It was quiet, painfully so, in the clubhouse. They had all gone home. The remnants laid there though, the proof that the game had happened. Sure, there was the tape which had held Nelson's wrist tightly, the half-shells of sunflower seeds that had been spit so effortlessly on to the vacuumed floor. The green cups that had held the liquid which was meant to encourage their bodies in the sport they were so well-tuned to perform were littered across the carpet. And there, on the table, as was true every night, laid Willie, in pain and discomfort.
He felt the pains and aches of a decade and a half of constant effort held compact in his knees. Rick knew the spots. There are certain ways of twisting and turning an individual that bring forth the body's memory. A little too left and there was Willie tripping on the sprinkler head during two-a-days in '95. If Rick pushed back hard enough, the 2003 season where he came up lame fielding flies sprang to life. Even now, holding the ankle by one hand and the knee by the other, Rick could summon every memory of the past summer. The body never forgets.
Willie grimaced at this movement especially. It was a dance that he and Rick played, every night when the lights of the stadium had been turned off for some time and all that was left was the clean, crisp halogens of the training room. The whirlpool hummed in the far corner of the room, providing a back track to their silent conversations. Rick saw the pain in Willie's face, and in return, gave him a familiar smile. It was the smile that Willie knew best. There were fewer grounders left in those knees then there had ever been before.
All of a sudden, a loud ringing of a telephone cut through the quiet of the empty training room. Willie and Rick quickly recognized the abrupt cacophony with a turning of their heads. Instinctively, Willie sat up to answer, but Rick calmly placed a hand on his chest, letting him know it was not his burden.
"You know, Rick, I don't think I ever noticed that phone there before," Willie said with a small smile of wonderment, "Who is it it for?"
Rick sat back for a moment, easing his weight off of Willie's leg, " I couldn't rightfully tell you, Bloomy, but it's been here since I can remember."
And so it was. Nothing much to look at. A common, black, corded phone plugged in to the wall near the whirlpool. It was so obscured by darkness, so unimpressive, that it had never crossed Willie's mind in the hundreds of times he had entered that training room to take note of it. Yet, here it was, ringing one time after a 7-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants. Willie, now laying back on the table to finish his treatment, wondered under what other circumstances that phone had rang, and who had called it. He certainly did not know the number. And who would be there typically to answer it.
Rick had been gone for nearly an hour now. Willie had finished his shower, had changed in to the clothes he would wear home to see his family in, for the little time they would see him, but the ringing still gnawed at his psyche. If it was as longstanding as Rick had claimed, there could be almost two-decades worth of messages from times long-gone there. Hell, even some of his own past would be tied up in the message machine. He couldn't resist the urge to check the red-flashing light on the monitor. He walked to the black phone stationed in the darkest corner of the room. He pressed play.
You have eighty-nine unheard messages. First unheard message.
-Hey boys, it's Dave. Rick and I just wanted to let you all know how proud we are watching you beat those White Sox. It's been a damn, long time since I've cried and today, when Carlos laid down that bunt I just couldn't help it. There are certain mome-
Willie had to stop the record. Despite the obscurity of the room, he was certain there were no ghosts around. He looked over his shoulder nonetheless. Dave's voice had a certain way of creating anachronistic sensations in the body. Willie had felt them many times before. "The Double" was the only thing he had taken the time to learn how to favorite on Firefox. He skipped ahead.
-Boys, Dave again, just wanted to say that all of us here couldn't be more proud of you for the one-hundred and sixteen wins. It was a hell of a year from Cammy to Boone to Ichi and the Bone. Bring it home for us, fellas, bring i-
He sat in the quiet, dazed at the magnitude of his finding. Could it be that he had stumbled upon a hidden treasure-trove of well-wishes from the Voice of the Franchise? If so, did he have the fortitude to make it through the remaining seventy-five messages to hear them all. Recalling that level of memory, at the frequency and output would tear him apart, especially after a loss like tonight. Yet, just as always, he pressed forward. There were memories there of the good times and the bad. Some funny, some sad to recall.
-Hello, this is a message for Ruben Sierra. This is Dawn, the manager of the Burien Dominoes you just ordered from. Hello Ruben, we have your three extra-large anchovies and onion pizzas for delivery but you did not specify a door and we need you to call security to authorize us through to deliver them to you.
This made Willie laugh. As he played through the voicemail from times gone-by, he felt the whole spectrum of his emotion. There were notes that made him wistful of his past, when he was fitter version of himself. There were messages that made him laugh, made him cry, some even made him mad.
-This is a call to once again confirm that the cable package for Willy Mo Pena has been discontinued at the address 3435 8th St. Kirkland, WA. As well, there is a surcharge of $8,043.86 for items purchased outside of the cable package that will be assessed to the final bill. This is the final call we, Comcast, will be making on this account. Thank you.
Messages like this punctuated ones of serious gravity. There was a voicemail from the old commissioner, congratulating Mr. Suzuki on his record-breaking season. Another for Griffey's inauguration into the Mariner's Hall of Fame. There was one wishing Mr. Wakamatsu, Mr. Hargrove, McLaren, Riggleman, Brown, Melvin, and Wedge the best of luck in their futures. Kyle was given many plaudits for his Golden Glove.
Willie was reaching the end of the messages, and was filled with much grief and joy and confusion. This was the recent history of a franchise that had seen so much sorrow and hurt but had made it through that to smile at the small, subtle things that make us all human. The large scale had been so devastating yet these people had taken pride in the microcosms, the minutia of improvement and optimism. He had two messages left, the last must have been the call from just an hour before. He played the penultimate message.
-TRUCKS, TRUCKS AND MORE TRU-
He couldn't stand the voice. He skipped message number eighty-eight, and played eighty nine.
-Hey guys, it's me. It's us. I was at the game tonight. I got your letter. You tried to explain everything, still, it was hard to watch, tonight. And it's not because of tonight, itself. It's because of what we could have had. What we should have been for so long. It was made more clear, playing the Giants. Here is a team that has accidentally won three World Series in recent memory, while we, all of us in this town, have watched our squad, some better than others, sputter and turn like a half-fixed engine. We haven't felt whole in years. Maybe since two-thousand and two.
And I know, it's not any of your faults. There's no reason to blame Kyle for his food poisoning or Robbie for his sore back. It won't help us, not now. But, tonight we watched Ryan Vogelsong play our hometown nine like a fiddle. He nibbled and stole and you just watched him. You let him come in our home and take everything we owned. Like it was nothing, man. I think that's how we all feel, like nothing.
And it's because we have something. Or had it, maybe. Like, last year, things were so good. We had the right players in the right spots, and even when we didn't it somehow worked out more than it didn't. We had the Night Court and the High Court and games that really mattered for the first time in what feels like forever. It was like we couldn't go wrong. And we were so close. But now you're telling us that something is wrong and we don't know what. And it breaks me. It breaks us all because we want it to work so bad. We've been so straight with you; so honest that you could see our hearts bleed out. And yet, here we are, a horizon away from first place and even further from feeling like this is the season we all talked about. It seemed like you were going to try to make this work.
That's what we talked about when Felix left the mound with tears in his eyes. We told you we would do anything to make it work and you said you would, too. You brought in Nelson to help us, and Seth and Wellington for a bit. We had to try new things because it wasn't what you told us it would be. Now we have Mike on the mound, and he's trying so hard for us but, damn, it's hard to feel like it matters anymore. It doesn't feel honest. But, for me, it's never been worse than tonight. You made me feel so disposable. I was nothing to you. 7-0 to Ryan Vogelsong and the Giants. Like you weren't even there. Like you never thought about me.
But I'm here with your letter you wrote me. The one addressed to all of us. You said, " Thanks for making me feel loved and cared for and beautiful." I'm so happy you realized that's how I feel about you. But, soon, you need to show me the same. Because, we're strong, but we can't just give and give and give and not receive. It kills us. And tonight, in front of everyone, you showed like you didn't care. And I love you way too much for that to be alright...
Willie stopped listening. He couldn't bear the weight of the truth he had faced on so many sleepless nights. He felt a nervous energy despite the late hour and exhausted feeling in his tendons. There was work to be done, yet, and he knew his team was more than capable. The Seattle Mariners were not done, yet. That was his only hope. Any other thought would ruin him. But the record wasn't done playing...
-Because, I've been loving you way too long, now. I can't stop now.