Amaro Karenina: Chapter 1
All good teams are alike; each bad team is bad in its own way.
All was confusion in the Phillies clubhouse and on the field. Cole Hamels—loving nicknamed ‘Darya'—had found out that his long-tenured teammates were having an affair with the hired gun baby-sitting a spot in the rotation, and had announced before the season that he would be happy to leave for a competitive team. While ‘mistress' Aaron Harang has matched his patron's performance pitch for pitch, this situation has persisted for 2 months and is painfully felt by the aging core, especially Ryan Howard, known as ‘Stiva' in polite company. Howard supplies no dingers for Cole and, as the guilt mounts, few for Harang. By September his last material bonds to their past triumphs might be untied. Cole and Ryan, shut into separate clubhouses, might eventually be as familiar with each other as any two tourists in a hotel elevator but for their past as the heart of a championship franchise.
In the wake of this silent dispute the effects trickle down. The young ballplayers are moving from position to position as if lost. The closer antagonized the fans and has sent a letter to his former GM asking if he has an opening in his bullpen. The director of scouting was scapegoated. Others anticipated the same.
The day after another quarrelsome outing for Hamels, Howard woke his bat early. In the first, he drove in Chase Utley from first with a slowly developing double past a gliding Carlos Gonzalez. Howard rolled into secondbase wishing he felt more guilt that he delivered another RBI for Harang where Cole received none of his affection. But guilt wears out quickly for those resisting retirement. Still he was pained by his lack of guilt. "Cole will never forgive me," Howard commented to Ryne Sandberg Vronsky. "And the worst of it is that I'm the guilty one in it all. Guilty, yet not guilty. I'd like to give Cole my dingers, but Harangatang... oh, what a starter!" Howard paused to recall Harang's orange complexion, droopy jowls, and dark baggy eyes. "But it happened all at once. We lost interest in hitting for Cole long ago and then Aaron joined the clubhouse... But what to do, what to do?"
There was no answer except the general answer that baseball gives to all its insoluble puzzles: seek dingers in the ephemera of that day's game, become oblivious.
But Howard could not sink into the ephemera. His mind drifted back to the state of the clubhouse. "How are the young ballplayers?" he asked Sandberg.
"Developing fine," Sandberg replied. "Cody Asche looks competent enough in leftfield. Maikel Franco wavers but looks stronger at the plate than last season. Freddy Galvis continues to dazzle at shortstop. Did you see his backhand, behind the back flip to Utley today? One needn't worry about such a player. I know the younger players went a combined 3 for 14 today. But we saw Cesar Hernandez pop a dinger late. If he can generate a little power, he might grow into a good veteran."
Howard turned his head to see Cesar smiling boyishly across the lockerroom. The glow of his dinger lingered. It reminded Howard of everything at once and he turned pensive. "All is confusion," he thought. "The young ballplayers don't recognize a loss when they see one."
Cesar jerked his head at the tremors of plodding steps into the clubhouse. "Cole is up!" he squealed. Howard grimaced then began to march toward Cole's locker, watching his footfalls as if to avoid so many scattered gently-used prophylactics.
Cole pulled his clean white shirt from his waste and unbuttoned it from the top. Seeing Howard approach, he rubbed his unkempt newly grown beard to disguise the stern and contemptuous expression stretching across his thinned lips. He thought it impolite to show that visage to the cuddly grin Howard always wore. "What do you want, Stiva?"
"Did you see the game today?" Howard asked, reluctant to engage and to disengage at the same time.
"I saw another start eerily like my own. Harang had 7 Ks, 0 BBs and 2 solo HRs in 6 innings. That's nice. A winning start, no? But I had 9 Ks in 8 innings. Still, he gets a run and I don't. Not that it mattered. Runs on this team so rarely matter."
"Oh, Darya, what have I done! Please forgive me, if only for the young ballplayers' sake. They are not guilty. Look at how Cody beams at you from afar."
"You are vile to me. You never loved me, only the ring on your finger. Have you seen our competition? Who is Chad Bettis? Who is Eddie Butler? These are the pitchers that dominate your bats? Yes, I watched today. I saw a Rockies firstbaseman with lead hands. A catcher play catch with himself. A thirdbaseman forget to tag the base on a force. Yet we still lose. There is no point with you. I could pitch a perfect game and not win."
Howard softened his eyes and opened his mouth as if to speak. But he could not think of what to say that would offer any assurance against future betrayal. And he could not excuse that of the past.
Not realizing that his pity only further infuriated Cole, Howard patted him on the shoulder. Cole narrowed his eyes at the touch. Surprised, Howard retrieved his hand and walked away. "Well, he hates me now."
In the next chapter, Sandberg Vronsky falls madly in love with Amaro Karenina after being spurned by Theo Kitty Epstein. But Karenina hesitates because he takes the coincidental firing of another front office underling to be a bad omen.