Peanutball, The End. Apachylypse Now

Darkness. Bats on balls.

Crack. Crack. Crack.

Fade to slabs of sunwashed gray concrete. Crack. Crack. Stadium plaza: Ticket Services…Staff Entrance…Will Call…Crack. Curls of hot dog steam. Crack.

Massive concussions. Crack. Flames consume the crumbing park. Crack. Crack. Crack. Music:

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end.
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end…

Oakland. Shit. I’m still only in Oakland. Every time I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle. A gas station opening, or a whiny brat’s birthday party. When I was home after my last tour I hardly said a word to my booker until I said yes when she quit. I’m here a week now. I’m waiting for a mission, getting softer. And every minute Arte squats in the bush, he gets stronger.

I woke in a third deck camera shack strewn with parking lot bounty: all the backwash I could beat the recyclers to, and a hundred stepped-out butts salvaged for one last drag. My eyelids broke the crust of pus and tears and blinked in the new day; I blearily scanned the room for something to fend off the shakes. The dregs of the pruno bowl, a little hair of the dog. Literally…I made it with flea treatment samples left from the Dog Day game.

Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission…and when it was over, I’d never want another one.

"Captain Stomper, sir? Are you in there? We have orders to escort you downtown."

I was going to the worst place in the world, and I didn’t even know it yet. Days away and dozens of miles down a Bay that snaked through the war like a main circuit cable and plugged straight into Beane. It was no accident that I got to be the caretaker of Colonel William Lamar Beane’s memory. There is no way to tell his story without telling my own. And if his story is really a confession, then so is mine.

Sergeant McCarver dragged me to my feet. "Joe, give me a hand here. Come on Captain, let’s get you cleaned up. " A trip to the grounds shed got me a garden hose shower, a mower blade shave, and resin bag for the chafing. Soon after I was in the back seat of a civilian Plymouth Reliant, the sergeant at my side, door locks retracted, heading up 880 in the slow lane. Broadway, 10th Street, then parked at the loading ramp of the Oakland Marriott. "This way Captain Stomper." McCarver led me through the bowels of downtown Oakland’s finest hotel, up the service elevator, and to a suite on the top floor.

They were expecting me. More than I could say. Colonel Bob Watson stood just inside the door. Behind him was General Allan "Bud" Selig, CINC NoAmBall. He sat uncomfortably, unsmiling, million dollar stars on his collar, a 10 dollar haircut on his head. No tip. He had sworn never to set foot in Oakland again.

Watson started. "Come on in, at ease. Want a cigarette?"

"Yes, sir, thank you." I leaned in for a light. His Zippo said 1981 ALCS. Burn.

"You’ve worked a lot on your own, haven’t you?"

"Yes sir, I have."

"Your file shows a mission to Pac Bell Park in 2006."

"I’m not presently disposed to discuss that operation, sir."

"Did you not investigate the A’s medical staff later that year?"

"Sir, I am unaware of any such operation, nor would I be disposed to discuss such an operation if it did in fact exist, sir."

Selig spoke. "Bob, play the tape for Captain Stomper." Watson flipped the toggle on a reel-to-reel rig which was old back when Selig sold car undercoating to Milwaukee’s stupidest. The voice on the tape was Billy Beane’s:

"I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream. That’s my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor, and surviving…"

Another transmission: "We must cut them all. We must designate them. Rook after rook, vet after vet, draft class after draft class. And they call me cold-hearted. They lie. Those nabobs. How I hate them."

General Selig stood. "Colonel Billy Beane was one of the most outstanding front office men this league has ever produced. He was brilliant, and a good man too. Well along the road to joining the inner circle. But now, his ideas, his methods have become…unsound." Selig must have thought I looked skeptical. Actually I was trying to sidle my chair close to the minibar. "Colonel Beane has been operating outside the bounds of convention and basic front office decency. Over-slot signing bonuses. Latin American free agents. Spooning chum upon the major league roster."

I thought I understood: "And you worry this shows disdain for the fans?"

"Fuck the fans. Beane is showing a gross lack of respect his place in this league. What is General Ilitch to think, or General Wilpon, or Kaiser Reinsdorf? These men are established leaders, and Colonel Beane is out of line. Unsound."

Watson took up the company line. "Beane’s crossed into the South Bay with his Sabrgnard army, who worship the man like a god. And I have some more shocking news to tell you, Stomper. Colonel Beane was about to be arrested for tampering. For signing Michael Inoa before his betters had had their chance."

Selig wanted to finish this. "You see Stomper…in this business, things get confused out there, power, ideals, the old morality, and practical competitive necessity. Out there with those blind loyalists it must be a temptation to be a god. Because there’s a conflict in every GM’s heart between the sentimental and the ruthless, between good and evil. The good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Veeck called being a good loser. Every man has got a breaking point. You and I have. Billy Beane has reached his. And very obviously, he has gone insane."

Selig needed to hear me say it. "Yes sir, very much so sir. Obviously insane."

Watson laid it out. "You will proceed down the Bay with a Marabito Patrol Craft. Pick up Colonel Beane’s path in Fremont. Follow it. Find him, infiltrate his team by whatever means available, and terminate the colonel’s command."

This wasn’t registering. "Terminate? Colonel Beane?" It seemed surreal. Selig’s voice rose. "He’s out there operating totally beyond the pale of any acceptable GM conduct. And he’s still in the field signing prospects!"

Selig drew himself up to the full height the twisted bastard could reach. "Terminate with extreme prejudice."

Back in the Plymouth, the private drove down Broadway with Sgt. McCarver again flanking me in the rear seat, as though I might bail out at any moment. Tampering? Shit, charging a GM for tampering in this world was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. But I took the mission. What the hell else was I gonna do?

At the end of Broadway we headed left. McCarver said nothing. The silence became him. Down the Embarcadero, past discount retail, bad food, and parking lots, desperately for an anchor attraction, some kind of draw, which Oakland never could manage to deliver. A village or something. We approached the marina area I knew well…people forget that bait is food too. And like the whalers of London’s day, I knew to follow the seagulls to find meat.

We parked and entered Quinn’s Lighthouse. With a nod to the surly, muscled hostess (note to the intrepid: she’s unamused by the old sneak-the-trunk-onto-the-beer-tap gag), the sergeant led me straight through the dining room, kitchen, and out the back door to a small dock on the estuary. To my new ride: a Navy PBR, a small cheap patrol boat, which would ferry me down the Bay. The boat slept three…we were five on board.

The crew was mostly just kids, dumb ballplayers with one foot in their graves. The machinest, the one they called Ziggy, was from Kansas. He was wrapped too tight for the Bay…probably wrapped too tight for Kansas. Kirk on the forward guns was a famous golfer from the Long Beach. You look at him and you wouldn’t believe he ever threw a real fastball in his life. Craft, the guy called Patrol Craft, was from some South American shithole. Light and space of the Bay had really put the zap on his head. Then there was Thomas, the Big Chief. It might have been my mission, but it sure as shit was the Chief’s boat. His massive brow furrowed as he looked between my orders and the maps in his hands.

"There are about two places in the Bay where we can draw enough water to get into the South Bay. They’re both hot, belong to Arte." I told him not to worry about it. Didn’t help. This wasn’t his first trip south. "About six months ago I took a man down past the bridge at Dumbarton. He was regular Army too. Heard he shot himself in the head."

We headed downbay slowly, hugging the coast. The air dripped with the fetid sweetness of wetland decay; clouds of gnats swarmed our heads like sportswriters to free food. Hot jungle slowness. With Beane. At first I thought they’d handed me the wrong dossier. I couldn’t believe they wanted this man dead. First round draft pick, can’t miss skills, good face. World Series rings in Minnesota and Oakland. Then not just into the front office, where so many ex-jocks foundered, but straight up the ladder. Assistant GM. GM. Part owner. He was being groomed for one of the top spots in the corporation. Until he went too far.

A shout from Kirk brought me back. "Balloons off the port bow, ten o’clock!" A half mile off Alameda and closing, slowly, were six rainbow-striped hot air balloons in tight formation. It was Air MKT, First Squadron, Ninth Regiment out of Oakland, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Crowley commanding. First of the Ninth was an old cavalry division that had cashed in its horses for hot-air balloons, and gone wafting around the Bay, looking for the shit. They’d given Arte a few surprises down here. Crowley’s balloons were supposed to have met us five clicks further south, but Air Marketing, well, those boys just couldn’t stay put. We came ashore to meet them.

They had landed on the beach across from Alameda’s finest retirement home, well-appointed luxury by the Bay for those who could afford to age gracefully. Other than their staff and my crew there wasn’t an unwrinkled non-white face for miles.

Colonel Crowley stood tall in the flagship balloon, wearing rainbow suspenders. He hit the sound system: "Oh I can’t fight this feeling any more…" Then from the megaphone:

"Citizens of Bayview Acres! Don’t miss 80’s Night at the Coliseum next Thursday! Seniors in Spandex get $2 off admission! Between innings groove to the tunes you love from Depeche Mode and Flock of Seagulls! Enter the big hair contest!"

The carnage was brutal. Seniors fell dead in their tracks. Amid the scattered bodies walked Crowley, fast, tossing trading cards. "A-Ha…Great White…Night Ranger…Duran Duran…everyone loves those guys." I went to catch up, a confused Saarloos at my side. "Hey Captain, what’s he doing with those?"

"They’re death cards."


"Death cards. Promoting next week’s game. Lets Arte know who did this." I’d caught up with Crowley now. "Colonel Crowley, sir. Captain Stomper. I’m carrying priority orders from CINCNoAm. Your unit is to get us a few clicks downbay."

Before Crowley could answer one of his men came running. "Colonel, I think one of those sailors is Kirk Saarloos." That stopped him. "Kirk Saarloos, the golfer?" Kirk nodded. "It’s an honor to meet you, Kirk. I’ve admired your putting for years. I like your chipping too. I think you have the best short game there is."

"Thank you, sir." Saarloos didn’t know what to say. Crowley could talk golf in a charnel house, but the scene was too gruesome for the rest of us. I needed to get back on target. "Colonel, sir, if you look at this map, we need your help getting down here, just past the Oakland Airport. Once there we’ll have a clearer shot south."

"That village you’re pointing at is pretty hairy, Stomper." Crowley looked for one of his men. "Farhan, what to you know about that point just past the airport?"

"Back nine?"

"Of the Monarch Bay Country Club. It’s got a long par four into the wind, a dogleg with a tight bunkered green, and a tough little par three right up against the water. Fantastic back nine."

"Well why the hell didn’t you tell me that before? There aren’t any good courses in this whole, shitty East Bay. It’s all goddamned public links. We’ll get you there, Captain. We’re the First of the Ninth…I’ll take that point and hold it as long as I want to. Hell, a sweet back nine!"

Farhan stammered. "But it’s really hairy in there, sir. That’s where the trampoline promo turned tragic. They tore the hell out of us. That’s Arte’s point!"

"Arte don’t golf!"

We launched before dawn, somehow. Crowley’s men lacked focus. The Colonel was the three-Red-Bulls-for-breakfast type…paced frenetically, barking orders, free-associating ad campaigns. 100% Hazeball. But he wasn’t a bad officer, I guess. He loved his boys and they felt safe with him. He was one of those guys who had that weird light around him. You just knew he wasn’t gonna get so much as a scratch here.

In the command balloon Crowley laid out the plan. "We’ll waft in low, from the West, out of the rising sun." Pause. "About a mile out we’ll put on the music. Yeah, Celebration. No one loves Kool and the Gang like golfers. Our support balloon packs a dot matrix to handle instant ticket sales."

The course looked clear on approach. Empty, even. Arte was nowhere around. Nor were any golfers. A handful of groundskeepers worked the greens, spraying fertilizer. It was time to get moving south. "Course looks clear, Colonel. And closed. Thanks for covering us; we’ll cast off from here."

Crowley was disconsolate. "Kirk, grab your clubs! We can get in a few quick holes." It wasn’t going to happen. The revolting smell was overpowering. Crowley knew. "Do you smell that? Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of chicken shit in the morning. You know, one time we had the BBQ Plaza sold for five games straight. When it was over I went to sell it again. We didn’t find one buyer, not one stinkin’ company picnic, nothing. The smell, that chemical fertilizer smell, the whole place. Smelled like…marketing." He grew wistful. "Some day this season’s gonna end." He wandered off to sell luxury boxes to the guys mowing the course.

Someday this season’s gonna end. That’d be just fine with the boys on the boat. They weren’t looking for anything more than a way to home plate. Trouble is, I’d been back to Oakland, and I knew it didn’t exist anymore. Still, if that’s how Crowley fought the war, I began to wonder what they really had against Beane. It wasn’t just insanity and ineptness…there was enough of that to go around for everyone.

Days into nights, heading south in every sense. A couple clicks above the San Mateo Bridge we floated past a crazy scene at the evaporation ponds, where Yogi Berra and Julio Franco were fronting a Make Your Own Salt fundraiser for MLB charities. The entrant with the least noxious salt got a ticket to next year’s Home Run Derby.

Arte didn’t get much Home Run Derby. He was dug in too deep or moving too fast. His idea of great R&R was cold rice and a little rat meat. He had only two ways home: death, or victory.

Things were starting to slip on the boat. Saarloos had gone feral, his face camo’d with algae and eyeblack, his mullet slicked into a mohawk. Patrol Craft couldn’t stop playing his tapes from home, his mother’s anxious plaints clear in any language. Ziggy burned spliffs in a futile attempt to dull his fears. And Chief Thomas said nothing, hands grimly fixed on the wheel, 10-and-2, following orders. I asked what he was thinking. "I don’t think, Captain. My orders are I’m not supposed to know where I’m taking this boat, so I don’t. But one look at you and I know it’s gonna be hot."

"We’re going downbay a few clicks south of the Dumbarton Bridge."

"That’s Santa Clara, Captain!"

"That’s classified. We’re not supposed to be in Santa Clara, but that’s where I’m going. You just get me close and I’ll cut you and the crew loose."

That was the day we lost Patrol Craft. Arte’s bullet from behind some shore trees. Lucky they didn’t get all of us. Carlos slumped against the bulkhead with the life drained from his open eyes, Mrs. Gonzalez’ voice still playing on the tape: "Espero que usted venga a casa pronto."

The present is that much more grim when your future is gone. I could feel Beane getting closer. As if the boat was being sucked downbay and the water was flowing back into the jungle. Whatever was going to happen, it was not going to be the way they called it back in the Marriott.

The next day was Thomas’ turn. Crossing under the Dumbarton Bridge, a rain of arrows hit the boat, like little toys. Ziggy was laughing…until a length of rebar drove through the Chief’s broad back and straight out his chest. He died on the deck of the boat. Thirty canoes with native warriors floated up silently, surrounding us. Beane’s men. Taking me home.

Bay fog hung low on the water, yielding only gray translucence to the noonday sun. We floated up a hidden marshland inlet to a dilapidated aggregate plant. Few ever saw this side of Fremont. And none reported back. Hundreds of the Sabrgnards lined the banks in utter silence, every eye on us, every hand on a gun, or a machete, or a laptop. At the dock, the rusting cranes now dangled corpses above the channel. Severed heads topped the rusting gates.

"Holy shit, that’s Frankie Menechino!" Kirk was about to snap. "There’s Terrence Long and Jeremy Giambi. Fuck, Adam Melhuse…he used to catch me!"

A man with a small wooly chin beard waved frantically. His headband was a twisted black and orange bandana; a notebook and tape recorder bumped in the KNBR bag around his neck. Boxes of remaindered books surrounded him. His bellows shattered the solemnity. "It’s all right, it’s all right. You’re all being approved."

He didn’t fit the profile, and I said so. "Who are you? Could we, uh, talk to Colonel Beane?"

He spat out his words like chaw. "Hey, man, you don't talk to the Colonel. You listen to him. The man's enlarged my mind. He's a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean sometimes he'll, uh, well, you'll say hello to him, right? And he'll just walk right by you, and he won't even notice you. And suddenly he'll grab you, and he'll throw you in a corner, and he'll say do you know that "gain" is the last part of the word "bargain?" I mean, I', I don't…I'm a little man, I'm a little man, he's, he's a great man. I mean…"

He could tell we were unconvinced. "The heads. You’re looking at the heads. I, uh…sometimes he goes too far, you know…he’s the first to admit it."

A squad of Beane’s men surrounded me, led me to a dank collapsing building up the hill. It smelled like slow death in there. Malaria. Nightmares. This was the South Bay, alright. Everything I saw told me Beane had gone insane. The place was full of bodies. Washed-up veterans. Wasted draft picks. If I was still alive, it was because he wanted it that way.

I was pushed through the door of a barely lit room, all shadows and marsh gas. I saw the silhouette of a head move, dripping Bay water through his thin unkempt hair. "What did they tell you, Stomper?"

"They told me you had gone totally insane and that your methods were unsound."

"Are my methods unsound?"

"I don’t see any method at all, sir."

"I expected someone like you. Are you an assassin?"

"I’m a mascot, sir."

Beane looked at me for the first time, disdainfully. "You’re neither. You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill."

I woke in a bamboo cage with my arms bound. How long had I been out? Flies crawled on the dried blood on my skull. The journalist gave me a smoke.

"Why? Why would a nice guy like you want to kill a genius? You know that the man really likes you. He likes you because you’re still alive. He’s got plans for you. I mean, what are they going to say, man, when he’s gone, huh? Because he dies, when it dies, man, when it dies, he dies. What are they going to say about him? What, are they going to say, he was a kind man, he was a wise man, he managed payroll, he found value? Bullshit, man!

"Do you know what the man is saying? Do you? This is dialectics…one through nine, three outs, nine innings, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions…you can’t win the division, you can’t go out and win the division, you know, without, like, you know, with fractions. What are you gonna do, beat the Angels by one-quarter, three-eighths? That’s dialectic physics, OK? Dialectic logic is there’s only love and hate, you either cut somebody or you trade them."

Beane walked in, surrounded by smiling Sabrgnard children, and snarled at the ignorant reporter, who fled. Beane’s face was drawn thick with camo paint. He dropped something in my lap. It was Ziggy’s head. I screamed in horror.

Beane left and his men untied me. I followed him. On the Bay, I thought that the minute I looked at him I’d know what to do, but it didn’t happen. I was in there for days, not under guard, but he knew I wasn’t going anywhere. He knew more about what I was going to do than I did. If Selig back in the Marriott could see what I saw, would he still want me to kill him? More than ever, probably. And what would the fans back in Oakland want if they ever learned how far from them he had really gone? Still, I sat with him.

"Value. Value has no face…but you must make a friend of value. Value and ruthlessness are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. I remember when I was with Minnesota…seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into training camp the first week, a hundred of us. Tom Kelly broke us into two groups, mine on the field, and the other to the cages inside to hit. Not five minutes later an old coach came running after us and he was crying. He was crying, he couldn’t speak. We went inside and…and…Kelly had gone in and cut all of them. Prospects and vets stacked like cordwood on a one-way bus to the bush leagues. Kelly left their bats in a pile on the floor. And I remember…I…I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And then I realized…like I was shot…Like I was shot with a World Series ring, a diamond ring right through my forehead. And I thought: My God, the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized that Kelly was stronger than I was. Because he had the strength to do that. If I had owners and front office men and managers like that our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to cut without feeling…without passion…without judgment…without judgment. Because it’s judgment that defeats us."

They were going to make me a major for this and I wasn’t even in their fucking army anymore. Everybody wanted me to do it, him most of all. He just wanted to go out like a soldier, standing up, not like some poor, wasted rag-assed renegade.

Come on baby take a chance with us
Come on baby take a chance with us

I drew my machete and crept forward through the dimness. Beane smiled. I swung. Again. Again. Cutting out a tumor which had long since spread far beyond the infection. Slashing the lifeblood from the organization’s throat. Beane fell, and rasped out his epitaph.

"The value. The value…"

The Sabrgnards parted wordlessly before me. I collected Kirk and left, on the boat heading back north, upbay, where the Coliseum and the old madness were always waiting.