Magnificent 7 Challenge (Seven)
Notes: It’s taken me a while, but it is coming, and now that baseball season is here, maybe it will go faster
Please email me with comments or suggestions… a writer can never get enough… (Grin) email@example.com
Baseball was indeed a sport for kings, but unlike so many games, it was accessible to anyone with a stick, a ball (large or small), and friends. It could be seen played in all walks of life, just about anywhere, and by anyone. Children played in empty fields, lots, and streets, while adults played in parks and stadiums. Spectators could view it from their living room windows, to and from work in their cars, and at night in front of their televisions. It was talked about in front of the water coolers at work, debated over in bars, and strategized in high school gyms.
It was a game that captured the American spirit, and was reachable by all. It was a game filled with statistics and facts, while at the same time inspiring superstitions beyond comprehension.
Unlike most professional baseball teams, the Colorado Gunslingers were not known for their big names, sell-out seats, or their overwhelming salaries. They were small in comparison to the rest of the country. They found their players only after the rest of the teams had picked the new choices clean. They made due with what they had, and tried their damndest to do their best.
This season would be different.
Colorado had a new manager. It would be the first time in the major leagues that the position of general manager and team manager would be combined, and Travis was the man to do it…at least the owners hoped so.
Orin Travis had been a great player in his day, and he had a world series under his belt to prove it. When he was asked to coach the Gunslingers he said he would, but only if he could clean house.
And he did.
When Travis said jump, the only response he wanted to hear was, “How high and where do I land?” He expected results and demanded replies. He wouldn’t coach a losing team…he wanted winners.
His first choice was a young man that had played with him during his last year with the Cincinnati Reds. Orin realized when Chris Larabee showed up during spring training in 1990 that the game of baseball had changed. At thirty-nine years of age, Orin knew his time was short and with players like Chris Larabee coming into the game, it was only a matter of time before he was asked to leave…so he retired.
Chris Larabee was a hot-tempered second basemen that had more suspensions than Babe Ruth had home runs. With an arm like a cannon, every team in the league wanted him, but his temper kept him on the bench. He argued with everyone, and usually ended up throwing his baseball glove at the second base umpire.
Orin knew potential, and Larabee had it. At thirty-six years of age, Chris needed a strong hand and someone with a temper stronger than his own. Orin had it. Where Chris was tall, standing over six one, lean and strong, Orin was short, barely reaching five ten…but he was powerful. The former short stop could move faster than a hummingbird, yell louder than a marine sergeant, and punch harder than a middleweight. His friends knew it…and respected it.
Orin had decided to keep a few of the older players, those that had been with the team for a while. Josiah Sanchez, the ‘old man’ of the team, would continue to be catcher. With a consistent batting record and he being one of the best catchers in the league, it would be a mistake to let him go. Josiah, or ‘Pops’ what the team called him, refused to play anywhere else. He was a Colorado boy, born and bred.
Nathan Jackson, or ‘Doc’, was an awesome center fielder. He was old enough to know the game inside and out, while at the same time young enough to play like a rookie. Standing over six foot three he could intimidate most new pitchers, and most catchers got out of the way when he charged home base. He’d been with four other teams, done some great work, but had a tendency to get hurt, and a player wasn’t worth his weight if he couldn’t play ball. Orin knew it was a matter of keeping Nathan healthy, so it would be a matter of reteaching the thirty-four-year-old how to play logically, not dangerously.
There were several members of the bullpen Orin decided to keep around and a few bench players, but he wanted the majority of his team to be new…fresh. He sat in his office, looking over the free agents, looking for those that wouldn’t cost the team too much money, and those that wanted to play the game because they loved it, not what it could give them. He heard a knock at the door and looked up as Chris Larabee entered, still carrying his travel bag…he’d just arrived from Philly.
“Have a seat,” Orin said, pushing himself away from the desk’s edge. “You look tired.”
Chris nodded; he didn’t find it necessary to talk a lot.
“I understand you didn’t want to come here.”
“Not my first choice in teams,” Chris admitted.
“But you want to play?” it was a question that needed answered.
“Yeah,” came the blunt reply.
Orin leaned forward and crossed his arms on his desk. “Are you able to play without losing your temper?”
“I’ll send you back down to double A ball if you can’t play this game—I don’t care how many records you’ve broken, or how many you’re capable of breaking. I want a team that’s able to play because they love the sport—that’s something we seem to have forgotten over the years.” He reached up and scratched his forehead before leaning back in his chair. “This team is your last chance,” he looked hard at Chris, “you play here, you play well…or you don’t play at all.”
Chris heard the conviction in Orin’s voice.
Orin nodded, knowing he didn’t need to continue. “I’m looking for some new blood…any suggestions?” He tossed the files he’d been looking at toward Chris.
“What are you lookin’ for?”
“First basemen, third base, shortstop, right field, left field, and a starting pitcher.” Orin leaned back and raised an eyebrow.
“Buck Wilmington’s a damn good first baseman, and you can pick him up for nothin’,” Chris said, tossing the first baseman’s file onto the desktop. “Have you picked anyone?”
“Vin Tanner—quick on his feet with excellent hand eye coordination. He’s been playing second base with San Francisco, but I think he’s in the wrong position. I’d like to try him as a shortstop.”
“Can you get him?” Chris asked, knowing Tanner was a pretty consistent player.
“Already did,” Orin replied. “Signed him yesterday afternoon, I just wanted your opinion of him.”
“How’d you get him?”
“I tell you once you become the coach,” Orin replied with a grin. “See anyone else?”
“I’ve watched John Dunne, he’s got a strong right arm—make a damn good right fielder.”
“He’d be a rookie…can you handle that one your team—I know your record.” Orin raised his eyebrows in question. He knew Chris had a tendency to welcome the newbies with more than just an indoctrination of humiliation.
“We all had to go through it,” Chris replied with a grin, plans already brewing.
“Yes well…make sure nobody ends up in jail.” Orin shook his head and looked again at the files. “What about a pitcher…any ideas?” he had one in mind, but he wanted Chris’ opinion.
“We’ll need someone with power—a sneaky fast ball, maybe a good inside slider. I know Ed Hemmings is a free agent.”
“He’s 27 years old and already having trouble with his throwing arm,” Orin replied. “I want someone who’s going to be with us for a while.”
“So you’re looking at a rookie, or a trade,” Chris surmised.
“What about Standish?”
“He’s too damn old and he can’t throw—his fast ball in less than 87 miles an hour,” Chris replied, taking Orin’s comment as a joke. “Hell, he spent almost 5 years in the minors. He can’t compete when pitchers now are over six feet, two hundred pounds—or close to it, and who throw almost 100 miles an hour.”
“He struck you out,” Orin calmly replied.
“I was off that day,” came the bitter reply.
“He knows the game,” he leaned forward in his chair. “He’s got a change up that sends most pitchers crying to their mothers, and his slider can slice any portion of the plate he wants it to…and at 32 he’ll be able to throw for another five or six years—he’s not at risk for throwing out his arm.”
“Sounds like you’ve already made up your mind about him?” Chris surmised, leaning back in his chair.
“You’ve faced him—I haven’t.”
Chris nodded and leaned forward. “He’d probably the best fielding pitcher in the league…but if he doesn’t have defense when he’s on then he doesn’t have the strength to win on his own…not like the bigger guys.”
“So he needs a strong team,” Orin replied with a smile. “What about a third basemen?”
“Heath Barkley, hands down. He’s great with a left-handed pitcher—which Standish is, and that’s what we’ll need. Besides, he’s got it in his blood to be a damn good player. All three of his brothers play for the Bears—and I think that should cause some good riffs during the games—we’ll face them a lot this season.”
“I like your spirit, Larabee.” Orin slapped his hand on the desk and cleared his throat, and then he took a long pull from his coffee cup. “Right field?”
“I’ve played with Adam Cartwright for several years, I’ve also played against him—I’d rather he be on our side.”
“Do you think we can get him?” Orin asked, knowing Cartwright had issues with the team he played for…not over his paycheck, but because it was a family owned business.
“I’ll call him,” Chris said, getting to his feet. “He’s ready for a change, and,” he sighed, “he’ll be close to home if we get him.”
“Then do it,” Orin replied. “Everyone will be here on Sunday. Practice begins at ten sharp.”
“I’ll be there,” Chris answered, heading out the door.
Orin smiled, he needed a new team…a new chance as well.