February 12, 2006

The Long Pitch Goodbye

Part 3 of 3 (Read Part 1; Part 2)

Jim Bowden. I was sure that he was the key. With Randy St. Claire out of the loop, Eddie Rodriguez in the hospital and Bob Boone warming up pitchers in that big bullpen in the sky, Bowden was the only one left who could be responsible for Darrell Rasner’s disappearance. I needed answers, and fast, the delicate balance of booze and pills that had been keeping me going for the last day and a half was beginning to wear off.

Bowden’s office was empty and dark, a pile of old
Cincinnati Reds rosters scattered across his otherwise spotless desk. But I knew from chatting up one of his secretaries that Bowden kept a condo just off Highway A1A. If he hadn’t skipped town yet, I was betting he’d be there. To cover all my bases I phoned Bill Roquette, a quasi-journalist for the local rag and one of my regular snitches, and asked him to keep an eye on Melbourne International Airport. My per diem didn’t cover airfare.

Minutes later I was crossing the 404 into Satellite Beach. Jim Bowden’s condo was on the top floor of a three-story garden-style complex. His cherry red
Miata with the distinctive BIGRED1 license plate was parked across two spaces in the lot. I bounded up the stairs to Bowden’s unit. Lowering my shoulder I drove through the door with technique that would have done my old high school football coach proud. Probably should have checked to see if it was locked first. The door exploded out of its frame and I tumbled through the doorway, skidding to a stop in the middle of Jim Bowden’s living room.

The room had once been tastefully decorated. Now every flat surface was covered with life-size color photos of aging sluggers, washed up pitchers and past their prime utilitymen.
Sammy Sosa was there, as were Frank Thomas and Steve Finley. Darren Dreifort, Paul Abbott and Damian Moss occupied an entire wall. And Carlos Febles, Royce Clayton and Jeff Reboulet stretched down the hallway toward the bedroom. In the midst of it all stood Bowden, nattily attired in an open collared silk shirt and black leather pants, clutching a half-full duffel bag. “Anyone ever teach you to knock?” he asked.

It was a fair question, but one I had no interest in answering. Instead, I asked if he’d seen Darrell Rasner around. I wasn’t expecting what happened next, but I’d lost all capacity to be surprised. “Rasner!” Bowden snapped, “That’s all I hear anymore! Where’s Darrell Rasner? What happened to Darrell Rasner? Night and day. When did Darrell Rasner become Roger Flippin’ Clemens, that’s what I want to know. You’d think I’d traded Wilkerson for Soriano all over again! You want to know where Rasner is? He’s gone, adios, auf wiedersehen, goodbye! Tonight Darrell Rasner
sleeps with the Yankees!”

Jim Bowden was becoming seriously unhinged. “I needed a roster spot, so I took his! Just like Vargas and Kim. Robinson wasn’t going to pitch them anyway! They weren’t corn-fed Iowa farm boys with ten years of big league experience!” By now Bowden’s eyes had gone glassy and he had that thousand yard stare endemic to combat veterans and shell-shocked middle relievers.

“I’d trade every pitcher in our farm system for a guaranteed thirty homer guy. It’s like McGwire said to that Simpson kid, ‘Do you want to know the terrifying truth? Or do you want to see me sock a few dingers!’ Chicks dig the long ball, baby!!! You think Boston would have cared if I’d rebuilt the farm teams?! You think Cincinnati is looking for a guy who can stockpile young arms? In that ballpark?! Hell no!!!”

That made sense, in a deranged way. But what did it have to do with Boone and Rodriguez? “They were in my way!” Bowden ranted. “Boone was always whining about devoting two roster spots to back-up catchers. He kept harping on me, ‘Go get a real catcher, we need a real catcher, you might as well just put sheet of plywood behind home plate!’ I found his lack of faith disturbing… terminally so.” And Eddie Rodriguez? “Eddie was a Nervous Nelly! He kept coming at me with crossed out lineup cards. ‘I can’t do it!
There’s too many of them! This will never work!’ He wanted me to keep Rasner and waive one of my second basemen! Can you imagine?!”

But why send two guys after Rodriguez… a lefty and a righty? “What?” Bowden seemed momentarily distracted. “Two? I just sent
Bernie Castro. I had to give him something to do; he’s not even on the depth chart! He’s a switch-hitter, you know. Super Toolsy!” So there it was. All the lies, all the intrigue and back-stabbing… all part of Jim Bowden’s insane quest to maintain infield depth. Nothing left now but to bring him in. Unfortunately Bowden had other ideas.

As I moved towards him Bowden dropped the duffel bag to reveal a snub-nosed .38 caliber pistol. “Can’t stop now, I’m on my way to the
Dominican. There’s a kid down there who could be the next Cristian Guzman!” I weighed my options. I wasn’t getting paid enough for this, but I owed it to Eddie to try and stop him. I lunged, he fired, and I reconsidered the biological underpinnings of heroism. Then I slept…

When I came to I felt remarkably good for a man with a bullet hole in his shoulder and a lump on his head. Seems Trader Jim had offered me the butt end of his pistol on my way down, just before he hopped a flight to the Caribbean. I made a mental note to inform the
local paper that Bill Roquette fabricated most of his stories.

A week later I was back on my feet and on my way back to Miami Beach. I was looking forward to sipping a few mojitos, and maybe doing a little people watching along Collins Avenue. You can imagine my surprise when I opened my office door to find a gaggle of waiting Washington Nationals fans. “We’re looking for one of our infielders,
Jamey Carroll…”


Basil said...

Bernie Castro! I knew there was a reason for Bernie Castro!

He can get on base, so you know he can be in position to score. And he's fleet of foot, so once the hit has been made he can scoot back home. Perfect!

And I'd like to note that I called this Bowden thing; he just didn't seem too sincered in Part 1.

(BTW, great job with this series. Nats noir!)

Watson said...

"Campbell weaves a tale of sadness, intrigue, and spine-tingling action that hasn't been seen by this reviewer since 'Wild Things'.

This is a must read for Spring Training."

-Mike Townes, The Florida Tomorrow Gazette

Nate said...

Well, there goes my veil of anonimity. If I wind up wearing cement shoes at the bottom of the Anacostia, blame Watson.

Basil said...

You're Campbell Brown?

Or Earl Campbell?

Watson said...

You wear a veil?