Pregame (Part 1 of 10)
He saw the brilliant outfield for the first time in nearly a half year, a green canvas on which Leonardo da Vinci splashed his first subjects; small figures in crisp white uniforms with midnight blue trim, the old English D covering their left breasts, a calligraphy heart, a Detroit heart. The April sun broke through one of the few clouds in the midday sky and blinded his vision of the ballplayers engaging in long toss from Left to Right field. He adjusted the bill of his own cap and smirked. He couldn’t help it, he didn’t pretend to be unimpressed with the Cathedral of Motown, nor of the arm strength that had lay dormant in the spectacular arms of those Tigers in the outfield for the last five months. Nor, in fact, of the man who was slowly walking up to him, a man surprisingly short in height and yet a man who stood over everyone he spoke too.
Jim Leyland reached out and placed a nicotine stained hand on his shoulder. “Enjoying yourself, young man?” he grumbled, sticking his tongue in his cheek not unlike a child playing with a lollipop. Of course, it had been decades since Leyland had ever thought of the concept of a lollipop. No, his habit of choice appeared out of thin air, by some force of magic, a small package of Marlboros, a small red matchbook, a small pursed smile. “God damn outlaw, they’re making me. Can’t smoke in the dugout, can’t smoke in the clubhouse. Next thing I know, they’ll put smoke detectors in my own damn office.”
The “young man”, a Detroit local, a Tigers yuck, stared at Leyland’s uniform. The same uniform as the ballplayers a hundred or so feet away from them wore…the same uniform he donned himself only a half hour earlier. The surreal reality of what he was a part of hit him like a plume of Leyland’s smoke. He couldn’t respond to the conversation starter. He panicked and coughed.
Leyland ignored him, smacked a steady hand on his back and continued. “As bat boy today, your biggest job is not making sure you grab clubs from around home plate, you know?” It wasn’t as much of a question as it was a statement and the bat boy remained silent. “No, your biggest job is to hold these-,” he held the pack of Marlboros and matchbook up ,”-during the game, and whenever I need a smoke, you hand them to me, and stand in front so those damned cameras don’t catch it and get me fined.”At this the bat boy (bat man?) cracked a wide grin, took the offering and carefully pocketed the evidence of insubordination with the care of a catholic nun.
Leyland the Soothsayer patted his new partner in crime on the back and began to make his way into the outfield where the members of his team ignored his presence for as long as possible. The bat boy (bat man?) turned away and began making his way down the first base line, the secret between a legendary manager and himself stuffed into his back pocket.
Now only ninety feet in front of him sat the half-oval batting cage, a figure stood in the right handed batter’s box in a slight crouch, knees bent in front, arms waving a black bat in long exaggerated circles. The bat stopped, fell back against his right shoulder and paused as the batting practice pitcher fired his white bullet. Arms, elbows, hips, feet, all swiveled in one swift motion, the bat met the ball and the sphere was redirected high into the left field air, far over the heads of those playing long toss, far over Leyland’s head, and deep into the bleacher section of the outfield grandstand.
Cheers and jeers erupted from all around the field, several teammates called out profanities, but the honorary bat boy (bat man?), thanks to a rich uncle’s connection (ownership of) to a certain local pizza franchise, wasn’t listening to what was being said, he was watching what was unfolding before his eyes, a trick of the eyes, a fallacy, a joke.
The batter launched another baseball into the same area of the ballpark, easily 400 feet away from where they stood. Then another, and another, and another after that. One hit the newly renovated scoreboard, all 150 feet of it, and broke a handful of brand new High Definition display bulbs. More cheers, more jeers, more catcalls. The show continued.
The bat boy (bat man?) was now standing at the lip of the cage, loitering amongst other Tigers players, each one seemingly more talented than the other. The Venezuelan’s were standing in a huddled group laughing animatedly, though at what, he had no clue.
The batter continued his show. There were perhaps 25 home runs in a row, though no one was keeping track. There was one last pitch, the batter lay down a sacrifice bunt, the ball headed down the first base line and rolled to a stop 20 feet away from any infield dirt. The perfect bunt. More cheers and jeers and profanities.
The batter began walking towards him, a mousy player with blond hair and thin cheekbones. The player had been a member of the Tigers longer than anyone on the field, and whether he would ever admit it or not, he was proud of this fact. From the basement to the pinnacle of Mount Everest, Brandon Inge had been part of every Tigers’ season since 2001. But did that matter to anyone other than him?
“Inge, man, why can’t you do any of that during the game?” One of the Venezuelans called out in a heavy accent. Inge smiled, flexed his tattooed forearms, and barked out a response the honorary bat boy (man?) did not hear. He was too busy.
Too busy watching their opponents, dressed in the redcoat of an ancient enemy, step onto the field from the visitors’ dugout. These visitors, their red socks filled to the brim with the smell of fried fowl and attitude and the pint of unlawful alcohol, jogged onto the field one by one and the Tigers slowly gave way.
It was the Red Sox turn to warm up. Opening day was upon them; first pitch less than any hour away.