Agincourt

By
Updated: July 5, 2019

OPENING DAY

April 2nd, 2029
Bakersfield, CA

“…and then, in dreaming, / The clouds methought would open and show riches / Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked / I cried to dream again.”

–William Shakespeare, The Tempest, 3.2 135-38

 

The evening twilight of a scintillating Bakersfield painted the San Joaquin Valley in a swath of orange and blue—as if the heavens themselves favored the Bears over Duluth on opening day.  And why not? Thought Ricky McCoy, leaning on the hood of his rental car outside the stadium—in a sea of freshly-resurfaced asphalt, watching the sun set over the clownishly corporate “YUM!” sign that spackled the entrance to the massive stadium.

Hell’s Bells was blaring over the stadium for warmups, and the orchestra of braking tires, staccato horn blasts, slamming doors, and excited chatter gave the stadium parking lot an air of willful anticipation—baseball had returned.  The first masses of earlybird fans, cloaked in Bakersfield blue and orange, emerged from their vehicles and made their way—all in good spirits—toward the gates.

Tania, Ricky’s assistant, looked on with an almost pitiful expression, her arms wrapped around a clipboard.  She fiddled with her Bluetooth earpiece, pushing a loose strand of black hair behind her neck and sighing.

“Can’t wait out here forever, boss,” she said quietly, a half-hearted smile on her face.

Ricky stared on into the clouds, as if Tania wasn’t there.

“Looks like rain,” he replied distantly, studying the sky.  He sighed, gently closing the door to his sedan.

—–

The ball seared into Carlos Galvan’s mit like a force of nature—a magnificent break that caught the corner perfectly.  He smiled under his mask, his large, white teeth visible all the way from the practice mound.

“Bueno!” He shouted, pointing his glove straight out in a congratulatory gesture and hurling the ball back to Kata Nakamura, who nodded, solemnly, with a quick, soldierly tip of his cap.  “Futa!” Carlos called, setting back down.  “Futa-Tabi!”

Kata and Carlos—neither of whom really spoke English, enjoyed an odd combination of Japanese and Spanish that no one—save each of them—could really understand.  Joe Kenny called it Spapanese, and would often get the pair to speak it at restaurants and parties.  Of course—Carlos reflected as Kata delivered another slider, too far outside—Joe Kenny was gone, like all the old guard.  He tossed the ball back, harder.

Kata grimaced, rolling his shoulder a bit and spitting into the grass.  The 5-time All-Star felt all thirty-nine of his years in that shoulder, as well has his back and knees—but he would never show it.  His expression was as neutral and adamant as his rigid daily routines—the stretches, the isometrics, the mental exercises.  Eric Perkins once offered him $1,000 to eat a cheeseburger—which, of course, he declined with a polite shake of the head.  He exhaled, carefully, and fired another slider.  A miss.  Perkins, gone as well—traded to Crystal Lake.

Carlos reacted well, side-stepping in his squat and dropping to his knees, guarding the ball and catching it on a bounce.  Kata remained expressionless, rolling his shoulder.

Slower this year, Carlos thought to himself, but he regained his big, white smile and lofted the ball back at the old war horse.  “Más fuerte, Rojino!”   Faster, old man.  He pounded his glove.

Kata exhaled again.  From the corner of his eyes, he felt his manager and fellow countryman, Kijuro Yoshida, watching from the fence, arms crossed.  Kata didn’t look—he didn’t flinch—he reset and fired again.


Top of the First

The Bakersfield fans, despite themselves, couldn’t help but cheer as Andy Sharp knocked the donut from his bat and approached the plate.  The tall, cleanly-shaven Third Baseman took two powerful practice swings, looked to Neil Maes, who gave a very slight tip of his cap—a largely Japanese and Korean pitching tradition that had taken some hold in PEBA after the merger of the LRS.  Andy nodded in return under his black helmet.

“Hey, Andy,” Catcher Steve McDonald said, eyes forward, pounding his mit and squatting down.  “You ain’t never seen a sinker like this in the IL, son.”

With a friendly smile, Andy put one foot into the batter’s box and pulled on his jersey.  The crowd, having waited months and months for this moment, was on their feet.  It was their year—there was a palpable sense of it in Bakersfield—with the electrically-charged stadium packed and set against a desert sky.

“you’re up, Sharp!” the Ump called hoarsely, checking his indicator.

Nodding, Sharp set both feet in and swung his bat in a circle, waiting for the windup.  Another year.  Another series.

“Let’s see,” the catcher said whimsically from behind Sharp.  “What to pitch to the $28 Million dollar man?  What’ll it be, Sharp?  First one’s free.”   Sharp didn’t respond.  McDonald dropped two fingers into the dirt and set his mit low.

Andy caught Neil’s fingers on the seams before the release, reflexively pulling back on his bat.  Breaking ball.  Mistake.  He leaned back as Maes wound up, lifting his head and drilling the ball—hard—between Ramon Guzman and Javier Torres—a perfectly placed single into center field, and his signature hit.

“See ya around, Jim,” he managed to call as he darted for first base with incredible velocity, turning to second but remaining close.  The electricity of the crowd died a bit, and they returned for their seats to drink and eat—the 2029 season underway.

He took a large lead, watching Maes.  He could tell from the film that Neil was a good picker, but not good enough for Andy.  He stole second on the first pitch to Dave Morrison, down and on the bag before the throw even came.  Cheers came from the Duluth bench.

John Howe approached the plate, taking a deep breath.  He looked over to third base at Jim Webb—the two had played together in Shin Seiki, where Webb had been Howe’s idol—and nodded.  Webb smiled and nodded back, bending low and ready.

Maes missed the zone with a breaking ball—and Andy could tell by the catcher’s reaction it was time to move again.  He darted for third as McDonald bobbled, once again well ahead of the tag.  He was now covered in orange dirt, a smile plastered on his face, as he nodded to his fellow IL adversary at third base.  He saw Neil Maes’s frown from the mound as he dusted himself off and nodded to the third base coach.

“Fifty-Five’s got a decent arm,” the third base coach said, jerking a thumb back to the left fielder, Jarrod Ricks.  They both saw Howe’s tendency to pop out to left field in Spring Training.

“Wouldn’t try it,” Webb, a fellow veteran, seconded from the bag.

Howe watched a curveball from Maes paint the corner, with a loud and dramatic “heeeeeeeeaw!” from the umpire.  1-1.

“He’s throwing the sinker,” Andy said, leading off as he watched the pitcher.  “Don’t buy it, kid.”

“He’s gonna buy it,” Webb answered matter-of-factly, spitting out a sunflower seed shell.  Sure enough, Howe bought it.

Trying at the last minute to adjust to Mae’s murderous movement on his sinker, he swung low, popping the ball with plenty of velocity toward left field.  Andy cursed, under his breath.  Would have been a home run if it was a fastball.  Then again, Maes didn’t have a fastball.  He was strange like that.

Andy watched Ricks move easily for the routine flyball, looking briefly to Sharp as he waited for the ball.  His expression was clear—“you’re not going anywhere.” 

Andy couldn’t help himself.  He heard the loud “Aw, god damn it!” from the third base coach as he took off—digging hard—toward home plate.  The crowd’s clamor grew into a cheer, and he saw fans along the first base line standing as he beat like a bolt of lighting for the plate.  Look at their eyes, Andy told himself as he sprinted, watching the Catcher focus on an incoming throw.  His legs didn’t move—bad sign.  He dove.

The crowd’s roar cut like a coda into hushed anticipation as the dust cleared, the scrape of dirt loud against cleet, arm, and glove.  Andy looked up just in time to see the home umpire pump his fist.

“Haw-oooooooout!” 

The crowd exploded.  Andy tilted his head, confused, up toward the ump.  He heard curses erupt from the Duluth dugout.  The Bears on the field cheered and headed for the dugout to flip the inning.

“Well whaddya know, Sharp!”  The catcher called with a smile, flipping the ball onto the plate in front of him.  “I did see ya around!”

As he slowly rose, Andy saw the first few drops of rain begin to settle over the infield.

 

—–

Bottom of the Fifth 

Bakersfield: 9
Duluth:2

Above, in a luxurious press box in center field, Ricky watched amidst the curses and disappointed murmurs from the staff, a program rolled up in his right hand.  He leaned against the bar attached to the large window and watch Steve Hott give up his sixth hit in a row this inning.

“They won’t call it until they take the field,” someone from the front office staff said, cocktail in hand, to Tania, who shrugged and cast a worrisome sidelong glance at the General Manager.  He looked like he might wring the ink out of the program—his knuckles white against the bar.  She knew what he knew—what haunted the front office since the start of Spring Training.  Nakamura was fading.  The bullpen was too weak.  Howe looked like he’d never seen a breaking ball before.  Barry looked like he was hitting practice flyballs to right field.  He took a breath.  Bakersfield was good.  Even better than last year.

Steve Hott threw a wild pitch beyond Galvan, who stumbled in the mud as he scrambled after the ball, mask flying through the air.  The crowd cried out again, ecstatic.  Hott kicked the mound, lifting his hands up in a shrug and yelling something at the ump, motioning at the sky.  The ump, already perturbed, lifted his mask and gave a straight-handed point at Hott, issuing a warning.  The crowd cheered from their ponchos and umbrellas—Hot turned around and shook his head, throwing the ball hard into his glove.  From the dugout, Ricky watched Kijuro look from Hott to the Umpire with a stoic expression, hands behind his back.

Ricky envied Bakersfield.  He envied Dan Vail, envied Manager Wayne Kedsch, envied everything and everyone at the Godforsaken Chocolate Factory at Yum! fucking field.

A flash of light ricocheted against the darkening clouds, causing some gasps and shouts.  The sprinkling rain turned, suddenly, into momentous swaths, painting the wind, as Steve Hott threw both his hands up in the air to the umpire, as if to say “Is this enough, asshole?”  The umpire looked over to the grounds crew, back up to the sky, and shook his head.  He called it.

Rain now clattered against the window of the box as fans below dove for cover.  Quite the opening day.  9-2, and it was only the fifth inning—now delayed.  An army of blue-jacketed crew members poured onto the field with their giant rolls to spare the field.  Ricky wish they’d cover him over, too.   Tania leaned against the bar next to him, her hands folded in front of her.  They watched the grounds crew unfurl the massive covers together in silence for several minutes

“At the battle of Agincourt,” Tania said at last with an instructional tone, breaking the silence, “The English used the mud from recent rainstorms to lure the French knights into a recently-tilled field, and the slaughtered them once they were exhausted.”

Ricky turned, rolling his tongue against his cheek, and gave Tania a raised brow sideways look.

“The French knew the field was bad—knew they should have waited, or retreated, but they couldn’t help themselves.  They say some drowned in their own helmets, stuck in the mud.”

Nodding, Ricky sighed, turning his gaze back to the field.

“I don’t really think the Battle of Agincourt applies here,” Ricky said flatly, leaning further ahead.  “But I know that’s not what you mean.”

“Sharp shouldn’t have gone for home,” she said, quietly, still looking out to the rain.  “He’s like you, Ricky.”

“Yeah,” Ricky replied weakly, releasing the tightly-wound program on the bar.  It slowly unfurled, like a released spring, on the bar.  It was opened to a wrinkled version of the Duluth roster.  “I know.”