“If one test of [Mort’s] skill is to keep the reader turning pages after he guesses the ending, the acid test is to get a reader hooked even though he knows what happens before he opens the book.” — The Washington Times
“Terry Mort’s splendid novel, At Last!, picks up on the Faustian themes found in Douglass Wallop’s The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant (made into the movie Damn Yankees). But rather than being merely derivative, Mort’s wise and witty sensibility turns this traditional material into something fresh and very entertaining. This time it’s the Cubs that need saving, in a very devilish way, and the Satanic figure who pulls this off, Beasley, has a memorable and utterly distinctive voice; as does the sports commentator, Judge Sirica, the team manager, and so on. In sum, Mort is the real article, with a lively prose style, an engaging plot, and the ability to blend culture references both high and low into a seamless piece of work. The book is laced with laugh-out-loud moments and deserves a very wide audience. Enjoy!” — William Heath, Author of Devil Dancer
[SYNOPSIS] The best baseball novel of the season – ANY season. No fans are more perpetually disappointed than those of the Chicago Cubs—a team that has not won a World Series since 1908. And chief among the forlorn is Jack Frost. From his assigned seat in the cafeteria at the Bide Awhile Rest Home, Jack reads the sports pages every day and checks out the standings. In the middle of June, the Cubs are already thirteen and a half games out. Last place again—or rather, still. Into this sea of depression drops one Clarence Beazely, a new resident at the home and a baseball fan. But Beazely is not your everyday fan, nor is he your everyday rest home resident. He has extraordinary powers, and in a very friendly way he offers Jack a tantalizing deal. Of course it comes at a cost, but if the price seems a little steep, does it really matter as long as the Cubs might have a chance to be… WORLD CHAMPIONS?
Publisher: Fireship Press
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Chapter 6: The PA announcer said …
“And now — here’s the starting line-up for your Maryville Mudcats!” He made a big deal out of the ‘your,’ as if they were the pride of the Wabash Valley, which they weren’t.
“Batting first and playing shortstop, Spike Russell, batting second and playing second, Bob Russell, — the Keystone Kids, ladies and gentlemen!”
This drew scattered applause from the fans, for it was unusual for two brothers to be playing on the same team, much less playing short and second.
“Batting third and playing right field, Roy Tucker. Batting fourth and playing centerfield, Joe Frost, batting fifth and playing left field, Chip Hilton …” And so it went.
“Who’s the guy playing center?” said one of the fans to the guy sitting next to him.
“Who knows? He’s new.”
“Hey, this is single A, Einstein. Everybody’s new.”
That was true. The days were long gone when an aging ballplayer would fade slowly down through the ranks of the minors, trying to hang on somewhere, for a paycheck. They made too much money in the big leagues these days to worry about it. The only people playing single A were kids on the way up. Or out.
“Yeah, maybe. But this guy’s really new. Just reported last week.”
“They must think he can hit. Batting clean-up.”
“We’ll know soon enough.”
“Where’d he come from?”
“Says here in the paper that he grew up in Venezuela; his father was in the oil business down there.”
“He don’t look like a Latino.”
“He isn’t. His old man just worked down there.”
“They play pretty good ball down there. It’s what I hear, anyway. You remember that guy who managed the White Sox when they won the series? He was from there, I think. Or somewhere. Say … look at that!”
“Jumping Jesus!” said the other one. At that moment Lola and Applegate were taking their seats in the front row. “Do you believe that?!”
“I’m seeing it, so I guess it’s true,” said the other one, in tones of muffled awe. “And if I’ve ever seen a better looking woman, I’ll give up beer.”
“Wonder who the old dude is. Her father, maybe.”
“Yeah, right. Or her ‘uncle,’ if you know what I mean.”
A few seats away Buzz Beebe noticed her, too. It was impossible not to. Buzz Beebe, ancient scout for the Chicago Cubs, toiler in the weedy vineyards of single A ball, the man who discovered and signed Hal Benekey, the right fielder who hit 206 for the Cubs twenty years ago. They released him after that one year, but at least he had made it to the big show. Thanks to Buzz Beebe. And Benekey wasn’t Buzz’s only find. There was that black guy from Gary, Indiana who lasted two seasons. Tercel Montcalm. His mother had named him after a Toyota. He could run like Secretariat, but he couldn’t hit a breaking ball with a tennis racket, much less a bat. Pinch running was about all he ever did. But at least he made it to the big show, too. Thanks to Buzz Beebe. And there was that pitcher, Elmer Dunne, a hick from somewhere in Iowa who could throw in the mid-nineties and might have actually won a few games if his fastball hadn’t been as straight as a custom made pool cue. It didn’t matter how fast you threw; big league hitters could put a straight pitch into orbit, once they’d seen it a time or two. But the kid lasted three seasons in the Cubs’ bullpen just on potential, until he blew out his elbow trying to learn to throw a slider. It was a shame, but three years in the big time is more than most people get. Hell, most guys would trade their wives and their girl friends for three years in the big time. And throw in their grandma in return for a measly 250 average or a 4.90 ERA. Just enough to stick for awhile.
So, Buzz Beebe’s finds were never going to get into the Hall of Fame without buying a ticket, like any other tourist. Still, when they went to get a haircut the barber would know that they’d played in the big leagues. That was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Better than most chumps got.
But today Buzz Beebe felt a tingling in his scalp that signified something more than a return of his roseola. Something much more. Sure, there was that gorgeous woman in the front row sitting next to some guy who looked like Ronald Coleman or one of those old time movie stars. But that wasn’t it. Buzz Beebe wasn’t all that much interested in women anymore. He’d had four wives, and every one of them had taken him to the cleaners, so he had soured on them as a class. No, he was watching something that was, in his eyes, every bit as beautiful as the woman in the front row. More so, really. A center fielder. Maybe the center fielder. He had an instinct about these things. He knew greatness when he saw it, the way a bird dog knows a quail. He didn’t see it often; certainly none of his finds displayed anything like greatness. But he never lost his nose for it. Over the years he had seen some of the great ones, and they always made his scalp tingle, just watching them.
‘And here,’ he said to himself, ‘playing center field for the Mudville Marycats or the Maryville Mudcats or whatever the hell they were, was what could be the real thing.’
He had heard reports. One of the coaches had called him. One of the reliable guys who wouldn’t blow smoke. He’d said there was a new guy who had the look of someone special. He said Buzz ought to come down and see for himself. So Buzz had come. And even though the game was just starting Buzz had watched the young center fielder run to his position, and the way he glided was the way the great DiMaggio had glided, effortlessly, like an otter swimming, like a raptor soaring. Buzz remembered Joe DiMaggio. ‘And this guy’s name is Joe, too,’ he said to himself. ‘Well, so far so good. But can he hit a breaking ball? That’s the key. That’s what separates Cinderella from the ugly stepsisters. We’ll see. But so far he looks pretty good. Better than that.’
‘It’s an amazing thing,’ thought Buzz Beebe. ‘A truly great athlete looks graceful just standing still. Joe DiMaggio scratching his butt was more elegant than Rudolf Fucking Nureyev prancing around with Margot Fonteyn.’ Buzz’s third wife had been a ballet aficionado and had dragged him one time to a performance of Swan Lake. Oddly, he had remembered the names of the performers all these years. ‘Skinny broads and pansies in tights,’ was how he summed up that evening of unalloyed misery. ‘Oh, sure Nureyev was graceful, but he wasn’t nothing compared to DiMag. Or Ted Williams with a bat in his hands.’
As befitted a team associated with the Cubs organization, the Maryville Mudcats were in last place. Their opponents that afternoon, the Dubois Bullfrogs, were the class of the league, sitting in first place, five games ahead of second place River City.
The Mudcats’ pitcher was a kid named Julio Domingeuz out of the Dominican. The program said he was eighteen, although as Buzz Beebe told himself, ‘you could never tell with those guys. They could be anywhere from fourteen to thirty five, but in Single A they all said they were eighteen. Well, no matter how old he is, looks like he couldn’t find the strike zone with a GPS.’
Which seemed true since the kid walked the first two Bullfrogs on eight straight pitches, most of which had the Mudcats’catcher diving either to the right or left or jumping high to snare a ball headed for the press box. That brought the long suffering manager, Dave Leonard, to the mound for a conference. Dave was never sure how much his Latin players understood. They had a tendency to nod in agreement and then go back to what they were doing before. Dave spoke to Julio for a few moments, telling him in essence, to throw strikes, and then he trudged back to the bench looking like the “Before” portion of a stomach acid commercial.
Julio threw three straight balls to the third Bullfrog batter, and then, in desperation, grooved a strike that the batter was expecting, looking for, waiting for, hoping for. There was a mighty crack, and the ball soared high in the air and headed for deepest part of center field, screeching toward that part of the fence that said “Jimmy’s Jiffy Lube,” 390 feet from home plate. The runners on first and second saw that the ball would not be caught, that it would either bounce off the fence or go clear over it, so they took off. And it was at this point that Buzz Beebe’s tingling scalp began to burn with a gem-like flame, as he heard someone express it once, for out of the corner of his eye as he watched the ball disappearing Buzz could see the fluid motions of the center fielder eating up huge chunks of ground as he dashed toward the fence, toward the point where the ball would come down, and then Buzz shifted his eyes to Joe Frost, for it was Joe Frost, and watched as Joe reached the warning track, still running at full speed and then hit the fence with his right foot and, placing his foot between the m and the y of Jimmy’s Jiffy Lube, he launched himself into the air, climbing, climbing, his left hand stretched upwards high above the top of the fence until at the last moment he seemed to hang there, suspended in time and space, the image of grace combined with supreme effort, and then the ball settled into his glove and he returned to earth and in one fluid motion fired the ball to Spike Russell covering second base, catching the runner off and doubling him up. And then Spike whirled and threw to first to complete the triple play, which would have been impossible had Joe Frost’s throw to second not been a magical, impossibly perfect throw, a throw that seemed to arrive only a split second after Joe had released it. Suddenly it was just … there.
And there arose from the scanty crowd a collective gasp, followed by wondering looks exchanged among the coaches, players and fans alike, and then silence, for a moment, and then wild applause as Joe Frost trotted in toward the home dugout. He tipped his hat shyly and grinned at his teammates who were congratulating him. Then he glanced over at the beautiful woman in the front row and smiled at her, and she blew him a kiss, discreetly, sweetly, as the white-haired man with her gave Joe the thumbs up sign. As well he might. No one had ever seen a play like it. Including Buzz Beebe.
“Oh, Lord,” said Buzz under his breath, “Please let him be able to hit a curve ball.”
Later that evening Buzz Beebe was on the phone to Chicago.
“That’s right. That’s what I’m telling you. Look, have I ever lied to you? Well, since then, I mean. All right, let’s not get personal about this. I’m telling you I have seen the future and it is ours. If we can get him. Word gets out and there’ll be others sniffing around, just waiting to offload some broken down big league pitcher in exchange for one of our prospects. Well, this kid ain’t no prospect. He’s already here. What’s that? Breaking ball? How many years have I been scouting for you guys? Two, three hundred? Of course I’m sure. I seen him, didn’t I. Sure it’s Single A pitching, but I’m telling you they didn’t get a ball by him. Two doubles, two homers. Every one of them crushed. The doubles didn’t get over the fence because they was line drives fit to take the paint off the cherry on the Dairy Queen sign in right. They’re still looking for the homers. Landed somewheres in the creek on the other side of town. Well, sure, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But not much. Yep, that’s what I said. Switch hitter. What? Could we sign him for the minimum? Listen. This kid’s no dope. He’s even got his agent with him. Guy looks like Ronald Coleman. Who? Some old timer in the movies. You wouldn’t remember him, I guess. But the point is, any kid who travels with his agent ain’t gonna be no pushover. And by the way, you should see this kid’s girlfriend. As perfect as honey on a warm biscuit. So what? It means the kid’s got it all working for him. Like the Mick when he first came up, you know? Handsome. A marketing guy’s wet dream. What? I don’t care. Send someone down here to check. Don’t take my word for it. I’ve only been doing this since the beginning of time. Who? Tercel Montcalm? Well, yes. But that was then. Besides I never claimed he could hit a curve ball. I’m telling you this kid’s the real deal. All right. Send him down. I’ll meet him at the Holiday Inn. What? Yes, it’s the best place in town. This is Maryville, remember? No, but there’s a McDonalds next door. All right. I’ll look for him tomorrow.”
He hung up.
‘Thanks for trusting me,’ said Buzz Beebe to himself, disgustedly. But tomorrow he would meet the assistant GM from the Cubs. They trusted Buzz enough to send someone to take a look, at least. That was something. And in the long run it wouldn’t matter. If this kid was as good as Buzz thought he was – knew he was – it would be the ultimate feather in Buzz’s cap, the crowning glory to his long career, the final reward for his years of sweating in the weed patches of the minor leagues.
And with his spirits lifting at the thought of what might be, Buzz Beebe began singing – “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo, woo, woo – woo, woo, woo.”