Ernest Hemingway: The Spring Training Stories

February 22, 2013
 
(Editor’s note: In our continuing effort to bridge the gap between high literature and baseball, we’ve asked novelist and bullfighting aficionado Ernest Hemingway to send us some stories about this year’s spring training. This follows the Hall-of-Fame ballot sent by William Faulkner two years earlier. Mr. Hemingway’s stories arrived on the morning tide, sealed in an empty rum bottle.)
 
 
The Old Manager and the CY
 
He was an old manager for a team in a city near Canada, and he had gone one hundred and nineteen days since winning a pennant. On the first day the pitcher had been with him but the pitcher had been sandoval which is the worst form of unlucky and the season had ended and the old man had gone home to wait the nothing months out until spring and the start again.
            Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were a color not like the sea at all. He was in Florida and away from the sea.
            “We could do it again,” the pitcher said to him. They were walking across mowed grass to a diamond far away. “Win the pennant.”
            “No,” the old man said. In the years before he had taught the pitcher to hold himself back, to ease himself into the games so that his fastest pitch would come in the late innings, when the batter was loose and expecting the pitcher to lose his strength. “That is not enough,” the old man said. “The pennant is not enough.”
            “But remember how they cheered for us in 2006? And last year? A pennant is a good thing.”
            “I remember,’ the old manager said. “A pennant is a good thing. But it would be better to win the World Series.”
            “Are you certain we will win the division?”
             “It is likely that we will win the division. It is not certain. Only the presence of the tiburon in the deep water is certain.”
            “I am worried about the White Sox of Chicago. They have the mighty Dunn, who hit forty-one homeruns last year. ”
            “They are an old team. Their hitters are old and it is not good to worry about old hitters.’
            “I fear the Royals of Kansas City.”
            The old manager laughed. “Be careful, or you will fear next the Indians of Cleveland and the Twins of Minnesota.”
            “The Royals of Kansas City are younger than we are.”
“Yes,” said the old manager. “I fear them the most from the teams in our division. But they will play Francouer this year, instead of Myers.”
            “I am afraid of the one called Butler.”
            “You should be,” said the old manager. “Butler has a batting average of .396 against you.”
“It is a small sample size.”
 “It is fifty-eight plate appearances. That is not small.”
            “Maybe I should learn a hard knuckleball. It worked for Dickey of the Mets.”
           “Maybe.” They had reached the mound and the old manager gestured to a bucket of baseballs. They were white. The sun was high. “For now you will throw.”
            The pitcher picked up a ball. “Tell me again about the baseball.”
             
           
 
Braves Camp
 
Justin and his brother got in the car. Justin sat on the passenger’s side and B.J. drove. The air in Florida was warm and rising. Justin could smell the Christmas-Tree air freshener that hung from the rear-view mirror. “Where are we going?”
            “To spring training. There is a team that needs outfielders. They are willing to overlook our three hundred combined strikeouts from last year.”
            “So we are going to play for them?”
            “Yes.”
            “Please tell me it’s not the Marlins.”
            “No, it’s not the Marlins.”
            “Thank God,” Justin said. He felt quite sure he’d win the MVP.
 
 
 
The Short Un-Happy Safari of Brandon McCarthy
 
It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the canvas tent pretending that nothing had happened. “Will you have an Arizona Iced Tea?” Towers asked.
            “I’ll have a gimlet,” Kirk Gibson answered. “Actually, I don’t know what a gimlet it. I’ll have a beer.”
            “I’ll take a beer, too,” said Brandon McCarthy. “And a gimlet is gin and lime juice. Sometimes it’s served with a dash of soda. Do you read Hemingway?”
            “No,” said Kirk Gibson. “I prefer my writers to be soft-bodied and radically experimental with form. They should have glasses, ideally. Like James Joyce.” 
            “You’ve got your Prado,’ Kevin Towers said to Gibson. “And a damned fine player he is.”
            “Gritty, like me,” Gibson said.
            “Who did you trade to get Prado?” Brandon McCarthy asked.
            “It’s not important,” Kevin Towers said.
            “Justin Upton,” Gibson said. ‘He wasn’t our kind of player. We want players who crash into the walls. That’s sort of a job requirement around here. We run drills.”
            Brandon McCarthy pulled out his i-phone. “I see that Justin Upton has played in at least 133 games in each of the last four seasons. How many times did you play 133 games, manager Gibson?”
            “Three times.” Gibson said, ashamed. “I did not hustle in those seasons. But in the other fourteen seasons I hustled a great deal. I crashed into many walls.”
            “And Prado has played 133 games just twice,” Kevin Towers said. “He is just the kind of player we want.”
            “His WAR was inflated by an unsustainable UZR,” McCarthy said.
            “What the hell is UZR?” Kirk Gibson said.
            “I need to call my agent,” Brandon McCarthy said.    
            “Don’t worry,” Kevin Towers said. “There will be a certain amount of unpleasantness finishing fourth in the NL West, but at least we will stay ahead of Colorado.”
            “Please stop it.” Brandon McCarthy said.
            “There’s a hell of a lot to be done,” Kevin Towers said. “I’m thinking of trading Paul Goldschmidt for Marco Scutaro. And I don’t like the way Ian Kennedy looks when he pitches. He says it is mechanics, but I think he’s just trying to look pretty. That isn’t the Diamondbacks way.”
            “Stop it,” Brandon McCarthy said.
            “Did we tell you we got Cliff Pennington?” Kirk Gibson said. “For Chris Young. The A’s were eager to take him. I am not sure why.”
            “Stop it. Stop it. Stop it,” Brandon McCarthy cried.
 
 
 
The Sun Also Rises in Miami
 
Giancarlo Stanton was once in a batting order with good hitters around him. Do not think I am very impressed by that, but it meant a lot to Stanton. He cared nothing for where he hit in the batting order, in fact he rejected the idea of protection as a relic of old thinking, but he liked knowing that there were other hitters who could get on base or drive in runs around him, so that the team’s offense wasn’t completely up to him. There was a certain comfort knowing that if he didn’t hit the baseball five hundred feet into that giant eyesore of pop art in the outfield, that at least Hanley Ramirez might put a dent in the damn thing and stop it from working.
 
 
 
Hills Like White Sox
 
On this side of Chicago there was no shade and no trees and the stadium was between the red and the green lines of the L train. Close to the side of the stadium, in the parking lot, the place where the old home plate of the old stadium was marked and now cars drove over it. The pitcher and the GM were in the President’s suite. It was very cold outside and the plane for Phoenix was coming in forty minutes.
            “What should we drink?” the GM asked.
            “It’s pretty cold. Let’s drink hot chocolate.”
            “Dos hot chocolates,” the GM said. He was talking to the air.
            The pitcher was looking through the window, at the scoreboard and the seven pinwheels over it. They were still and the land was cold and the sky was grey.
            “They look like white elephants.”
            “Where is the hot chocolate?” the GM said.
The pitcher picked up the media guide. “What does it say?”
“Alejandro De Aza. He’s our centerfielder.”
 “Is he alright?”
“I don’t know.”
 The pitcher looked out the window again. “They’re lovely pinwheels. They don’t look anything like white elephants. I don’t know why I said that.”
“You don’t have to be afraid,” the GM said. “I know lots of pitchers who have had it done.”
The pitcher didn’t say anything.
“It’s a simple operation. Ask Gavin Floyd or Jake Peavy.”
 “A lot of people think I’ll get injured. A writer from Sports Illustrated said I was the pitcher most likely to have arm trouble this year.”
“Your arm is fine. It’s really not anything to worry about.”
“My ERA jumped in the second half. From 2.19 to 4.03. I felt really tired.”
“We’re asking for two hundred and twenty innings. That’s not so many.”
“You’ll want more, if we make the playoffs,” Chris Sale said. “What happens if my arm goes?”
“The team will stick with you. We’ll be behind you all the time.”
“And afterwards?”
“You’ll be just like before. Our ace pitcher.”
“Not the bullpen, right? I hate the bullpen.”
“Not the bullpen, I promise. Starting pitcher.” The GM looked at his watch. “The plane leaves soon.”
“We can have the World Series?”
“Do you feel better?”
“I feel fine,” Chris Sale said. “There’s nothing wrong with my arm. I feel fine.”
 
 

A Clean, Well-Lighted David Price
 
It was very late and everyone had left the restaurant except a well-tanned man who sat in the shadow. The two waiters knew the old man was a little drunk and they knew that if he was more drunk he would put on a fake moustache and try to leave without paying.
            “Last year he was fired from his job.”
            “For what reason?”
            “Because his team drastically underperformed expectations. Also: there were some interpersonal concerns.”
            The well-tanned man tapped his glass. “Another Sapporo.”
            The younger waiter went over to him. “Why did you question the motivations of Youkilis? He is a Yankee now and it is your fault. You drove him away.”
            The well-tanned man nodded.              
            The young waiter went back to the older waiter. The older waiter said: “You should not have said that." 
            “Why not? It’s true.”
            “He is well-tanned. You should not insult the well-tanned.” 
            “Why did he do it? Criticize Youkilis?”
            “To light a fire. Get the team going.”
            “You light a fire with matches. Unless it is cold. Then you try to kill your dog.”
            “That’s the wrong story. We’re not doing Jack London this year.” 
            “Do you think the team will do better?”
            “I think it is impossible not to do better.”
            “I understand they have John Lackey coming back.”
            “It is not a question of Lackey or Lester or Ellsbury being healthy. Each year it is a question of whether or not they can withstand the other teams in the East.”
            ‘The Yankees are old.”
            “The Yankees have been old always. And they have won always. They will win long after you are old and I am gone.”
            “And the Blue Jays?”
            “They have acquired the great R.A. Dickey, and every decent player on the Marlins except Giancarlo. They will be a fine team.
            “I have confidence that they will win. I am all confidence.”
            “And what you lack is a memory of the Rays. They are the best team because they have David Price.”
            “Hombre, there are other pitchers in the division. Sabathia and Lester and Dickey.  
            “You do not understand. David Price is a very pleasant man. He has a good arm. His fastball is good and also, now, there is his curveball.
            “You’re really trying to force this, aren’t you?” the younger waiter said. 
            “Nada nada, y nada,” the older waiter said. “It’s Spanish for nothing, you know.”
The well-tanned man raised an empty bottle. “Another.”
            “No,” the young waiter said. “Not another. We are closed.”
            The well-tanned man took out his wallet and placed a bill on the table. The waiter watched him stand and move down the street, past the electric lights of other bars.
            “He invented the wrap,” the old waiter said to the younger one.
            “Maybe. But he should not have said that about Youkilis.” 

(Dave Fleming is a writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.)
 
 

COMMENTS (10 Comments, most recent shown first)

Culhane
I'm a published fiction writer and I thought that those vignettes were magnificent.
9:12 PM Mar 17th
 
DaveFleming
Thanks for the positive feedback, all. I was a tad worried this was a one-trick pony. I'm glad there are other people whose Venn diagram of obsessions have 'baseball' and 'literature' as overlapping.
3:50 PM Feb 28th
 
dcrowell
i'm not even done yet-- but thanks. wonderful. after the d-backs story i just need to stop and savor.​
12:40 AM Feb 27th
 
Robinsong
Great fun!
10:03 AM Feb 23rd
 
mauimike
Good. I hope you got paid. Whatever it was, it wasn't enough.
3:34 AM Feb 23rd
 
DavidTodd
A hoot.
12:34 AM Feb 23rd
 
OBM
Awesome.
3:38 PM Feb 22nd
 
doncoffin
He left a comment in the ether. It shone like the sun setting over the Keys. He smiled.

But the article was better than his comment.
11:47 AM Feb 22nd
 
ErnieSS
That was great.
10:13 AM Feb 22nd
 
MichaelPat
Hilarious... an absolute delight!
7:07 AM Feb 22nd
 
 
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