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December 12, 2011

A Visit with Verducci

A Winter Meetings Fiction

by Jason Parks

He saw him once on the 4th of December 2011, but only as a fading image in the lids of his eyes, a photograph of bone and hair and enlightenment. As he slept, the World’s posture was perfect and its gait was elegant and immaculate. The World was more than just a writer, he said with two fingers bent on each hand from a comfortable distance apart and in steady contraction.  He told himself as he slept that the dawn of the next day would bring him closer to the world. He told himself that being closer to the World would bring him closer to living. He could exist in the world; he told himself he could exist in the world if placed his path within the path of another. He traveled to Dallas, Texas, home of the 2011 baseball Winter Meetings. He was on a journey to find his life. He was out to execute a visit with Verducci.

He didn’t pretend to be unimpressed as he went foot to floor in the lobby of the luxurious downtown hotel that was to host the yearly baseball industry gathering. The crystalline metamorphic form of limestone was polished and ubiquitous; he later quipped that the first foyer in the hotel was the birthplace of marble. He always laughed when he quipped, even privately. He later quipped that he laughed when he quipped, after which it was assumed he laughed, privately. The marble grew on the floors and the walls like stone moss, the wallpaper of the wealthy, he thought. He told a friend that he was impressed by the foyer and by the connection he drew between the marble and the moss, which he felt was apt. Having been around wealth, he was capable of taste identification, and he later described his immediate surroundings in Dallas as a few letters short of being tacky.

The foyer continued to develop, showing off its impressive square footage and its impressive paradoxical qualities, mixing a nouveau riche store-bought feel with a not-too-clearly-defined late-60s post-war reaction, where vibrant color and Oriental aesthetic became acceptable again (an aesthetic prominently displayed in many of the old-money homes within the geographic vicinity of the hotel; using faux pieces of old-money in order to appear old-money even though it screams new money.) He thought the elephant statues in various sizes placed in various locations draped in their “we want you to think this is jade because then you will feel like you are in the presence of wealth and taste and therefore feel like you possess both in abundance” wrappers were a bit silly. He remembered telling someone that he thought it was silly and a few letters short of being tacky. He said he was familiar with wealth and therefore a good judge of taste.

The entrance opened to the main atrium, a cathedral of the established paradox; still a very letters short of being tacky. He thought it was inching closer to gauche than he anticipated and he anticipated something a few letters short of gauche. Like a giant crib, the vast emptiness of the interior of the atrium (that is, the space between the floor and the visible features of the ceiling), featured kinetic sculptures that acted as calming visual forces like a mobile to a baby. The sculptures themselves played well with the rectangular ponds of calm water on the floor directly beneath the large hanging objects in the empty artificial sky, but he did comment that the calming childlike affect wasn’t as calming as one might expect from a large-scale baby crib/mobile dynamic. Despite being somewhat visually impressive, the material composition of these giant visual toys appeared cheap, almost like an abnormally large person was contracted to build plastic toys covered in cellophane for abnormally small people without taste. He would later suggest that the longer he stood in the presence of theses giant toys, the smaller he felt.  

The main atrium, which he referred to as the lobby (he wanted to fit in; others called it the lobby. It was technically a lobby, but the lobby is a different animal, he said), was packed with human life, like a SimCity simulation designed to fail. He saw multiple network television sets in different quadrants of the open room, compete with the lights, cameras, and an unlimited supply of assorted actions, dotting the landscape with media construction and the air of superiority and importance. He saw the World in the flesh soon after he first ventured into the main atrium (which he referred to as the lobby), standing under the artificial sun of the set-lights, flawless in appearance and performance. He later mentioned that seeing Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci made him feel like he had finally arrived; not to the industry scene, but into the world itself. He dared not venture too close to the World without first gaining some perspective and a plan of approach. He later said that he wanted to cry but felt water secretion wasn’t the appropriate response. He laughed instead.

With a pocket full of ambition and a datebook full of emptiness, he said his isolation started immediately after the first visual encounter. He sat in the corner all-alone, sketching his thoughts as fast as he received them, which thanks to the growing isolation and fear of that growing isolation affecting his ambition, failed to process at a high speed and suffered as a result, he would later suggest. He wrote about baseball but he never really wrote about baseball. He was paid to cover baseball and to write about baseball, but he said he didn’t like baseball. How can someone like baseball when baseball didn’t exist, he said. Baseball is just a dream, but it’s not a real dream and it’s not a real world. The World can’t exist within a fake world, he often quipped. He always laughed when he quipped, even when quipping in private.

A dying animal signed his checks, a description he used frequently and without affect, even in the company of the check-signers. He would say the dying animal sent me to write about baseball again. The dying animal wants 600 words. The dying animal wants me to start turning my loose words into fully developed sentences. The dying animal requested that I stop referring to them as a dying animal, he recalled without expression. Writing about baseball seemed so insignificant given the world in front of him; he said he would rather write about baseball as a singular object than write about baseball as a sport. He didn’t understand sport. The dying animal was all about sport. He refused to attach the “s” to the end of the word “sport” unless he was directly referencing Sports Illustrated. He found it unnecessary and superfluous to attach the “s” in other situations. The dying animal requested he make every effort to attach the letter.

Hours became days and the casual many continued fellating themselves with every conversation and every transaction and every conversation about that transaction. He mentioned that he owed 600 words on a particular aspect of sport, but felt staring at the oddly Oriental mosaic tile flooring for hours was a better use of his time. When his legs started to lose the battle with circulation, he would grab his writing pad and float around the grand landscape of the main atrium of the hotel. His adventures would take hours off of his day, but he never left the main atrium. The World waited to be discovered in the main atrium (he referred to it as the lobby) and he saw little reason to play explorer in the uncharted plots of haute real estate and manufactured sea water that were said to exist within the downtown hotel. He said he was isolated yet comfortable in the lobby, parking himself in a secluded corner of the room, near the chaos of the crowd and the calmness the MLB Network set provided him. He later said that he felt a sense of calm nearest the set, always turning his need to cry into healthy explosions of laughter.

He would later clarify that he didn’t intend to harass Verducci, although in hindsight the behavior he exhibited did appear suspect to most casual eyes and all eyes with a detailed focus found the behavior suspect. On the walks, he said he would track his (the World) movements, studying his gait and his smile, hoping to see the full-effect of the smile. Turning his head to track the movements of the smile. Mimicking the gait, failing of course to develop the steps of the finest show-pony. He felt comfortable comparing the World’s movements to that of a show-pony. He tried to perfect the posture and the pomp, but found it overwhelming and physically and emotionally draining.

He acted casual with the casual many, never embracing them as his own but keeping up appearances in order to avoid the need for explanation. The casual many thought his obsession was obsessive and on the cusp of being potentially dangerous. He knew it was innocent and childlike, just like the crib (atrium) and the need to calm the crying crowd with a mobile. He was just coming into the world. He needed to be calmed and instructed. He was learning through imitation, not intimidation. He stated again that he was just coming into the world. He didn’t know his way. How could he possibly begin to accurately mirror the walk of the World when he was just saw the World with his own eyes a few days prior? He stressed the developmental process. He often stressed process in general. He enjoyed his own. He often encouraged others to adopt his own. He encouraged the casual many to find comfort in the process.

He looked at Verducci (the man) like the Aztecs looked at the sun (the God); although he often replaced the Aztecs with the Maya, always making a point to correctly identify the culture as Maya and not Mayan. He lost his way when people referred to the people as Mayans. He lost his way when the process failed him. He was trying to learn a new process now, he claimed. He was new to the world. He continued to suggest he was new to the world. The World as he now saw it was remarkable and flawless, standing with height, with confidence, and with hair so delicately coifed that he assumed each individual strand was washed with the finest natural cleansers, air-dried by the heat of his own spirit, and styled by those who possess the most delicate of fingers. The World awoke each morning to the sound of his own call before bathing in the rejuvenating waters of the nearest natural spring.

The World was neither innocent nor of a guilty-mind, existing in a unique state unknown to all others; he (the World) was the first and last of his specific kind. When prompted to communicate with those that danced in orbit around the World, his voice could impregnate the most impenetrable of environments, forcing even those without belief to fall to their knees. When he spoke of his passions, people wept. When he spoke of his indifferences, people also wept. The World became my world, he said; He invested in his process. 

On his final day at the yearly industry gathering, he said his established issues with resolve had been somewhat resolved through isolation and process. He opted to avoid writing about sport on the final day. He said he opted to avoid writing about sport because he found sport to be limiting. The main atrium was still alive and he wanted to continue his development, setting the agenda as follows: Awake from mosaic tile gazing; consume beverage of choice from designated behavior supply console in main atrium (lobby); perform some sketches in notebook, identifying which steps of the agenda have been accomplished; visit with Verducci.

He said he had never felt so loved when the moment finally arrived, near the end of the day’s proceedings. Having accomplished all but one of his documented objectives, the showdown of creation was upon him and he proceeded accordingly. The World was standing to the immediate left of one of the encapsulated jade elephants near the MLB Network stage in the main atrium (lobby). He was magnificent despite the toils of the day, with nary a hair out of place or the slightest slouch in posture; he showed no outward signs of wear, in fact, quite the opposite, as his appearance produced a shine that was so bright it was used to light ESPN’s set 30 yards away in the opposite direction. He said he thought his teeth were made of pure ivory and his eyes of pure jade, a stark contrast to the faux material being so proudly displayed in the downtown hotel. He mentioned that it was necessary to offer such a juxtaposition out of respect for the World, a move that naturally suggests that regardless of the material used, it’s faux when in his (the World) presence.

While Verducci stood chiseled and firm like the ocean of marble that surrounded him, with a cellular phone held up to his proportioned right ear, no doubt listening to a recording of his own voice, a voice that could shape diamonds or signal ships approaching in the night (depending on the pitch he felt necessary for the specific occasion), he told the casual many that the moment had arrived. He said he can’t remember the exact path to the World, but he remembers first-contact, a slight tap to the symmetrical left shoulder-blade which prompted an immediate 180 degree turn and an immediate encounter with the one the casual many refer to as Sports Illustrated’s baseball face, Tom Verducci.

Words filled his mouth just as tears filled his eyes, he said; an extended pause before a shaken and detached communiqué rolled off his tongue and found an acceptable volume in the air: I just wanted you know that I’m a big fan of your existence and I feel like your existence allows for me to exist, although I’m not one of those casual creeps. I was born into your world on December 5th and through your guidance I’ve been taking my first developmental steps and I’ll soon be ready to take more steps forward, hopefully with the same elegant prance you provide, following in your footsteps as I slowly turn my teeth to pure ivory and my eyes to pure jade. As my hair softens and swells, and my words become swords and the power of my path encourages others to breathe for the first time, he concluded, as he nearly exploded with a physical hallelujah upon punching out the last word.

The seconds seemed like centuries, as he eagerly awaited the World’s response. He said the focused stare he was matched against would either bring him into the world or remove him from it altogether. The intensity of the silence reached a crescendo when the World fired his chiseled bones of perfection into action and choreographed a facial movement that brought him to life: Verducci smiled.

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  A's,  Writing,  Sports Illustrated,  The Process,  Visual

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