The last time he had been inside in a bullpen was in Coahuila to hold a vaquero accountable for bedding the hacendado’s wife. Yet somehow this bullpen held more misery.
In one corner the pitchers sat on chairs huddled around a few desultory flames and passed around a small roasted animal impaled on a stick, their faces still firelit beneath some kind of soft velvety hood. He walked closer and saw they were all clad in identical robes, like tunics belonging to an ancient heathen sect that stopped believing in their deity after they wearied of their prayers being met instead only with calumny. He walked closer still and saw each of the dark robes had a name and number etched in scarlet on the back. One of the pitchers saw him studying the robes.
All we got left of the time before everything went to hell, he said. He gestured toward the charred remains of the transfixed animal. Used to be we had the rally squirrel too. Not no more.
He started to ask if the visitor would like some but the visitor waved away the request. That is not why I am here, he said. I have taken your measure and I find you wanting.
Hold it. We been doin better last few games. Strikeouts up. Walks down. Still lettin in inherited runners like screech owls into a bored out cactus but —
No. You don’t know what this is.
But our ERA been —
ERA, he said, as if pondering the quaint invention of the kinetoscope or the first webbed mitt. A crude cudgel wielded by false prophets. I am of the elect. I know your barrel rates and your exit velocities. I know who you are.
What are you tellin me?
You will have one more chance to save yourselves. When you are called you must choose and the chosen must be your redeemer.
A deafening crack seemed to split the evening in two. Then silence. Then a white spheroid hurtling toward them. It landed in the smoldering remains of the fire, sending sparks arcing in every direction, once dying ashes now dying faster separated from that which gave them succor.
Thought Shoemaker was goin tomorrow, the pitcher said.
The phone rang. The inevitable progression of things. Like the settling of concrete.