Opening Day, Yuma

By
Updated: February 22, 2019

The wind pushes a tumbleweed across the cracking pavement of an empty street. A coyote howls in the distance as the sun snakes its sinuous way from behind the mountains up into the pinking sky. The lonesome whistle of the Sunset Limited, nearly four hours late, blows across the steel gray water of the Colorado River as it winds lazily through Yuma, the river and the train making about the same speed.

One grizzled old timer huddles from the wind behind a kiosk on Main Street, trying to light a cigarette, to no avail. The wind whips the flame out before he can suck the searing heat and smoke into his nicotine-hungry lungs.

“Fuggit,” he says to no one. The street is empty. 

A banner hangs from the bank building on the corner. When the wind pauses in its rush to nowhere, the old timer can just make out one word, “Opening,” and the image of a yellow bulldozer.

“Like we need another damn dozer dealer in town,” he mutters, then as the wind dies and he gets the cigarette lit, he sucks smoke into his lungs and begins to cough, over and over, until he is bent over, one hand on a knee, gasping for air.

“Needed that,” he sputters and sucks in more tar and nicotine.

It’s Opening Day in Yuma, though no one seems to notice. The Bulldozers begin the defense of yet another last place finish in the Planetary Extreme Baseball Alliance tonight at 7 pm MST. The club is in a “rebuilding phase,” as Emma Span, spokeswoman for the Consortium that owns the club, has described every season since 2022, the last time the team made the playoffs. 

“We’re drafting and trading for youth and talent, looking to the future for another run at the Rodriguez Cup,” she claimed at yesterday’s press conference in advance of Opening Day. By the time the players take the field for batting practice this afternoon, Monday the third of April 2028, Emma will be landing in New York City, her home, where she will try, yet again, to put the miseries and disappointments of the Yuma Bulldozer Baseball Club behind her. 

But in Yuma, that lovely downtown desert bowl of tumbleweed, where the sun has cleared the peaks of the Gila Mountains to the east and threatens to turn the brackish waters of the river into a glittering mirror, in Yuma, one horse town Yuma, no one is thinking about baseball. Not at this hour, not on the first working day of the week, not after five consecutive losing seasons, the last three of them spent bottom feeding the entire PEBAverse.

Well, not no one.

Insulated from the bitter wind inside her silver Airstream trailer, permanently hitched to her Chevy Colorado pickup, Pam Postema brews a cup of bitter Mormon Tea, a local herb she picked herself on hikes into the Gila Foothills. “Tastes like coyote scat,” she admits, “but it puts the zip into your step. Good for waking up on tough days.”

And today will be a tough one for Postema, who was appointed the Acting General Manager of the Yuma Bulldozers in 2020; subsequently fired when GM Mayberry briefly returned and reclaimed his post, she was then rehired when Mayberry was sent back to the mental hospital where he’d been a patient and resident off and on since 2010. Since then, Postema has run the club without ever being officially appointed GM. The Consortium of Owners keep Postema on a short lease—“You’re only the Acting GM, sweetheart”—while delaying and deflecting every attempt by Mayberry to regain control of the team. Besides, as Acting GM, Postema’s salary is off the books, unofficial, not part of the club’s accounting records. The owners like that too.

So as she sips her bitter herbal tea, Postema imagines the coming season will be another full of defeats and disappointments. Sometimes she wonders why she quit her job as a minor league umpire. As the first woman to officiate a major league game, albeit in spring training, her future looked bright. She expected to shatter the glass ceiling for women umpires. But the sudden demise of the MLB shattered her dreams instead, and she worked various skilled labor jobs until she got a call from the GM of the Yuma Bulldozers.

“Why me?” she asked the old man behind the desk.

“Why you?” he echoed her.

“Yes,” Pam said, “why a former umpire with no front office experience?”

“Well,” the old GM said, kicking his feet up on his desk and spreading his arms behind his head, “it ain’t like they’re lining up for the job. I got two resumes in the mail, both of which I sunk in that there wastebasket.” He pointed across the office to a gray-green trash basket poised on top of an empty desk. “No backboard, no corners, just a straight swish. Both of ‘em.”

Pam tried to look impressed, but he wasn’t watching. So she asked again. “Why me?”

“Why you?” he said and laughed until he started coughing. Then he cleared his throat with a deep hawking sound and spat into a tissue he pulled from a pocket. “We could start a vaudeville act.” He smile. “Why Me and Why You!” He started to laugh, caught himself and spat into the tissue again before wadding it up and taking aim at the empty trash basket on the desk across the office. Then he thought better of it. Dropped the tissue onto his desk, pulled his feet down and sat upright, leaning in towards Pam. “That’d be your desk,” he said, pointing at the one with the basket on it. “You’d shadow me for a time, learn what needs doing and who does it. Someday they’re going to come haul me back to my favorite ‘resort’ in the Santa Monica hills and somebody’ll need to take over. Temporarily, mind you. They ain’t keeping me long in that place, you go crazy after awhile. Just long enough to recover my wits.”

He seemed to lose focus for a moment, his eyes wandering about the office looking for something. Pam looked too, then asked, “Something I can do for you?”

He looked at her, hard, as if he didn’t recognize her, then his face relaxed and he smiled. “Sweetheart, there’s lots you could do for me but ain’t none of it somethin’ you wanna be doin’, so don’t ask. I’ll tell you what needs doin’, without you tryin’ to anticipate me.” He smiled. “Holy Heinie Manush! A young woman anticipatin’ an old fart like me—whoo hee!—that there’s a sure fire recipe for disaster!”

He laughed until he coughed again, cleared his throat and produced another tissue from somewhere Pam couldn’t see behind the desk, spat into it and wadded it up to add to the one already sitting on his desk. She wondered who would finally remove the wadded tissues and throw them in the trash. The evening cleaning crew? One of the secretarial staff out front? Or would that be one of her jobs, if she took this job, which right now she wasn’t particularly inclined to do.

“No,” the old man said, “the question ain’t why you, the question is why would you. Why would you want this kind of job?”

Pam stared at him for a moment, then said, “I figured you had a reason for asking me. You didn’t get my resume in the mail, that’s for sure.”

He smiled and pointed at her, “That’s precisely why I thought of you.”

She was confused. “What is?”

“You know what questions to ask. It ain’t all about answers. It’s the questions that hold the key.”

“Key to what?”

“See,” he said, smiling, “you keep asking. I know this guy—old friend, played ball together as kids—he’s a teacher, well, was. Retired couple a years ago. Anyway, he used to tell me that he’d walk into his classes and sit down and wait for them to ask him questions. Time would tick by, seconds, then minutes, 5 or 10 minutes, before some student finally blurted out, ‘What are we doing?’ And then he’d say, ‘Good, a question. What I’m doing is answering your questions. What you’re doing is getting an education. And the only way to learn about something is to ask. So ask.’ Then he’d wait. Sometimes minutes would pass before someone, usually one of the brighter students he said, would finally ask a question about the subject matter. And then he’d answer it and others would begin to ask and eventually they’d have a conversation about the subject. But holy moly Steven Balboni! Imagine how awful those minutes of silence felt! I don’t think I would have survived as a student in his class.”

Pam looked at the old GM. He was shaking his head and smiling at the same time. “If I had a prof who was that cruel, I’d walk out,” she said.

“Really? See, that’s why you’d be perfect for this job.”

“Why?”

“You not only ask questions, you challenge me. You challenge my assumptions. You were probably a crackerjack as a student.”

“I was a miserable student.” 

“Hm,” the old man muttered. 

“Doesn’t mean I won’t be a good assistant GM.”

The GM’s face lit up. “You’ll do it? You’ll take the job?”

Pam laughed. “Why does that make you so happy? I still don’t know why you want me.”

“And I don’t know why you’d take a dead end job like this. You’d be a glorified personal secretary, a modern version of a Girl Friday. There’s no future in it.”

“Now you’re trying to talk me out of it.”

The old GM shook his head. “Crazy, huh? Maybe I need another weekend at the resort.”

“It’s not the kind of ‘resort’ where you can spend just a weekend.”

The GM looked at her a long time, then said, “So you know.” Pam nodded once. “Good. No more pretenses. I just wanna make sure you know what you’re getting into.”

“Still better than driving trucks for UPS or pitching drinks in a casino.”

“You’ve done that?”

“Oh yeah. Delivered mail in Vegas too. Talk about a hot job!”

The GM chortled; Pam smiled, then allowed herself to laugh. The GM started coughing so hard he couldn’t reach the tissues in his desk drawer. Pam reached across the desk and pulled one out of the drawer, then handed it to him. He sputtered and spat into the tissue, then looked up at her, standing across the desk from him. “You’re hired.”

Pam extended her hand for the deal-sealing handshake and the old GM put the crushed tissue in it. She looked at it, shrugged and tossed it over her shoulder into the basket on what was now her desk.

“Atta girl,” the old man said.

“No,” Pam said, pointing a finger at the GM. “I’m never your ‘girl.’”

“Gotcha,” the old man said, a twinkle in his eye. “You’re my right hand, Postema.”

Pam smiled. She thought she was going to enjoy this job. Oh my my my, she thought eight years later, how dead wrong a girl could be.

Sipping her Mormon tea on this cold morning in April of 2028, Pam accepts she’s never going to be the real GM of the Yuma Bulldozers, she’s always going to be acting, pretending, holding the office down and keeping the chair warm until that old fart in Camarillo gets his wits sufficiently together to haul his wrinkled ass back to Yuma and take official and complete control of this ball club again.

What for me then? she wonders, staring out of her Airstream trailer at the tumbleweed piling up under her Chevy pickup. A middle-aged woman living in a trailer still hitched to her pickup is not an icon of stability or permanence. She knows that. Like the tumbleweeds, she will eventually come unstuck from this windblown town and roll on out across the desert until she sticks—temporarily—somewhere else.

Her tea has gotten cold. Her prospects have grown cold. The chances of her turning her last place club around are frozen solid. The only way anything in Yuma is going to change is if someone starts a big bonfire to warm themselves up, and then burns the whole place down.

Pam picks up her phone and calls the club secretary. “Roberta, send your son out to pick me up, would you?”

“Pam? Y’all know what time it is?”

“I know, I know, it’s crack of dawn early. But it’s Opening Day.”

“Dawn ain’t showed no cracks yet, Pam. But I’ll shake the boy about and send him your way. Might take a bit.”

“All in good time. Say, last year we had an Opening Day party. We planning one this year?”

There was silence over the phone.

“Roberta? You there?”

“I’m here alright, where else I gonna be? But I shouldn’t gotta be the one to tell you ‘bout … well, ‘bout why we ain’t having no Opening Day party.”

“O—kay,” Pam said slowly. “It’s no skin off mine if there’s no party. So … what’s the big deal, Roberta?”

Again, nothing but the hum of soundless waves bouncing off towers somewhere in the desert.

Then, in almost a whisper, a huskier voice than Pam had ever heard her speak in, Roberta said, “He’s coming back.”

The wind whipped against Pam’s Airstream and the little trailer bounced. 

“Sorry, Pam,” Roberta added.

“No … no,” Pam said, “we knew this was coming.” 

A tumbleweed crashed against the trailer, scratching the aluminum side as it was forced by the wind down the length of the Airstream, screeching the while, and then the weed was sucked into the empty space of the desert.

“I’ll see you later this morning, Roberta. Thanks.”

Pam put her phone down and reached for her Mormon tea. But it was cold. She held the nearly empty cup and stared out the window at the sage and creosote and occasional mad tumbleweed dancing across the desert.

Opening Day, she thought. Opening Fucking Day.