Last night I couldn't sleep. I tossed and I turned worrying about the unimaginable. It wasn't the possibility of George Bush's personal war with Iraq, the Punch-and-Judy stock market, or my overwhelming concern for Winona Ryder's rights being trampled that troubled my sleep so. It was the prospect of the long winter months without a thread of baseball to keep me warm.
Then I heard it. "If you rant it, they will come."
It was a raspy, far-off voice. Where was it coming from?
I turned over and quickly got my answer. I was greeted by two glaring, unblinking, red-rimmed eyes above a maniacal smile. Festooned in the corner of the mouth and illuminating the face was the still-burning butt of a cigarette. An inch of ash was somehow still affixed. His white, pasty, moribund complexion belied the frenetic energy expressed in his eyes and his smile. The only part of him that moved was his left leg that bounced continually as if powered by some other disconnected source.
I then recognized the face. It was Ray Liotta. He emitted a short, piercing spasm of demented laughter while not batting an eye. His countenance returned to the maniacal smile that first greeted me.
I rubbed my eyes and queried, "Mr. Liotta, what are you doing here?"
"Is this heaven?" He asked suddenly confused.
"No, it's my bedroom. What are you doing here?"
"It was you, Ray. It was always you," he shot back with the same hoarse, throaty whisper, his eyebrows arching. The rest of his face stood at attention as if under the control of some far-off source.
"Ray? Who's Ray? He's Ray, not me, " I thought. I realized that his voice was still hoarse from all the shouting he had done in announcing the unassailable summit of humankind, MLB's Most Momentous Memories list, during the game four pre-game show. As if reading my mind, he pushed a copy of the DVD ($26.95 retail) towards me slowly shaking his head. I quickly scanned the cover and inset among the pictures of Cal Ripken, Mark McGwire, Nolan Ryan and other bygone greats of antediluvian yesteryear was the Rally Monkey with the caption "Hosted by the Anaheim Rally Monkey" followed by the TM trademark symbol. The monkey was surrounded by two bodacious bombshells, one miming a pitcher's motion and the other channeling Babe Ruth pointing to centerfield. Mr. Monkey wore sunglasses and was winking and giving the pair the "thumbs-up".
Realizing I had a thirsty guest, I asked, "Do you need a drink of water?"
He jerked his arm to show me a whiskey bottle, spilling a splash or two on the carpet, all the while not changing the expression on his face or batting an eye. He took a hard swig to further illustrate. Somehow the smile went on unabated until a thought seemed to cross his mind. Then he made a headlong dash for the window next to me and started to glare up into the sky, all the while mumbling something about the helicopters and Karen and the guns, and then he spit out, "Stir the sauce."
All of a sudden a lightning bolt shot from the sky and rent a tree across the street in two, and a young boy ran out and grabbed a still-burning hunk of wood. With lathe and wood-burning kit handy, he instantly fashioned a reasonable facsimile of a baseball bat with the words "www.wonderboy.com" burnt in. He sold it on eBay the next day.
I was understandably shaken, and crossed the room to the bathroom to splash some cold water on my face. But in the bathroom was Tim Robbins in his underwear and a pair of garters with the rose in the front, and he was breathing out of his eyelids.
That was enough for me. I went downstairs to get a drink of water for myself. Ray followed me, laughing and asking me , "Charlie, where's Lulu?" Downstairs was a young man in catcher's gear and a pinstriped uniform with "Mammoths" across the front seated at my kitchen table. He was sobbing softly, then looked up at me and suddenly elated, said, "Author!"
Liotta responded for me saying, "You're confused. I'm Henry. This is Ray."
I looked at Liotta and he smiled ever-so-slightly more and explained, "It's Jimmy. He's the kind of guy that roots for bad guys in the movies."
The catcher got a quizzical look on his face, stared at Liotta, and said, "Are you talking to me?" Then his voice changed to a squeaky Brooklynese, "Do I amuse you? Am I a clown?"
Liotta demurred saying, "What? I don't know. You tell a good story."
Then the catcher said, "You didn't get me down, Ray," with a sly smile on his punch-drunk face.
I was tired and hungry. I grabbed a box of corn flakes pouring the contents into a cereal bowl with my head resting on my hand and the crook of my arm on the counter. The two suddenly stopped their bickering and shouted "I'm melting." I looked up through the falling flakes as the two disappeared into the corn flakes.
All of a sudden the "This is CNN" guy also in catcher's gear and white uni emblazoned with a rainbow motif was standing behind me saying slowly and in a self-satisfied manner, "They will come, Bingo. They will most definitely come."
I asked him, "Is anybody here going to hit my invite pitch?" He smiled. I grabbed a nearby frying pan and conked him on the head. I tossed the pan on the counter and returned to bed. I slept soundly except for a brief nightmare in which I pitched for the Tigers and the guy from Boogie Nights was my catcher. It wasn't all bad: Kelly Preston was there too.
I awoke with a sudden jolt. It was the realization that the ghosts had been trying to tell me that Mike's Baseball Rants must go on through the cold winter months. That if I continue to rant, people will come. Or maybe it was James Earl Jones standing over my bed awaiting the moment that I awoke to return my favor with the frying pan, handle grasped between both hands and his body arched for a swing. As the pan made contact with my head, I awoke from these uneasy dreams, to find myself transformed into a giant insect. So I showered and went to work.
Of course, all this is to say that Mike's Baseball Rants will be there throughout the barren winter months to deliver baseball stories of a topical and an historical nature. I don't know if I can keep up with the output that I've sustained during the season, but I'll give it a shot. So thanks for reading, and please join me for the ride in the off-season and into the 2003 regular season.
P.S., If you get all the references contained herein, you are a bigger geek than I, Horatio.