Closing Day 2028

By
Updated: May 16, 2019

When Manager David Goode took the slow walk out to the mound in the eighth inning of the final game of the season, he wasn’t thinking about his pitcher, who had performed brilliantly, nor about the rookie reliever warming in the bullpen, but about the lights he’d seen two nights before, at the end of Friday night’s game, a little after ten pm.

This afternoon—it was not quite 4 pm—the sky was as clear and as blue as the pool at the hotel where the Bulldozers were staying. No sign of the twinkling, sparkling colored lights David had glimpsed two nights ago during each of his three trips to the mound. 

Where had they gone? What caused them? 

Far more than the game at hand, these questions interested David Goode, once nicknamed the 12 Million Dollar Man for the exorbitant salary his agent negotiated for a journeyman infielder. It was the end of another losing season, the Dozers would rack up 117 losses, dead last in the entire PEBAverse once again, and Friday night’s game was just loss 116. No big deal.

But those lights!

David Goode

Staring up at the sky, he stumbled briefly when he stepped onto the mound. Dozer catcher Davey Burke caught the manager’s elbow and prevented him from falling on his face in front of a crowd of nearly 60 thousand.

“You okay, Skip?” Burke asked.

Davey looked at the players gathered on the mound. For a moment he didn’t recognize any of them.

“Skip?”

Davey looked at his catcher. “You see those lights the other night, Danny?” He pointed at the sky. “Friday night?”

Danny Burke

Burke, who’d been with the Dozers since 2017, had seen the team rise to the playoffs when he was young and then sink to last place for the last decade of Burke’s career, didn’t look up. He studied his manager’s face.

“Whatsa matter, Skip?”

“Those lights, you see ‘em that night?”

“Been a long season, Davey,” the veteran catcher said. “Maybe you oughta sit the rest of this one out, huh?”

“Fuck that. Gimme the ball.” Davey grabbed the ball out of the young pitcher’s hand, who looked surprised but knew where he was headed, so he started down off the mound toward the dugout. 

“Wait a minute,” the catcher said. The pitcher stopped. Burke looked up at his manager, whose gaze was directed somewhere over the centerfield fence. “You can’t pull him now,” Burke said.

“Who’re you to tell me what I can and can’t do?” Davey responded,  spitting on the mound. “I can fuckin’ pull anyone I want, anytime I want. Right?”

“Yessir,” the catcher said, but he looked at the pitcher, trapped in no-man’s land, off the mound but still on the playing field, waiting to learn his fate. He could see the disappointment, and the desire, in the pitcher’s face, so he dared to look into his manager’s face and say, “But he’s throwing a three-hit shutout. He can finish it. Let him finish it.”

“Ain’t your call, Burke,” the manager said and turned to the pitcher. “Whatcha waitin’ for? Taxi ride? Get your ass into the showers!” 

The pitcher looked at his catcher, who shrugged as if to say, What can I do? Then the pitcher turned and headed for the dugout. Behind him he could hear his manager asking the infielders who had gathered around the mound, “Any of you guys see the lights in the sky the other night?” 

The players studied their cleats or looked to the catcher for a clue what to do, but they didn’t say anything. After a moment, Burke asked Davey, “Who you bringing in?”

“Who you think?” Davey retorted sharply. “The kid warming up.”

Burke waited a moment, then turning to look out at the bullpen, sort of half whispered, half mumbled so only Davey could hear, “Maybe you oughta wave him in then?”

“What?” Davey looked out at the bullpen in left field and saw the rookie reliever just standing on the warmup mound, waiting. “Damn rookie, couldn’t tie his shoes without a direct order!” With that, he waved toward the bullpen and the young pitcher started to trot onto the field.

As he did, the middle infielders retreated toward second base while the third and first baseman gave each other a look, then backed slowly toward their corner positions. The catcher stayed on the mound alongside the manager. 

Davey stepped up to the top of the mound, both feet on the pitching rubber, and looked down at his catcher. Though Burke was 6”1”, Goode had been 6”4” in his prime, and despite the slight slump of age, he was still a good 2-3 inches taller than his catcher before he stood up on top of the rubber. He towered over Burke now, leaned down to hiss into the catcher’s face, “You think you can manager better ’n me, Danny Boy?”

Burke refused to flinch. He spoke slowly, quietly. “Some days, sir, like this one, when you’re not quite at the top of your game—sir—then yeah, maybe someone else should—”

“You think I’m crazy, doncha? You think I oughta retire, huh? Well, I got news for you and anyone else on this club who thinks I’m gonna step down. I got three years left on my contract, so fuck you all.”

Davey charged off the mound toward the dugout. 

“The ball, Skip!” Burke yelled at him. Davey stopped, looked down at his hand and discovered the baseball, turned and threw it at the relief pitcher, who’d just arrived on the mound. The kid wasn’t expecting a throw like that, and it would have hit him in the hip before he realized what was happening if Burke hadn’t reached out and, barehanded, grabbed the throw. He scowled at his manager, who turned his back on the whole infield, the stadium, the game of baseball itself, and headed for the dugout. He no longer cared what happened.

Yasuhide Suto

Burke and the young reliever, Yasuhide Suto, just looked at one another. The kid pitcher, whom his teammates called Yashi, had been released by several clubs before his 24th birthday, picked up by Yuma in the Rule 5 draft. Young pitcher and veteran catcher were both confounded by the behavior of their manager. After a moment, Burke placed the ball gently in Suto’s glove.

“Two outs,” the catcher said, “that’s all we need. No ducks on the pond, just gimme what I call for.”

Yashi nodded and the catcher turned to head back to home plate, then stopped. He turned back to the relief pitcher and asked, “Friday night, you were in the bullpen all night, right?”

Yashi nodded.

“By any chance you notice flashing lights or colored lights, out over center field that night?”

Yashi, born in Tokyo, had only arrived in the U.S. four years ago. Without the interpreter the club provided him off the field, he wasn’t sure he understood the catcher’s question. “Lights?” he asked and pointed to the stadium lights high above the field.

“No,” Burke said, immediately recognizing Yashi was the last player he should ask. “Never mind.” He headed back to home plate. Yashi just stood staring at his catcher’s back as he jogged to his position behind the plate. The umpire signaled for the relief pitcher to begin his warmup tosses, then muttered to Burke, “What the hell were you guys jawing about out there for so long?”

Burke pulled his face mask down and gestured to Yashi to begin his throws. “Manager’s gone crazy on us.”

The ump chuckled as Burke caught and returned Yashi’s first warmup toss. “Goode? He’s always been a little crazy.”

“But now he’s seeing lights—flashing lights, colored lights—in center field.”

“Friday night?” the ump asked.

“Yeah, how’d you—?”

“Northern lights, clear as a bell. I kept taking a peek at them every chance I got. Swazee was behind the dish that night, said he completely missed a half  dozen pitches ‘cause he was staring at the lights.”

Burke returned Yashi’s next warmup throw. “Northern lights, eh?”

“Yup,” the ump said. “Aurora Borealis.”

“That’s how these guys got their name?”

“The Aurora club? I ‘spect so.”

Yashi’s next pitch smacked into Burke’s mitt. He sidearmed it back out to the mound. “I never knew.”

“Now you know.”

Three more pitches popped the catcher’s mitt.

“This kid’s got stuff,” the ump said.

“Yup,” Burke said as he whistled the last one back out to the mound.

The rookie pitcher gestured he was going to throw a curve.

“Watch this,” Burke said.

The ball snapped across the corner of the plate, dropping several inches at the end of its flight.

“Major league,” the ump said.

Burke chucked the ball back to the pitcher. “So maybe old Goode isn’t crazy.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” the ump said.

“He wasn’t seeing things.”

“There’s a lot the old 12 Million Dollar Man ain’t seeing,” the ump said as the final warmup toss plopped gently into the catcher’s mitt. “Sweet pitch,” he said as pulled his face mask down and yelled to the Borealis’ bench, “Baddah rup!”