Closing Day: a rude ending

By
Updated: June 19, 2019

Chas. Dickens, author of Tale of Two Cities

It was neither the best of times, nor the worst of times, it certainly wasn’t an age of wisdom, nor was it an age of foolishness, it wasn’t an epoch of belief nor of incredulity, but it had been a season, oh yes, a long and often miserable season, hardly one of light, more a season of darkness, and it scared the Dickens out of every single fan of the Bulldozers.

It was supposed to be the spring of hope, but by now it was closer to the winter of despair, the Dozers had everything before them at one time, now everything was behind, and though a few players still believed they were going straight to the Show, most were headed for PEBA hell.

And in that great, grand Universe of the PEBA, where might hell be located? For the past four consecutive seasons, hell’s punishments were doled out to baseball’s sinners in the front office of the Yuma Bulldozers.

A team so consistently in the losing column that a sudden, unexpected week of wins resulted in a dramatic upturn in suicide attempts in the small town. A team so consistently underperforming that a single successful pitching performance shone like a diamond in the slag heap of a coal mine.

And on this day, the final day of the 2028 season, Yuma was blessed with three shining performances from the team’s moundsters. Seven innings of shutout ball from starter Melvin McNeal, followed by the rookie Suto’s inning of unhittable curveballs, and finished off, like a rich port after a creamy pasta dinner, with Jeffery Brown’s shutdown ninth inning. A 4-0 win to finish a season of 117 losses.

Them boys shoulda been celebratin’ in the locker room, right?

Should have. McNeal had been told before his final start that the Dozers planned to trade him at the Winter Meetings. Negotiations took longer than they expected, but in early January McNeal was traded to Hartford for a first round draft pick. Suto was traded to the Evas before the Winter Meetings. And the team dangled Brown’s right arm in front of every team in the league in need of a reliever, finally persuading the Alleghenies to swap for a couple of other pitchers and two draft picks. So, none of the three pitching stars on the last day of the season will be playing for Yuma next year.

 Thanks for the great work, boys—Sayonara!

When Baggerman bagged the final ground ball and bounced onto the first base bag for the third out in the ninth, Burke bobbed out from behind home and bustled out to the mound to shake the hand of his relief pitcher, Brown. Before Burke could say a word of congratulations, Brown asked him, “You heard anything?”

Burke’s mouth hung open a moment, expecting to enunciate some trite word of congrats, then closed as Brown clarified, “About my trade?”

Danny shook his head and put his arm around the young pitcher. “You can’t be focusing on that shit. It’s outa our control.”

“That’s what you told me a week ago, when I learned I was on the to-be-traded list. Season’s over, when else am I ‘spozed to think about it if not now?” 

Danny could only nod his head in agreement. Now was precisely the time to think about being traded, to prepare yourself for changes, to make a few of the innumerable arrangements necessary when a team moved you suddenly to another city. Wives and kids had to be informed they might be moving, bills paid up in case accounts had to be closed on a moment’s notice, autos serviced in anticipation of a cross country trip, and equipment recovered from team locker rooms and storage facilities, in case you needed to have it shipped across the country.

But most importantly—and most aggravatingly, irritatingly and exhaustingly—you had to get your head around the idea that the team you just performed so brilliantly for could up and decide they don’t need you anymore. 

Thanks, kid, but no thanks.

Oh, it may not have been quite the best of times or the worst, but it sure as hell was confusing times.

Danny Burke put his arm around the young relief pitcher’s shoulder and walked toward the dugout with him. There were high fives and butt slaps from teammates, but Burke and Brown were not smiling. Brown’s face looked rather solemn for a youngster who just finished a fine rookie season in the majors, including 8 saves (second on the team), yet he wasn’t thinking about the game but rather his immediate future.

Burke, on the other hand, looked downright stoic. He wasn’t happy the game or the season were over because he knew what lay ahead. He was no youngster anymore, and every season’s ending brought with it a long winter in which his muscles and his bones grew a little older, a little less flexible, and a lot less resilient. He knew when spring came, he’d face a month of pain every time he squatted behind the plate. His knees would scream at him until the weather warmed and his aging body adjusted, finally, belatedly—later every season. The only silver lining he could find in his cloud of pain and anguish was the knowledge that he’d be here, nowhere else, next year and the year after, a Yuma fixture behind the plate. Burke had a $20+ million contract for the next four years, and at age 34 with his most productive years behind him, he knew he wasn’t going anywhere. Aging catchers with big contracts were not a high priority item in the PEBAverse. 

So Danny was secure, even though he wasn’t looking forward to the next season. Instead he was thinking back to less than an hour before, when he’d run down the tunnel to speak to Manager Goode, to tell him it was a mistake to yank McNeal in the 8th when the pitcher had allowed only three hits. But before he could even get started, the manager was yelling at him!

“Burke, you worthless excuse for a hitless wonder, if I could trade a dinosaur like you I’d do it in a heartbeat, you pitiful excuse for a—”

“You got no heart,” Danny interjected, then added as sarcastically as he could, “Sir.”

Goode did a double-take. “What?”

“You had no business pullin’ McNeal in the 8th. He was throwin’ a three-hitter! You pulled a boner, Davey, admit it.”

“I pulled a boner?”

“You pulled a boner.”

“You haven’t got a boner to pull,” Goode sputtered, splattering spit all over his catcher’s face. “You haven’t gotten it up all season—”

“Who can’t get it up anymore, old timer?”

“—just look at your stats, man. Your no better than a, a—”

“A what?”

“I don’t know what! You’re worthless. The boss oughta trade you for a draft pick—a low draft pick.”

“She wouldn’t know a good trade if it bit her in the ass,” Danny said. “She shoulda stuck to umping.” Goode gave him a strange look, as if to say, What’re you talking about? Danny noticed that look and snickered. “You didn’t know she was an umpire before she got hired on here?”

Goode opened his mouth as if to say something, but nothing came out.

Burke whistled. “Damn, I bet you don’t know who even know her name.”

“‘Course I know—what the fuck’s that got to do with anything? I call her boss to her face just like everyone else.”

“But you can’t remember her name,” Burke chortled. “And I bet you think she’s the GM.”

“She is the damn GM! Who the hell else—” Goode stopped himself. An idea had penetrated his tired, angry, frustrated and completely out-maneuvered brain. He looked at his catcher for a moment, then spoke slowly. “You don’t mean to tell me that old fart at the funny farm is still, technically, the GM?”

“Thought you woulda known that.”

“Fuck,” the former 12 Million Dollar Man said. “Double fuck. What kinda organization is this, got a wack case for GM?”

“The kinda organization that hires an umpire for GM—excuse me, assistant GM.”

“Yeah, right,” Goode chuckled.

“The kinda organization that lets you manage a major league ball club.”

Goode thrust his face into Burke’s and whispered, “Just you watch it, boy-o!”

“Or what?” Burke smiled.

“I’ll banish you to the bullpen, that’s what!”

“A 20 million dollar all-star catcher in the bullpen? How long you think the bitch would let you get away with that?”

Former all-star,” Goode snarled. “Very former. And that broad don’t tell me how to run my ball club.”

“The only reason they keep you around, Davey, is ‘cuz you’re cheap.”

“Fuck you, Danny.”

“Wouldn’t you like to? But you couldn’t get it up.”

The manager started to take a swing at Burke, then noticed the bat boy running down the tunnel toward them. “Yer up, yer up,” he was shouting.

“Okay okay,” Burke said, “I’m comin’.”

“Now,” the kid yelled. “Yer up now!”

As Burke followed the kid up the tunnel toward the playing field, Davey Goode muttered to himself, “I ain’t takin’ no more of your shit, Danny Burke. No more.”

————————————————————————————————————-

January 3, 2029
Earlier today, officials from the Florida Featherheads and Yuma Bulldozers announced that they had finalized negotiations on a trade between the two teams. The deal will send 30-year-old RHP Kensaku Gato, 33-year-old RHP José Campos and a 3rd round draft pick to Yuma in exchange for 34-year-old C Danny Burke and $6,000,000 in cash.
Yuma fans were shocked by the loss of their long-time catcher Burke. The club reported that “overall fan interest almost crashed”!