Waste your money / On a bag of weed / Take out options / You don’t need / The first time that you compromise / Well, now you’re on your way / And when you pass out on greed / That’s where you’re gonna stay
It was a Sunday afternoon in Cleveland, the first time Riggs Hellams and Leland Mortenson had a worthwhile conversation. Leland wasn’t the social sort and didn’t hang out around the batting cage as others did. He took his swings and headed for the clubhouse, where he found Riggs waiting.
“What you want?” Leland sat down in front of his locker and swigged on a bottle of water. Riggs pulled up a chair.
“It’s not like I jumped my Triple-A club, two weeks shy of a pennant, the Lord appeared to me in a dream and told me to come see Leland Mortenson,” Riggs said. “I work for the organization. The organization brought me here. I’m drawing a check, just like you. Mine’s not near as big. I probably need it more.”
“Just what the fuck is the problem, Riggs? What? My best isn’t good enough? Am I not giving the club enough bang for the buck?”
One of the first lessons Hellams had learned after his playing days were over was the value of talking face-to-face. Dress a man down in front of his teammates, and his ego demanded that he fight back. The size of the ego corresponded with the size of the salary. Coaches’ egos weren’t so large, but it was a living.
“Right now,” Riggs said, “you’re a great, great athlete, one of the best. As a player, not so much. Your ability won’t carry you any farther. You can make a fine living just the way you are.”
Leland made an obscene suggestion. Riggs ignored it.
“So what am I doing wrong exactly?”
“At the plate,” Riggs said, matter-of-factly, “your average is down fifty points because you’re trying to pull everything, hitting grounders right into the shift, lunging at breaking balls in the dirt, leading the league in strikeouts …”
“Fifth in home runs.”
“Fifteenth, though, in RBIs.”
“Not enough baserunners in front of me,” Leland said. “I’m trying to help the club win.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
“I’m making almost three million. At the end of next year, I’ll be a free agent. I’m figuring four times that much, over eight years or so. Eighty million total, or thereabouts. Now tell me more about how I’m fucking up.”
“Yankees won’t bid,” Riggs said. “You’ll sign with somebody not as smart, and you’ll spend the rest of your career as a guy who puts up decent numbers for horseshit teams.”
“Like this one?”
“Yeah,” Riggs said. “Doesn’t have to be that way, though. You don’t have to be another one of those guys with great ability who plays out by the time he’s thirty. Woods are full of them. Remember Shawn Green? Ellis Valentine? Hell, B.J. Upton. Sam Horn.”
“I heard a couple of those names.”
“There’s a reason for that, big man.”
Leland almost said, hey, you can’t talk to me like that, but, obviously, Riggs could.
“You got one of the three best throwing arms in baseball, and you show it off by throwing to the wrong base, usually the plate. Last night, I watched video of you trying to force David Ortiz at the plate from medium right field.”
“I almost got him.”
“Oh, five steps, maybe. Ball went through the catcher, another run scored, five in the inning. You made SportsCenter, though.”
“Fucking mind your own business,” Leland said.
“I am,” Riggs said, and walked back up the tunnel to the dugout.
TO BE CONTINUED