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Taking Some Cuts in the Apocalypse

By: Holly Wendt

On April 10, Michael Martinez pitched the final inning of Cleveland’s loss to the White Sox in a game with a lopsided score, though not so lopsided one would expect to have to write, “On April 10, Michael Martinez pitched.” But he did, and he gave up only one hit in the final inning of the game, a double to Leury Garcia, bookended by hitters induced into ground-outs. According to MLB’s Gameday, all of Martinez’s pitches were changeups, topping out at 83.1 MPH and dipping as low as 77.5. Brooks Baseball had the right of it: the pitches were fastballs, according to their intention if not their reality.

As position-players-pitching outings go, the inning was uneventful and certainly not enough to erase what stands as most people’s clearest memory of Michael Martinez:

But there will be other memories of Michael Martinez to come because, despite a generally woeful performance in every aspect of the game, Terry Francona believes in his utility. There is a time and a place for Michael Martinez, even if that time is a garbage inning and that place is on the mound. Michael Martinez is indeed “the rusty Swiss army knife,” and Francona knows that the bleak late inning will come, the time when exactly such a tool is needed. Even if it’s just to throw at the enemy when he’s out of bullets.

***

Orange clouds hang over Lake Erie, and you walk on, into the bones of Cleveland. The House of Blues is a silent shell, and Quicken Loans Arena has caved upon its foundations. There’s no one here, as there has been no one for days—months, years, it’s hard to tell. There is only this silence, broken by the occasional beetled scuttle, the clack of small, sturdy wings. But from somewhere inside the ruin of Progressive Field, a sound: wood meeting leather, a smack as weak as the sunlight at the end of the world.

The infield grass has long gone to dust, but Michael Martinez jogs across it, back to home plate. He gives you a piece of Dubble Bubble, asks if you want to play. He’ll even pitch, he says, if you want to take some cuts. You do, and for an afternoon, the taste of alkali dust is masked in pink sugar.

As the night dims, you ask if he’ll come with you—surely there must be something better, somewhere else. He shakes his head, gives you more bubble gum for your journey. Deep in the tunnels beneath the stadium, there are vaults of the stuff, and he is generous with it, but he will not come with you. He has to stay here, stay warm.

“Just in case,” he says. “Terry might need me.”

He will not be persuaded to leave. You walk on, glance over your shoulder one last time.

Standing at home plate, Michael Martinez tosses a baseball in the air, returns his right hand to the bat’s grip, and swings. The baseball lands on the hardened dirt at his feet, and Michael Martinez picks it up, tosses it once more.


Three Stories About Justin Bour’s Slide into Home

By: Trevor Strunk

I.

Justin Bour woke up early on the morning of April 16, 2017, and poured himself a glass of orange juice as he did every morning since joining the Miami Marlins. It seemed strange, he thought, that he’d grown so fond of orange juice only after moving to Florida, but he also supposed this made a kind of sense. We adapt to our cultural surroundings and make home a part of ourselves by embracing our local idiosyncrasies. Still, Justin mused, if he were a New York Met, would he start every morning with a bagel fresh from the delicatessen? If he were an Arizona Diamondback, would he be trying new hot sauces on eggs, each one specially designed to nuke taste buds in an efficient and total manner? And if he were a Toronto Blue Jay, would he be guiltily sneaking poutine in the wee hours, nuking the deeply unhealthy snack and devouring it before practice? Did predilection and choice have anything to with personal preference, or was his morning routine simply a sum of behavioral and environmental chance?

It was as he considered this last question that Justin Bour, in his kitchen early in the morning, slid toward home, missing the bag in comical fashion, sliding head over heel and never touching the base despite beating the tag.

II.

“Hi, I was hoping to return this item,” Justin Bour explained to the items manager at Costco.

“Can I ask why?”

Justin shuffled slightly, embarrassed. The last thing he wanted to do was imply that the Costco employee worked for a store that was less than excellent. And it wasn’t that he couldn’t imagine someone enjoying the product he’d received as a gift. It was a very nice shirt, and in most situations, it would have been a lovely sort of present. He didn’t even realize Costco sold polo shirts in single quantities and he wondered if he could work this into the conversation. Maybe suggest he was considering applying for membership now that he knew this amazing secret. Ah, but maybe that’d sound fake; and maybe the employee had this shirt too and they’d know Justin was just trying to spare their feelings. And so there was no way out; he’d have to be a lout in the middle of the store, ungrateful for his own good fortune and churlish to boot.

“I have a medical condition,” Justin explained, “that does not allow me to wear shirts.”

“Ah,” the Costco employee began. “Hm.”

It was then, smiling awkwardly and internally panicking at the fact that he had given the exact worst possible answer he could have devised, that Justin Bour got out of the returns line and slid toward home, missing the bag in comical fashion, sliding head over heel, and never touching the base despite beating the tag.

III.

It is the bottom of the 6th inning in Miami, and the Marlins are playing the Mets. It is is still April 16, 2017. Justin Bour has walked and is standing on first base. He is watching his friend, Marcell Ozuna, take an at-bat against Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey. He begins thinking, for no particular reason, of the way a butterfly’s wings can cause a tsunami in a country far away. How the smallest actions of our lives have undeniable consequences. How many of his favorite shows from the 1970s — he’s seen them on Netflix — were spinoffs of other shows he’s never seen. How the world is a delicate map of connections too fragile to possibly be real.

It was then, as his friend doubled to deep center field, that Justin Bour snapped back into reality, got serious, focused, and slid toward home, missing the bag in comical fashion, sliding head over heel, and never touching the base despite beating the tag.