Waiting for Clemens: A Tragicomedy in One Act
with apologies to Samuel Beckett
A country road. A tree. A retractable dome.
Purpura, sitting on the ground, is trying to take off a ring that isn’t there. He pulls at it with both hands. He gives up, exhausted, then tries again.
Purpura: Nothing to be done.
Garner: I’m beginning to come around to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying Phil, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle. (He broods, musing on the struggle. Turning to Purpura.) So there you are again.
Purpura: Am I?
Garner: I’m glad to see you back. Together again at last. It’s been a long time since those cold nights in Chicago, those disappointing nights in (he pauses, turning to the dome) there. Is it really so long ago?
Purpura: When I think of it … all those years. Those might have beens. Who thought we’d be here?
Garner: Everyone is still here. Lance Berkman is still our strong standard. He stands tall, on his one leg.
Purpura: Yes, there is that. I miss Jeff Bagwell. We did him wrong.
Garner: Don’t speak of him. Yes, yes … we shall speak of him. It looks unnatural to have him as a spring training instructor. There are no leaves on that tree.
Purpura: When the roof is closed, there is no sun.
Garner: No sun, yes, and I have never seen juice in the stadium.
Purpura: (Looks around quickly) Shh. Mitchell is about. We cannot use that word.
Garner: I meant no …
Pupura: (Interrupting) Do not speak of it here. (They both look around, suspiciously, then he continues.) What time is it?
Garner: I have no hands.
Purpura: Yes, you do. There on the end of your arms.
Garner: I meant arms. They’re all gone.
Purpura: You mean pitchers.
Garner: Scrap Iron! I mean that I have no arms, no pitchers, no hands on deck. He has abandoned us.
Purpura: No, he will be back.
Garner: Have you ever seen them apart?
Purpura: (pause) No. He came when the left-handed one came. He left when the left-handed one left.
Garner: I miss Andy already. It seems he was never here.
Purpura: He was never here. One year, really. The rest of the time he was a ghost. Pale, unsettled, certainly out of place.
Garner: But, oh, that year.
(They both glance back at the dome. They sit on the ground, back to back.)
Purpura: Yet do not forget that the young one learned so much from them.
Garner: Did he? Roy Oswalt is nothing like them. He was there the whole time. Esse est percipi!
Purpura: Is that Latin?
Purpura: Oswalt is not Latin. Carlos Lee is Latin. We have grown many of them on the farms of South America, like coffee.
Garner: Lee was bought, like the, um … (He pauses, looking for the word he can use here. Instead, he links.)
Purpura: Not exactly like that. We didn’t even have the highest offer. (Purpura tugs again at the ring that isn’t there, then stands up. He addresses the crowd.) I will be criticized for not standing by on Lee. He is the great Bull, our El Caballo. That’s Spanish, not Latin. Sure, he is not ours like Oswalt is ours or like Biggio is ours, but now he is one of us. For better or for worse, he is here for the longest time. He stands in left field like a bull in pasture.
Garner: With about the same range and size.
Purpura: Perhaps I did not wish to wait for our slugger. I missed Bagwell. He had not yet returned. I missed Willy Taveras.
Garner: Lee is nothing like Taveras.
Purpura: (Points accusingly) Exactly! He is nothing like Willy Taveras. I never want to think of him again.
Garner: Think of Jason Jennings. He breathes easier now. The light air could not have been good for him.
Purpura: Yes, you are beginning to understand. When we were left by the left-hander, I could not wait for him. He would not return, gone back to the city and the king and away from our crossroads. Do you believe this?
Garner: It’s the only version I know. They wonder why they left.
Purpura: People are economically illterate apes. Or dogs. I forget which. I read it somewhere.
Garner: Let’s go. Biggio is inside.
Purpura: We can’t. We’re waiting.
Garner: Ah, yes! Is this the place?
Purpura: It is where he came last year. He said it was a hometown discount. He said it was to be close to his family. Do you see any other hometowns?
Garner: I guess not. Perhaps his family has moved. Didn’t you send Koby Clemens to Lexington last year?
Purpura: And likely there again this year. The injury. Oh, why was there the injury?
Garner: He stood on the field with his father. Perhaps he knows where his father is now.
Purpura: No more weeping.
Garner: (wipes his eyes, though he showed no sign of crying.) Perhaps it is not the season.
Purpura: He should be here.
Garner: He didn’t say for sure he’d come.
Purpura: He came last year.
Garner: Late. Too late some said.
Purpura: It was only one game.
Garner: How long will we wait?
Purpura: I did not wait to bring you Jennings. I did not wait to bring you Lee. What else could we be waiting on?
Garner: Yes. (They each look in opposite directions.) We’ve waited on Hunter Pence a while too.
Purpura: But he’s come. Do you see his stroke, that opposite field power? He gives us what we missed when Morgan Ensberg was hurt last season.
Purpura: Only for now. You let me worry about those two. I waited a long time for Lane, all for naught. He never came the way I thought he would.
Garner: Shall we wait for Ensberg?
Purpura: We did not wait last season. Ensberg was felled and we brought in the mighty Aubrey Huff. That is what those sneaky boys from Tampa called him.
Garner: He was not mighty. He was no better than Ensberg. He was no better than Mike Lamb. He was no better than, dare I say it?
Purpura: Say it, man. Say it!
Garner: He was no better than Scrap Iron!
Purpura: I thought you would speak of Biggio there. Biggio is our quiet leader.
Garner: I am the leader. Ensberg sometimes stands behind me and whispers, thinking that I will mistake it for my own thoughts. That prankster, he makes me wonder if when the sun comes out that it is not just him giving the world a hot-foot.
(They laugh, perhaps too long. Garner looks around, just in case Ensberg is near. He is not.)
Garner: So you tell me. I don’t know. There’s an even chance. Or nearly.
Purpura: So let’s do nothing. Let’s wait.
Garner: It’s safer. Let’s see what he says.
Purpura: Good idea.
Garner: Let’s wait until we know exactly where we stand.
Purpura: On the other hand, it might be good to strike quickly. As I did with Carlos Lee. And Jason Jennings.
Garner: I’m curious to hear what he has to offer. Then we’ll take it or leave it. (Pause) What exactly did he ask for?
Purpura: Were you not standing there?
Garner: McLane didn’t let me listen.
Purpura: McLane. It was all his idea. But it was nothing very definite. McLane is not the Boss.
Garner: A prayer? Some kind of vague supplication? What did he say?
Purpura: Like last year. That we’ll see. That he couldn’t promise anything. That he’ll think it over. In the comfort of his home. Consult his family, his friends, his agents, his correspondents, his bank account. It is the normal way of doing things these days.
Garner: We waited last year. Precisely here. And ended precisely here.
Purpura: I don’t mind the September cold, but I miss October.
Garner: Was it just two years ago, Tim? One is the loneliest number, but two seems just as bleak here. I can remember when Brad Lidge was good.
Purpura: Was it the home run? Did Pujols ruin him?
Garner: If Pujols had that power, how many men would be ruined? Hundreds? Thousands? Pujols doesn’t have the power to reach into a man’s elbow and tear it apart. He can’t reach into his heart and pluck out the courage. He can’t stare into a man’s soul and send his confidence fleeing into the night. (Purpura gives him a long look.) Yeah, maybe. He’s good.
Purpura: He has our ring. (He tugs once again at the finger.) Our precious.
Garner: I’m taking those movies away from you. Tolkien by night cannot be good for a man. Pujols doesn’t have our ring because Tony Montana took ours.
Purpura: Ozzie Guillen. I’m taking your movies away from you. De Palma by night cannot be good for a man.
Garner: You talking to me? You talking to me?
Purpura: Scorsese. He finally won his award. How shall we win ours?
Garner: Scrap Iron!
Purpura: I don’t know what to say when you say that.
Garner: I will build this team with scrap iron! Ensberg will fight through the shoulder problem. Oswalt will be our ace. Jennings will fit in exactly where you thought he would. Biggio will inspire the team with his quest for 3,000, finding his youth in a number. Lee will stand in the field and be our stallion. Brad Ausmus will continue using his slide rule and Ivy League education to confuse those that have slide rules and Ivy League educations so that they will continue to mutter under their breaths of his weakness. Lidge will find his slider, Pence will find his place in the field, Adam Everett will find his bat, and the Tin Man shall find his heart. You, Tim, shall have your ring. This very year. There is no one to stand in our way. Only so much luck to go around for some, so much money for others, but even if he does not come, we have enough. (Looks around.) By god, we have enough.
Purpura: So we have everything?
Garner: I believe we do.
Purpura: Then why are we waiting here?
Garner: Nothing is certain.
Purpura: It’s not worthwhile now.
Garner: No, it’s not worthwhile.
Purpura: Shall we go?
Garner: Yes, let’s go.
(They do not move as a rocket shoots to the sky, far away.)
Brad talks with Astros AGM Ricky Bennett about Houston’s chances on Baseball Prospectus Radio.
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