Part 3 (continued from here)
“We’re not finished,” Tanner Boyle says.
It’s 1977. The sequel to The Bad News Bears appears to be coming to an abrupt close. The Bears have traveled by customized van, unchaperoned, their 12-year-old chain-smoking left-fielder Kelly Leak at the wheel, from their home in California to the Astrodome in Houston to participate in a four-inning exhibition against the best Little League team in Texas. The winner of the exhibition, which is taking place between games of an Astros’ doubleheader, will be awarded a trip to Japan to play in an All-World Little League Championship game.
By the top of the third inning, the Texas team has built a seemingly insurmountable five-run lead. As they ready to add to their lead (unaccountably, the Texas squad is being treated as the visiting team in Houston), a man in a dark suit comes onto the field and informs the umpire that time has run out for the exhibition; the second half of the Astros’ doubleheader needs to begin. The stunned Bears are reluctant to leave the field. But eventually, perhaps dispirited by the shellacking at the hands of the gigantic Texas players, they begin to abandon their positions.
All except for their shortstop, Tanner Boyle.
In that slim moment, with the rocky world about to vanish from beneath me, was there room in my mind for a thought? I don’t know. I don’t remember. But if there was, the thought would be a wordless version of that two-word plea.
“Hey, you guys,” Tanner Boyle says. All his teammates, even Kelly Leak, are passing him on their way off the field. “Where are you going?”
The Bears’ new coach, Kelly Leak’s long-estranged father, Mike, argues futilely with the man in the dark suit who declared the game over. The umpire confirms that the Texas team was ahead at the time the game was called, and the man in the dark suit officially declares them the winner. Two more men in dark suits materialize to hover ominously around the now irate Mike Leak, who glares past them for a while at the first dark-suited man before retreating to the dugout. The line score for the game has been wiped from the stadium scoreboard. There’s only one obstacle remaining. Tanner Boyle stands alone on the carpeted diamond. His glove has been thrown to the turf in anger.
“We’re not finished!” he yells again. “The game isn’t over!”
Two men in dark suits walk toward him.
I hadn’t done anything yet. I hadn’t found love yet, not really. I hadn’t written The Novel yet. I hadn’t made witty appearances on talk shows yet. I hadn’t acquired groupies yet. I hadn’t dunked a basketball yet. At least not on a regulation-height rim.
The Astros emerge from the clubhouse, entering the dugout the Bears have been borrowing from them: Bill Virdon, Enos Cabell, Joe Ferguson, Roger Metzger, Bob Watson. The Bears have been watching the men in dark suits advance toward their shortstop but now they cluster around the Astros with a mixture of awe and supplication. The Bears’ centerfielder, Ahmad, explains the situation to Bob Watson. Cesar Cedeno has also entered the scene, as has Ken Forsch. In the background, wearing the long-sleeved windbreaker of a man who will soon be taking the mound as a starting pitcher, is J.R. Richard.
Out on the field, Tanner Boyle backpedals away from the two men in dark suits. They close in and he jukes away from them, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
“Hey, look at Tanner,” exclaims Toby, the Bears’ first baseman.
The Bears’ savvy, bespectacled Sabermetrician, Ogilvie, played by the legendary Alfred Lutter, is the first to join Toby at the dugout railing to watch Tanner dart away from the grasping, stumbling men in dark suits. In the short interim between the first Bad News Bears movie and The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, Alfred Lutter has been, more than any of his cast-mates, Pearl-Harbored by puberty. He stands a head taller than Toby at the rail, elongated and pasty, his aviator glasses a little crooked. After The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training Alfred Lutter will never again appear in another movie. His last and greatest character, Ogilvie, pumps a pointy, poorly-formed fist and cheers with a cracking voice for Tanner Boyle to stay alive out there. Everything is ending. Stay alive!
I hadn’t learned to touch-type yet. I hadn’t learned to drive yet. I hadn’t given a tearful acceptance speech yet. I hadn’t had ecstatic sex in some beautiful meadow somewhere, or something, yet. I’d barely had any sex at all. I hadn’t even taken enough naps. I hadn’t been discovered. I hadn’t enrolled in a drawing class or studied yoga, mostly because it reminded me of the word yogurt, which I considered repulsive, but still it would have been nice to improve my flexibility and be one of those glowing yoga types who can enjoy the wide bountiful treasures of each moment and also last longer than fourteen seconds while humping. I hadn’t fended off child pickpockets in Rome or cheered for the Ham Fighters in Japan or purchased Elvis Presley toenail clippers in Memphis.
“Come on, Tanner!” Ogilvie shouts. Tanner picks up second base and hurls it at the groin of the younger of the two men in dark suits. The man groans and crumples to the ground.
“Go, Tanner, go!” yells the Bears’ third baseman, Jimmy Feldman, played by Brett Marx, grandson of Gummo Marx.
The man who crumpled to the ground gets back on his feet but both he and the other man are starting to tire.
“Come back here,” the older of the two men in dark suits says, standing and pointing at the Astroturf by his dress shoes. “Come back here right now!”
“No!” Tanner says.
Bob Watson steps forward, smiling but apparently also roused by Tanner Boyle’s Last Stand. J.R. Richard is visible in the background. He has risen from the bench. Standing, he’s enormous, a rainbow-striped skyscraper. Bob Watson sort of feebly punches his arm in the air, as if he’s been taking air-punching lessons from Ogilvie.
“Hey, come on,” Bob Watson calls out toward the field. “Let the kids play.”
I hadn’t gotten roaringly drunk in Dublin, nor attained zen enlightenment while carrying a pail of water or whatever, nor aided the indigent, nor learned Cantonese, nor buoyed the hopeless, nor whipped through War and Peace during some vacation during which I also took long bracing swims in the Atlantic, nor taught convicted felons how to write gritty, redemptive poetry, nor foiled a mugging with nary but my bare fists and perhaps a couple Spidermanly wisecracks, nor had one more really great chocolate chip cookie, nor run weeping with joy up and down confettied avenues hugging strangers because the Red Sox had won the World Series, because the Red Sox had not won the World Series, not in my lifetime, not yet. It was 1995 and I was 27 years old and I hadn’t had that feeling yet. I had longed for the feeling abstractly and daydreamed about the feeling in alarmingly intricate detail. In some ways I had even built it into my own personal impotent religion. But I hadn’t ever found out what it actually felt like, you know, to win.
Upon hearing Bob Watson’s plea to let the kids play, Mike Leak stalks back onto the field and, facing the stands, begins the chant for which The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training is known.
“Let them play!” he chants. “Let them play!”
His son, with whom he has fought throughout the movie, is the first to join him. For the first time, father and son stand side by side, chanting and gaveling the air with their right fists with each syllable. Eventually the rest of the Bears surge out onto the field to lend their reedy voices. Rudi. Engelberg. Jose and Miguel. Carmen Ronzonni.
The men in dark suits still can’t catch Tanner Boyle.
“Let them play! Let them play!”
Soon the entire stadium is chanting.
I careened aboard my friend’s sister’s slightly too small white bicycle off the edge of a Utah cliff. I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but if I had had time to pray, I would have prayed for the angelic intervention of Tanner Boyle and Bob Watson and the homely, forlornly Matthauless, Jimmy Baio-ified, sequelized Bad News Bears. Not yet, I would have prayed to The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training. Please, you lumpy heroes. Not yet.
(Next up: The Synapse-Mangling, Soul-Butchering, Spirit-Disemboweling Conclusion.)