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“EL” ( The End of the World Series )

Updated: Jan 9, 2023


                                 

     


A few hundred fans, delirious with vibrant memories of the night’s events punctuated by the walk off home run that sent the faithful home joyful fifteen minutes earlier, still dotted pockets of the Coliseum. A few thousand empty casings of stadium peanuts were still to be swept off the cement steps stained with a mixture of soda, beer, and remnants of a hundred or so ice cream cones. The obligatory sports anthem echoed through the catacombs of the old ball yard and spilled over the upper deck facade throughout the parking lots and surrounding neighborhood. Dads frozen patiently (for the most part) on lines snaking all the way to the exits, bled their savings, purchasing every item emblazoned with “EL” or the likeness of the young phenom. He had seemingly come out of nowhere.These days had seen a stretch unfathomable! Heights and feats seemingly impossible; never seen in the annals of baseball history, even garnering accolades across the entire athletic spectrum; transcending societal achievements relating to music, finance and politics.        

     El has been on all four major networks, cornering the covers of every supermarket checkout stand periodical. Cinema entrepreneurs from every corner of the globe falling over each other clawing for production rights to a Thanksgiving Day blockbuster or the like.      

 For all the hype, hoopla, and hysteria “L” as he has come to be known, the gentle warrior returns to his dwelling, His presence undeniable and yet invisible to many. The door slams shut behind L, who, making a beeline for the king-sized hotel bed spins one eighty to its heavenly embrace and tomorrow’s exploits sure to come as advertised and expected. El had dazzled so many the last time, and times before and half the time the opponents thought there was no way someone could call his shot and then deliver without fail. Perfectly prophetic and confidently meek. 

     Now it had come to one final encounter. The early autumn leaves turning; their prelude to the Series end, the crowd a symphony of clamoring emotion. The bullpen door opened and out came L and he strode the whole distance to the mound … backwards. Looking up at the huge animated scoreboard displaying highlights of his heroics, L, the chosen one, summoned all he could muster for this final gauntlet facing him.       

In the first inning against the arch rival Giants, L struck out the side on nine pitches. The crowd roared its approval. He pointed toward the opposing dugout as if he could see into their souls. Inning after inning, L had the answer for the enemy’s attack. Like an expert carpenter with a plumb line his judgement had the Giants measured; their anger showing—their tactics transparent to the masterful pitching and defense, their offense misguided and doomed to fail.

        As per usual during his meteoric climb, only L could produce any offense for the hosting Angels. His first time up at bat El turned the Giants’ ace best fast ball around sending it into the furthest reaches of the iconic coliseum finally settling into the mitt of a young fan who had garnered two free seats in the right center field bleachers courtesy of his mom’s expert knowledge of El’s career; she being the ninety-ninth caller during the six o’clock hour giveaway on the local classic rock station. An usher assigned to that section of the cheapest seats in the park sidled up and handed the youngster a club “contract”and a check for for one dollar—a custom given any fan making a miraculous catch during any given contest and so becoming a “member” of the team.       

El, leading off the bottom of the fourth, faced the opposing pitcher, who, having given up only the homer to L with one down in the first, fell behind in the count two balls and no strikes. Hoping to get the slugger to chase the next pitch, his offering bounced badly before reaching home, but fearing he wouldn’t get another offering, but would instead be walked intentionally, L swung and met the ball with only his left hand remaining on the bat, stretching with his full weight on his left leg, his right leg lifting off the ground a good two feet, his hips rotating clockwise and towards the pitcher. L’s right leg bent at the knee with the sun sending a foreboding glimmer from the spikes on the sole of his right shoe. The ball carried lazily like a helium balloon taken by the currents of the wind, drifting over the first baseman’s head, then fading from the right fielder toward the stands. However, as it dropped from its apex a fortuitous gust of wind pushed the sphere perhaps another sixty to seventy feet deeper into the outfield reaches, and to the crowd’s delight, sent the horsehide careening off the foul pole and coming to rest in a vender’s tray full of CrackerJack!       

With all the other Angels spots in the batting order proving fruitless, L strode to the plate with two out and nobody on in the bottom of the sixth. The stadium rafters shook violently and rhythmically as the man of the last seven weeks plus the hour strode confidently to the dish. Knowing for a time such as this there was no other man. Many couldn’t hear their own voice, the decibel level bordering on excruciating.  With the only blemishes on the scoreboard for the Giants’ pitcher Luis Dracon, nicknamed ‘Diablo’, being the solo home runs by L, the Giants ace took no chances. He wound up and let fly with evil intent his best four seam fastball towards the face of his nemesis. L turned his back towards ‘Diablo’ and faced the umpire. The ball found its mark at the base of the skull just above the double zero on the back of L’s pristine home white jersey.        

The silence as L lay there fell like a ten ton blanket of what in the name of Simon and Garfunkel just happened?!!? Somehow a vacuum the size of the King of Prussia Mall had sucked every spiritual fiber from the cavernous stadium. Tens of thousands stood mouths open, breath held in horror. Thousands more wept openly. Many children disappeared into the shelter of their parent’s form.        

The trainers frozen in temporary emotional paralysis recovered and rushed to L’s side. Out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning struck and L sat up on his haunches. Helped to his feet, the faithful let out a gasp. With a trainer on each side supporting him, El limped to first base shaking the cobwebs from his aching head, and those in the stands rose as one in ovation. A guttural tribal scream ensued, the din inside the Coliseum rose to such a level as to be a threat to physically and emotionally disable those with anxiety issues and mercifully L waved his arms so as to bring the frenzy back to human decency. The vocal insanity continued to rise as the foundation of the old ball yard quivered and groaned. L tipped his cap as he turned 360 degrees to acknowledge the fans hoping the furor would abate, but to no avail. Finally, hands on hips, L looked to the heavens, and with an index finger to his lips followed by several palms down gestures resembling a quarterback on a come from behind game-winning  drive requesting quiet, the roar within the Coliseum confines of steel and mortar fell by some moderate degree.   

   Meanwhile, the rival hurler seethed without any remorse for his egregious act of vengeance. Smiling widely he turned toward first base and twisted his fist at the corner of his eye in a mock sympathetic gesture. L stared through Diablo as the next hitter stepped timidly into the batters box after witnessing how the sadistic foe had dealt with L. Truth be told, a cardboard cutout of pick your pop singer would have posed more of a threat.   

   ‘Diablo’ toed the pitching rubber, shook his head yes at the sign, peered over his left shoulder at first base, but to his amazement all the Latin hurler saw was his first baseman racing toward him shaking his head wildly and all he heard was a cab hailing shrill whistle from L who stood hands on hips on second base. “Hombre! Malo hombre!”, ‘Diablo’ growled loudly striding halfway to second, squinting and spitting a stream of liquid toward L. The Giants’ ace slithered back to his place on the mound, his pride clearly wounded, venom bleeding from every pore, his mind racing with malice and forethought. ‘Diablo ‘ came to his stretch position, staring directly at his mortal enemy as L took his lead. Then stepping off the rubber ‘Diablo’ took three quick steps toward L and aiming once again at the slugger’s head, let fly with deadly accuracy at point blank range. L froze and then with other-worldly skill turned sideways, somehow becoming razor thin, and the ball glanced off the crown of his helmet bounding into left-center field. Pirouetting, L took two quick strides and gained top speed around third. Meanwhile, ‘Diablo’ firing his cap to the turf, seeing in triple , gave chase pursuing the home team’s great hope, teeth clenched, finger wagging, the hellbent Luis attempted to trip L as he approached home only to lose his balance, his left leg hyper extended, falling to the turf awkwardly, his cool totally lost; no recourse but to watch the double zero on L’s back crossing home plate tacking on another run for the home team.     

 Fanatic bedlam might best describe the atmosphere inside the confines of the Coliseum. What this audience had been a part of so far that day made surreal an understatement. Not only what they had witnessed, but how they had been grafted into the story. Not only witnesses, but participants. Part and parcel of history. With all that had preceded, a glance at the scoreboard would show that not one batter had reached base for the opposing team; in fact, L had been the only offensive presence whatsoever on either side! While L’s teammates could not offer any support of their own, the three runs he had produced seemed insurmountable as the Giants either flailed haplessly at El’s flawless offerings or were left standing in the box with sawed off bat handles, their feeble flares gathered in effortlessly.        

With eight full in the books, L strode to tow the slab without having allowed a baserunner, let alone a hit. Thus far, he had pitched a perfect game. As the events had unfolded on the pastoral setting below, the day which had started as a sublime fall afternoon had deteriorated rapidly as the barometer fell precipitously. No weather channel anchor was going to effect the final frame that was coming down the pike as the sun sank into early evening. With layers of clouds stacked—uninvited spectators, those with admission redeemed brought a storm of accolades mixed with venom. Eerily El surveyed the spectacle unfolding. The audience at a fever pitch, his face set for the moment at hand.        

As he looked around the diamond, L’s teammates, perhaps shrinking in the moment, had abandoned him. L stood alone; not a friendly uniform to be found. The umpire strode to the mound his mask firmly set. Without someone to receive L’s deliveries the both of them knew there would be nothing left to do but roll out the tarp like a scroll and prepare for the storm. After a short consultation, L strode toward the outfield and waved summoning from the bleachers a slight figure through the narrow gate where the groundskeepers come and go. Inside the soul of a young man a decision spirited him from his seat. Sprinting from beyond the gate into the inferno, the young man became larger and larger as he approached; waving a rolled up document high above his head. He dashed past L thrusting the ‘contract’ into the startled umpire’s hand and disappeared into the home team dugout.       

The crowd noise sank as bewilderment rose. The mumbling grew until emerging from the Angels’ dugout came the youngster in full catching gear taking up position behind home plate, in position to both recieve L's deliveries and serve Angel nation; grafted into El, the Divine vine encompassing the hope of the skeptical faithful, that they leave the sight of this battle believing the impossible. The Angels’ pitcher, knowing the limitations of his novice catcher, would need the Giant hitters to make contact and in effect, defeat themselves. Having fed the Giant’s batsmen a steady diet of fastballs all day long, L started the first hitter with one that came slightly off speed. As the batter met the ball, being fooled just enough, the sphere made its way on an extremely high trajectory destined for the the left-field corner. L, on his horse at breakneck speed with his back towards home, stuck his gloved hand out before it could land safely and speared it at the last possible instant! One out.       

The next Giant obstacle strode to the plate. A diminutive light-hitting utility player, who had struck out twice before. Knowing the capacity of the young backstop’s experience was next to nil and that L would allow him to make contact, he reached down for some dirt and administered some to his bat handle, secretly holding back some in his hand. As L, the hometown hero who had come out of nowhere delivered his next offering, the batter squared to bunt while at the same time secretly tossing the tiny bit of remaining sand in his hand into the eyes of the bewildered receiver. Deftly the batsman placed the magnificent bunt a few feet in front of the plate, and with the catcher impaired it seemed the perfect game was not to be. L broke for first base as the batter laughed on his way, the youngster stumbling from behind the plate fell to his knees.      

 The crowd gasped loudly, L spoke, somehow communicating above the mayhem,“You’re there, give it here.” Faithfully, the boy stretched out his hand grasping the ball and spinning, gave it all he had toward first base. Looking into the eyes of the Giant foe, L stretched with all his strength and length and met the horsehide with his glove just before the runner crossed the bag! Two dead.      

 The confines of the Coliseum erupted with emotion that had never been witnessed in the history of sport and perhaps even entertainment. (Though several nights at Shea Stadium with The Beatles may have rivaled.)       

Having been escorted by event security to a box seat near home plate, L spotted the youngster’s mom, shaking visibly beneath the weight of the moment; one out from a history making achievement, her son caught up in the thrill of a lifetime. A smile, wider than the Mississippi stretched across the boy’s face as he wiped the grit from his eyes, and spit out more from his mouth. Motioning for time, the Angels hurler motioned over to the boy and he joined L over by where his mom stood alongside security. After a brief discussion, the mom left the stands to sit inside the Angels dugout and the pitcher made his way back to the mound; his arm draped over the youngster’s shoulders, the nape of his neck disappearing in the crook of L’s pitching arm between bicep and wrist. The young man could hardly fathom the immortality of the situation. All he could muster over and over was, “I can’t believe this!” “I can’t believe this!”

“Believe,” he was instructed, also, “take care of your mom.”     

 L strode to the mound determined to end the day’s contest with one final pitch. Though not one Giants runner had reached base safely, this had been no easy task. Alongside the delirium within the confines of the Coliseum and the ever climbing decibels, there festered a belligerence in the city towards the Angels’ bitter rivals and arch enemies that bordered on homicidal. Within the head of the crowd’s hero, a sledgehammer had been playing wacamole with his brain and connecting from the instant the tightly wound horsehide delivered by L’s nemesis had left the imprint of the hardball’s stitches ingrained at the base of his skull his last trip to the plate. With the novice squatting behind the plate, and a pinch hitter batting for ‘Diablo‘ who sat fuming over what had transpired over the course of the battle; being out-dueled and embarrassed, and now being pinch-hit for, L was determined to end it with one final pitch and then find a pain reliever.        Ironically, earlier in the season, Diablo had been a teammate of El’s, singing the praises of the front office. Enter L and the meteoric rise of his name and jealousy began to rear its hideously ugly head. A schism beset the team with six other discontents forming Diablo’s posse. Finally, with L’s exploits grabbing national headlines, ‘Diablo’ refused to comply with ownership’s regulations and was sent packing. The rival Giants were quick to pick up Luis, his given name, and he quickly became the leader of the pack.        

Now the final game of the season had come down to this final act and with the storybook ending in sight, ‘Diablo’ raged, fit to be tied. The thunderheads which seemed to lie in wait surrounding the Coliseum descended, cloaking the ancient field. Maniacal and thirsting for vengeance, buzzing, chanting and frothing at the mouth, the stadium took on the character of a cauldron. ‘Diablo’, spewing equal venom, although being from one single vicious orifice, became frenetic.        

Cucumber cool, L glanced briefly at the antagonist’s dugout. His chest expanded as he stared into the heavens for an unusually long time setting his eyes on his adversary and then the young man’s target. Staring back, eyes large, bat held behind the right ear, L knew well the hitter would be expecting a straight offering the novice behind the plate could receive. The Angel hurler nodded once at his only teammate; then rocking back on his leg, winding up and letting fly, the ace delivered his final pitch, a parabolic curveball, fooling the hitter badly- causing him to pop it up weakly into the air toward the visitor’s dugout. At the crack of the bat, L broke from the pitchers mound quickly but steadily, eyes fixed on the baseball as it reached its zenith and began to descend. The youngster behind the plate removed his mask and when he located the ball’s direction threw the mask to the ground tracking the tiny aspirin into the ominous sky now thick and surly. L crossed the foul line between home and first with suddenness as the ball fell quickly now to the earth and perilously close to the stands. The youngster, his throat parched from excitement and gravity of the situation, drifted toward the on deck circle, eyes fixed skyward.        

A large raindrop found the young man’s left eye causing him to stumble and stagger and then fall face first ten or so feet from the dugout railing. His blurry gaze turning toward L now at full sprint as the baseball worked its way through a faint drizzle sure now not to make the stands, however, destined it seemed not to remain on the field of play. The Giant players leaned against the dugout railing making their way as close as possible to L who is now firmly exclaiming “Mine! Mine! Mine!” The Angel faithful let out a collective “OOOOOOH”, the Giants players shouted, waving towels and cursing profusely. At full bore, L headed for the catch, eyes on the prize, the perfect game in the balance, L shouted finally, “Mine!” as the ball settled into his glove. His hat flew off as he began to navigate the lip of the dugout’s top step to the Giants bench. Diablo stood strangely quiet until, like a clothesline, he thrust his arm straight out as L at full tilt contacted it neck high. As his feet lifted off the ground, he could hear Diablo whisper, “No it isn’t” and simultaneously L’s momentum carried him a full body’s length horizontal into the dugout leaving his head to violently strike the edge of the second dugout step tearing an eight inch gash into his skull.   The stunned crowd, a moment before in the throws of euphoria, fell dead silent. His young receiver screamed, “L!!!”, piercing the grotesque clouds having enveloped everything in near total darkness.

The opposing legion which had seconds earlier been hurling insults and epithets, trying their best to get under the skin of this now prone rival, now felt very uncomfortable in their own skin; all left fading one by one into the bowels of the clubhouse. All left except for Dracon, euphorically hovering over L like a vulture over a wounded traveler in Death Valley, ready to exact a pound of flesh to which he had no right. Drinking in a cup of mirth that at the bottom would leave a beastly mark and an indelible curse on his soul.       

As L’s battery mate scrambled to his feet, a maternal force sped past; entering the visiting team’s dugout, shoving the vile Giant antagonist aside, kneeling down to administer first aid to the prone Angel hurler—lifting his bloody head in her hands and placing it gently on a pristine towel she’d torn from the Giants’ trainer’s grasp who stood motionless trying to process the events melting before his eyes. A heartbeat later the young catcher slid to the side of his prone hero, tears streaming uncontrollably. Two Giants players, having removed their hostile jerseys, leaked from the enemy clubhouse to steady L’s body until the ambulance could make it’s way from beyond the outfield wall; sirens blaring, strobing lights being swallowed by the atmospheric pall that had hijacked the last thirty minutes.       

As L stared straight up, pain etched on a face bloodied; the woman holding his cold stiffening hand to her cheek in a vain attempt to counter the grotesque pain; her son scooted to the opposite side and lay his head gently on his teammate’s chest until the paramedics lept from inside of the emergency vehicle, both doors swinging open—the gurney snapping to attention. The throng stood dumbfounded and in shock having just witnessed a perfect gem of a performance. Their euphoria plunged from the penthouse to the lobby in the time it takes to sneeze leaving them in a state of catatonia.The soul of the day raced from the gates of Paradise to the loading dock of a dollar store on South Main Street. As mother and son on either side of where L lay strapped and immobile, his head pillowed ,neck braced and legs fastened; the pair pleaded with the PM’s to let them ride with the wounded legendary figure to no avail.   

   “I’m going to kill the guy who did this to you!”, the young man screamed.“He’s dead already son, help others to see...”, El’s voice disappearing.“I will!”, replied the the young man _ though the full meaning of what he was asked to do escaped him.“I’ve followed you since…I’ll,I’ll…”, the mom let out now overcome with grief.“I’ll be back for you.”, L whispered as the attendants fed the Angel hurler into the medical transport carefully yet with heightened urgency; his life in the balance.       

Mother and son left the park solemnly, on their way stopping to gaze at the towel soaked crimson with the blood L lost near the dugout steps. “Take it?”, she thought; not as some gruesome momento but in reverence and respect? The red and white rescue vehicle retraced it’s steps to the narrow opening in the wall from where hours earlier L had emerged to a thunderous ovation. The Coliseum fans privy to the late summer/early fall phenomenon of bright light; a human super-nova, valiantly victorious yet leaving on a stretcher, felt betrayed. The object of their adoration being carted off crippled and clinging to life left the mass of humanity flooding the aisles and heading for the exits; some searching for solace, others made their way to the vendors searching for anything bearing the fallen hero’s image, ( now fetching up to one hundred times the selling price just hours before ), still others turned their loyalty to a bar, a bus home or the Trojans v. the Fighting Irish.        Meanwhile, up a ramp to a restricted Med-Evac helicopter pad sped the carriage of mercy. Seldom used but ever-ready, Gabe and Mike, two retired Navy close formation exhibition pilots had been notified of the patient’s condition: described as ‘mortally wounded.’ The evac helicopter nicknamed ‘The Arc’ poised and lit began it’s ascent, knifing through the fog into the prematurely black sky above. “Hey! Heyyyyyyy!!!, the ambulance driver screams incredulously, springing from his perch behind the wheel onto the asphalt waving frantically. The paramedic inside with El, sensing something amiss, springs from the vehicle’s rear hatch to join his partner’s efforts. “YOU’RE KIDDING ME, RIGHT?!!?”, he shouts appealing vociferously towards the chopper, hands waving maniacally.“What the…,” starts the wheelman before collecting himself. “C’mon, we’ll have to bring him to Community ourselves!” Leaping into the cab all systems are go for the trip to the emergency room. He glances back through the chain link enforced window and the vehicle’s splayed rear doors only to see his partner stunned and shaking—mouth agape. Annoyed and puzzled the wheelman retreats to the rear of the vehicle displacing him with a shove and pleading,”What’s up? Let’s get…”, then, fixing his gaze within he understood why his partner stood paralyzed…the reason that defied all reason. An empty spotless stretcher stared back.       

The tempest from the sea brought a mysterious montage of unstable ionized particles disabling all communications and radar. ‘The Arc’ tore through the curtain as the weather continued to degrade; the control tower at LAX issued an alert for all aircraft and nautical vessels to scan visually for ‘The Arc’ which no longer had presence on radar.       

The young man and his mom arrived home some hours later having tracked the days events by traditional and social media; their loss evident, their hope severely damaged. Then, miraculously, what they found turned that around. On the front stoop sat a crimson towel, a lamp and a jar of oil. After a few weeks without a trace of the ‘The Ark’ to be found or any substantial lead, interest in the whereabouts of anyone or anything lost that day fell prey to the 24/7 news cycle although there had been sightings and witness statements. A large number of people claim they saw El at a Switchfoot concert at Red Rocks. Others claim to have walked with him during a Franklin Graham event near Saddleback. Meanwhile, the young son finding his purpose in relating the power of believing the impossible is possible by the example of El, is spoken of well at a homeless camp on Sunset Boulevard and his mom keeps a lamp lit and trimmed resting on a crimson towel in the window.                       

The Beginning of the End

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