Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chapter Two: MetsBlooded

                No one slept. Reyes prepped CMC for the mission with the help of Castillo. Beltran took care of various necessary errands. Dickey, Delgado and Wright welcomed the troops as they reported. 

                Angel Pagan was the brains behind the tattoos. Morale was at an all-time high late in the offseason training. He wanted a way to bind the team even after their time together was through. It was cliché, yet effective – Mets tattoos. MetsBlooded. 

                The parade of Mets ready for battle filed in. Pagan was a protégé of Beltran’s but he had a wild streak to him. It was the aspect of Pagan’s approach that Beltran criticized most. War paint and a headband made from an old t-shirt decorated his head.

                Next up, Bobby Parnell, the flamethrowing reliever. His weapon-of-choice? A flamethrower.

                A pair of fighter pilots arrived together – Jon Niese and Mike Pelfrey. The two were close, both on the baseball diamond and the (upcoming) battlefield. Niese’s call sign: “Shark”. Pelf’s: “Linguist”.

Lucas Duda and Ike Davis were next. The two lefthanded sluggers were adept with a baseball bat – each chose it as weapon of choice in hand-to-hand situations. Ike had seen a few too many action movies and was fond of the one-liner. 

Ace pilot Pedro Feliciano walked in next, all business. Pleasantries are generally minimal with Pedro, although he is as loyal to his mates as anyone. Call sign: “Perpetual”.

Gregarious Jeff Francoeur was next to show, fresh off hosting The Tonight Show. Frenchy secured the job after Jay Leno quit and ratings have never been better. The consummate teammate, Frenchy headed to Citi Field at first notice of Thole’s kidnapping.

The newest squad member Ronny Paulino was known for his surprisingly excellent physical fitness and the ability to fart on command. A true morale booster.

Longtime friends Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans rode to Citi on Murph’s motorcycle. The two have long been friends but knew they might never see each other again after this mission. Murphy’s role is at CMC with Reyes and Castillo; Evans is a fighter pilot, call sign “Anonymous”.

Teen idol Ruben Tejada was the youngest member of the squad. Pagan was his mentor, just as Beltran guided Pagan. He was the only one to walk in listening to an iPod. Pagan shook his head.

And finally, the berserker of the crew, Chris Carter, showed. The reason for Carter’s celebrity among teammates is simple. As a Red Sox minor leaguer, he brutalized thirteen Florida Marlins farmhands during batting practice, mostly the top prospects. Needless to say, once the MetsBlooded crew heard about him, he wasn’t with the Red Sox for long.

The men were in high spirits but still worried about their teammate Thole. They trusted their leaders, who lined them up down the first base line. Dickey puffed a cigar silently. Delgado squeezed a bat in his hands. Wright stepped forward to address the men.

“We’re gonna be dropped into Venezuela, dressed in camouflage. And once we’re in enemy territory, as a bushwhackin’, guerrilla army, we’re gonna do everything to find Josh Thole and take him home alive. And we’re gonna destroy anything in our path to do it. Now I don’t know about y’all, but I sure as hell did not train my ass off for months, master every form of hand-to-hand combat and get woken up in the middle of the night to teach our enemies a lesson in humanity. Kidnappers ain’t got no humanity. Phillies and got no humanity. Marlins ain’t got no humanity. Every son of a bitch in our path? They’re gonna die. We will be cruel to our enemies, and through our cruelty they will know who we are. We will rescue our teammate or die trying. Sound good?!”

The response was loud and passionate: “Yes, sir!”

                 Beltran entered “TAKA”, the quiet Flushing sushi restaurant, which had long closed for the night. Its proprietors, Hisanori and Ken Takahashi, had been up all night, reluctantly creating for their former teammate the fiercest blade they could. 

                “I need Japanese steel”, Beltran had said earlier that morning.

                “Why do you need Japanese steel?”, replied Hisa.

                “I have vermin to kill.”

                “You must have a big rat if you need Takahashi steel.”


                A delirious Ken greeted Beltran at the front of the restaurant. “I’m not bald, I shave my head”, he strangely said.

                Beltran was familiar with Ken’s wackiness but respected his sword-crafting ability. “Is it ready?”, he asked.

                “Yes. Hisa is in back, finishing up.”

                Beltran walked into the back room to find Hisa meditating over the sword. Quiet flute music played in the background. Hisa spoke, to himself at first, and then to Beltran.

                “I’ve completed doing, what I swore an oath to God years ago, to never do again. I have created, ‘something that kills people’. And in that purpose, I was a success. I’ve done this because philosophically, I am sympathetic to your aim. Love the Mets. I can tell you with no ego, this is my finest sword. If on your journey, you should encounter God… God will be cut. Mole-faced warrior – go.”

                Beltran need the finest steel to contend with Urbina’s weapon of choice and the Takahashi’s had provided it. He nodded, took the sword from Hisa’s hands and said nothing as he departed. The Takahashis embraced as Beltran left.

                Omar had been stewing all night in his office. The bottle of Wild Turkey was empty and he could no longer sit around and do nothing. He always had ants in his pants, jumping to terrible decisions without much thought. Oliver Perez. Frank Rodriguez. Jason Bay. Countless other mistakes. He dialed a familiar friend.
                “Alex, Omar here – did I, uh, wake you?”

                Alex Cora was on the line. “No, no don’t worry about it.” Omar had obviously woken him, it was before dawn. “What’s up? You sound disturbed.”

                “We’ve got a situation over here. Now, I know you’re not on payroll anymore but I need someone I can trust to lead a little mission for me. Are you in?”

                “Um, maybe, if you tell me what the fuck this is about.”

                “Right, right. Well Josh Thole was playing in the Venezuela League and he was kidnapped by Ugueth ---“


                “Yes, just listen. He was kidnapped by Ugueth. Carlos, David, Jose and the boys are headed down there in a few to get him back.”

                “Sounds like the boys have this one under control, but why am I needed.”

                “Well, they sorta shut me out of the whole mission. I want you and a few of my guys to be a backup plan in case things go wrong. Can you get to Citi soon? And round up the rest of the crew?”

                “Goodness Omar. I dunno about going to Venezuela but I’ll come to Citi if only because you don’t sound so good.”

                “Thanks bub. Don’t forget to bring Mike Jacobs.”

                On his way back to Citi, Beltran made one final call. It was to an old teammate who was coincidentally holing up in Venezuela for a bit. 

                “We haven’t spoken in awhile my friend. This I know. If you turn me away I will not hold a grudge“, Beltran said.

                Heavy breathing was the only sound on the other end of the call. Then words. “I would relish the opportunity to converse, Carlos. I am quite busy with my lucrative business down here. A dozen new players are asking for shipments of this stuff every day. But how may I be of service to you? I thought you swore off enhancement?”

                “Fernando, it sounds ridiculous, but how quickly can you build me a church?”, Beltran inquired of Tatis.

                “Not long, not long at all. I don’t even want to know what for. Where do you need it?”

                “In Venezuela, you don’t even have to leave the country. I can send you the exact location.”

                Tatis paused, now curious what this was all about. “Who are you after?”

                “Rescuing Thole. Ugueth has him. We'll need a place to hide out for a bit.”

                “Ugueth, eh. I know him well. Do you know why I help you, Carlos?”


                “Because he would want me to. He wants you. He wants to cut you up. Be ready.”

                “Gracias, mi amigo. Check your phone for more info about the project. See you soon.”

                Everything was coming together. The petty problems that had plagued the organization for years had not showed up. Maybe it’s because Omar wasn’t running the show, Beltran thought. Nevertheless, it was no time to celebrate. Beltran strode into Citi Field after his call to find the men prepping their gear. They all quieted at the site of their leader, waiting for his words. The way things had always gone, they expected to hear some bullshit about an unexpected snag in the operation. Instead, they got just the opposite.

                “Gentlemen”, Beltran said, “let’s load up!”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chapter One: Once Upon A Time In Omar-Occupied Flushing

“Omar.” No response. “Omar?” Still nothing. “Omar! Take out your damn earplugs!”, Mrs. Minaya screamed, ripping the $0.99 pieces of foam from her husband’s ears. “Your Blackberry has been blowing up for the last ten minutes. I think it’s Jeff.”

“Uhh, Francoeur?”
“God no. Wilpon.” 

The clock read 2:56 AM. Sleep is precious for a Major League Baseball General Manager, especially in the heart of the offseason. Omar handled his treasured Blackberry, confirming that Jeff Wilpon was indeed calling.

“Jeff, you drunk again? Why you—“

“Omar, just sh- sh- shut it. They’ve got him, just as we feared. Pretty sure he’s still alive. Get to Citi right n- n- now.”

Omar knew right away what Wilpon-the-younger was referencing. Johan Santana briefed Mets brass about dangerous Venezuela and advised against allowing players to play in its Winter League. Johan’s Powerpoint presentation was now flashing in Omar’s mind – the crime stats, the treacherously trending line graphs, the blurbs about political unrest. 

“Alright alright, Jeff I’m on my way”, Omar sighed.

The expression of annoyance left Mrs. Minaya’s face, as she sensed her beloved was distraught.

“What’s wrong Bubba?”, she asked.

“Messed it up. And now he’s missing. Josh Thole been kidnapped.”

He was in the batting cage when the call came in. Obsessive training populated his nights. And his days, for that matter. Not just baseball training – martial arts, weapons, explosives and anything else to prepare for a moment like this. In the morning, if he’s feeling particularly splendid, he’ll take swings in the cage with a 40 oz. bat. He can do 1000 now. Carlos Beltran knew he would receive the call at some point, and he wanted to be ready. “This is it”, he thought. “Don’t get scared now.”

Calls also went out to David Wright, Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey and Carlos Delgado. Wright, the infantry leader. Reyes, the hobbled but still valuable commander of Citi Mission Control, known as CMC. Dickey, commander of the flight squadron. And Delgado, the disgruntled veteran who had a falling out with Omar but remained a Wilpon favorite. The first three were on their way to CMC, while a message was left with the unpredictable Delgado. Beltran knew the fat-cats were already planning at Citi, but this wasn’t their show. Billionaires incapable of remaining billionaires can’t be trusted with a young man’s life. The same goes for anyone handing out $36 million to Oliver Perez.

Thoughts raced through Beltran’s mind. He mentally checked off a laundry list of things to do as he sped to Citi. Contact Hisanori and Ken Takahashi about a special request for the mission – done, although the Taks seemed uneasy. Download Venezuela maps to his PDA – done. Get in touch with his protégé, Angel Pagan – check. Pagan was in charge of rounding up the rest of the men. Unbeknownst to the masses, most of the Mets hung around the New York area during the winter. The camaraderie fostered by the Beltran-led exercises was enough to keep them up north during the cold. Blasting M-16 rifles and launching grenades kept their interest too.

The men were well-trained. And their drilling would, unfortunately, be put to good use.

                CMC is located five stories below center field, resembling a NASA control room but much smaller and darker. It is extravagant, boasting state-of-the-art technology and many unnecessary amenities. Systems to support a Mets navy were installed, costing in the dozens of millions. The spendthrift Wilpons invested in CMC before Citi Field was built, at the height of their Madoff windfall. Fred Wilpon figured he had as much money as some governments, so why shouldn’t he have his own defense system? The superfluous nature of a Mets military and intelligence service is obvious to any impartial observer. But at the moment it appeared that the Wilpons’ folly would prove useful. Poor process, strong results is the verdict.

“Jeff, this better be for real. Saul and I were having the most glorious sleep and it’s cold outside and I don’t have time for any tomfoolery!”, Fred Wilpon yelped as he entered CMC. 

                “It’s very real, dad. We received the picture of Thole tied up in some Venezuelan shithole from an anonymous e-mailer.” Jeff showed his dad the picture of a bloody Thole, bound and gagged on a chair. “Our systems were able to tr- tr- trace the IP address of the e-mail, meaning we’re dealing with novices and we know the general location where he’s being stashed. They want a ton of cash, which we obviously don’t have. Plus we don’t negotiate with terrorists and have all this kickass equipment to blow stuff up. We’ve already got r- r- rescue plans in motion.” Jeff caught his stutter then continued. “Omar and Jerry have been working for a solid half hour and they think Mejia should lead a small squad of our young guys on a rescue mission. Maybe Familia, Puello and Flores too. You know, the, the Spanish, uhhh Spanish-speaking guys. They’re young and energetic and ultimately expendable. If the worst happens then, then, uhh, ultimately the team won’t be hurt too much. We can’t afford to lose our veterans.”

                “Well then, I guess it’s for real. You do an excellent job, son. Everybody knows that!” Fred had been saying that for years, but meant it less and less of late. “Omar, Jerry – tell me more.”

                Omar quickly swallowed the Fritos he was chewing and began. “Uhh, well yes, we think some of the prospects can pull a quick in-and-out extraction. None of them are close by so it will take some time to assemble everyone. Jerry, what else you got?”

                As Omar spoke, Fred detected movement in the corner of the dark room. It was early and he was still a tad delirious, so he thought nothing of it.

                Manuel spoke. “Well yeah, me and Omar, we came up with this plan—“

                “Me and Jerry, we like our plan”, Omar interjected uneasily.

                Manuel continued. “Umm yeah, and we’re thinking a team of four young’ns. They’re going after another young guy. We need to find a way to rescue the catcher kid Thole from that country in such a way. It’s all about—“

                A loud, constant scratching sound engulfed the room. The Wilpons, Omar and Manuel turned to see a hulking figure sitting in the darkness, dragging a key down one of the metal computer cases against the wall. The scratching lasted a good 30 seconds. Delgado spoke as he chewed on sunflower seeds.

                “You all know me. Know what I’m about. I’ll lead the crew to rescue Thole. Me and Beltran and some others, we’ll do it. This is a bad country we’re talking about. This isn’t Mexico or Dominican Republic. This is a country that can swallow a man whole. A little shakin’, a little tenderizin’ and down ya go. Gotta rescue the kid and gotta do it quick. And gonna do it without any of your help. Step aside and let the adults handle this.”

                “That’s poor, Carlos. That’s poor”, said the smug Mets manager.

                The thus far calm Delgado erupted. “Fuck you Manuel! Get the hell out of here before I send that psycho Chris Carter after you! When he’s through with you, ohhh boy you gonna need a new haircut!”

                Manuel had heard enough – he obeyed Delgado’s order, silently terrified of the aging slugger. The two had crossed paths on numerous occasions. The forthright Delgado wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and it often resulted in tiffs with players, coaches and sportswriters. As Manuel exited, Beltran, Wright, Dickey and Reyes entered. Reyes was still recovering from a procedure on his right hamstring, so he ambled to his captain’s chair and sat. If there’s anything he enjoys more than baseball, it’s a good sit.

                “I caught the tail end of that,” uttered Beltran. “They’re all having a laugh if they think this is their campaign.” 

                Omar and Jeff stalked over to the group of players, enraged. A brief and heated discussion broke out, with some wild shouting and gesticulating. An exasperated Fred finally broke it up. He’d grown tired of the Mets’ organizational disfunction, while recognizing that he was a big part of the problem. His friend, Bud Selig, had long been pushing for a change in leadership but the Omar-loyal Wilpons had resisted. Fred decided that now was as good a time as any to set the change in motion.

                “Omar, Jeff – stand down”, Fred lamented. “Let the boys runs this one. Omar, focus on baseball for now. The Carlos’s are master tacticians and you know how hard the group has been training of late. Jeff, go home and do whatever it is you do. Sit this one out.”

                Fred had the respect of both Omar and Jeff, and both quietly left CMC, apparently exiting stage left for good. Jeff went home; Omar retreated to his office and a bottle of Wild Turkey.

                Fred turned to his pleased charges and addressed them. “The last hour or so has been one of the hardest of my life. How does one weigh human life? One young catcher vs. the brave men who go to rescue him. And in the middle, managing relationships with my son and GM. This is one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make. Give ‘em hell boys. All resources are at your disposal. Whatever you need, you’ve got. Rescue mission approved.” Fred left in silence, much like Jerry, Omar and Jeff. Beltran and co. were going forward with a rescue mission regardless of owner approval, but it was still somewhat inspiring to hear the old man’s words. Fred cried alone for a bit in Mets’ dugout then headed home to Saul Katz.

                “It’s nice to see you, friend”, said Beltran to Delgado. “Didn’t think you’d show”.

                Delgado flashed Beltran a Cheshire cat grin, then urged everyone to get down to business. The two would be co-leaders of the mission. Wright was next in command, should anything befall Dos Carlos. 

                “Alright all, status updates!”, shouted the confident Beltran.

                The buff but low-talking Wright listed all the Mets/soldiers he’d contacted, noting that all but three committed to the operation. “Jason Bay said that he’s a neutral Canadian and won’t participate in war. I thought that was Switzerland? He trained with us for personal fitness, not to go searching around South America. Either way he’s a Canadian jabroni and would probably hurt the mission anyway. Luis Castillo doesn’t like blood, but is happy to help out at CMC.” Reyes nodded in approval. “And Ollie Perez was unreachable, but his voicemail message said ‘leave me alone until spring training’. He only showed to a couple combat training sessions anyways and he’s a ball of flab. No big loss. All should be here by dawn, say 0600 hours. I’ll brief them then. What you got R.A.?”

                The sullen Dickey stroked his beard. Though only a Met for a brief time, the philosopher/knucklerballer gained the respect of all his teammates. He had been training a crew of five other Mets to fly combat missions in the F-16’s the Wilpons picked up from the debt-ridden U.S. government. “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. A man’s errors are his portals of discovery, is what I preach to my squadron. Genius is born, not paid. In dogfight training, no matter the outcome, I always act like I meant to do it.” He paused, sipping from a rocks glass full of a thirty-three year old single malt whiskey from the Scottish highlands that appeared without anyone noticing. “I must say… damn good stuff. We’re ready, ready as ever. Missiles at dawn.” 

                Reyes chimed in his piece. “I contacted Johan, he’s down in Venezuela. Frankie was with him but Johan lost contact with him about a week ago. Said he was acting even more erratic than usual. Johan is assuming Frankie is a no-go for the mission.” Beltran breathed a sigh of relief. He never trusted the enigmatic closer/psychopath. Reyes’s phone rang. Juan Urbina was on the other line. Urbina was too young for the mission but all players in the organization were alerted to the situation. 

                “Jose, it’s Juan. I’ll get right to it – I think I know who has Thole.” 

                Urbina paused, expecting a response. After a few seconds of pointless silence, he continued. “It’s my dad, Ugueth. He’s fucking nuts and I just know he kidnapped him. I’ve been trying to contact him since I heard the news. He – hold on, he’s calling me on the other line! I’m gonna patch him in. Dad, what’s the deal?”

                Heavy breathing was the only sound on the other line. The Mets waited until the pitcher turned machete enthusiast responded. “Juan…. I know where you are, I know who you with. And I don’t feel betrayed, cause someone needs to sign your checks. But to the assholes listening in, yeah, I’ve got him. The little whiteboy ain’t so tough. Got him tied up in a gutter right now, not planning to let him see Estados Unidos again.”

                Delgado replied. “What do you want? How can we get him back? Why are you doing this?”

                Ugueth continued to speak like a man deranged. “You can’t get him back. He’ll breathe for a few more days as I bring the pain, then he’ll be suicided.” He paused. “And why? Well, some men just want to watch the Mets burn.”

                Juan was in tears at this point, as it became evident that Ugueth was inviting a Mets rescue mission. He would be ready, no doubt. Such a mission would mean casualties, all to save one teammate. But this was a tightknit group. They were committed.

                No one really knew how to respond. They had a rough idea where Thole was located; Ugueth was likely aware of this. But he was unaware of the extent of the Mets’ military training. He figured a bunch of wannabe G.I. Joe’s would head to South America for the slaughter. Beltran decided one final warning was in order.

                “I have a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let Thole go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

                The inspiring nature of Beltran’s words was evident on the faces of Wright and Reyes. Dickey and Delgado remained passive as they awaited Ugueth’s response.

                “Good luck.”