“Just keep in mind that, regardless of the verdict of juries, baseball is competent to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game.” —Kenesaw Mountain Landis
A dim green light is all there is to go by. He makes out the shapes of banker’s lamps and the glint of glass and framed paintings. The smell of worn leather and wood and oxidizing silver. It’s humid as hell, and his beard frizzes and expands. Several voices muttering in low tones, and then something hairy brushes his arm.
Caleb Humphreys: Mike Moustakas?
Mike Moustakas: Yes, Caleb. It’s just my forearm, no need to worry. Here, hold my hand.
Humphreys: Where are we?
Moustakas: Tampa. We’re in the old wing of Jeter’s trophy solarium.
Humphreys: Is this—am I dreaming, Moose?
Moustakas: Very likely we both are, no way in hell either of us would be allowed in here. But come, there’s some people you need to meet. Let me do the talking. And don’t step on the on-deck circle.
The hallway suddenly narrows into a tunnel, and he notices that the walls are plastered with pinstripes stretching into infinity. They walk past a triptych of Yogi Berra anointing Lou Gehrig’s bared head, and then another one, this time pouring milk into the open mouth of Babe Ruth. As they near the mouth, a centaur flashes before them. His face is obscured in the shadows, but there’s no mistaking the pained visage of Alex Rodriguez.
The tunnel opens into a diamond-shaped room, and there they are in the phantasmagoric infield. At first base Moises Alou is standing over a bundle on the floor. As they approach, the figure turns and they can make out the pained expression on Steve Bartman’s face. The smell of urine is overwhelming. Deep in the hole is a Lazy Boy, where Derek Jeter is reclining with a young boy on his lap. He is right at home.
Jeffrey Maier: Who is it Jetes?
Derek Jeter: (without looking up) Shhh, it’s just Michael and Caleb come in for a visit. They’ll be gone soon.
Humphreys: How did you know my name?
Moustakas: Who do you think you’re talking to Caleb. Not another word.
Jeter: Thank you, Michael. I trust you both understand the gravity of this situation we have here on our hands. It has been twelve years since this field was last opened, and from what I hear from Yogi, Judge Landis is furious.
Humphreys and Moustakas remain silent.
Jeter: It’s one thing for this to have happened before instant replay made a mockery of our national pastime, but this…
He pulls out a yellowed dossier and carefully removes three daguerrotypes. The quality of the images is undeniably crisp.
Jeter: (pointing with his pinky) Seen here, my boys, is a glove, a fence, and a ball. The glove dips below the fence, and the white ball enters its tainted black maw. Tell me Caleb. Do you in your honest estimation view yourself as a ballplayer?
Humphreys: How did you get those angles?
Jeter: That was a rhetorical question. And Judge Landis doesn’t tell me these things, he just forwards them to my Gmail.
Jeter raises the images once more.
Jeter: Do you mean to contend that your glove did not enter the field of play?
Jeter: Look, I can’t pretend to understand your position. Your fingers, Michael, are pale and chilled; mine are laden with the golden warmth of victory. Your desperation, Caleb, is made acute and ravenous by a score and ten years of mediocrity and defeat; I need only to win four games this year to capture my twenty-eighth World Series. But our pastime is a game of delicate history, and transgressing into the field of play cannot go unpunished. You both have tasted of the fine powder that gives flight to the pinstriped wings of the fickle butterfly whose gentle gusts make victors and losers out of Yankees and others alike. We all must pay the piper.
Moustakas: The piper?
Jeter: (gestures towards Bartman) Our dear Steven has been here for twelve years, trying in vain to stem the eternal flow that gushes forth from Moises’ ashen wood. Only Landis knows what torturous melody loops in those antiquated headphones of his. He is damp. The piper is paid. Myself, I have been here with Jeffrey since 1996, soothing the stunted child with lamentable folktales of the benighted borough of Queens.
Moustakas: If you’ve been here this whole time, though, then who’s out there?
Jeter: At the instant that the spectator creates the disturbance, both he and the ballplayer are coupled, summoned, and then split. My incarnate double has been sleeping in my bed, cavorting with my women, and rounding my bases. All the while I’ve been confined here, paying the piper.
Humphreys’ face tingles and vibrates, he feels a deep wrenching, and sees his own body walk forward while he remains. He tries to plead with Jeter but he finds he cannot speak. And if he could, Jeter wouldn’t listen. Next to him, Moustakas too is separating.
He doesn’t realize it until he’s halfway to third base, but he’s floating. The bag’s magnetism is irresistible, and he realizes in that instant that he’ll be in contact with it for the rest of his existence. He really wishes he had asked Jeter about his existence, under these shocking new circumstances, when he had the chance. He knows now that he will never shed his Amish beard, or his blue fleece quarter-zip, or his damning glove. Time flattens and rolls itself out in all directions, and his mind is consumed by the light tickle of Moustakas’ forearm hair on his own smooth forearm.
Across the diamond, Bartman is breathing hot air and cleaning his glasses with the neck of his turtleneck. The lenses are onionskin thin. His turtleneck is damp. A flash on his peripheral vision. Humphreys turns his head to the outfield. It could be a mirage, but there flickering on the turf in shallow left eight white-stockinged men are hunched grimly over their rusted manacles. And under the centre field fence is a centaur, kicking up dirt from the warning track as he struggles in vain to buck the withered, indomitable ghost of Bud Selig from his equine back.