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A Box Full of Things to Fill Holes

By: David G. Temple

He entered the house for the last time of the night — and only to pick up his bag and his phone.

“Hey,” she said. “There’s still that big box of baseball cards in the guest room. I need you to take care of them.”

“Can I do it this weekend? I’m really sweaty and I already have a bunch of stuff in my car.”

“I need you to take care of it. It takes up too much room and I don’t have anywhere else to put it.”

Neither did he. Despite what he considered to be a fruitful bout of purging his old possessions, his new studio apartment was still bursting at the seams. The mere thought of yet more clutter gave him the same feeling in his stomach that he got when boarding an airplane.

“I’m pretty tight on space. What if I found someone to take them? Could you hold onto them until then?”

“If you don’t want them, just throw them out.”

He had a short vision of himself doing exactly that after he went through them all and picked out what he thought was valuable. But he knew none of them were. He wasn’t sure if any baseball cards were worth anything these days.

He thought back to that summer when he started going nuts buying buying boxes of old cards on eBay. Much like now, he didn’t know then why it was happening. But they kept showing up — almost daily for a good week and a half. He knows he went through them all, but only once and he really didn’t look at them again.

He then thought of all the stuff he bought back then — stuff that now was haphazardly scattered about his studio — that he thought would make him happy. He realized some time ago what a cliche he’d turned into — the sad man who tried to fill the holes in his life with things. And for a brief two-week period, old baseball cards were the things of choice. They were mostly Topps, with some Donruss mixed in. He came across some of his favorites from his childhood — but he didn’t recognize at least 80% of the names.

It wasn’t like now, where he could damn-near name the starting lineup for any team. A rejuvenated love for the game combined with access to high-speed Internet melded to form the stereotypical baseball nerd he had become — a nerd that couldn’t bring himself to throw away old baseball cards he knew he didn’t want and wouldn’t care about. Was the second wind of his obsession part of the problem, too? Did he look to fill the holes in his life with blogs and advanced stats and fantasy baseball? Was this the impetus for it all? Was this the first sign?

All these thoughts left him as he climbed the stairs again. He was now more concerned about the sweat on his brow. He breached the guest room and grabbed the old beer box full of cards. She had collected them all into one receptacle. Of course she did. An extremely faint smirk came across his lips.


The (A.J.) Pollock Express

By: Trevor Strunk

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Staring around the traincar, the renowned detective Hercule Poirot sighed, removed his pince-nez, rubbed his nose, and returned them to their proper place. Everything, the detective mused to himself in his native French, in its place.

Alors, my friends, and so Hercule Poirot has called you all here together, and for what? Mon amis, it is nothing else than to right a wrong!” Poirot stopped, smiling suddenly and pivoting to his left. “But that is for later, non? For now, Monsieur Peralta, we will begin with you, yes?”

“Now what exactly are you driving at, Poirot?” Peralta began. “I was at bat when AJ was called out on that runner’s interference. I can hardly see how I could be responsible for that.”

Poirot smiled and nodded, “Indeed mon ami, it is true that you had nothing to do with Monsieur Pollock’s circumstance on the basepaths, this is true. But why, Poirot wonders, did you hit into a grounder in the first place? Perhaps you were trying to perform the, ah… hit-and-run, as you say, but Poirot he does not think so. Poirot thinks that a talented hitter like you Monsieur Peralta, you perhaps could have hit a line-drive or laid down a bunt.”

“Well-” Peralta began, before being shushed quickly by Poirot.

Non! It is Poirot’s time to finally uncover the situation most dire in this baseball game. And so we turn to you, eh, Monsieur LeMahieu?”

D.J. LeMahieu looked up and grimaced. “Here we go, the copper is going to try to pin it on the second baseman doing his job. Fine, let’s hear it. I won’t admit to anything.”

“Ah, no you would not, monsieur,” Poirot snapped, “and this is why you were asked to perform the bait and switch of the moment, to fool Poirot! And, heh, it is true that it worked for a moment, that Poirot — stupid, imbecile! — let your collision course with Monsieur Pollock fool him. But it was the moment I watched the review, and the pffah, ‘acting’ with which you and Monsieur Pollock engaged that I knew the truth.”

AJ Pollock looked up with a smile. “And what would I have to do with this, Poirot? Unless you think I wanted to be out of a close game instead of a runner on second.”

Wheeling on him, Poirot raged. “That is precissement what Hercule Poirot means to suggest, mon ami! For who was exactly in the path of Monsieur LeMahieu? Who was running directly on contact with Monsieur Peralta’s oh-so-convenient ground ball? And who made a quick, nearly imperceptible stutter step as if he meant to avoid contact? It was you, monsieur, and it has been you all along!”

Pollock smiled, slightly straightening and force a laugh. “That’s a fun theory, Poirot, but how do you plan to prove it? I mean, I can’t imagine any of my friends here would agree with your thoughts. And I don’t know what possible motive I could have to get myself out.”

“Motive?! You ask Poirot for motive?” Poirot turned away from Pollock and addressed the room. “The motive of all of you was the cruelest and darkest motive of all, the murder of a baseball game. A ten inning affair, scoreless, plodding in the dog days of April. Who would miss such a game, eh? Who would even notice? No one, exactement! No one, save Hercule Poirot.

“And so you all conspire to kill a baseball game in its moment of truest life. But proof? Poirot admits he has none. And oui, oui! You have used Poirot as a pawn most willing in this game of deceit! But, no longer. Poirot’s revenge shall simply be his resignation from this…this…monstrosity!”

And at this, the famous detective replaced his distinctive chapeau with a Los Angeles Dodgers hat, turned on his heel, and left the traincar into the April evening.


Tyler Cravy and the Line

By: Mo Bjonski

On one side of the line lies the big leagues, and its big stadiums, big teams, and big crowds. You stay in 5-star hotels, travel in style, and make more money in a month than most Americans earn in a year. You ply your trade against the best of the best, chasing all-star games, endorsements, and trips to the World Series.

On the other lies Triple-A. The ballparks are either cartoonish or dingey, and there are far many more plastic seats than people to fill them. The hotels are old hat, the flights leave at ridiculous hours, and the salaries are, well, considerably less lucrative. You may or may not care whether you win any games, but you’re probably not cheering for the role-players on the big league team. Many of your teammates are privately rooting for your failure; perhaps you are rooting for theirs as well.

This is the line Tyler Cravy straddled throughout camp. A competitive right-hander with fringy stuff but moxie in spades, Cravy spent six grueling weeks battling for the last spot in Milwaukee’s bullpen. He knew the stakes and pitched his ass off: in 13.1 innings, he struck out 11, walked only 3, and compiled a tidy 2.03 ERA. Alas, it wasn’t enough. Pittsburgh unexpectedly released Jared Hughes, and Brewers GM David Stearns snatched him up two days before the opener. Just like that, the vacancy in Milwaukee’s bullpen slammed shut at the eleventh hour.

Cravy, as you might expect, felt betrayed. Speaking to the media, he said “It would just be nice to have the honesty straight up front instead of, ‘Hey you’re competing for a job,’ then literally out-compete everyone and be told, Sorry, we have other plans.’

“It says a lot about the integrity, or lack thereof, of the guys running the show, but what are you going to do?” He added that he was “not sure I want to play for guys who treat (me) like this,” saying that he might quit and pursue “… a 9 to 5 job where I get treated like a human.”

The words are as strong as they were emotional; Cravy ultimately accepted the decision and one imagines he would have been more diplomatic had he slept on it. Regardless, you have to feel for him. I’ve used the word “literally” in anger too, but only when close to tears. It’s tempting to think “just go pitch well, Tyler, and you’ll be back,” but the advice is hollow. Opening Day is special, and Cravy has never tasted one. Moreover, in his case, Triple-A means Colorado Springs, a graveyard for 27-year-old righties with a 91 mph fastball and a middle school strikeout rate.

But while Cravy is an easy hero, his story has no villain. It’s not Hughes, a bystander far too talented for the waiver wire in the first place. It’s not Stearns either: His duty is to build the best baseball team possible, and he’s will within his rights to decide that Cravy wasn’t one of his top 25. He promised a competition, not a job. If anything, he deserves a nod for deftly responding to pointed criticism – not only from Cravy, but also from Rob Scahill, who felt similarly jilted.

Nobody was in the wrong. Baseball is a competitive game, and the cruel line facing Cravy is at once razor thin and agonizingly resolute. Baseball hath no hell quite like a life on the taxi squad.


Marlins Park of Darkness

By: Zack Moser

“I suppose you remember that I did once turn fan of the fish,” he said. We knew we were fated to hear about one of Moser’s inconclusive experiences.

“I don’t want to bother you with what happened to me personally,” he continued, betraying the weakness of many tale-tellers, often unaware of what their audience would like best to hear. “I had slipped the sepulchral city, where I briefly observed a map on the wall of the office from which my benefactor had sent me forth: a map streaked with blue pinstripes, with royal blues and cardinal reds, the crimson of the top-right corner and the aquamarine of the top-left. However, I wasn’t going to any of those. I was going to the orange. And the ocean was there—fascinating—deadly—like a large fish, ready to swallow the peninsula whole.

“I had my passage on a little steamer, captained by a man named Derek. It was from him I first heard the name of the man so indissolubly connected with the memories of that time. Moreover, I respected the fellow. He had taken to telling me of this man at the heart of the ballpark, through the ceaseless noise of the crowds and the arms and limbs tangled, impenetrable, at the epicenter and yet on the brink of sanity. Some months it would take to reach him.”

He was silent for a while, then took a sip of wine.

“No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s fandom—that which makes its truth, its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. We cheer as we dream—alone…”

He paused again, reflecting.

“I was rather excited at the prospect of meeting the one they called the Marlins Man very soon. Going through those rows and seats was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the game, when outfields sprouted dandelions and the players were as likely to bar brawl as to exercise. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. Miami air. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. You lost your way in those stands…

“Often I was cut off from the comprehension of my surroundings. At last, I reached his outpost behind the home plate screen. And from right to left along the dugout moved a man in a large fish costume: his face had a tragic and fierce aspect of wild sorrow and of dumb pain mingled with fear. My long journey forced me into complicity; I had found myself lumped along with Marlins Man as a partisan of a team for which the time was not ripe. In the outfield a monstrosity loomed, illuminating fitfully for dingers that rarely came.

“I came upon him, nearly tripped over his white, sepulchral legs. He rose, a long, pale, orange vapor, topped with the visor of a much younger man. I was surprised to hear him confess, ‘I am sitting here in the sun waiting for death.’ I was transfixed.

“I sat with him watching Dan Straily hurl baseballs toward home. I saw on his pallid face, framed by burnt art deco hues, the expression of wanton greed, of ruthless power, of craven terror—of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live every game in a detail of desire, temptation, and surrender in that moment of complete knowledge? He cried out in a whisper at some image, some vision, no more than a breath:

“‘The horror! The horror!’

“I remained to dream the nine innings out to the end, and to show my loyalty to Marlins Man once more. The knowledge of yourself that comes too late, the regrets that linger behind a shock of orange glow and team apparel. He had summed it up: ‘the horror.’”

Moser sat silent for some time. We drifted into what appeared to be a ballpark of immense darkness.

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