until August, but the sinking truth hit him back in July. Not hit him hit him, not like it did when his boys finally dropped below the don’t-even-bother-to-wipe-your-feet-on-the-way-in Brewers in the standings, but hit him nonetheless.

A man doesn’t ascend to his station without some sense of infallibility, a belief that once your time comes, you’d seize his moment. For years, he’d worked his way behind this desk.

The journey began in Everett, the Class-A affiliate of the Class-A MLB club down the road in Seattle. The mascot was a lime-green frog tonguing a baseball, but that wasn’t nearly as humiliating as the in-game stunts, the wheelbarrow races and the chili-dog cannon.

That wasn’t baseball, not really. Fans thought it was a return to the roots of the game. He thought it was a disgrace—and clawed his way toward the light. Pitching coach suited him, and he slowly climbed the latter from also-ran franchise to downright competitive contender.

The manager thought Dusty would never leave. That dude was foul-mouthed baseball royalty, and this place suited him. Then the record didn’t, and the job was his.

A man like him takes on a challenge with both hands, isn’t shy about expressing his goals. If you’re going to play, you might as well win. If you’re going to win, you might as well win the division, the pennant, the whole damn thing.

His initial fervor for the job was almost painful to reflect upon now, the zeal of printing out those signs reading “passion” and “commitment” erased with a blink and a grimace. He was a middle-aged man, but he was innocent and naïve, thinking he could conquer this game.

The manager never had much time for excuses—still doesn’t. Not even when they’re as legitimate as “our roster is only getting older” and “the farm system sure is looking barren” and “have you seen this world-beating division?”

He truly believed he would succeed, even when the players started doubting him. Worse, they started doubting themselves. He failed them, and he could finally accept that now, even if he was far from at peace.

A manager’s office is his sanctuary. The press were granted their daily sanctuary, though (bleep) them, who the (bleep) do they think they are, airing in-house business to the masses, how the (bleep) is that going to (bleeping) help us (bleeping) win ballgames, I thought we were a (bleeping) team.

That fire had long since been extinguished, as had the trusty row of Bud Heavy that lined the spot in his mini-fridge reserved for emergencies come and gone.

The blinds were drawn, but he knows at least part of the clubhouse could see him looking out.

BP hadn’t danced since April, and Joey’s heavy eyebrows sank lower by the day. The Latin music would’ve been argued over in May, but it now bounced off the walls without a head nod from the players who fought for it in the first place.

The veterans still put on a brave face for reporters. “We’re still battling at the plate” and “that rookie looks like he’ll stick” and “I was proud of our effort tonight.”

But away from the cameras, few places are more devoid of joy than the locker room of a last-place baseball team that still has a month of games yawning before a temporary reprieve.

The manager’s hand trembled as he removed a chaw from his lower lip. He really should try to enjoy the little things, the daily banter, the rhythms of the game, before a probable axe swings downward. But truth was, that chopping block might be welcome.

He sighed, yanking up the blinds. Then he pulled open the door, lumbered out, and delivered a pregame speech even he didn’t believe.

Matt Pentz is a Nuxhall Way contributor and a reporter for The Seattle Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattpentz.

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