Take Me Out of the Ballgame
by Joe Decker
You should have known there would be trouble when you saw the keg. Steve gave you fifty bucks to hold his spot in line for tickets. Meanwhile, he was on top of some Hooters waitress bent like a yoga instructor across the back seat of his Pontiac Sunbird.
Everyone has Indians gear on but you. You burned all your stuff last year. Now you hunker down in your hunting cover-alls. Who's dumb enough to sit on lawn chairs in 15 degree weather for baseball tickets? Who else besides you?
Of course, the inevitable comes. Some hilljack from Pennsylvania pipes up. "Hey, aren't you that guy who was on the news?"
"No man. Wasn't me."
"Yeah," his fat friend chimes in, "you that dentist guy, what burnt all his stuff. Said you was jinxin' the tribe."
The first one scowls. "You weren't going to watch them anymore, right?"
"No, no. You're thinking of some other guy."
He turns to the fat one, and says around a mouthful of Red Man, "What was that guy's name? Bill?"
"Naw, that wasn't it."
"No. That's silly."
"Buzz!" The call comes from your friend Steve, striding to his reserved line spot like a man taking his accustomed place at the bar.
You should have walked then. You shouldn't have even bothered trying to catch Steve's eye, warning him to stop. Steve was the type to either completely ignore what everyone else wanted, or should he manage to recognize it, do the complete opposite. If you had run, you might have stayed out of the hospital.
"Yeah! Buzz Sweetman!"
"Schwiedemann," you sigh.
"That's what I said."
Steve claps you on the back. "Yep, this is the sorry son of a bitch who cost our Indians the Series in '95 and '97." You were lucky most people didn't listen to an obscure Saturday morning talk radio show. Steve had a sales account at the station, which gave him an excuse to hit on the captive secretaries. Steve was the one who fed them your story. Steve was the one who nagged for an interview. Steve was the one. When they asked why one sad sack fan was different than all the rest, he told them how you were the sad sackiest.
Somehow, most likely over many beers, Steve talked them into broadcasting from your backyard. You were supposed to burn your voluminous collection of Indians crap, and this would be some kind of "event." Of course, Steve worked it so he'd get some sales out of all the hoopla.
That was as far as things went when you were talked into it. Steve had heard you complaining (no more than usual) about your bad luck with the Tribe. He said the thing to push them over the hump and into the Series would be a bonfire. To your superstitious mind, fire was the perfect answer.
Things got much worse when you saw the news cameras in your backyard. Somebody had been listening to the promotional spots on the radio station, not including the hundred or so faithful listeners who also stopped by your house. All that was missing was a chopper circling the house when the cops showed up to arrest you for not having a permit to burn a truckload of stuff in your backyard. Lucky for you, someone in the Indians office was nice enough to pay the fine. The radio station weaseled out, telling you that there was no written agreement with the station, leaving you solely responsible. Once again, hanging out with Steve had got you into trouble. After being a Cleveland fan for thirty six years, you were slow to learn.
You try to smile, but you see Steve has taken a step back from you. The guy who couldn't get your name right is looking at you. This one's a mouth breather. You can tell he hasn't had his teeth cleaned in a decade, if ever. But it's the beer on his breath that's got you worried. You look at the keg, then you see beer breath's buddy and Steve, and they're both grinning. This is your last chance to walk.
Instead you talk. You've never been a good talker, but you think to yourself, "That's what adults do." But every word just ups this guy's blood another degree, and you climb right with him. "It's not my fault their right fielder can't remember how many outs there are. It's not my fault they don't have a pitcher older than 24. It's not my fault everything they do goes wrong. It's not my fault I've been to a hundred games and I'VE NEVER SEEN THEM WIN!"
You're shaking now, red-faced and leaving your spittle across a mad field in front of you. Too late, you're brain says "Run!" And you do.
There's shouting behind you, but your ears are already flushed and burning. You run, you always ran. When you wanted to quit dentistry school, you ran instead, until you were so tired that all you could do was sit and study those damn books. When Steve told you Lisa had cheated on you, you ran until three in the morning. When you came through the door, and Lisa yelled at you, slapped you, you went back outside and ran 'til you were lost.
Baseball was one thing you hadn't run from. You stuck by your team, like your father had stuck by his. There wasn't a membership card that you tore up when things got frustrating. It was in your blood, and wouldn't come out without some trauma. That's why the little bonfire hurt. It felt too much like giving up, even though it was billed as Lifting-A-Jinx. But in the smallest, blackest part of your heart, you knew all of Cleveland could burn, and they still wouldn't win it all.
So the heavy sounds of the size twelve feet on the pavement behind you don't scare you. Instead, you hear the sound of your father softly cursing when some drunken slob spilled his beer down the backs of your seats at the old Stadium. You feel soggy peanut shells wanting to crunch underfoot as you and your friends circle the concourse like greyhounds. Your head keeps singing "Super Joe Charboneau" over and over, like some Rain Man mantra. Next to a glorious new ballpark, and all your memories are of a hated wreck that sits under Lake Erie. You've never entered the ballyhooed Jacobs Field. No matter what your long-suffering neighbors say, it is not for you. You refuse to bring your personal losing streak here, like an old lech watching high schoolers file out at 3 PM.
You've heard them win on WTAM, seen them win on tv. You're not so self-obsessed to think your hapless influence is that far-reaching.
But superstition is a nefarious thing. Baseball is unfair. They'll tell you up front that it defies hope. So you try to impose a kind of reason on it. They didn't win today. I wore my red shirt today. The red shirt made them lose. It's not much of a belief system, but what else does a guy like you have? Your wife ran off. Both of your parents are dead. And the only two places you feel happy anymore are in your office when everyone has left, or next to your radio on the front porch. At least, you had thought to yourself, there was nothing left to run from.
When you round the corner of the ticket office, your foot hits the ground with a squirming squash and a squawk. Of course, it must have been a pigeon you stepped on. Logical, right? Why not a pigeon? It was pigeons who loitered in your office lot, fouling the ground and hiding from gulls. It was a pigeon who crapped on your head when dad took you to the Stadium for your thirteenth birthday. Someone with more dignity might have rated ravens, or at least a crow. But it was an unseen pigeon who had parked its fat ass around the corner. When your foot landed on it, producing a violated coo, you felt your ankle roll just short of snapping. A half second later, your leg buckles and everything falls. But you don't notice the concrete's abrasions on your hands and face, because your head just bounced off the pavement like grapefruit off a bat.
Big fat dude rounds the corner next, and plants one of his work boots on your chest before he even knows you're there. By the time he gets off and says sorry, your ribs are even worse off than your skull. There's a filthy pigeon feather, looking like it fell off of Chief Wahoo's headdress, stuck to your bleeding bottom lip. You feel like you're going to die, but it can't go down like that. That would be too elegant. Instead there will be tubes and cutting things, months of check-ups and re-habs, topped off with a thick wad of insurance claims. It has to be stupid and clumsy, because you couldn't listen. You never should have come back.
About the author:
Joe Decker is a stay-at-home dad and husband. He's a member of the Naked Wordshop in Columbus, Ohio. He's repolishing his first novel, Couch, a story of love and beer. He's starting his second novel, Guilt. He's also been seen in Inkburns. He's left a spot for your favorite Replacements lyric or Simpsons quote.