NOTE FROM AL: The Cubs' winning streak was snapped Tuesday night. During the game, Mike Bojanowski told me I could have the night off; he'd take care of the recap. Here it is.
With apologies to Mr. Ernest M. Hemingway, deceased, late of Oak Park IL.
The Old Man arose before the sun, as was his custom. He pulled on his rough clothes and stepped outside.
He urinated against the wall of the rude hut in which he lived, talking care that his neighbors did not see, for they had informed the inquisidore on an earlier occasion, and the Old Man had to defend himself before the alderman. But for a poor man with no plumbing in his dwelling, such an act carries no shame.
He walked directly to the little coffee shop in which he took his meals, and daily read the baseball news. He no longer walked along the wharves to talk with his fellow fishermen, as he had always done before, since he was now sumamente maldito, and no one would greet or speak with him. He had been so since his great record of one hundred and three days without catching a fish, a record which continued to that very morning.
In a reverie, the Old Man recalled the days of his youth and strength, when he was called El Oso Campión, and had defeated all challengers. But he seldom dwelt on his past, since nearly all who had remembered those days were now dead.
He thought of his namesake team, which he had followed all the decades of his long life. They, as he, were now sumamente maldito, and time had taught the Old Man to deal with this.
He sat down at the small table, reading the baseball news, and awaited the arrival of the boy. The boy had sailed with him as his apprentice until the boy’s parents, worried at the Old Man’s ill fortune, had bound him to Captain Osvaldo, who owned a marlin boat that prospered from the tourist trade. Since then the Old Man had sailed alone.
The boy approached the shop. Every morning he and the Old Man shared coffee and the baseball news. Though he honored his position with Captain Osvaldo, and knew his parents would disapprove, he came daily nonetheless, for he loved the Old Man.
"Hola, El Oso," said the boy, and sat.
"Hola," replied the Old Man. "I hear Captain Osvaldo’s guests caught many fish yesterday."
"Damn his fish," said the boy, softly.
"And I also hear he has a new sculpted figurehead, which dances with joy when a guest catches a very big fish."
"Damn his figurehead," said the boy, loudly.
A twinkle appeared in the eye of the Old Man, for he knew that the boy, in his disappointment in their team’s failure, had pinned his hopes upon early draft picks. Pointing to the baseball news, the Old Man said: "You will be pleased this morning, we remain among the worst teams of all."
"True," replied the Old Man, "they are even poorer than we, for the moment. Who could know?"
"So how was it done, this time?", asked the boy.
"The Cubs loss to Miami was nine against five," began the Old Man, reading from the crumpled newsprint. "The game was quiet until the fourth inning, when pitcher Wood gave up his first hits, two singles and then a home run to Omar Infante. Then, in the fifth inning, three weak singles bring Carlos Lee to the bat."
"Yo se lo que pasó después," said the boy, his head lowered to the top of the table.
"Indeed," said the Old Man, "Lee hit a great slam, the seventeenth great slam he has ever hit, and the third great slam he has ever hit against the Cubs. But for a solo home run in the seventh, the scoring for Miami came to an end."
"What remains to be said?" the boy sighed.
"You have not yet heard all," replied the Old Man. "The Cubs fought on. Baker hit a home run in the fifth, another run was scored in the sixth, and three runs in the seventh before the young Antonio made a double play with the tying run standing on deck. But that was all that was done. Pitcher Wood was the loser, after having good games in the recent past."
"And the young Starlin?" asked the boy.
The Old Man paused, for he knew the boy had grown sour regarding the promising short stop. "The young Starlin was two of five, and flawless in the field," he said.
"Yet he still leads all on the team in errors and his average falls like an anchor," hissed the boy. "Cabeza estúpida!"
The Old Man merely smiled. "Someday I would like to take the young Starlin fishing, and remind him of his people. They say he was a poor boy from a country such as ours. Perhaps then he would understand."
"You must go now," said the Old Man to the boy. "Captain Osvaldo has no patience with ones who are late."
The boy stood up fiercely, the bitter tears burned his eyes. "But I want to sail with you, El Oso!"
"Yes," replied the Old Man, "but it is better this way. You are young, you must know success, and not failure. Your parents are wiser than you know, and Captain Osvaldo may change you in ways you do not yet understand."
"Osvaldo?! **** that **********er," muttered the boy, as he walked out the door.
The Old Man smiled a sage smile.