Tuesday, November 07, 2006

chapter 2 part 1

chapter 1 part 1
chapter 1 part 2
this is from the third day, word count 5122, still on pace.

Hearing the sound of Marty Brennaman’s voice on 700WLW for the first time each spring was divine – Marty Brennaman, Hall of Fame broadcaster, voice of opinions, the one constant in an ever changing world. 700WLW had the greatest range of any radio station in the world, bringing Reds baseball to people from Michigan to Alabama to Virginia to Iowa. With the invention of the internet and satellite radio, there was no need to move a transistor around the house to fight a finicky signal. Jeff Brantley, Marty’s radio partner, told the story about sitting in the car with his dad in Alabama to listen to the Big Red Machine, because the car radio was the only one that could pick up the signal, and his dad would have to move the car up and down the driveway to keep the game going.

Casey listened online at work, no moving a car up and down the driveway. There were people in his office who couldn’t understand why he listened to spring training games. They’d never understand the beauty of the game, its poetry, its symbolism of springs’s renewal and rebirth. Even X, who also listened to the spring training games, didn’t completely understand the spirituality of the game. He appreciated things like colors screaming from a ballfield under the brilliance of a freshly blue sky, or the sweet sound of the crack of a bat, but he never contemplated that force which gave the game its magic. What was it? From where did that electricity come when everyone can just feel when something great is about to happen? What makes the little guys heroes sometimes? Why did Mighty Casey strike out? Is God a baseball fan?

Casey, no relation to the Mighty One, decided to spend his lunch hour outside before the game began. The day was incredible, the kind of day that illuminates everything that is good in life. The bad things, like depression, loneliness, and war, are afraid of the sun, hide from it, make you forget they exist for awhile. It’s the key to sanity. He strolled down to the ballpark and decided to visit the team store, not the only suit and tie in the store. Arms were loaded with A.J. Sullivan shirts, carried as if they were holy shrouds. Casey wouldn’t buy one – he had his sacred Larkin jersey from 1995, the last year the Reds went to the playoffs and the year Barry won the MVP. Finally, the Reds had a player worthy of Larkin’s legacy.

He left the store, his blood stirred with excitement and anticipation, and walked towards the river. When he took those childhood trips to Riverfront with his father, they used to go to Covington Landing to eat lunch on the Ohio. They parked the car at a gravel lot near the stadium and walked across the Suspension Bridge to Kentucky. Casey loved to watch the boats on the water, the barges and tugboats and speed boats, jet skis, riverboats, yachts…wouldn’t it be lovely to take a boat to a ballgame? The memories were so pleasant and the day so beautiful that Casey contemplated skipping out of work for the rest of the day, but he thought about all of the day games he would go to in the new season and decided to save his personal time. His was one of the companies in Cincy that frowned upon its employees going to the business day specials. He knew of a few companies that actually let employees go to the games without having to take personal time, baseball in Cincy was that revered.

This was never more evident than on the holiest day of the year – Opening Day, a venerable celebration of all that is good in life. It starts with the Findlay market parade, an annual tradition dating back to the seventies when the Cincinnati Reds were the New York Yankees of baseball. Current and former ballplayers, sometimes some Bengals, sometimes some elephants roam through Cincy in preparation for the new season, sometimes with hope, sometimes just for fun. This year it was with hope, almost expectation.

Every year, Opening Day tickets are difficult to get. People line up at the box office the night before, sometimes. Forty five thousand people should consider themselves lucky to be there, though you know those privileged people who go just because it’s the place to be couldn’t care less if they were doing something else. [more on Opening Day]

An Opening Day victory, a game winning home run by A.J. Sullivan, welcome to Cincinnati, thank you for coming. The Reds charged out of the gate in April and unlike past seasons, never looked back. A.J. Sullivan proved to be the missing piece.

It was June when Casey received a phone call from Anne. His heart leapt to his throat when he heard her voice – it hadn’t come to his ears in nearly two years.

Hi, Casey, how’ve you been? Awkward small talk polluted the phone lines until Casey wondered why she called. I wanted to invite you to a party. Silence Casey? Why? Well, some of the Reds players, including A.J. Sullivan are going to be there. I’m there.

The air was sticky goo, the moon pasted into the sky with melting glue, sliding down the sky and disappearing into the darkness. The party was downtown, an easy wade across the river of humidity that stood between his apartment and his destination. Social situations weren’t easy for Casey, as he was out of practice, and there was the war, of course, where he learned what human beings were capable of doing to each other. He didn’t like them much after that.

Casey’s stomach flipped a few times on the way over, not only because of the party and meeting A.J. in a non-baseball situation, but because Anne would be there. What could he talk to him about besides baseball? Anne was a whole other category of butterflies, with claws and fangs that ripped his stomach apart. How would he feel about seeing her again? Would they have anything to talk about?

An elevator took him to a noisy floor, where hip hop blasted from one of several open doors in the hallway and the buzz of an alcohol soaked crowd was already starting to accumulate decibels. A scantily clad woman appeared in the hall, said hello, and disappointed through another doorway. Which door was Anne behind? Was she here yet? Yes, yes she was, for she came out of the door the other woman had entered.

He felt like he had been tazered when she looked at him, the pain freezing him so he was defenseless. Her eyes fell to the floor, her mouth searched for words, and he saw she had the same feeling of helplessness.

“You look great,” she finally said to rescue them from the winter of their meeting.

“You look stunning,” he stuttered. A black cocktail dress gave shape to her perfect body, and makeup adorned her once naked face. She looked more beautiful than he had ever seen her. But just as she began to wonder if she had succumbed to the world of phoniness, she said, “Do you like the dress? I bought it just for this party, thought it’d be fun to dress up for once. I had to get the makeup done because when I did it myself I looked like a clown.” She smiled that familiar smile that always diffused and tense situation. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to A.J.”

“How do you know A.J.?”

“Um…he went to high school with a friend of mine.”
“Boyfriend?” It just came out, a bit too envious, too, kind of surprising.

“If you’re going to be like that…”

“No, I’m just asking. Haven’t seen you in two years, just wondering about your life.” He was being phony; she’d see right through him. He could see in her eyes that she did, but she played the diplomacy hand and led him to A.J.

“A.J., I’d like you to meet a friend of mine, Casey O’Hagan.”

“Hey, what’s up? A fellow Irishman, huh?” And that was that – they had much to talk about that wasn’t baseball related. In fact, they talked so much about being Irish that Casey forgot about Anne for most of the night, though an occasional glance her way taught him that she was watching him, and was that a green eye he saw? And who was that guy she was talking to for most of the night?

“So, you and Anne?” A.J. asked when he caught Casey looking at her.

“Nine years of my life.”

“Nine? Wow, I hadn’t realized it was so long. How long has it been since the spilt, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Two years.” He hadn’t expected to talk about his relationship with A.J. Sullivan. He’d expected to talk about OPS and AVG and RBI, but this was disconcerting. “Is she seeing anyone now?”

“Yeah, Mike, the guy next to her. We grew up together, played legion ball together. He was a good catcher, but he blew out his knee and became a banker.”

“Banker? How dull. So how long have they been together?”

“I don’t think you want to know the answer to that question.”

“Well, since you put it that way, now I have to.”

“She met him when you were in Iraq.”

“Oh god, which time?”

“That I don’t know. How many times were you there?”

“Really? Is that allowed?”

“Anything’s allowed these days. Soldiers aren’t human beings, they’re commodity, mere instruments for rich people to get richer…So she cheated on me, huh?”

“You aren’t going to make a scene, are you?”

“No, I’ll just put it in my little lock box of things that will blow up my sanity some day. No worries.”

A.J. smiled and made up his mind that Casey was someone he could hang out with, inviting him to go for beers when the team returned form the next road trip. Secretly ecstatic, Casey said yes. A.J. Sullivan was exempt from his misanthropy. Ann, however, was moved to the top of the list.

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