February 11, 2006

The Long Pitch Goodbye

Part 2 of 3 (Read Part 1)

Daylight streamed in through the curtains I’d neglected to close the night before. Hadn’t seemed important at the time, but it sure did now. My head pounding like Ryan Church against an outfield wall, it took me a moment to identify my surroundings. There it was; the desperate Washington Nationals fans; the missing pitcher, Darrell Rasner; my encounter with Trader Jim Bowden; the bottle and a half of Johnnie Walker Black.

I massaged my throbbing temples and debated a plan of attack. Bowden had suggested I talk to Assistant GM Bob Boone, but I wasn’t eager to return to the funhouse that was the Nationals front office. Not until I had more to go on. As it happened, I had an in with the Nationals coaching staff. I knew Frank Robinson’s Bench Coach,
“Fast Eddie” Rodriguez from his days as a slick-fielding shortstop at Miami Dade South Junior College. It was just plain bad luck that he was drafted by the Orioles just about the same time as another shortstop. Eddie could have been a contender.

After a quick breakfast of
Pepto and Tastykakes I put in a call to Rodriguez. He seemed somewhat surprised but pleased to hear from me. I suppose it had been awhile. We agreed to meet for dinner at Eddie’s place down in the Keys, but first I wanted to talk to Randy St. Claire. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me to go right to the Nationals Pitching Coach, but the shortest distance between two points was never my style. Unfortunately, when I got in touch with St. Claire our conversation was brief.

“Darrell Rasner? You’re asking about Darrell Rasner?!? They expect me to make a pitching staff out of
Brian Lawrence, Ramon Ortiz, Tony Armas, Jr. and Ryan Drese. I can pitch better than Tony Armas, Jr.! You think I have time to worry about Darrell Rasner? Hell, I couldn’t pick the kid out of a lineup!” So much for doing things the easy way.

Calling Eddie Rodriguez’s place down in
Marathon a fishing shack would be insulting to fishing shacks everywhere. It was a rough-hewn, tumbled-down bungalow. Martha Stewart would have run screaming for a Motel 6 at the sight of it. But after the long drive down from Viera, the place looked as inviting as a feather bed. I could hear strains of a Caribbean Series play-by-play announcer through the open windows and there was a hint of fresh conch stew on the breeze. I should have known something was wrong.

The door swung open at my first knock. Through the neat living room I could see Rodriguez slumped over the kitchen table. It was still too early to be dead drunk, and he’d never been that kind of guy anyway. I rushed in, trying to focus on Eddie while still staying alert for the sound of other people in the house. When I reached the kitchen I could hear Eddie drawing slow, ragged breaths. His eyes were closed and blood was slowly pooling around a stack of half-filled out lineup cards. Seems like the ambulance was there before I’d even finished dialing the 911 operator.

Lucky for Eddie
Fishermen’s Hospital was close by, and the doctors were able to stabilize him. It was just after 1 am when a young trauma surgeon found me dozing in the lounge. After assuring me that Eddie was on the road to a full recovery he paused, and almost to himself he said, “It’s the strangest thing… he was stabbed eight times, and I’d swear two people did it.”

I was more than a little groggy from chasing
NoDoz with vodka shots, so I asked the doctor to repeat himself. “Look, I’m no pathologist,” he said, “but it looks to me like half the stab wounds were made by a right-hander, and half by a lefty.” I resisted the temptation to tell the doc that that’s just how Eddie would have wanted it. Instead I thanked him for his good work and attempted to feign sobriety as I slouched back to my car. Lots of cops around hospitals in the wee hours of the morning, and I didn’t have time to waste in the drunk tank. I had a date with an Assistant GM.

Driving drunk is bad. Driving drunk at night is worse. Driving drunk at night over water while intermittently popping caffeine pills is so
monumentally stupid as to transcend conventional notions of right and wrong. Needless to say I used up several lifetimes worth of good karma in the span of a few hours. But I had to get back to Viera. I needed to see Bob Boone. Whatever was going on with this Rasner kid clearly transcended the coaching staff. It was time for a front office shake-up.

It was just before 7 am when I pulled into the Space Coast Stadium parking lot. The Smokehouse Turkey security guard was gone, his swivel chair cool to the touch. Bob Boone’s office was easy to identify, every light blazing in the gray post-dawn. I barged through the door, hoping for a combination of surprise and intimidation. He was beyond both.

Bob Boone was hanging from an exposed ceiling beam, one leg of what looked to be a pair of warm-up pants fixed to the beam, the other wrapped tight around his neck. An overturned swivel chair lay on the ground behind his desk. On his still-lit monitor, a four-sentence note: “I can’t do it. I can’t make Robert Fick a big league catcher. No one can. I’m so sorry.”

So was I. I was running out of ideas. Standing beside Boone’s desk, I gazed vacantly out at the stadium as my thoughts spun. Bowden…

1 comment:

MissChatter said...

Haha! I'm envisioning some old black and white PI movie! This is great!