A WAITER, eager to please
It is like any other exclusive back-room establishment, only significantly richer, and it caters to the peculiar and conspicuous opulence of its sporting crowd. Around the tables—one for each team, except for the Marlins, who've sold Hanley Ramirez's seat to the Yankees (I'm told it's where Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter throw their coats)—sit baseball's elite. Around baseball's elite—imagine a country club, a very rich country club, and now imagine a sports bar, a very rich one, and you're close. Plasma and LCD TVs are mounted right next to each other, at every angle, so that the ten-millionaires' individual preferences for black levels and contrast ratio may be respected.
Membership is granted immediately when one signs a long-term, post-arbitration contract with a year at $10 million or above, but it is still considered good form to be sponsored by a member in good standing. ALBERT PUJOLS has just presented MATT HOLLIDAY, recently granted admission into the club, to CHRIS CARPENTER and SOMEONE ELSE.
WAITER [removing items from a tray]: Now, we have the filet—
CARPENTER: Mine, thanks.
WAITER: —and I believe Sir had the lobster—
PUJOLS: Thangs, mang.
WAITER: —and the mcnuggets.
LOHSE [pointing, thumbs outstretched, to himself]: That's this guy.
HOLLIDAY [nervous]: I'll just have a water, thanks.
WAITER: Of course.
PUJOLS: So Matt, you know 'e guys in 'e club.
CARPENTER: Hey, congratulations, man. [they shake hands.]
PUJOLS: You godda waj out for this guy, mang. They call him 'e luggage. Begause he'll hit you, with luggage.
HOLLIDAY: Well. I'm sure we'll be fine.
CARPENTER: Definitely! It's really just a fun thing for the fans; Ryan actually got his black eye here, on a guest pass. We were all taking the stairs up to the observatory and he just tripped.
PUJOLS: 'E tripped real bad, mang. So this is 'e Ten-Millionaire's Club. It's got everything you could ever waung—'e grea food, ang 'e bar, ang 'e history, you wouldn't believe it.
CARPENTER: You're sitting right now in the spot where Mark McGwire decided to retire—and the spot where he decided to unretire. I guess we can tell you that now that you're a member.
PUJOLS: Ang by Hangley's spot is where the bouncer wouldn't stop carding Carl Pavango.
LOHSE: That table over there is where Darren Dreifort challenged anybody who could hear him and didn't like it to a fight. Long story short, now we only have plastic knives. Finger food, man—[he holds up a mcnugget]—don't listen to these other guys.
CARPENTER: So really, just look around. It's a blast. Now—I'm going to get a drink.
PUJOLS: Weren'g you jus talking about that, Gyle?
LOHSE: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I'm out of orange soda. I'll join you.
[CARPENTER and LOHSE leave their seats, and no more than a second passes before PUJOLS, with all his usual catlike grace, gets closer to HOLLIDAY. PUJOLS is still seated in his chair, but just barely—he stares at the junior member with an unnerving expression on his face.]
PUJOLS [his voice straining above a whisper.]: Hey. Look, friend.
HOLLIDAY: Whoa—whoa, what?
PUJOLS: Look. I think we're going to be wonderful together, I really do. But we need to set some ground rules.
HOLLIDAY: How are you... what?
PUJOLS: Rule one: you stay in shape for seven years. No, no—you stay in shape for seven years and you play well enough to trip that vesting option, and then you stay in shape for eight years. I've seen the ZiPS projections, and that's not going to cut it. A 118 OPS+ in year seven? That—
HOLLIDAY: Oh my...
PUJOLS: —that is unacceptable. When that happens people often find they trip taking the stairs up to the observatory. Rule two: you must realize that by not giving the Cardinals the old hometown discount you've prevented us from paying market value for average parts like Kyle, over there.
HOLLIDAY: Look, man, anything.
PUJOLS: So five wins above replacement—that's great. Four? That's fine, too. But any less than that and the stress you're putting on our internal mechanisms to produce replacements for our Schumakers, our Franklins, our Ludwicks, would simply be too great. The team would be starved for wins it could otherwise buy on the market. This... would be disastrous.
PUJOLS: So... there's time, of course. Just think it over. With these contracts there's a certain responsibility, and for shirking responsibility there are, it is to be expected, certain consequences. Ah, our friends are coming back.
LOHSE: Albert, Albert! They put an orange slice on my Orange Slice! This is the best club ever.
PUJOLS: thas' gread, mang! It looks lige a gread dring.
HOLLIDAY: I don't—
CARPENTER: Matt, if you want to see something really cool you should bring the family around for fireworks night. We set out beach towels and cook up some hot dogs and just ring in Independence Day. My wife makes those dirt cups, you know, with the chocolate ice cream and the gummy worms? And the kids love it. It really is a delight.
LOHSE: The dirt cups are awesome.
[Enter the YANKEES CONTINGENT. ALEX RODRIGUEZ, C.C. SABATHIA, MARK TEIXEIRA, DEREK JETER, A.J. BURNETT, MARIANO RIVERA, JORGE POSADA, ANDY PETTITTE, ROBINSON CANO, and CURTIS GRANDERSON pull up on matching Segways. RODRIGUEZ begins snapping his fingers menacingly. When you're a member of the YANKEES CONTINGENT, it is said, you are a YANKEES CONTINGENT all the way.]
RODRIGUEZ: Hey, guys, is that a table of well-paid baseball players I see? Or is it just the wind?
BURNETT: Looks too small to be a table of well-paid baseball players to me.
CANO: These mid-market teams sign a few big free agents and they think they own the place. We'll see what happens when the rest of their league average starters want $10 million contracts.
LOHSE: Uncalled for.
CANO: Maybe now. But come 2012 it'll be curtains for you guys unless your proles come through in a big way.
CARPENTER [standing up]: Look... what do you guys want?
RODRIGUEZ: Nothing, man. Unless there's something you're after...
PUJOLS: Hey, now calng down, guys.
SABATHIA: Whoa, whoa—this is a friendly visit. You and A-Rod have read the compact and you both know that war can't be declared in the Ten-Millionaires Club without a formal vote. We're just welcoming the new member!
JETER: Yeah, this is a diplomatic mission. Matt—we're going to go race our thoroughbreds around the grounds, wanna join in?
HOLLIDAY: Wow, that sounds like fun! Count me in!
SABATHIA: Awesome! You can borrow Pavano's, he hasn't used it since he tore his hamstring saddling up.
RODRIGUEZ: Nice to meet you, Matt Holliday... I'll see you at the stables in fifteen. Alright—contingent out.
[Exit THE YANKEES CONTINGENT.]
HOLLIDAY: I can't believe it... it's like I really do belong.
CARPENTER: Hey, Kyle, look at that—PTI is on, maybe they'll talk about you! No, over there, over your shoulder— [they both turn away.]
[HOLLIDAY gets up to leave but realizes, as he suddenly runs out of slack, that PUJOLS has his dinner jacket firmly by the sleeve.]
PUJOLS [his voice again seeming to leave the bounds of a normal whisper]: Matt... remember our talk. Riding a horse is dangerous, and the Yankees Contingent can't be trusted. We, you and I—we must stick together. The Roster Matrix can't remain in balance if you aren't performing at a high level. Remember the consequences of not performing at a high level. [His hand snaps away as CARPENTER and LOHSE turn around, but inertia and fear leave Matt stiff as the Stan Musial statue, halfway between sitting and standing at the Cardinals' table.]
CARPENTER: Well, maybe next time, Kyle.
LOHSE: No mention again. I swear, it's like nobody even knows I'm a ten-millionaire. You ever get that feeling, Matt?
HOLLIDAY: I, uh—it's getting late. I'll probably just head home and work out. Do some extra reps.
CARPENTER: That sounds like a great idea. I think I'll do the same.
PUJOLS: Yeah, wongerful. I thing I'll leave too. Matt, mang—eighg years is a long tineg. I'ng glad we'll be spenging it together.
[CARPENTER and PUJOLS leave together.]
Some time passes. MATT HOLLIDAY sits in his chair, too deep in thought to shiver, let alone leave. KYLE LOHSE picks at his mcnuggets. Finally, just as HOLLIDAY has begun to collect himself, LOHSE snaps to attention, as if he's suddenly remembered something vitally important. HOLLIDAY doesn't notice it at first, but.
LOHSE: Matt! Look over here!
HOLLIDAY [leaping out of his chair]: Oh, god! The reps, I'm—I'm—
LOHSE: Look at what I got in my Happy Meal—he's a Transformer! "Oh, I'm a box of french fries OH NO now I'm optimus prime!!" Isn't this place awesome? It's the best.
This afternoon: the Viva El Birdos Hall of Fame results. Wait with baited breath as I attempt to manipulate my Google Docs spreadsheet.