Prayer for Expansion, Part 2
Kurt Bevacqua seems in this 1977 Seattle Mariners card as if he has been wandering around with mounting confusion on the same blurry, ethereal plain seen in the background of Pete Broberg’s 1977 Seattle Mariners card.
It makes me wonder about the birth of the Seattle Mariners, who had yet to play a game at the time the two cards came out. Maybe the beginning of that franchise was not a series of bargain-bin purchases and expansion draft signings but instead a kind of ambiguous baseball afterlife. Maybe what we’re seeing in the 1977 cards of Kurt Bevacqua and Pete Broberg are not fake Elysian Fields created by the rushed doctoring job of a Topps artist, but instead some kind of miraculous photograph of the netherworld where baseball journeymen go when they pass beyond the veil separating the Big Leagues from the Great Beyond.
The statistics on the backs of both Kurt Bevacqua’s and Pete Broberg’s cards seem to support this idea. In the 1976 season, both of them struggled for playing time on a last-place Milwaukee Brewers club. Broberg went 1 and 7 with a 4.99 ERA, and Bevacqua hit .143 in 7—yes, 7—at bats. Both were in their late 20s, no longer able to be identified as prospects. As he rode the pine and watched his teammates rack up 95 losses, it must have at some point occurred to Bevacqua (if not to Broberg, who, judging from the photo in his ’77 card, seems capable of blithely ignoring any and all negative portents) that he may not be long for the world he’d come to know. I imagine Kurt Bevacqua thinking to himself, If I can’t cut it in Milwaukee, where the hell else can I possibly go? I imagine a feeling of doom beginning to infiltrate the ever-wider spaces between at bats. I imagine a hazy feeling beginning to prevail, things that once seemed inarguably solid starting to become incorporeal.
“What pitch he get you with, Bevacqua?”
I imagine a teammate asking this. Bevacqua has just gotten a rare at-bat, and it has ended in a strikeout.
“My bat,” Bevacqua replies in a near-whisper, but he swallows the rest of his thought. He understands it’s too strange:
My bat is turning to fog.
“Your bat,” says the teammate. “What about your bat?”
But before Bevacqua can answer, the world he has known dissolves altogether. No more teammates, no more dugout, no more fans, no more game.
He is wandering around the blurry, ethereal expanse captured in this card.
It looks a little like the lifeless, bulldozed plain of a landfill. It also looks a little like a dormant spring training complex stripped of its baseball accessories. No batting cages, no pitching machines, no stands, no bases.
No players. There’s no one else around.
Kurt Bevacqua gradually becomes aware as he wanders that he is still wearing a baseball uniform, but it’s not the same one he’d been wearing before, and in fact is unlike any uniform he has ever worn or even seen. There is an M on his cap, just as there had been on his last cap, but it clearly does not stand for Milwaukee. In fact, the M seems to be in the shape of a pitchfork, an alarming realization considering the connotations of pitchfork iconography in afterlife scenarios.
“Oh no,” Bevacqua mutters aloud.
But the physical conditions don’t seem particularly infernal. He’d rather not be alone, and he’d rather everything not be kind of blurry, but he’s not being burned alive, or flayed, or mangled. In fact, the climate is preternaturally mild, as if the blue above his head is not the sky but the painted ceiling of a brand new air-conditioned dome.
“Could be worse, I guess,” Bevacqua murmurs, and he even relaxes a little and entertains the hope that the blurriness of the landscape is merely the world of his wildest dreams slowly coming into focus. Maybe it’s like one of those newfangled Polaroid instant camera pictures, he thinks. Blurry at first but then as you look at it everything slowly, magically appears.
But at the moment he thinks this, a figure emerges from the murky horizon, walking toward Bevacqua. He’s another man in a baseball uniform. As this figure draws nearer, Bevacqua understands that he is wearing a uniform similar but not identical to his own. Then he realizes that he recognizes the man in the uniform. His heart sinks. No way this is paradise. Bevacqua’s expression becomes like the one seen in his 1977 card: Confusion feeding into something verging on anger.
“Broberg,” he says, pained. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“Hey, man, I know you,” Pete Broberg coos with lidded-eyed calm. His face is the placid mask seen in his 1977 card. “You’re, uh, hm. Yeah. Ha! I definitely know you.”
“Where the hell are we?” Bevacqua says, exasperated. What a friggin’ idiot, he thinks.
“Don’t worry about it, friend,” Broberg purrs. “I mean, relax, you know? You’ll live longer.”
Bevacqua fights back an urge to punch his former Brewer teammate in his unflappably contented Ivy League face. Live longer? This seems a potentially ridiculous thing to say in the current circumstances.
“I don’t know,” says the angry-faced Bevacqua, “I don’t like this bullshit. I mean, our uniforms. They don’t even match.”
Broberg gazes at Bevacqua, then lazily looks down at his uniform, comparing. Broberg’s uniform has a lighter shade of blue, and his neckline lacks the gold piping seen in Bevacqua’s. Broberg removes his own cap and sees that the outer prongs on the M on his cap seem to splay out more than the straight prongs on Bevacqua’s cap. Broberg shrugs.
“Details, my friend, mere details,” he says. He puts his cap back on his head. He yawns.
Bevacqua, already sick of being around the guy he figures he might have to spend eternity with, glares out at the mushy horizon.
“I think we’re in a horseshit operation,” he grumbles.
But as he says this another figure appears off in the distance. Then another. Soon a couple dozen figures are meandering half-dazed from every direction toward Broberg and Bevacqua, all wearing slightly different uniforms, everyone with a uniquely crooked pitchfork M on their head, everyone in white with lighter and darker shades of blue. Bevacqua recognizes some as fellow marginals. Others he doesn’t know. Nobody says anything.
Then, like the distant crashing of waves or the wide lonesome susurrus of wind through trees, there is the sound of cheering, far off. The baseball players don’t have any idea that the cheers are emanating from opening day at a place called the Kingdome. But they all understand they should move toward the sound.
And so they do, together, a new kind of team.