"Unaware of the restless circle in which she moved, of the unbearable state of intimate calamity that she provoked as she passed by, Remedios the Beauty treated the men without the least bit of malice and in the end upset them with her innocent complaisance."
"You must love the rain."
They were the first words he would always hear when he told someone he was moving back home. It wasn't "Congratulations on the job!" or "Are you excited to go home?" No, it was always about the rain.
In truth, Rob had meant to move back a few years ago. As these things go, however, life got in the way. There was his undergraduate at the University of Southern California which had pulled him away from Seattle by necessity, but then there was the decision to go work at a lemon orchard in Yuma County to get out of the city. He could remember his first trip to Arizona that had inspired his choice to move to the Southwest. He was sixteen and his mother's brother lived in Sedona. There was an openness to Arizona that he had never felt before. There there was beauty and the seasons and hot and cold and you could feel alive there. The birdsong echoed off the iron-stained rocks like his mother's piano would when he was a small child. He never forgot that, not for the two more years he had left of high school in Woodinville, nor the next four he spent among the tall buildings of Los Angeles.
The lemon orchard had taught him something that he never learned in university. Sure, it took hard work to get an A, but it did not make one's hands bleed to do so. This was a lesson that he had also learned through sport. Rob played baseball all year long since before he could remember. He played Little League, select, high school, and for USC. He played so much so that his love for the Mariners was not so much an attachment to an assortment of certain people, but more a focal point for a compass that he so desperately wanted to keep pointing towards that elusive place: "home". It was hard to focus on the names of a team that had done so little to break his focus from his own game. Even in Arizona he played in a men's league, fast pitch. He wouldn't hit the slow stuff.
The memories of these games, some more recent than others began to flood his mind as he rolled in to the Safeco Garage several hours before the game started. He was lucky enough to work for a company that owned a block of Charter Seats, and had requested the entire Diamondback series. It had been almost six months since he had taken the job offer in Seattle and made his move back home. There was a second seat he had requested tickets for, but that seat had been empty the past two games. It would be empty again, today.
It being the third day in a row that he was showing up right when the gates opened, the gate attendants recognized him. He wore the sweat-stained and beaten all-navy, fitted Mariners hat he had purchased before going off to college. He smiled that smile we all know of a person who is hiding something too large to ask about to the lady who asked him for his keys and cellphone at the metal detector.
"Couldn't stay away."
"'Do you know someone who plays for Arizona?" To this, Rob smiled. Jake Lamb was hardly someone he knew more than you know the person who makes your latte every other day.
"Sort of." It was a longer story than exchanging pleasantries with a stranger could tell. Hell, it was a longer story than he could manage to his closest friends. If he really thought about it, it was a story longer than he probably knew. There was no beginning or end to what he left behind in Arizona. There was only life and death. Nobody knows what that stuff in between means.
He had found that there was something cathartic to going to the game alone. While his intention was that he would have company these three games, his company's seats were incredibly close to the field. Watching the teams go through batting and fielding brought him back to the time when he was chasing that same dream they had all realized. He could tell when they missed a ball both at the plate and in the field, and he understood the instruction that needed to be given. The difference between Rob and these players was so small on the large scale. Microscopically, the difference could have been an ocean.
Since moving back he had decided to follow the team more closely. That aside, the man pitching for Seattle was the reason he hadn't lost the team completely some seasons. Felix would throw, looking to conquer a Diamondbacks team that Rob had personally watched expose all the M's flaws in just two games. Felix was the proper band-aid. Felix was more than a bandage, though, he was to the Mariners as the rain was to Seattle for all those idiots from different places. Today, Rob had noted on his Twitter feed, he would set the all-time record for the Mariners for career starts, notching ahead of Jamie Moyer. It was a beautiful day for baseball; it was a beautiful day for The King.
Seeing Jacob Lamb take BP made Rob smile. He was happy for him, truly, but he had hated him when they used to play against each other. Such is the way baseball makes us. The level of confidence one must have in themselves typically disallows positive feelings for anyone beyond teammates and family. A funny conundrum of a sport played by children in parks. Love only the bat in your hand, the ball, the glove, and the eight in the field with you. He remembered when he was younger they would play "Home Run Derby" at one of his teammate's homes. The hedge was one-hundred and fifty feet or so away from where they would swing the wooden bat at the wiffle ball. The hedge was the fence, and home runs were allowed to be robbed by one field player. Even that fun, loose game in the summer that lead to such heated contests was only allowed to take place between friends. Baseball is too intimate a game to play catch with the opposition.
He looked down at the empty seat beside him, a site he was used to this third time around. However, with the heat, and the crack of the bat and the players yelling and laughing and talking around him, his memories were coming forth fast and thick. Rob met Ingrid one chance visit to Sedona while working at the lemon grove. He liked to visit Sedona then and again, one to see his uncle, but also just to see. Ingrid kept him coming back more often after they'd met. She was working in town, with plans to leave, but was raised a baseball fan by her father who felt Randy Johnson would never call himself anything other than a Diamondback. Rob left that alone. It was her who convinced him to take a job back home, but it was he who had asked her if she'd come with him. The answer was never clear, and also the reason why Rob had delayed so long in coming home. But one trip back to see his family breaking down had expedited his pilgrimage back to Seattle.
The game had begun and the Blue Angels had finished flying over, but already Felix was in trouble. Rob could tell from his second-row seats behind the visitors dugout that the King was leaving his fastball at the belt, and Arizona was swinging at the first pitch. Before Felix could collect himself, Arizona had scored two runs and had a runner on base when Wellington Castillo reached the plate. He took Felix deep into the bullpens of left field.
"God dammit, Jack."
Rob let his frustration slip out loud, but still quiet enough that nobody around him heard. In truth, following the team closely this year was supposed to be a respite from the most troubled time of his life. He had moved, again. He had lost someone who he had begun planning to spend the rest of his life with, watched his family struggle through hardship after hardship and needed something to hold on to as the waves lashed about him in the open water. Finding a job in Seattle had been harder than he planned, demoralizing even. It was hard for a man who had spent his life around baseball to accept failure beyond a strikeout. Rob had once needed Ingrid to be that solid spot for him, but she ultimately never was. With her, one-hundred hopeful things always begat one-hundred and one reasons for desperation. Rob had taken the 2015 Seattle Mariners for granted, that they were the sure thing. Neither them nor her had proved to be.
Four to nothing and Austin Jackson and Kyle Seager had already struck out in the bottom of the first. Rob was already fuming, internally. He looked over at the Mariners' bench, saw the team full of talented, major league players that had fumbled and stumbled their way to their current, sad spot and felt nothing but anger and numbness. He was mad. Not at them though, at Jack, maybe at Lloyd, too, but what could Lloyd do? Rob looked up to the box that he knew Jack sat in when he attended the games. I hope you've started packing your shit, Z. The side was eventually retired after Nelson Cruz singled to center. Rob knew he should be mad at the players, too. But they were too like him.
The game kept on from there. Felix settled in, allowing another home run to Wellington, but otherwise looking strong for the eventual six and two-thirds that he would throw. He was not the vintage Felix that Rob had grown up hearing about and watching on occasion. No, this was the 2015 version. Rob worried Felix had become mortal. All kings die, Rob knew it and so did the rest. Even the greatest conquerors of old all eventually could not longer ride the horse at the head of the charge. Rob hoped that this was not that sign, but just a mere blip in the immortality of Seattle's greatest son.
"How about this shit, huh?" The man sitting next to Rob had decided it was a good time to break into a conversation in the middle of the 5th with the score at 5-1.
"It wouldn't be a Felix start without the offense taking a nap." Rob flashed that same, disguising smile.
"You been following them much this season?"
"Yeah, actually. I just moved up a few months back from Arizona and made the stupid decision to start caring again. Seemed like a good season to do it."
"No, this is the perfect season to do it. This is the worst season."
Rob didn't say anything back but flashed another quick smile and grabbed the beer in the holder before him. It was both a signal to his neighbor that he didn't feel much like talking, but also he needed the coolness of the liquid to spur his attention. The day was hot and the game was dreary. It was a day in the lemon grove. Mac and Jacks always tasted like summer in Seattle. It brought him back to the memory of his first beer with his father, the night after someone had stepped clean through his hand with their spike. It was in his late high school years but he couldn't place the exact time. His father had presented the beer to him at a party that night, celebrating the travel team winning their tournament, as both reward and acknowledgement of Rob's advancing maturity. The stitches felt like nothing. The acceptance and conversation with his father now meant the world.
Rob thought about his neighbor's claim, that this was the "worst season". Maybe he was right. Sure, Rob didn't remember much between 2003 and the past couple seasons, but those seasons seemed forlorn. Those ships were built to sink, and cast out to sea without any passengers. This was an entirely different scenario. He thought about the past season, the mid-season trades of the last season, the off-season signing of Cruz, the formation of two serviceable outfield platoons, and returning a pitching staff that had set the league on fire the previous year. This had made moving home, made all the pain, an easier task. Plugging in this season was so easy back in March. The rest Rob, and everyone else in attendance, had felt. They had felt the ship slowly sinking in the middle of the sea. Maybe it was the weight they had placed on it. World Series contenders, playoffs for sure. They had been stranded on the island, and after seeing food for the first time in weeks, gorged themselves until their stomachs demanded the upheaval of the contents.
The seventh had finished and the offense had never woke up. Felix left midway through the top of the inning, but after the Mariners had had their chance the score was seven to one. Soul-sucking and pathetic, Rob couldn't help but watch the final frames. He thought about that empty seat next to him, that he had once hoped would be filled by a woman now hundreds of miles gone. Maybe he left her too easily, or maybe he was a coward for going home. It was hard to know. He couldn't tell Ingrid everything, only how she made him feel. Couldn't tell her about the depression and that he needed her to keep him sane. In the space of life there are doldrums and hurricanes and it is in that storm that we must make a thousand decisions while somehow, straining to find the eye. Rob was bad at finding that calm place. Baseball had turned him in to a machine that only operated on fours and threes.
Rob drove home, watching the final out of an 8-2 affair that had never offered the home town fans any reason to hope in a win. He remembered why he had come home during the drive. He saw the mountains on both sides, even drove by the baseball field by the Zoo that he had played on so many times. Rob remembered this is where his family is from, and that one should always remember the beginning. Without that opening point, the last point has no reference. He remembered that he came home for his family.
He had taken to reading while working year-round at the lemon grove. See, there wasn't always a full day of work to be done in the off season and Yuma County had its downtime. He thought of a book he had picked up on a recommendation from a college buddy, and a character within it. Remedios was the most beautiful woman in town, young and carefree, she had no knowledge of the affect she had on the men of the town. She wore a burlap sack, for ease of wear, and despite the ugly form of the cloth, it made her only more beautiful in contrast. She drove men mad by not knowing how she could make them feel. He thought of the Seattle Mariners. They, too, perhaps failed to realize what this city would do if they took off the burlap sack. It would go absolutely crazy for them.
"Things have a life of their own," the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. "It's simply a matter of waking up their souls."