The Padded Cell: Wait of the World (part 1 of 2)

Sunday afternoon:

Traffic is a mess, and it's a surprise anyone makes it to the ballpark on time. A showdown between good and evil rarely has a larger stage, and good is triumphing, barely, in the enemy's den. The day-to-day season, and the city itself, is precariously tipped at the edge of chaos, but cannot slide into the abyss of funbad. The safety net of fellow fans and upright citizens prevent this, ostensibly for the concept of goodness. The electricity throughout is palpable, though portions of the home field have literal shortages, which are fairly common.

In the north of the NATO summit city, a place lies where dreams are strung-out and gently dismantled. Here is where hope means winning and winning means selling tickets and if you had hopes like that in school you'd be a dropout, and then a junkie. You would steal your mother's toaster and pawn it, and then be filled with an empty regret the next morning when there's liquid yolk on your plate, and also hers. In the city beautiful, we have a man, growing up, aiming higher than petty thievery, . Maybe he has the perseverance we all crave to see through the setbacks, but we don't have the pre-perseverance to get to that place to begin with. The man is Brent Morel.

Brent Morel has a back problem. If he were not carrying a 638-pound granite slab everywhere he went, there would be a fair-to-decent chance that his back would not hurt. Alas, it's his favorite boulder and he even named it after the pet rock he had in his youth: Brent Morel. The granite slab is 210 million years old, while Morel simply acts the part. Brent Morel is the bane of Morel's existence. With hunched shoulders he travels a too-soft path back to the dugout; the infield dirt in this ballpark amounts to sand. Another strike out, another hit to his confidence, another torturous slog with what amounts to his blankie, albeit the coldest, hardest blankie of all time.

Ken Harrelson sits in the booth, approximately three and a half miles from his broadcast partner. "Morel is just not guessin' right right now. You can see how his swing has that hitch. He's not balanced. Even when he's lookin' fer a fastball, he's not pulling it. And when he is hitting it, it's right at ‘em. I tell ya, Stone Pony, that BABIP has to regress at some point. It will. And we'll see a new Brent, right as rain."

"That's absolutely correct. I've... I've never heard such trenchant analysis from you before. If you want to scoot over, that's fine by me."

"Dadgum right, Steve. There's no reason Brent can't adjust to the majors. Sometimes it takes a while, but he's proven himself before. He's overcome many *bleep* hurdles. He's struggled before, and there's no reason he can't adjust to the majors. He's just gotta pull himself up by his bootstraps. Sometimes it takes a while. He's definitely got the ability, the strength. He's proven himself before."

The sun sets on yet another hometeam loss, and the fans from across the town filter out of the stadium, into the congealed slosh of drunken humanity waiting in the streets. Dignitaries are in town, but the buzz is wearing off.

Monday evening:

Next to Wrigley Grounds, the supposed shrine, which sits on the near the lake in the city somewhat attractive, a group of internet-based south-side friends drink beer, their hard hearts turning mush over pints of IPA. The sunlight is fading, but the oppressively-shadowless artificial amber illumination pours through the front windows. This is a rare Wrigleyville bar, notable for its tolerability. The context-free bits and pixels and expressions made it into the messiness of personal existence, affections slightly embarrassed but true. The trust of implied consideration reigns, character neatly wrapped in black and white, contrast all-too-noticeable against the backdrop of leafy walls, chain link fences, despair, and moral poverty. The foreign group laughs without shame, appropriately, as they slide onto stools with light-hearted punches, ringed coasters, and a full night in their fists.

The ivy in the distance, visible through pounded holes in the war-torn facade, appears to be the only thing keeping the once-proud municipal dumping ground from falling apart completely. Unseen to the amateur architect is the 22 coats of white paint that both cover birdshit and provide redundant structural support in the unlikely event of widespread ivy death. The wastegrounds are kept intact by necessity; without supporting the walls, the pillars and the seats, the local fans would have no option but to drink American lager in the waiting rooms of various neighborhood abortion clinics and tanning salons that offer a free month of orange.

There aren't enough 10' by 30' posters of one-win players in the world to cover the crumbling walls completely. The flashy images of former high school superstars are enough that people can see in, but there is no seeing outward. They can see the message projected from on high, from the only half-functional organization in the land with coffers deep enough and minds warped enough to offer this flaccid attempt at reassurance: This is what a baseball looks like. These are uniforms, and you can see that they have blue pinstripes. We're trying here. No, really this time. A photo-shopped poster shows a north side player celebrating something, but probably not a popular holiday. A more personal image, perhaps of a pitcher, pores and all, speaks directly to the viewer: "I am wearing a leather glove. Quite seriously." Image is what the the coffer-keepers trade, and it's the one thing they're moderately good at exploiting.

The tragedy on Clark has been unfolding since before widespread use of the telephone, but only recently has it entered the whirlpool. The south side internet friends, aware but uncaring of the slow destruction across the way, pile into separate cabs. A local fan looks on, slumped against the locked iron grate of the weathered Grounds, bothering no one for the first time in his life.

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