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The Pitcher

September 20, 2007

It was halfway through my last day at my old job when the phone rang, the caller ID displaying an unfamiliar, out of state number. I muted the sound on my laptop so that the bleeps and pings of my chat conversation wouldn’t interrupt the call.

“This is Rob.”

“Hey Rob. This is Lou from the M2 Gallery opening a couple weekends ago. My restaurant did the catering. How’s sportswriting treating you?”

“Good, good. What can I do for you?”

“Well, since you’re the sports guy at Houstonist and everything, and we’d talked about you coming in to check things out here at the restaurant, I wanted you to know that after the game tonight, there’re going to be some baseball players coming in. The Pitcher has some friends in town, and they’re all coming here. You should come by.”

I did a silent dance and regained my composure.

“Sure, I think I have time tonight. When are they getting there?”

“Probably around 10:30. One of the Rockets is coming too.”

“Nice. Yeah, I’ll be there. Give you a call before I head over?”

“Sure.”

The rest of the afternoon and evening gave me the time to wrap up the loose ends of my former employment while battling the distraction of the night’s main attraction. The Pitcher is a perennial Cy Young candidate and, even more bizarrely, a member of my fantasy baseball team. At no time prior did the phrase “fantasy baseball” seem more out of place and voyeuristic. This grown man, whom I usually see as a statline on Yahoo! was going to be sitting down to crab puffs and beer tonight, unaware and uncaring (though not maliciously) about the effect that his performance as the starting pitcher in the game that night would have on my bragging rights as I battle for third place in our league. Crazy, with a capital everything.

Tuesdays have been pretty steeped in routine for the past calendar year: work until 4ish, and show up at the Farmer’s Market to direct traffic, sell water and cookies, and banter with the customers and vendors. This Tuesday was different, and not just because we were selling raw honey at the info booth; with the advent of my new office job, my schedule would lose the flexibility that had allowed me to sneak over to the Rice campus during business hours. My presence at the Market would be noticed, but not necessarily missed. A really polite chimp could do my job, provided he had adequate charm and basic arithmetic skills.

The hot afternoon melted away into a cooler but still typically humid evening. A quick meal of Cuban beef was thrown haphazardly down my gullet, followed by the aural assault that is Shoot Em Up. I stumbled out of the theater, unsure if objective morality was officially dead (cause of death: lethal overdose of cynicism) or still shining (but with the intensity of those lights that they use to illuminate the highways for nighttime construction), looking up into the still-sweltering night and then back down at my watch.

11:17. Crap.

I trudged to my car, sure that my breach of ettiquite would have killed this unique opportunity. I called Lou.

“Hey man!”

“Lou, we still cool?”

“Oh yeah. He just got here five minutes ago. They’re eating right now.”

“Ok. See you in ten.”

I cranked up my car and put the transmission into “Sport Drive”; this was no time for messing around. As I bobbed and weaved my way toward downtown, my thoughts were dominated by two topics. First, why on earth did I pause mid-day and change clothes into a jeans, button-up, and blazer combination as though I were going on a date? Surely The Pitcher could care less what I look like, so long as I’m not wearing Astros gear. Second, and more pressing at the moment, was the question of whether the driver of the Hummer in the lane next to me was drunk or simply sending text messages. Regardless, the three ton pewter colored behemoth was swaying in the lane like a prize fighter waiting for the knockout punch to come. I had no interest in being around if and when that punch came, so I made as much distance between the Hummer and myself as I could manage without garnering police attention.

Downtown Houston becomes a ghost town after 5pm. Various ghouls and goblins still walk the streets, lurking in the shadows and bus stops near the high rise office buildings, away from the drinking establishments along Main. The restaurant is tucked sufficiently far away from Main that parking on the street at that hour was a questionable safety decision, but the 11pm closure of the closest paid parking garages rendered that discussion moot. Fortunately, I found a spot within view of the windows of the restaurant.

I was greeted at the revolving front door by Lou, who ushered me to the bar and introduced his staff. He’d kept the kitchen open for me, but I was still full of Cuban food, so I passed. I ordered a Jack and Coke and had just received it when I heard a whoop go up from the table behind me. Turned around in time to witness a flip flop fly the length of the restaurant, with whistling velocity and excellent location, given that it missed the tea candles still smoldering on the table on which it landed. The Pitcher was here, alright.

“That’s what I think of YOUR shoes!”

“You’re still wearing loafers, dude. How old are you? Did your grandpa buy those for you?”

The shorter gentleman, who spoke second, was quickly put in a headlock by the loafer-wearing Pitcher before being released to go retrieve his previously airborne footwear. I turned back to the bar and talked shop with Lou and Sarah, the bartender. “That’s The Pitcher’s brother in law. He’s been giving him shit all night.” I leaned on the bar and smiled. This was going to be fun.

Since The Pitcher’s group at the table seemed pretty close-knit, and Lou wasn’t making any formal introductions, I was going to have to wait for an opportunity. It finally came in the form of another projectile.

“I can get it over there! Watch!”

Doing as I was told, I turned to observe The Pitcher sling the plastic pad that contained his bill from the table toward the bar. The pad flew open, scattering bills of various denominations on the no-man’s-land between the baseball player’s posse and the plebeians at the bar. Bingo.

I jumped off my barstool and quickly helped the bemused waitress recover the cash with a sheepish grin. As I stood, I finally addressed The Pitcher.

“Who do you think you are? Pac Man Jones?”

He and the table busted up laughing. Someone in the background hollered, “Make it rain!” Pretty soon, a barstool buddy and I joined Lou at the Pitcher’s table. We mostly lingered at our end of the conversation, talking about restaurants and retaining walls. The Pitcher was engaged in a constant battle to get Lou to keep the bar open long enough for one “last” round; he always won. At one point, The Pitcher eventually gathered that the recent arrivals at the table were Astros fan.

“You guys. I’m being totally serious. I want to pitch here. I want to play in Houston. Roy wants me to. And my buddy Jake in San Diego wants to too. How ’bout that? That’s three fucking Cy Young candidates. Just hand us the rings, BABY! Whooooo!”

I didn’t have the heart to remind him that he’d signed a new five year contract with his team this off season.

The rest of the night got successively louder, but The Pitcher remained benevolently boisterous. These were his friends and family, in from out of town to see him defeat the Astros. He hadn’t gotten the win that night, but his team had put a pretty handy smackdown on the hometowners. He was in high cotton, and glad to share the glow with his boys.

Eventually, my drinks were going on his tab. It certainly marked the first time that I’d ever had a member of any of my fantasy teams actually give me anything tangible. I elected not to tell him about his prime spot on my roster.

My neighbor at the table, another friend of Lou’s, had a request for The Pitcher. I came a midway through the conversation.

“– John Pierre.”

“You mean Juan Pierre? From the Cubs? It’s pronounced Juan. And I don’t know him well enough to get an autograph for you, man.”

“No, my boss at the restaurant where I work. His name is John Pierre. I want you to write him a note on this napkin.”

“What do you want it to say?”

“John Pierre,”

“Juan.”

“No, John.”

Beer and vodka are not lubricants of conversation, no matter what anyone else tells you.

“Just put, John Pierre, You stupid motherfucker, signed The Pitcher.”

“Is he a stupid motherfucker?”

“No. It’s just a joke he and I have.”

“Ok.”

The vodka that The Pitcher was drinking led him to a more phonetic spelling of “motherfucker” than the Oxford would’ve suggested, but any rapper in the room would’ve been pleased. The vulgar napkin was tucked away in a pocket as gently as a newborn in a crib.

The bar had by now been open past the standard closing time in the state of Texas, but no one was moving. Finally, after another hour, the gentle suggestion was made to return the player and his friends to their hotel down the street. I paid my remarkably small tab as well. It seemed that Lou had been picking up some of my drinks as well as the Pitcher. Great way to get positive coverage for your restaurant’s special events, sir. Keep the hits coming.

My car had remained undisturbed outside, and when it turned over, the Zookeeper CD I’d recently purchased came blaring out the speakers like the alarm clock that would disturb my slumber a short four hours later. As Chris Simpson’s plaintive vocals soothed me home, I reflected as best I could on the evening. It was not a significant thing; it was a fun thing, a water cooler story to pass around for the rest of the month, fodder for a half-drunken email or two before bed. It hadn’t been a life changing experience, or a peek behind the curtain; it’d just been another night in downtown with a professional athlete who bears a striking resemblance in appearance and manner to actor Sean William Scott. If anything, it was another notch on my professional belt, taking me further from the bemused tone that I adopt when I tell them that I’m a sports writer. Even though I never told The Pitcher anything but my first name.

I woke up the next morning and didn’t go to work.

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3 comments

  1. ha. i love this.


  2. Great fuckin’ story!


  3. Unbelievable. I trust the napkin was well-received?



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