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a thanksgiving to remember

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scene: the dining room in the modest st. louis area home of mike matheny's in-laws, ron and donna*

*not their real names**

**unless, by chance, they are. 

mike matheny stands at the head of the dining room table. on his right sit (starting with those closest to him) adam wainwright, chris carpenter, yadier molina, and albert pujols. on his left, sit david freese, lance berkman, and matt holliday. at the foot of the table sits john mozeliak. the table bears an enormous thanksgiving spread. the players and mozeliak look expectantly at matheny as he speaks.

matheny: i want to thank you all for coming to join us. and i want to thank my wife's parents, ron and donna*(**) for having us all over for thanksgiving. i know it's not easy to forgo thanksgiving with your families, so it is a special gift to have you all with us. but it's so important to me that we be close like a family as we start our new season together. that's why i wanted to get the guys who tony always regarded as his "core" together, as well as some guys (gesturing at freese and berkman) who i think are going to be an important part of the core going forward. and i . . . 

pujols: (stands up awkwardly) i just want to say thank you for inviting me, mike. i'm here because i have a lot of good friends here ( nodding at yadier) and because you and i played together, mike, and i have nothing but respect for you, mang. but i gotta say, until my contract situation is resolved, that's all i can be here for. i can't tell you i'm gonna be a cardinal, you know, because there's 29 other teams that want me. and i don't know where that process is going to end. (looks expectantly at mozeliak, who shifts in his seat) so, i really gotta have somebody pick up the phone and talk to my agent before people start assuming i'm on the team next year. (sits down)

matheny: . . . and thank you for saying that albert. we all understand the contract situation and we all know it will bew resolved soon.

mozeliak: well, not too soon. i mean, unless somebody's agent has to hurry up and get a deal so he can pay all his debts.

pujols: oh, mang, that's nothing but lies from a bunch of lowlifes on the internet got nothing better to do than make up stuff about guys in the business of baseball.

matheny: yes, and i don't want the contract situation to get in the way of . . . 

mozeliak: (looking at albert) i don't know. if i were going to have a man negotiate a nine-figure contract for me, i'd want his reputation to be spotless. maybe you should lose the agent and talk directly to us, huh?

pujols: whatever, mang. you got something to say, say it to lozano.

matheny: (taken aback, waits for a few seconds with his mouth open. recovers.)  okay, like i was saying, the  focus here will be on next year. and albert, i think you're likely to be here, but i respect your position. i do want to talk about how the club will work and how i am going to rely on the core for leadership. now, the first part of that leadership is not being proud. while i've singled you out, i can't let the added responsibilities on you make you treat other teammates differently. that's why i'm asking you to be discreet, and not discuss with your teammates who is in the "core" and who is not. it will only lead to hurt feelings.

freese: what do you mean, discreet?

matheny: i mean that i can trust you to keep a secret.

freese: (hastily tucking a smart phone in his pocket; sotto voce) oops.

matheny: so, the first part of leadership i would like to see from the core is leadership in conditioning. everybody should let their bodies rest from the season, but by december 26th i want everybody focused on training, getting weight under control, making yourself ready for . . . . 

molina: (looking at his phone) oh, dang. that ain't right.

matheny: everything ok, yadi?

molina: yeah, i just got a text from jaime.

pujols (looking at phone over molina's shoulder): i don't care who asks, i am not translating that.

molina: i think he's a little mad about being left out.

pujols (to molina): y con un caballo! (both laugh)

matheny: okay, well, there goes part one. seems like someone here has a big twitter mouth. (glares at freese, who avert his gaze)

a knock is heard at the door. a few seconds later, roger enters and speaks to matheny.

roger*(**): i thought you said just seven were coming.


matheny: i did.

roger: well, there's another guy here, says he was invited.

skip schumaker enters.

skip: it's okay, man. i'll just come join my boys. i can pull up a chair for myself. (skip moves towards the group, and drags a nearby chair to the table in between berkman and holliday.) right here, with berkman on my left and holliday on my right! better get used to that feeling, right guys! (he laughs too loudly, holliday and berkman say nothing but look uncomfortable). yup, gonna be spending a lot of time in center field. man, i'm so excited to be back with the core. 12 in '12, guys! wooo!

matheny: (loudly, as if to talk over skip) and that means i want all of you to report a few days earlier than required, to show the other guys that showing up fit and ready to play is the way to do business.

mozeliak: (to pujols) i heard a funny statistic on the radio yesterday. did you know that 210 million americans will eat nine pounds of turkey each, in a year? think about that, 210 million, and nine. those numbers sound . . . real interesting together, don't they.

pujols: mang, that doesn't even make any sense.

mozeliak: or maybe it was 215 million.

pujols: just stop, mang.

mozeliak: 220 million.

skip: hey, mike, thanks for having us all over. this food looks delicious. i wonder if i could have a plate. (turns to mozeliak) hey, jonny! what's up? hey, my agent's been trying to call you, but i think your secretary's not getting thos messages to you. let's sit down, soon, okay? you don't want to let a core guy slip out of your fingers, right? 

mozeliak: (chuckling awkwardly) yeah, you see, skip we're still talking about . . . what to do in your case. you should hear from us soon.

doorbell rings. kyle lohse enters, followed by a somewhat angry roger. matheny waves off roger.

lohse: (drags a chair up to sit next to albert and yadi) oh, here's where you guys were meeting. don't worry about me, you can start, mike.

matheny (getting frazzled): all right, where were we? conditioning . .  leadership . . . spring training. oh, yes. so when you get to spring training, there will be a new, tougher exercise regimen, for everybody.

lohse: hey, albert, i saw a picture of your agent, dan on the internet. he was licking a fuzzy snowcone! he is so silly! i would never do that. he should have just gotten a new one! 

molina leans in, whispering to lohse.

lohse: (looking confused) why would anyone do that?

molina leans in again, whispering.

lohse: (conspiratorial) ohhhhhhh! i see.

matheny: (gives up) well, guys, why don't we just give thanks for what we have. now, lets all eat up!

stifled snickers are heard around the table.