Hot Stove Fiction — Chapter One

An experiment.

Chapter One: Odd Man Out

It had been a long week for Alex Anthopoulos, the 35-year-old general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and native Canadian, accustomed to cold winters and french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Not only had Alex pulled off a mega-trade with the Miami Marlins, turning offensive eye-black wearer Yunel Escobar, strikeout-shy Henderson Alvarez, decent relief pitcher Jeff Mathis, and four prospects into a potential superstar core of the next championship Blue Jays team, but he’d also begun to feel, well, “a little strange,” or at least that’s how he put it to his wife, Cristina, over a plate of her homemade caribou stew drowned in maple syrup.

But it was more than that. Alex had always been a persuasive guy, able to convince other general managers of the hidden benefits of what initially seemed like absurdly one-sided trade offers. He’d even been able to deal Vernon Wells, who had grown to be the most overpaid Canadian since Air Canada CEO Calvin Rovinescu. But dealing with the Marlins, Alex felt almost superhuman, like he had acquired some sort of mind control powers. Not only did he get Larry Beinfest to agree to the blockbuster deal, but Beinfest even volunteered to send Alex a gift basket filled with twenty-five pounds of genuine Florida citrus. And if there was one thing Alex hated about life in Canada, it was the lack of quality fresh citrus.

It wasn’t just the bounty of oranges that made Alex wonder if something more was going on. Lately, things were becoming far too easy for him. Not the kinds of things he’d always found easy- strategy, player analysis, and converting Fahrenheit temperatures into Celsius- but silly little everyday chores, like shaving his face or brushing his teeth. It was almost as if the toothbrush had started coming toward his hand, like magic. And, just the other day, he could have sworn he saw his snow shovel cleaning the sidewalk outside his house, under its own power, when last he’d touched it, it was locked in the garage. At first he thought he was just sleep-deprived, but deep down he was worried it was more than that. He tried to take his mind off of it, by treating himself to a piece of cloudberry pie, but he just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was fun. For someone as versed in statistics and data as Alex, it was hard to believe in the supernatural… but, for the first time in his life, he felt something circling around him that he was simply unable to explain.

Alex sat in his office at the Rogers Centre, staring at the stuffed seal Cristina had bought him for their anniversary, trying to move it with his mind. Or, more accurately, hoping he couldn’t. He wanted to put an end to these silly thoughts of superpowers. He was still just regular Alex- well, not so regular, since how many Canadian kids get to live out their childhood dreams, especially in an economy wilted by the lack of ambition that a nationalized health care system tends to impart? But, still, his life was pretty regular in terms of the laws of physics. Suddenly, he heard a knock at the door.

“Mr. A?” said the young man in the doorway. It was the unmistakable voice of pitcher Joel Carreno. Alex had summoned him with an e-mail earlier in the day. Carreno had been one of Alex’s favorites ever since he had urged the team to draft him, back when Alex was still an assistant general manager and sold Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches to make ends meet in the offseason. Carreno had put up some impressive numbers in the minors- and in a 15-inning stint for the Jays in 2011- but this past season, the wheels seemed to be coming off. Far too many walks, an ERA of almost 9 in Las Vegas, and an astonishing 7 homers allowed in 22 innings in the majors. Alex hadn’t given up on him- he rarely gave up on anything, except perhaps ever finding a commercially-packaged salmon jerky as tasty as what his mother used to dry at home when Alex was a child- but the blockbuster deal with the Marlins had created a roster crunch, and a few hours earlier, he’d made the tough decision to designate Carreno for assignment, and clear a spot for one of the new acquisitions.

“Come on in, Joel,” Alex said, softly. “And shut the door. It’s winter, and there’s a terrible Arctic breeze.” Ordinarily, Alex wouldn’t call a player to his office just to tell him about a procedural move, especially in the offseason, but he knew Carreno was in town, and he knew he’d feel bad if Joel heard the news on the CBC without finding out first from the source. These conversations were never easy, but they were part of the job. Alex could almost recite the script from memory.

“Odd man out?” Carreno interrupted, rising from his chair. “You told me I was part of the future of this organization.” Alex tried to calm him down, and even offered him an orange from his fruit basket, but Carreno was quickly becoming inconsolable.

And that’s when it happened.

Just as Carreno raised his fist, ready to punch Alex in the jaw, like this was hockey rather than baseball, from out of nowhere, a force (there was no other word to describe it) seemed to materialize from nowhere and push Carreno’s hand to the side, knocking him to the ice-covered floor.

Joel and Alex looked at each other, neither able to fully process what had happened.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Carreno said, stunned, and, as fast as his legs could move him, he ran from the office and headed to the nearest Tim Hortons for a cup of coffee and his favorite doughnut.

And Alex began browsing for a book, or perhaps a Region 1 DVD, that might be able to explain what was happening to him.

To be continued…

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Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer, a satirical novel that should make people who didn't go to law school feel good about their life choices. Read more at McSweeney's or elsewhere. He likes e-mail.

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Mr. Observant
Mr. Observant
3 years 10 months ago

If Doug Gilmour, Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemens and BJ Birdy aren’t in the next chapter I want my digital download purchase refunded immediately. Also, one small criticism: as a Canadian with a nearly finished PhD in mathematics I am confident in telling you that NO-ONE in this country can easily switch degrees Fahrenheit to their Celsius equivalent. No-one.

Aside from this, a wonderful read. A dragon or ninjas might also be welcome additions, as they are to any work of fiction.