Tuesday, June 08, 2004  
Strange Visions

Last night, with the fog settling over the corn fields of Pennsylvania, I lay my head down to sleep. The struggles of my beloved Chicago Cubs were, as usual, on my mind, but I was gripped with a greater fear -- the looming job interview in the coming morn. Perhaps my concern over the Cubs grew jealous on that night, for when I closed my eyes and my consciousness released my mind to unfettered wanderings, it brought me this vision:
Deep into the seventh inning, the Cubs were losing by a score of Four to Nil. Aramis Ramirez was up to bat and he, like all of his teammates, were hitless on the day. The determined expression his face wore in previous at-bats was gone, replaced by a look of resignation. He was beaten before his back foot even dug into the growing pit near the back of the batter's box.
The Cardinal pitcher was unrecognizable as a man; my mind's eye saw him--it--as a fire-eyed demon, its long, heavily muscled right arm covered in barbs and slick with some sort of hellish oily secretion. It delivered the first pitch, which sped directly toward the overmatched batter's skull. He hit the deck like a war veteran upon hearing a car's backfire, but though his head was out of harm's way, his bat was suspended in mid-air. The ball, oval-shaped as though struggling to retain its shape against such velocity, struck the bat at an odd angle and it hurtled into the stands.
A man dressed all in white, sitting alone in the fourth row down the third base side, reached out a bony hand and caught the sizzling projectile. The wide brim of his white hat obscured his face, but the demon in a Cardinals uniform standing on the pitcher's mound recoiled when he saw who caught the ball. Though the pale-handed spectator's face remained hidden, the Cubs could sense a smile as his wrist snapped and the ball was thrown back on to the field.
The crowd was silent.
The home plate umpire's hippopotamic mass lumbered over to the ball and picked it up. Curiously, after a brief inspection, he tossed it back to the pitcher, who seethed and bared its fangs at the umpire.
"Play Ball!" shouted the umpire, and his voice cut through the silence of the crowd, breaking the spell. They began to cheer, unsteadily at first, then louder.
Ramirez looked up into the stands before digging in. The man in white was gone. He shook his head and dug in, but the look of desperation was washed away by the noise of the crowd. The demon on the mound appeared smaller, more frail suddenly.
The next pitch sailed over everyone's heads and against the net, then rolled back toward the umpire's feet. The crowd roared. With a grunt, the umpire picked it up, inspected it, then threw it back to the pitcher.
The demonic Cardinal threw another pitch. The ball seemed to glow as it slowed before Ramirez's eyes. He swung his bat and felt a surge of energy; the ball sailed over the fence and settled into the crowd, where a pale-handed man in a wide hat caught it and threw it back. It rolled to the umpire's feet just as Ramirez crossed the plate.
The crowd was in hysterics; they sensed the change. Derrek Lee was next, and he too homered; the demonic Cardinal players shrank a little bit more. In the right field bleachers, a bony, pale hand caught the ball and threw it back. The umpire put the ball in play again. The Demon LaRussa was paralyzed; he could make no move despite the pitcher's pleading looks toward the dugout. Barrett, then Ramon Martinez, followed; each homered, and each time the man in white caught the ball and threw it back.
And so it went all the way through the lineup, with even weak-hitting pitcher Matt Clement swatting the enchanted ball into the stands. The score stood at 7 to 4 in favor of the Cubs when Moises Alou stepped in. Once more the enfeebled pitcher delivered the ball, and once more the ball sailed high into the sky. This time it left the park and went halfway down the street.
The ballhawks ran after the coveted ball, but from an alley a man in a white hat and suit reached out his pale, bony hand and caught the ball on the third bounce.
The umpire threw in a new ball and the rest of the game passed uneventfully. The Cubs emerged victorious by an eight to four score, and the man in white was never seen again.
I awoke feeling refreshed and peaceful. The job interview went very smoothly, and though I have been awake and fully aware all day, there is a part of my mind that has not left the dream.

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