I hopped aboard the Taco Train and headed to North County to see Preller. A.J. had been suspended and I thought he could use some company.
I made it to his beach house, which was protected by a guard, who I recognized as Milt Pappas. Milt was a fine pitcher back in the day and was now pulling time doing security work. I slipped him a signed Billy Williams baseball card along with a fifty. (A twenty didn’t do the trick anymore, free agency inflation and all that.) Mr. Pappas accepted the gifts graciously and said, “Billy once hit one to the moon, I saw it with my own eyes.” He generously let me through.
I walked down to the beach behind Preller’s house and there was A.J. on his deck chair soaking in the sun. Rough life, suspension and all. I wondered which prospect he was musing on while catching some rays, there were so many of them. Probably the whole kit and caboodle, I thought to myself. With so many exceptional ones it was hard to pick a favorite.
After splashing around in the water a bit I went inside for dinner. A.J. sat across from me and, as it turned out, my mentor was there as well, sitting off to my side. I wasn’t sure if my mentor was Jesus or my conscience, but whatever, he was there to look out for me, keep me out of trouble.
Suddenly A.J. appeared to be half-Japanese as he looked to his right out on the beach. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. On the one hand, in the past year he’d substantially beefed up the Padres’ Asian-Pacific scouting system, hiring legendary pitcher Hideo Nomo to lead the efforts. A.J.’s racial transformation had me thinking of this, and I immediately got excited about the future bounty this would one day produce for the Taco Train.
On the other hand, A.J. looked rather sinister, reminding me of those World War II movies from the 50s and 60s which depicted the Japanese in the worst possible light. Had A.J. truly intentionally tried to deceive all of baseball when he’d made the trades for which he was suspended? The whole thing seemed far-fetched but I couldn’t bring myself to ask. Jesus/my conscience bent over and whispered in my ear, “Judge and ye shall be judged.” Nobody really knew, and Preller wasn’t saying.
Suddenly Jesus/my conscience was no longer there. The room had turned almost pitch black and A.J. wasn’t sitting across from me, but at the end of the table, down to my right. His facial features had returned to normal. He appeared to be deep in mystical thought, possibly divining the future.
I asked him how close we had been to trading for Javier Baez, the Chicago Cub wonder kid, a rumor from the previous off season. A.J. just looked at me askance like Paul probably looked writing the Book of Romans. I realized I was too busy idolizing, worshiping, romanticizing. I needed to return to the (Padre) Way. A shortstop one day would eventually dock in our harbor. I had to be patient.
It was so dark that if the Little Ninja had hit one of his puny popups I would have lost it before it hit the ceiling. Did the dark represent the unspeakably awful past of the Padres or the unknowable, mysterious future full of possibility and hope? Just how many World Series championships were we going to win anyway? I couldn’t tell. I had to keep the faith.
Out of nowhere a woman with a ghostly presence named Brooklyn appeared. She struck me as a woman of some gravitas. She looked me over as if she hadn’t expected to see me there. Did I believe in sabermetrics, she asked? Yes, I said, what I knew of it anyway. Brooklyn looked at A.J. and then he spoke the only words he would speak while I was there.
“Just don’t believe in them too much, they can get you in trouble.”
I wondered what that meant. Before I could inquire, I suddenly realized who Brooklyn was. Her presidential campaign headquarters were located in Brooklyn. She had the same hair, the same physical mannerisms. It was Hillary! What the frick n’ frack was going on?
“Prell,” she said. (I know, right? Prell?). “Prell,” she said, “you can hide behind the organization. That’s what corporate organizations are for. At first the media will crucify you but later they will adore you. You’re a survivor just like me.”
Preller remained in mystical thought, not moving, not showing any signs he was paying attention. I imagined him meditating on Anderson Espinoza 90 mile an hour sliders. Brooklyn was slinking around the table looking for table scraps. There was one question I had to ask her, that I had to find out before I left.
“Brooklyn,” I asked, pausing for effect like Luis Tiant at the top of his windup, “was it worth it trading dreams and ideals for power and glory?”
“Scott,” she said. (I don’t know how she knew my name.) “Scott,” she said, “the best deals are the ones they remember you by, and the ones where the world ends up a better place.” I thought I saw the corner of A.J.’s mouth grin a little. I just nodded to Brooklyn. Jesus might agree with this, after all we all remembered the deal he made. Was the world a better place for it? The final tally wasn’t yet in. I wasn’t sure my conscience would agree, however, wondering if it was just idle justification for deals which couldn’t be justified. Either way my time here was done.
I left the house and walked past the guard house. Inside, Mr. Pappas was asleep holding the Billy Williams card in his glove hand and dreaming of the summer of ‘69. The stars were out and I studied the Great Padre Constellation, by which I guided my life. I was barely able to catch the midnight Taco Train back into town. The only being on board was the ghost of Jerry Coleman. I left him alone out of respect. I wondered what kind of deals the Colonel made playing World Series second base one second, flying B-52s in two wars the next. We all make deals. In fact, we make deals every day, most of which we don’t even realize we’re making.
Once home, I caught the tail end of a replay of the Futures Game. The catcher tried to bring a pitch out of the strike zone back into the zone to fool the ump. To no avail. Prell was probably watching the same thing I was, back at his beach house with Austin Hedges, sugar plums dancing in his head. Either that or getting tangled up in blue with Brooklyn, still in need of some company and all that.