The call came at a time of weakness. My tax attorney had dropped in for spring break, and we were quickly tiring of the Shannon Whirry marathon on Cinemax. A friend over in Baseball City said the Royals were still looking for replacements, and that I should wander over.
"I advise you to take this offer," my attorney said. "Five grand for a month is a tough offer to refuse."
"Two weeks," I said, correcting him. "We just passed the Ides yesterday."
"So we did," he mused. "Pass me another McEwan's."
I complied, and we plotted strategy. We would arise at dawn, only a couple hours away, and crank up the Red Slug, a bitchy 1986 Cavalier that hung on me like a virus.
Another beer dropped us both off quickly, and an hour later the alarm sent us into a tizzy.
"You need an agent," my attorney said. "I volunteer my services."
"You're a fucking tax lawyer," I said. "You think you can wheel and deal with the chairman of Wal-Mart?"
"Three minutes on Lexis and I'll have enough blackmail on that bastard to keep both of us in green for the rest of our lives."
"Why didn't we think of this last week?"
"We weren't drinking enough."
He had a point, and so we packed the Red Slug. My first baseman's glove, a headband, a pack of Wal-Mart aspirin (always use the boss's pharmaceuticals) and a six pack of Double Diamond in a cooler. I decided that since I was going to be trying out in a couple of hours, I should only have a couple of beers on the way.
A "wild west outfitters" store, a liquor store and a porno shop were the only occupants of the strip mall across the road from the Royals' spring home at Baseball City, a tract of land that once housed Boardwalk and Baseball, another supposed money machine Anheuser-Busch acquired from HBJ. But after spring training, no one wanted to stop by, catch a rookie league game and ride a roller coaster, so the theme park died a quick death years ago. Rolling fields of marsh grass and rusting entrance gates are all that remains.
"I could get used to the good life out here," I said.
"Jack Daniels and Barely Legal. How can you go wrong?" my attorney mused.
"Damned straight," I muttered over my beer. I had decided to crank into a third, so we had to stop off at the liquor store to restock the cooler before looking up Herk Robinson, general manager of the Royals.
After a small scene at the store (they don't carry anything but St. Louis beer) that left the clerk standing in a pool of his blood and my attorney's urine, we drove across the highway and entered the Baseball City complex itself. This would normally be a pretty difficult task, as the road winds around various fields, mobile home courts and a golf course. With the usual spring training traffic...
But this was no normal spring training, after all. The major leaguers were on strike, and the owners, the last defenders of mom, apple pie and Lee Greenwood, wanted to rupture the union like a Jenny Jones' implants. And so I had my appointment with Herk Robinson and David Glass, chairman of Wal-Mart and president of the public trust holding the Royals.
"Have a sit down, Mr. Worley," Glass said. "We've had a God-awful run of troubles this spring."
"Yeah," I said. "You're two and eleven, and you don't have one player who can take a batting practice pitch out of the infield."
"Well," Robinson said, "that's not quite right. We got a couple hits yesterday against the Mets. And one of them reached the grass." He eyed my attorney suspiciously. "May I ask who you are, sir?"
"George Cox the third, esquire," my attorney said. "Pleased to make your acquaintance. You may call me Chip."
This clearly discomfited Glass, who stood up and walked over to my attorney.
"Chip, if you please."
Glass gave him another strange look and then continued. "Um, okay. Chip," he said. "Why are you here?"
"I am serving as Mr. Worley's agent. I happened to be in town when he received the call, and so I offered my services immediately."
"I see," Glass said. "But you realize that none of the other replacement players have agents, don't you, Mr. Worley?"
"I didn't know that, but as my attorney works on a barter system, I figured it couldn't hurt to have him along."
"Barter?" Robinson asked.
"Well, he usually works for British Premier League soccer jerseys, preferably Man United, but we both figured that I could sign a couple of jerseys and he could sell them to a sport shop after I become your star first baseman."
Glass and Robinson exchanged a long look, and then Glass sat back down. He put his head in his hands, and then spoke.
"You understand the owners have instituted a pretty tough drug policy on the replacement players, don't you?"
"Sure," I said, not understanding. My attorney immediately started coughing, and then I got it. I coughed a little. "You'll have to excuse my current condition. I've been having a little trouble with a cough. As a matter of fact, I had to take a whole bottle of cough syrup just to get out of bed today."
Robinson laughed and shook his head. "No, no, son. Nothing like that. Hell, I remember when the only person on the field not into the booze was the second base umpire, because he had to watch out for spikes more than anyone else.
"We were referring to your troubles with the NFL policy."
My troubles with the NFL policy? I looked back at my attorney. He kept a poker face but was obviously as clueless as me.
"Oh, that's long behind me now," I said. Glass stood up and shook my hand.
"Glad to hear that. You sure have lost weight from your Georgia days, haven't you?"
Georgia days... oh shit. Now I get it. He thinks I'm Tim Worley, the running back.
The black running back. Which is a problem, since I can't even get a decent tan. And I didn't know Tim Worley ever played baseball in college, either. Obviously Robinson and Glass had never seen any film from either Georgia or the various pro teams Tim Worley played for.
"Well, I've been trying to get back to a more manageable weight," I said. "I still work out, but no more steroids." I laughed at my joke. After a moment, they laughed as well.
Only one more formality remained. The contract.
"As you know," Glass began, "we are engaged in a struggle with the players union. You would be crossing their picket line and working, which is your right as an American."
"I understand," I said, eager to pocket the $5,000 check.
"Reporters will be asking you questions about how it feels to be replacing the striking players."
"We need to keep a united front. You will be required to memorize your answer."
"Okay, what is it?"
"Well, you should vary it a little to match your personal style, but here's the gist: `The regular players play for money. I play for the love of the game and the good of America.' Or something very close to that."
"One question," I said.
"I will be playing for money, right?"
"Sure. The five thousand for spring training, and twenty more if you make the replacement team."
"Alright. What if a reporter confronts me with that?"
"Well, I didn't want to talk philosophy," Glass said, rising out of his chair and wandering around to the front of his desk. "But I guess I have to." He leaned back. "You see, labor unions are tools of the communists."
"Hell, Mr. Glass, I knew that already," I said. "But that's where I'm stuck. If I play for money, then I'm being a capitalist, right?"
"And if I want to make as much money as possible, then I am a good capitalist, right?"
"Yes. That's what Wal-Mart does best. Make as much money as possible by paying our people as little as possible."
Wait a minute, I thought. "What was that last part?"
"Boy, it's this simple: Produce your product for as low a price as possible and sell it for as high a price as possible."
"Oh," I said. "So the replacements are the equivalent of moving your factory to Mexico or buying your clothes from the Philippines."
"Of course not!" Glass roared. "Wal-Mart buys American whenever it can. It's not our fault there aren't any cheap clothing mills in the United States!"
I decided to let him chill out a moment. After all, I needed the five grand.
"Alright, alright," I said. "I just wanted to understand everything clearly. I'll sign." I smiled my best dopey smile.
No luck. Glass had just gotten started.
"Goddamnit, Herk!" He hollered. "Why do you keep coming up with these commie players? Aren't there any good players who understand what is right with America?"
Robinson mumbled something to Glass and then escorted my attorney and me out of the office.
"You really should have kept your mouth shut," he said. "We do need a power-hitting first baseman, but I'm afraid Glass doesn't give a rats ass if the replacements lose every game. He's checked all the contracts and is quite convinced he can make money with replacements even if no one shows up to the stadium and the team loses every game."
"So I'm out, hunh?"
"Yeah," he said. "Sorry about that." He looked around surreptitiously, as if checking for big brother or something. "Come on over to my office and we'll get you something out of petty cash for your trouble."
"Sounds good to me."
Robinson was true to his word. He gave me a thousand in cash, wrapped in an old Bo Jackson shirt.
"We still sell these goddamned things in the souvenir shops at the stadium," he said. "Five ninety-nine. We have about a thousand to get rid of." He shook his head, muttering again.
"Yeah, well, good luck with that. And I hope you find your first baseman."
"There's some kid out of Aryan Nation High in bumfuck Montana. Glass oughta love him. He bleed Jesus and guns and spouts right-to-work rhetoric like Jesse Helms himself."
"Sounds like fun. I think we're going to find some beer." I paused and thought about something. "Say, you know where you can find a decent beer selection around here?"
"You mean a place that doesn't put Sam Adams in the import section?"
"Something like that."
"Don't go across the road. There is a spot near the Indians' park in Winter Haven, but..." His voice trailed off in thought. "Hell, you're probably better off waiting until you get back to Tampa or St. Pete."
The prospect of a vicious two-hour drive through rush-hour traffic in the Red Slug with no beer truly frightened me. I blanched. Herk saw this, and motioned for us to wait a moment. He turned and went back into his office.
He came out with a six of Boulevard. The new Irish Ale. The box was sweating, so it was obviously cold. My attorney's eyes lit up.
"Goddamn, Herk, where did you get a hold of that?"
"Oh, since they're selling the Pale Ale at Kauffman Stadium these days, the guys at the brewery like to keep us up on their new products. I've got a couple cases of this stuff in my office fridge."
"Damned human of you, Mr. Robinson," I said, taking the brew. "We'd better be off."
"Right. Consultations and all," my attorney said. Consultations with the beer, that is.
My attorney and I quickly egressed to the Slug. Herk was right about Winter Haven, by the way. We picked up the store's last six of Bigfoot Ale and didn't notice any traffic the whole way home.
Four six-packs of fine beer, a thousand bucks and a collector's-item Bo Jackson t-shirt all in one day. If that's not the American dream, I've gotta find a new country.
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