Friday, December 09, 2005

Play Ball!

One of those supermodern, sleek, dark-windowed touring buses, carrying a major league baseball team to its next engagement, is hurtling through a shabby part of town near an industrial area, ignoring speed limits and other precautions. It passes an apartment complex for the second or third time. They are either lost or there are lots of similar apartment projects.

No, it is the same project, and again out on the scruff of lawn in front of a building a man is standing with a baseball bat battering a young boy of about ten years of age. But instead of roaring by again, the bus suddenly careens over the curb, smashes through a growing throng of on-lookers, some of them children, and pins the man to a scrawny tree. The bus doors open and out spill the team, some in sweats, some in pin-stripes, and all carrying baseball bats.

There is a general murmur through the crowd that now forms around the bus. The wailing and screaming from those the bus has mowed down and their relatives and friends is rising now, almost deafening, but the professional baseball players do not pay them much attention. Their efforts seem to be wholly directed toward capturing the baseball bat the man was using on the child, and having accomplished that within seconds of the arrival of the bus, the players begin to stand around awkwardly in what looks for all the world like a loosely defensive posture, protecting their beautiful bus.

Within seconds someone from the crowd of injured and their friends hurls a rock through one of the windows of the bus. The players respond by rushing to that side of the bus and pummeling into the dust the person they thought threw the rock. Cries of foul play and murder rise in the crowd and more rocks are thrown and now not only windows but players are being struck. The players strike back and a melee ensues in which several of the team are grievously injured, one fatally.

Later, the police arrive and begin to ask what happened. A PR flak from the bus explains it thusly:

"Well, Officer, we were playing in town, lost a double-header to a really bad expansion team, you know the one. We were driving to our next game in the next city. I guess we were pretty sore and upset with the twin losses. Morale was pretty low. It's the worse thing that's happened to our team since I can remember. We got disoriented driving through this end of town and apparently the driver got lost. Our driver is not too familiar with these parts, but he really knows how to handle this bus. Ain't it a beauty! Well, anyways, we passed this apartment project and someone noticed that a guy was beating up on a kid. We were going too fast the first and second times we passed the scene, but the third time our driver just wheeled up onto the yard and skewered the bad dude with our hood ornament! Serves the bastard right!

"It was then we noticed that the driver had mowed down a bunch of these, well, whatever you want to call them, 'locals,' I guess, who were hanging around watching the guy beat the kid. Sometimes stuff happens when you are aiming at an evil guy, and maybe some people get hurt. We're like sorry for that, but I don't see how our driver could have saved the kid and kewered the bad guy without driving over the curb and through the crowd. They saw us comin'; they should have jumped outta the way, you know!

"Well, then one of these 'locals' threw a rock through our bus window. Do you have any idea how much a bus like this costs? The paint alone is worth more than this whole neighborhood, I'd bet. Anyway, we went around to see who did that and next thing we know, they are all over us, so we struck back. God! We saved them from the bad guy and this is the appreciation we get!"

The officer looked at the speaker incredulously and motioned for another of the police to come over and listen. He yelled at three or four of the police to round up the bus driver and to take him into custody.

"So, let me get this straight, sir. The driver went up over the curb on his own, without instructions or egging-on from anyone in the bus? Is that what you are telling me?"

The PR guy was now joined by a very tall and very well-known member of the pitching staff of the team. Both started to speak at once, but the PR guy dropped back to let the team member speak for himself. "It was the damnedest thing I ever saw, Officer. Here was this guy beating the shit out of this kid." He looked around momentarily to see if the ten year old were still there, but finding no one even closely approximating the kid, turned back and continued. "We all saw it. Heck, we saw it twice but were going too fast to stop and do anything about it. Yeah, we were talking about it loudly in the bus as we made our third tour through this ... um ... funky neighborhood, and yes, I guess the driver was picking up on how angry we were about it. The driver was very much aware of our low morale, maybe that's why he was driving so fast, to take our minds off the lost double-header and all."

The officer craned to see if the speaker showed any signs of inebriation, wondering how the focus on the unfortunate child could so obliterate the scene from hell caused by the bus crashing through the crowd of "locals." "Okay, I think I have the picture, fellas. I will need to ask you all some more questions downtown, of course, but right now I want you to all get back in the bus."

"Downtown?!" Half a dozen players shifted their weight, but did not make any progress toward the bus door. Another rock sailed in from the edge of the crowd and thudded against the right front tire of the bus. "These damned locals are gonna get a face full in just about five seconds," blurted a surly looking player with a catcher's mit hung on his belt.

At that moment a skinny young man in a battered Chevrolet pulled up to the curb as the players looked around their team for signs of willingness to comply with the request of the police. The young man had a businessman's hat with the word "Press" on a card sticking out of the hatband. He looked around the crowd apprehensively, obviously never having been in this neighborhood before. He jotted a few words into a tattered notebook, pulled out a disposable camera and shot a couple pictures of the bus and the team's well-known pitcher, and then left.

The next day in the Daily News the incident was reported under a headline that seemed to fit the reporter's paper's corporate spin:

Baseball comes to ghetto neighborhood—locals won't play.

James Richard Brett