I have harbored this idea, ever since starting my rehab assignment, that when I was called back up to the big club, I'd be the savior, astride a white horse and spreading good will and innocent laughter. I pictured myself riding bareback and sprinkling sparkly fairy dust over my fellow teammates, bringing them joy and, of course, victories. I dreamed my flowing robes would be touched by catchers and outfielders and short shortstops, each man becoming awash with relaxation. Meanwhile, my smile permeates any negativity. My glistening white teeth shine through the darkness of past losses. My hands are the hands that make the team whole. I am their messiah. Kiss my naked feet and glow with me.
Real life swatted these images out of my mind like a human's palm crashing down on a slow summer fly.
For various reasons (read yesterday's post), I missed Wednesday's game in LA. I did make the team flight back to NY, but it was a very cold and bitter trip for me. First, there were some grumblings because I never even went to the stadium once I landed (actually, it was my plane that landed) in LA. The game had ended upon touchdown (we lost 9 to 1) and for me to spend an hour driving to a quiet clubhouse simply to turn around again and drive back to the airport sounded ludicrous to me.
"Not when you play on a team," said Rick Churches, my fiery manager who's especially fiery when it comes to your truly. "You should've been here. We could've used you."
I told him my story and then iterated that the team was losing 6 to 0 in the 4th inning. If I'm their closer, they wouldn't have used me in the game. Plus, I'd pitched the night before. Why use me two days in a row if you don't need me and I'm coming off a major injury?
Don't question your manager. Not a good thing. Here's why:
Rick: You telling me how to manage my team?
Me: I didn't.
Rick: Sounded like it.
Me: (wiggling in my shoes - no bare feet were kissed)
By this time, I was getting a little self-conscious because we were not on the team plane. We were in the airport near a Starbucks (I'd just ordered a grande skim hot chocolate with whip.). I could sense a few eyes (one person had a patch on, like a bad pirate) peering toward us.
Rick: We could've used you tonight.
Rick: I don't want to hear your "mmm" crap. Just tell me what you're thinking and don't patronize me.
Me: You said, "Tonight." It was a day game.
Rick: What difference does it make?
Me: None. It makes no difference. Do I have whipped cream on my lip?
He didn't answer. (I found out moments later, in the bathroom, that I did. How embarrassing.)
"Last call for flight 1803 to New York."
I swore because I was in the bathroom and not getting onto the plane. I got my stuff together and rushed to the gate. I couldn't find my ticket and the airline guy wouldn't let me on (even though it was a charter flight and I'm famous beyond famous). They had to call John Brock, the team's traveling secretary, off the plane to come and sort out my status as a member of the team. After 10 minutes, I was leading (John didn't want me to follow for fear he'd turn around and I'd be gone) him down the ramp and into the plane.
There was no white horse between my legs. My robes were non-existent. None of my teammates, some I've known for years, some I met for the first time in spring training, were looking at me as the savior. I had no sparkly fairy dust to sprinkle upon their heads. However, I did knock the back of big J.D. Bryant's head with my carry on. "Ouch!" he said.
First Class. That's where I sit on the plane. It's in my contract. Yes, the whole team had the plane to them/ourselves. But there aren't 25 First Class seats on an airplane. The richest guys, the most successful guys, the guys with the most unscrupulous agents - they're the ones who get the First Class seats on every road trip. I've won 287 games, am making about $16 million this year, and have Jack Perry as my super agent. Yeah, I get First Class.
That doesn't always make it right. I couldn't help but feel as if I didn't belong. My 2007 season was lost: one game, one run, two pitches, an ERA of infinity. This season at Nashville? Here were my final stats:
G IP W L SO BB ERA SV
19 17.2 0 2 14 9 5.75 6
My numbers with the Hounds look pretty hideous, but let me point out that in my last 6 games with them, I didn't give up an earned run in 6 innings and had 8 strikeouts in 6 innings. And the most important point is I felt no pain.
Still, coming up to the big squad with the horrible resume from Nashville didn't give me much confidence on that plane. Neither did my Starbucks run-in with Rick. Neither did the handful of glares I received from some of the guys who are upset that I'm doing this instead of keeping my mouth shut (or talking to the traditional media instead). Oh, and the fact that I missed the game and the team is in last place doesn't help them or me get along just yet. Here are the standings as of Friday morning:
TEAM W L PCT. GB
Florida 23 12 .657 --
Philadelphia 19 15 .556 3.5
Atlanta 18 16 .545 4.5
Washington 14 21 .400 9
New York 12 23 .343 11
So we're in last place and already, to put it kindly, buried. We're not hitting. We're not pitching. Our defense has been porous. And Rick is already on the hot seat, 35 games into his managerial career. Now you can understand why he was a little upset with me in the airport.
It didn't help us any further that I sat behind him on the plane.
Rick: Stop kicking my seat.
Me: I'm not.
Rick: Then what is?
Me: I don't know.
Rick: Then stop whatever you're doing.
Me: I'm not doing anything.
Rick: Maybe that's why you started the season in AAA instead of with us.
Me: I see no connection between my seat on this plane and my status with the team.
Rick: You have no status with this team.
Me: I thought you had groomed me to be your closer.
Rick: You'll be lucky if you get the 5th inning of a blowout.
Me: That's smart thinking. Let your freshest arm, your hottest pitcher ride the bench.
Rick: You telling me how to run my team?
And that was it. Don't worry. I'm his closer. I want to be. I will be. Yes, it took a while to overcome the fact that I wasn't going to be a starting pitcher this year, like I have been all my life. But my head is clear now. I can do this. I will do this. At least until Billy Weston, our real closer, comes back.
That's when I leaned over to Bobby Spencer, our pitching coach, and asked him when, by chance, they expected Billy back. "I don't know," Bobby said. "Maybe mid-July."
It's May 9th. That gives me two months to prove to Rick, the team - to myself - that I can be successful. This is a big two months for me. If I can't do it, I know I'll pretty much be done after this season. I'll be living home this time next year, probably cleaning out my closet after Vanessa tells me to move out because she can't stand living with me 365 days out of the year.
I have to be good this year. I can't retire yet. What would I do then?