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Ryan Howard transcends briefly to the Opposite Field

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There was no room for their kind here, and so a new world opened up before them.

"I'm telling you, I saw things."
"I'm telling you, I saw things."
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Howard stands in the batters box, then smashes another one of his team-leading home runs to the opposite field. As he takes a step toward first base, he disappears.

He is instantly blinked into a dew-kissed meadow stretching into the distance, connecting him to a horizon of frolicking celestial bodies. A soft, warm wind tickles the flowering reeds and a ghostly moon bulges overhead... does... does it have a face?

Richie Ashburn approaches, riding a unicycle.

RICHIE ASHBURN: Welcome, Ryan... to the Opposite Field.

RYAN HOWARD: aaaaaAAAAAAAAAA [heaving inward breath] AAA

ASHBURN: Heh heh heh, okay. I get it, it's a little weird. I know when I got here my mind just sort of shattered for quite some time, but eventually you realize the Opposite Field is a wondrous place where anything is possible. Why, just look at this unicycle! Every time I tried to get on one of these on earth, I'd look like an idiot. But in this mystical realm, I--

HOWARD: AAAAAAAAAAAA

ASHBURN: [Removes cap, scratches head, puts hat back on] Still screaming, eh? It's fine, it's fine. You should just know that you are among rare company, Ryan - not every hitter gets to see this place. Just ask Michael Young over there.

Wait, no... that's a rainbow-colored Pegasus. Sorry. I just saw something move in my peripheral and he had been standing over there before. I warned him not to wander off. He's not really limber enough to out-manuever some of the Opposite Field's natural predators.

HOWARD: [Falls down while screaming]

ASHBURN: Look, Ryan, you've got to calm down. This place is majestic in a 'Field of Dreams' sort of way but there is some pretty weird shit that goes on here at night. I didn't want to get to any of this until later, but I will just let it slip that [whispering] the moon is alive.

HOWARD: [Weeps]

ASHBURN: Listen, I honestly didn't think you'd be screaming this much. I think I'm just going to keep going with the statements I'd prepared. I shouldn't have told you that stuff about the moon. It's too early.

HOWARD: [Weeps]

ASHBURN: "Why does this exist," you ask? Excellent query, young man. We needed a place, you see. We needed a place where the "opposite field"-types could just be "regular field"-types. A place where we weren't scorned or loathed for the direction we hit the ball. So the baseball gods created this world for us, and called it the Opposite Field, which was confusing, because the whole point was to abandon that term. Nevertheless, this is our home now, when we are done in the baseball world. Do we miss life on earth? Our families? Our friends? [Laughs sarcastically] Where were they when society turned its back on us? They spat on us, as if we were monsters, as if our home runs didn't count as much. "Can I get a beer?" I'd ask a bartender. "Not until you figure out out to hit a single the right way," he'd growl back. So much hate. So much ignorance. No. No, our kind needed their own world.

Of course, the trouble with generating an interdimensional alterna-verse is that after a while it develops a few traits of its...

EYE OF MALEVOLENT, SENTIENT MOON-BEING ABOVE: [blinks irritably]

ASHBURN: [Laughing nervously] ...of its own. Welp, looks like you disturbed the old Eyemoon. That's. Well. That's not good, I'll tell you that much.

LANCE BERKMAN: [Stumbles while running by] Richie, what are you doing? Everybody's headed for the bunker!

ASHBURN: Oh, we've got a few minutes. [To Ryan] Seriously, Ryan, you've got to lock it up. This ethereal dreamscape may seem a paradise, but in reality could come apart at the seams at any moment. [Scratches head] Christ, why do we act like this a "paradise" anyway? Maybe it's hell.

HOWARD: [Sucking thumb while personal concept of reality is mercilessly shredded]

ASHBURN: You know, we spend our careers forcing the ball to go in an unnatural direction, swinging early and using our weird strength to push the ball unexpected places. Maybe this is our punishment. My god, I'm best known for braining the same woman with a foul ball twice in one game, once while she was being hauled away on a stretcher. How does that story even end? Was she okay? People just sort of laugh without saying "... and then she had night terrors in her broken brain until she died." Maybe there's a family out there whose bloodline has been forever altered by my actions. Maybe they celebrate my destruction each year as favor from the gods. May... maybe we're here to pay for our crimes.

HOWARD: [While curled in a ball, David Wright suddenly appears in the distance and starts screaming]

ASHBURN: My god... you're right, what have we done? We are monsters, fracturing this game at its spine. Imagine what world of this kind the normal hitters are brought to... probably free of nightly lunar holocausts and enough players to field an actual pick-up game. We're all too busy crouching in the reeds to avoid detection from the Eyemoon to set up a field.

[Rainbow-colored Pegasus stops eating grass, looks up at the moon and howls like a wolf]

ASHBURN: The Pegasi are howling. We better get you home and pray you never return to the Opposite Field.

[He claps, and Howard suddenly is back on the field at Citizens Bank Park, about to do his home run trot. Terrified, he runs around the bases as fast as he can. His friends in the dugout instantly notice something is wrong, but say nothing.]

howard

friends

FOUR YEARS LATER

[Phillies analyst Ryan Howard sits at the desk in the Comcast Sportsnet studio]

HOWARD: ...and there was a multi-colored pegasus that howled at the moon. And that's why I was a pull hitter for the rest of my career.

DARREN DAULTON: [Muttering to Marshall Harris] This guy's crazy.

[Image via some stock art web site]