Serial Fiction On SportsGrid: Meaner Creatures Is Here

  • Rick Chandler

Sure you love mystery thriller novels about baseball mascots being murdered in bloody, macabre fashion, and mysterious drifters teaming with gorgeous team owners’ daughters trying to solve the crimes. Who doesn’t? But with your laser tag league playoffs and origami-folding classes, who has time to sit down and read an entire book?

Well now you do. Back in the day, Charles Dickens wrote novels in weekly installments which appeared in the newspaper, and the public enjoyed the brief, punchy, weekly narrative. And if there’s one thing we’ve endeavored to do here at SportsGrid, it’s to do things exactly the way Dickens would do it. So here it is, the first installment of our original story, MEANER CREATURES.

“Hilarious, masterful romp by one of America’s most gifted sports writers. Also a cautionary tale: if you can’t handle the heat, don’t dress up like a mascot.” — Matt Richtel, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Cloud and A Deadly Wandering.

“A story so frightening and intense, it could only be told in installments.” — Will Leitch, senior writer for Sports on Earth, and author of Are We Winning: Fathers and Sons and the New Golden Age of Baseball, God Save The Fan, Catch and Life As a Loser.

“Outrageous humor, wit like a scythe, a taste of the macabre, such is Rick Chandler’s writing. Brace yourself. It’s gonna be a helluva ride.” — Todd Borg, author of Tahoe Chase and Tahoe Ghost Boat.

***

CHAPTER ONE

BRING ME THE HEAD OF GOBBLES THE TURKEY

“I have both sympathy and contempt for the sad man in Section 20 whose shallow interpretation of the mascot craft caused him to throw a frozen malt at me on Tuesday night.”

DiMaggio Brickey read the letter aloud, occasionally slapping an open palm on the counter for emphasis. The other baseball writers huddled in the small press box chortled with approval, hanging on every word. It was always a good show when Brickey held court with stolen mascot correspondence – which was more often than one might imagine.

Gobbles the Turkey, the author of the letter he now read, was not only a famed Minor League Baseball mascot, but a notorious malcontent. His letters of complaint to upper management were legendary, mostly because Brickey had developed a talent for stealing them and reading the missives to his colleagues. Gobbles did not believe in email, and considered the team president’s incoming mail tray as his personal complaint box. For a normal employee this would be grounds for dismissal, but Gobbles was no normal employee: he was the most famed mascot in northern Oregon, perhaps the entire state. He attended store openings, presided over weddings, and had more than 30,000 Twitter followers. He was even once invited to open a session of the state legislature. Gobbles may have been the biggest local celebrity in the Pacific Northwest.

And in a few minutes, he would be dead.

“Not only was I assaulted with fruit, but various children have found it amusing to pull my wattle, and make a game of stealing my tail feathers,” Brickey continued. “The latter they place into the exhaust pipes of cars. I don’t need to remind management that my suit was laboriously hand-crafted, at great expense to me, and is of course a registered trademark, admired and recognized throughout the world. Therefore it is very distressing to watch it being expelled piecemeal in the parking lot.”

As usual, Brickey’s timing was nearly perfect. The dark cloud that had settled over the baseball community had just begun to dissipate, and the writers were in need of something to lift their spirits. Two weeks before, Blowie the Whale, the beloved mascot of the Double-A Corvallis Leviathans, had been killed in a tragic construction site accident. While walking to his car following a game, Blowie had been struck by a load of iron rods which had fallen from some scaffolding being used to upgrade the facade. In a bit of lugubrious irony, one of the rods pierced the mascot through the chest.

It was the kind of headline that writes itself – Whale Mascot Dies in Tragic Harpooning Near Oregon Coast – and it exploded on social media.

“Consider this a formal complaint, my third of the current homestand,” Brickey continued reading aloud. “If the Portland Destroyers cannot provide adequate security in their stadium for my routines, you may also consider this my resignation.”

The writers were rocking with laughter at this point, releasing two weeks of pent-up emotion. Dave Vetter, a rumpled, 60-something reporter for the Eugene Register-Guard, seemed to be taking notes, which was rather remarkable in that he never did so during games. Even young Joey Perricone, the bookish, rail-thin official scorer/public address announcer, was smiling. But he also looked down nervously every few seconds to make sure the public address microphone wasn’t on. Joey was obsessive that way. By now a larger audience had gathered, some packed into the doorway.

Brickey ended the letter with a flourish.

“I will not be held up to ridicule. Mine is a proud profession, and I will not be mocked. Signed, Gobbles the Turkey.”

That last sentence got them — the writers were buckled over helplessly, some no doubt imagining a man in full turkey costume seated at a desk, furiously pounding a manual typewriter. Somewhere in the press box, someone did his best turkey impression. Another had spilled his coffee, which slowly dripped onto the cheap carpet. Young Joey Perricone nervously checked the PA mic.

Brickey braced himself on the counter with both hands, chuckling, and removed his glasses to wipe the lenses: letters from Gobbles always fogged up his glasses. He never knew the identity of the man inside the Gobbles costume, if indeed it was a man, and he never thought to ask. And the notion that Gobbles would sign his letters to the team in character made them that much more amusing.

It was close to game time, and more people were hurrying in and out of the press box, making it next to impossible for the writers to move about in the cramped quarters. Destroyers’ owner Grip Arnott spared no expense on his stadium – the portions of it that the fans saw, anyway. As for the press box, locker rooms and team offices, those were another matter entirely — one could find better facilities at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. This was confirmed by Destroyers’ left fielder Adelmo Nunez, who had actually been to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. It had been either as a government worker or a detainee (his explanation was not clear).

Brickey folded the letter and slipped it into his shirt pocket, then noticed that a baseball had been placed on his laptop computer, perfectly positioned in the very middle, on top of the closed lid. It may have been fan’s autograph request, he got those sometimes. Absentmindedly he set the ball aside and clicked open the laptop. Still smiling, he looked out onto the field.

****

With five minutes to game time, Gatlin Stadium was about three-quarters full. It was one of the largest stadiums in Triple-A, seating capacity 21,500, but the tall soldier pines and gnarled oaks just beyond the outfield fences provided an air of intimacy, making it seem smaller. It was cold and overcast, and many in the crowd wore jackets and wielded umbrellas, standard equipment for outdoor baseball in the Pacific Northwest. Showers were in the forecast, as was hackneyed mascot comedy.

The laughter in the press box had finally begun to dissipate when, from a corner of the tiny room, Vetter exclaimed with a high, raspy voice, “There he is!” All eyes turned toward the field.

The pre-game routine was always the same. There on the roof of the home dugout, hands on feathery hips in his trademark dramatic pose, stood Gobbles the Turkey. His wattle swayed slightly in the breeze, and at length he spread his wings as the crowd began to clap and cheer. Intro music swelled over the PA system. It was turkey time.

A four-wheeled ATV, driven by a front office intern, emerged from the right-field bullpen and proceeded down the right-field line toward the dugout where Gobbles stood. The crowd was cheering louder now, and as the ATV slowed in front of the dugout Gobbles gave a mighty leap – and stuck a perfect two-foot landing into the rear of the vehicle (his size-20 turkey feet proved excellent for this). Then the ATV sped off around the warning track dirt, headed for the outfield.

The crowd cheered wildly and Gobbles flapped his wings, which was young Joey Perricone’s cue to switch to the recording of the mascot’s theme song, “Albuquerque Turkey.”

As the ATV raced around the outfield the cheering and the rhythmic clapping became louder, the visiting Vancouver players stopping their warmups to watch the show. Fans familiar with the routine knew that the ATV would circle the field entirely and Gobbles would play to the crowd the entire way, at length seizing a hand-held T-shirt cannon and firing prizes into the stands as he sped by.

The ATV picked up speed down the third-base line, and Gobbles began shooting items into the crowd. The first blast was confetti, meant to tantalize and confuse. The second volley consisted of T-shirts, which caused a series of mad scrambles in the reserved section (the weapon did not have the firepower to reach general admission). The third volley was hats, which sailed majestically to the very back rows, where one landed in a hot dog vendor’s tray. A mustard shot, as Gobbles called it.

Locked and loaded with the most sought-after prize of all, a Destroyers’ jersey, Gobbles prepared to pull the trigger. He never got the chance.

As the ATV neared home plate, Gobbles suddenly lurched backward, spun completely around and tumbled off the back of the vehicle, the costumed turkey hurtling backwards and hitting the ground with a comical thud amidst a cloud of feathers and dust. The driver of the vehicle, oblivious to the fact that he was now sans passenger, continued down the warning track, passing the visitor’s dugout. But the crowd sensed something was amiss, and their raucous approval slowly turned to murmurs and shouts of concern.

That’s because Gobbles’ body had stopped rolling, but his head had not.

The giant turkey costume head, wattle and all, had completely separated from the rest of the costume at the moment of impact; the head continuing to tumble and roll until it came to rest nearly on top of home plate. Many in the crowd rushed to the railing with cell phones held aloft, snapping photos; the equivalent of motorists slowing at the site of an auto crash.

Most hadn’t noticed that the music had stopped, and employees were running down the aisles toward the field. This could all be part of the act. From his perch in the press box, Brickey raised his binoculars and knew at once that it wasn’t.

“He lost his head!” exclaimed someone else in the back of the tiny room, laughing. “He lost …” But the voice trailed away awkwardly, leaving the thought unfinished. Just like Gobbles himself.

“My God,” said Brickey, adjusting the binoculars. “What the hell? Is this a trick?” But the reporter knew at once it was not — Gobbles was incapable of such an elaborate stunt.”

Brickey lowered his binoculars as writers seized their notebooks and cell phones and rushed from the press box. Young Joey Perricone frantically poked at the buttons of the press box phone. Soon the awful truth became evident.

Gobbles – the man and the turkey – was headless. A trickle of blood trailed from the neck of the costume head, and another from the small, pointed beak; the vacant eyes staring into the gray, featureless sky.

Now alone in the press box, Brickey set aside the binoculars and reached into his pants pocket for his cell phone. But as he did he noticed the baseball, the one which had been placed on his laptop. In the confusion it had rolled down the press table a bit, but not far enough away that Brickey couldn’t see that there was an inscription. As the last of the spilled coffee dripped onto the carpet nearby, he picked up the ball and gave it a closer look.

His eyes opened wider as he read:

Happy Thanksgiving – white meat or dark?

***

NEXT WEEK:

CHAPTER TWO: DANGEROUS PANTS.

***

Graphics: Sean Panzera.