Chapter one: Spring Training 2011
Giant gazed into the human realm. It was early February and his world was about to begin again. The winter had been suffuse with joy. The victory and all the ensuing celebrations sustained him and then he slumbered with restfully and happily. Ranger had been right. Phillie had been unusually cool to him before they all slept after the winter meetings but Giant was too happy to pay it much mind. Now that they had all awakened with the new season dawning Giant thought that all would start fresh as it always did. New hopes and dreams abounded. Even Cub was buoyant with the new season. Tragically for him it never lasted. Recordia’s never tiring ire always saw to that. With each new loss, each new turmoil surrounding his beloved team, Cub’s mood and whole demeanor change and that delighted Recordia to no end. There were the cruel seasons. 1969. 1984 when Recordia toyed with Cub allowing him to think that maybe this would be the year; this would be the season that Recordia would forgive Cub for the human hubris that doomed him and his team almost a century before. 1989 had been especially difficult as Recordia had pitted two of her two favourite whipping boys against each other. Each time Cub allowed himself to believe and each time she cruelly ripped that final victory away.
Giant shook his head and thought back to the November before. It had happened. He still could still see in his mind’s eye all the rapturous, rampant joy that only winning can produce. He still not know if any of the pleas and the prayers, the appeals to the spirit world that they should cast half an eye upon the baseball realm to protect his Giants from Recordia’s capricious whims had been heard, but it did seem that they had been answered. He thought of Recordia and how it appeared to less knowing eyes that she had finally relented and lifted the curse that had sat upon him and his beloved team for more than half a century. He wanted to believe but after so much mistreatment a small portion of his soul could not fully accept that she had released him from his torment. Not that Recordia had given him any cause to doubt, other than who she was. She was treating him too well, which was most unnerving. In fact the most ill treatment came from Phillie. He seemed unable to accept that somehow the Giants managed to beat the Phillies. Quite frequently he heard him muttering in a corner only to stop when Giant approached for whatever reason that happened to place them in the same room together. Over the winter Giant had kept a wide berth when Phillie was concerned.
He looked down upon the human realm and he saw pitchers and catchers lightly tossing the ball around. It was his favorite time of year when spring leads to hope. He looked down the crop of pitchers and catchers, some young, some old. Some familiar; others not so. He felt their hopes and dreams. All avatars could; especially attuned to their teams as they were. This was both blessing and curse. As avatars came into being as the hopes and dreams of the fans who supported and the players who played for the teams they could not but help to be connected in this most basic of ways but it made existence a strange collage of zenith and nadir. They were forced to live in hope and die in disappointment through the fortunes of their teams. It was amazing that Cub was still coherent and sane after everything that he had been forced to endure over the years.
He spied Lincecum and Posey and felt happiness radiating from their inner core but also a burning desire to win, to retain the success that had brought them such euphoria the previous season. There was always hope but now it was blended with knowledge and experience. Success would be there if enough effort was put forth. This is what the humans believed. Little did they know the realities of Fate. Giant knew that the human players attributed the evolution of a baseball season to fate, little realizing the hand that Recordia, the Goddess of Baseballing Fate, truly had in what developed over the season. They understood the capricious nature of a season but Fate, as embodied in Recordia, was far more malicious than any in the human realm ever suspected. Human players thought that through their own auspices they had a say in what was created during the season and in a human way they did. They had spirit-given talents and abilities and the drive to fully develop and explore these. What happened beyond that was where Recordia played her games. Between the white lines her capriciousness knew very few bounds. According to her whims scorched balls met with a surprised infielder’s glove while little flares fell in for doubles. The players’ skills daily did battle with her whims, more often than not failing while providing her with endless enjoyment. It was a cruelty they knew nothing of. Giant often thought it was better that way.
There were times however when human drive, hope and spirit, with a little help from above could override what Recordia decreed and she could be at her most dangerous when defeated in such a way. That was why Giant felt most uneasy about the coming season. Granted Recordia had not given him any reason to think that the Giants overrode fate the year previous. She made it seem as if it was what she had wanted; what she herself had decreed. But Giant also knew what supplications he had made to the spirit realm and he knew her and her implacable wrath well. He looked down at Posey, the Rookie of the Year last year and shuddered slightly. He thought of Bobby Thompson and what baseball horrors he stopped Recordia from unleashing upon him. He brushed the thoughts away. He had been able to stop Recordia that time, perhaps he could see it coming and ward her off the young and promising catcher. He would be vigilant.
He looked over at the group of pitchers that he was less familiar with. Again hope here was a tangible thing, almost alive; its warmth strengthened him and the feelings of foreboding fell away. He looked a little more closely and a faint hint of remembrance flared. All players who have ever played for their team leave a little bright mark of belonging upon the soul of their team’s avatar. After they have left the team through trade or injury or retirement that light dims and recedes but it never fully goes away. Giant felt a dormant light flare dimly to life and he looked down to inspect a group of minor league pitchers. After searching for a few moments his eyes fell upon one face that causes the dormant light to flare brightly. The face was a little older now and had lines of experience etched upon it but as Giant gazed a name returned to his memory. Ryan Vogelsong. He thought back. It was a trade some ten years ago that saw a young Vogelsong sent to the Pirates in return for Jason Schmidt, whose star burned brightly for many years with his beloved team. He felt an amazing will to succeed within Vogelsong. He could sense that the ensuing years had not always been that kind to the young pitcher after he left the Giants. He was not sure what had ensued, as the light of a player fades as he travels away from the team but he could feel the residue of much hope and despair.
There were many dreams still within that light now tempered with knowledge and experience. Rarely had Giant felt such will and determination emanating from a human player. Giant pondered for a moment and then reached deep within himself and closed his eyes, letting only his mind’s eye gaze upon the strong, determined light that was this human player who had been so clearly buffeted around by Fate’s whims and yet still remained strong, ever hoping. Giant breathed out and a faint ripple of wind blew unto the field in the human realm and gently swirled, almost imperceptibly, around Vogelsong settling upon his heart shielding it from Recordia’s notice. Gleaned from the hopes and dreams of fans and players over the years Giant had been saving this essence waiting for a player who had been tossed about by fate and was yet still standing; a player desperately in need of a helping hand. It would shield him from Recordia’s blows and buffets and allow him the chance to succeed on his own. The essence was of unknown duration and potency. Anything distilled from hopes and dreams was indefinable and not to be tamed, but if it was bestowed with honesty and integrity it could work wonders. It was done and Giant felt it was well-bestowed. A well-wish that befitted the strength and determination, the burning desire to succeed that resonated within Giant‘s soul when he looked upon this human pitcher. If Recordia knew that he still was still able send this out into the human realm there would be repercussions that were sure to as unpleasant as they were unexpected. Recordia did not always tell an avatar that she had discovered their actions, sometimes she reveled in toying with them letting them believe that they were undiscovered and yet at other times she summarily summoned them to rip from them any thought or pretense that they could thwart her. It could be his undoing but Giant still believed the power of the essence had found a true home shielding that heart; allowing hope to become reality.
Giants looked around the field letting the hopes and dreams fears; and anxieties of the players wash through him. He felt alive again and the thought came unbidden he could not let Recordia play havoc with his beloved team. It was not fair nor was it right. He knew the rules and he knew them to be unfair. He looked at his charges and he could not stand to see them yet again tossed about according Recordia’s whims. He knew that he was again tempting fate. His sense of self-preservation was sending warning messages into his head but his thoughts raced heedlessly forward demanding action. He must do something, anything, but he could not think what. The spirit realm held dominion over Recordia. She could not thwart them but he was unsure of just how much they could be asked to intervene. Generally baseball was a pastime and not accorded prime concern by the powers that be. He could ask but there was no guarantee that his supplications would be again answered. Giant mused; if he could only speak directly to a minor spirit perhaps he could somehow persuade them to cast an unobtrusive veiling around the team. Perhaps he could appeal to their sense of balance. He feared Recordia and what her whims might unleash upon his beloved team. A sense of balance was needed. If Recordia tried to strip his team of victory then the veil could mitigate the worst of it. Giant’s heart lightened. It could work, but how to gain access to a minor spirit. Erbia. She and her sister Era did travel between the realms, perhaps they could help. He would speak to them in the evening.
Erbia sat with her sister after the evening meal in their sitting room after seeing to all of her Lady’s needs. Recordia tired easily during early spring. There was so much hope flowing through the fields in the far off human realm that it made her uneasy. She needed to be in control and human hope and the strength of a collective dream for fall victory was so strong in the spring that it almost negated her ability to decide and decree. Hope was a potent force and not as easily extinguished as in August. She would sleep soundly. A light tap was almost felt rather than heard. Erbia looked at her sister to see if she heard it. Era did not appear to, but then again she held a new lot of pitchers’ pearls that she had created. Each represented a strikeout and they were hers to give out as she saw fit. Not all strikeouts were garnered in this way. The lion’s share of them came through the pitcher’s own skill and prowess. These were the crucial ones that could make or break a game or a season. Era had the choosing of who should receive them and how many. It was a joy and responsibility that she took very seriously. She lived to bring happiness to her pitchers and nothing to her mind brought more searing joy than striking out a batter when it was most needed, those teams who showed the most respect for the pitching arts were given special consideration and most of the pearls. When she was contemplating her pearls most anything else escaped her notice. Erbia smiled and shook her head. Nothing could draw her away from her beloved pitchers.
She got up and answered the barely audible tap. Opening the door her eyes fell upon Giant looking a little manic, “Can I come in?” Her curious pique; she let him in.
“Giant…Are you OK? You look a little frazzled.”
Era looked up from her pitchers’ pearls at the mention of Giant’s name, her eyes shining with possibility and hope, “Clearly he’s not, Erbia. Anyone who has eyes can plainly see that. Come and sit over by me,” she offered. She has always had something of a soft spot for Giant especially of late with his team’s wonderful pitching staff. He was an avatar after her own heart. “Now Giant, you must tell us what is troubling you so?”
Giant looked at the Sprite of Pitching Success and said, “I must find a way of protecting my pitchers, all my pitchers. They are far too good to be toyed with by her.” he finishing rather pointedly.
Erbia drew in a little gasp, “Giant, do you know what you are saying? If the Lady finds you talking like this it will not go well for you. Or your team.”
“I know that. Don’t you think I know that?” Giant looked at the sprite of Hitting Success, “But I fear what the Lady will do to my team for their victory last season more than I fear the Lady herself. Can you think of anything to do for them? I feel driven by the hopes and dreams of my players and fans to protect them, cost what it may to myself.”
“Of course we must help them and help them we will!” Era stated fervently.
“Era! Think about what you are saying.” Erbia whispered strongly, “The Lady…”
But Era, always a little unbalanced by her love of quality pitching, which the Giants had in abundance as evidenced by their championship postseason, and would not be silenced. “What can we do? What can we do that the Lady will not be able to undo immediately, if at all. We can …” here her voice dropped to a stage whisper, “maybe persuade a spirit of the spirit realm to weave something around and through your beloved staff. It can be done! That would work and the Lady need never know. It can work! I think I know just the one. She and I were chatting just the other day about how unfair Recordia could be. We shall go tomorrow night.” She sobered suddenly, “Though Giant, you may not step into the realm of the spirit. It is not permitted.”
“But how else am I to speak with the spirit if I cannot travel to their realm?” Giant questioned fervently.
“Peace! There must be a way.” again Era grew silent and then the light of thought dawned upon her gamine face, “There used to be far more connection between the realms, small pockets of existence in which all could survive for a short length of time. Lately they have fallen into disuse through a lessening reliance upon the imaginative arts. Corridors to what could has been, have given partial way to certainty of thought,” she continued somewhat derisively, “by not allowing the imaginative and the real to cross paths regularly within the human realm, the walls between realms here came to harden thereby causing the between regions to fall into silence and loneliness. Tis sad really…” Era shook herself out of her reverie and said “Right well, that being said. We can use one of these enclaves. I will have Potencia meet us there. Until tomorrow.”
Giant bid the sisters good night and walked back to his rooms feeling lighter than he had in many days.
The next night Era was as good as her word. She lead Erbia and Giant to a small enclave opened by her thoughts and took them both inside. There was Potencia, a spirit of hope and possibility. Giant could easily see why Potencia could run afoul of the Lady. She was everything the Lady disapproved of. Hope and possibility ran counter to the Lady’s every wish and determined decree.
Giant dropped to one knee upon seeing the shimmering spirit of a young vibrant girl. He heard a delightful and disarming laugh.
“Stand my avatar friend. I am not to be bowed to. I am what I am and seek no one’s supplications. I am here at Era’s asking. I do not know what can be done to protect these pitchers as you call them. What is it that they do down in the human realm? They throw a ball at someone? I am afraid I do not understand but Era was most insistent that what they do is fraught with possibilities and I was intrigued.”
Giant stood and looked at the shimmering soul. “It is a game of possibilities. It places the hope of one human against the hope of another human. They test each other’s skills and see who can come out the winner on that specific day. It tests wit, will and the heart of each player throughout the course of the season and asks that each player do his best in each situation. My pitchers have excelled this past season quite against the Lady’s wishes. I fear her wrath unleashed and I need to protect them as best I can as long as I can. They were so happy last year and I wish to give them every opportunity, every hope to attain that same happiness for the coming season but I fear that Recordia will try to blunt their hopes and dreams.
“Do not all these pitchers aim to achieve the same things. I cannot favor one set over another? That would not be balanced.”
“I do not ask that you assist in their efforts” Giant quickly added, “but only you allow them to play to their own potential without Recordia hampering their efforts at every warp and weft of the season. If I am to be punished for tampering with Fate, then so be it. But I cannot stand to see my beloved team suffer again through my actions.”
The shimmering young girl smiled at Giant. She felt a nascent hope budding in his breast one she could not bring herself to douse. She admired him for what he was willing to endure for his team. She understood almost nothing about this baseball that Era spoke of but if it could engender such self-sacrifice in this avatar then the possibilities were enthralling. “Show me these pitchers you speak of “
Giant’s heart leapt for joy, “Era? Could you summon the images? My powers are not made for this place.” Era smiled and waved her hand and a portal to the human realm was opened. Era was enthralled as she watched Matt Cain go through his motion again and again. It was a work of art.
“Ahem,” After a few minutes of this Giant cleared his throat and Era snapped out of her reverie. Potencia stood by smiling. Anything that could fix that look of silent, rapturous joy upon the normally loquacious sprite bore the need of more inspection. She gazed at these pitchers from the human realm and felt a wave of hope and possibility flow through her. She looked into the face of each pitcher on that field and in a flash she understood why Giant was asking her help. It would be a shame for all these possibilities to meet with a painful and arbitrary end. She was a young spirit and did not yet quite understand that fate will always play some part in the lives of humans, cruel though it could be, She only understood that the potential that she saw down there should be allowed to flourish if it could. “I will help you and your pitchers.”
Giant’s heart soared, “Thank you.” Potencia smiled and then the perspective shifted as if it seemed that they were standing on the field off to one side. “I must see each one if I am to mark their souls. She walked through the pitchers throwing and moving about. Invisible to the human eye she watched and listened and quirked a curious head at some of the things that were being said. She found it all fascinating and mystifying. She watched as one seemed to wind his body up and then loose himself and the ball in the same motion. She stood very close to the young and fresh-faced human who was squatting to catch the ball and jumped back as the ball snapped into the leather piece affixed to the young man’s hand. She stood and quirked her head to one side as she watched the young pitcher with flying dark hair throw another ball and listened as it snapped into the leather coated hand of the other man. She walked the way to where the dark-haired human was throwing and placed an invisible hand on his heart as he stood readying to throw and whispered a soft lyric of hope and strength and protection. She moved to onto the next pitcher and with each, a hand was placed over his heart and after the lyric was sung a small shimmery hand print was left to softly melt through the uniform and into the soul. She came to one and as she placed her hand upon his heart, she felt a different essence of benign and powerful intent. She thought briefly and added her own lyric to the wild essence smiling at the many possibilities that were now opened to this human as the shimmery hand print melded gently with the wild magic. She hoped that she had not missed anybody but her time was limited down in the human realm and she needed to return home. Again the perspective shifted and she was standing among friends again. “It is done. An experience full of strange hopes and possibilities.” She turned to Giant a quizzical little face, “I must return now, but I wish to thank you.” she stood on her toes to give him a quick peck on the cheek. In the next moment as she shimmered away waving quickly she whispered, “Tell me what happens.”
The next day….
Recordia sat on her throne seething. Giant was so happy and yet there was still a bit of an edge. He was still wary of her on a basic level. She smiled mirthlessly; Giant was not as stupid as he looked. She would not tell Giant that she suspected him, her calculating nature suggested the more painful and therefore more pleasurable route, to her at least, would be in directing the weft and warp of the season with her attention specifically honed on the Giants and their fortunes. The present was as good a time as any to begin destroying Giant’s hopes and dreams for the new season. She opened the portal to the human realm and concentrated on seeing the spring training complex for Giant’s beloved team. It shimmered into view. She observed for a few minutes and spotted the Giants’ ace. The slight right-hander was not one of her favourites. He had tempted fate his entire career. He should never have been able to achieve what he had achieved. His body was not made to command the baseball, but command it he did. It was through human determination and ingenuity that he was the pitcher he was. She hated that. He had won the human’s award for pitching excellence two years in a row. And he would now wear the ring of a champion.
It was time that Fate visited the young human, Recordia thought maliciously. Smiling, she closed her eyes and saw the motion of the young man and she reached out with a little crook of her finger causing the little finger on the human’s right hand to break. She was benevolent; she could start small, she said to herself, knowing full well that a fractured finger on a pitching hand was far from minor. She waited with eyes closed listening for the sound of immediate pain. She held for a few seconds and received …nothing. Her eyes flew open and scanned the area for the pitcher. She found him still on the mound, pitching. She blinked her eyes in disbelief and wondered at his pain threshold when she saw it, a shimmering hand print already receding across the heart. She could not believe her eyes. She tried to make another stumble and again the handprint blazed forth and receded quickly. Another and another it was always the same, a small shimmery handprint receding back into the uniform. The mark of the spirit. Recordia saw red.
Out of reflex she almost bellowed for Erbia to bring Giant instantly to her for she knew immediately who was responsible for this. Clearly her Lady Beneficence act had not worked upon his usual gulibulness. Victory and hope had clearly strengthened him. She took a deep breath to calm herself. Her plan was still intact; it had just taken on a new wrinkle that was all. She would wait.
A week later the full teams arrived for the spring. An idea flashed through Recordia’s mercurial and malicious mind. The spirit realm had touched the pitchers. Each pitcher touched by the spirit was protected and Recordia had to abide by its decree as long as it lasted. A smile grew across Recordia’s face as her idea took hold deep within her psyche. Giant protected the pitchers, but had he protected the hitters as well. Recordia did not think that notion had even entered into Giant’s thinking; she would test her theory. She immediately waved open a window to the human realm and cast a hopeful eye onto practice fields where the position players were congregated. The first player to be seen was Mark DeRosa. She smiled, she had toyed with him last year and it had been immensely enjoyable. She waved her hand and DeRosa tripped on an unseen bit of turf. One of the other players, Aubrey Huff, laughing, picked up him, pretending to carefully dust him off, unfortunately temporarily blocking her view. Angered by his accidental intrusion she tripped him, too. It was DeRosa’s turn to laugh and as he helped Huff to stand Recordia had a full view of the front of the first baseman’s uniform and what she saw delighted her mischievous and malicious heart. She saw nothing. No mark of the spirit was anywhere in evidence on Huff’s chest. A wave of clumsiness struck the field where the position players warmed up and faintly on the wind it was almost as if there was laughter to be heard. Buster Posey looked around as if he sensed a slight bit of malice in the air but he shook it off as far too silly a thought to venture forward with and picked up his mitt and trotted over to the pitchers’ field to spend the afternoon with his staff.
Recordia closed the portal after a thoroughly enjoyable morning spent looking over the happenings in the human realm. She could be bide her time for now and her plan would work. It would be a very entertaining season. One thing that added a particularly amusing wrinkle to her plans was that Giant did not suspect a thing. He would not see it coming and she hoped, in a flash he would realise his oversight. He had protected his pitchers, but he had left the hitters to the mercy of fate and if Recordia could not spread her malice upon the whole team she would simply have to use her imagination. And she could be very imaginative. Recordia chuckled and rang her bell for Erbia to prepare her bath. Poor Erbia, what she would suffer this year. It would serve her right. Recordia suspected that she had helped Giant last season. She had no real proof, only suspicion but that alone was enough to torment the sprite. Hitting failures, always a plentiful rod to beat her back with, would be as plentiful and they were painful, especially for one team this year. Recordia would see to that.