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Scenes From An Offseason, Volume 1

SCENE: It is late evening, a moonless night. Nick Punto sits alone in a Milwaukee hotel room, illuminated only by the light from a single, weak bulb in a hopeless standing lamp. He reads a newspaper, which upon closer inspection is a well-worn USA Today from March 2003.

PUNTO (mumbling, to himself): These USA Today guys really get down to the heart of the matter, don't they... oh, Simon Cowell, when will you finally realize that you just want to be loved?

The phone rings. Without looking up, Punto answers.

PUNTO: Hello?

There is silence, except for the sound of deep breathing coming from the receiver.

PUNTO: Hello? Who is this? Speak up!

More deep breathing.

PUNTO: Hello? (long pause) Wait a minute. Ron, is this you?

The breathing catches, on the other end of the phone, but the voice does not speak.

PUNTO: Ron, I've moved on. Do you hear me? I've moved on! You need to move on too! We had a good thing, but it's over! Quit calling me! YOU NEED TO GET ON WITH YOUR LIFE AND LET ME GET ON WITH MINE!

A long pause, then the soft "click" of a disconnection from the other end of the line. Punto slams the receiver down and throws his newspaper aside. He stares at the floor and the weight of the years seems to land squarely on his shoulders. He withdraws a single cigarette from a pack on the table. After a moment, we see that it is made of candy.

SCENE: A janitor walks down a long hallway in the bowels of Target Field. It is afternoon, and the orange-red October sunlight filters through small windows set high into the walls. A set of keys, thick as a catcher's mitt, jangles at the belt of the janitor. He stops at a door marked "Operations," withdraws the keyring, and searches through for the appropriate instrument.

The janitor swings open the door and flips the light switch. A blaze of harsh fluorescent light fills the cinder-block room, and there - sitting on a stool, apparently unmoving, is a man with a pair of sideburns that'd be unmistakeable in any light.

JANITOR (jumps back, startled): Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't.... Joe Mauer?

MAUER (slowly, measuredly); Don't. Move.

JANITOR: I... I'm sorry, what?

MAUER: There are billions of bacteria in this room. Billions upon billions of germs, all watching, waiting, waiting for their chance. Three million cells in my body die every second. In the time it took you to open that door, ten million of my cells - parts of my body - winked out of existence, and I got three and a half seconds closer to death. The janitor shifts uncomfortably. I SAID DON'T MOVE!

JANITOR: Joe, what are you doing here?

MAUER: Every breath I take is one subtracted from my sum allotment. But here, in this room - concrete all around - nothing gets in, nothing goes out. It's the only solution.

JANITOR: The only solution to what?

MAUER: Go outside, she said. Go outside and play. That's what Mom always said. Play with your brothers. Go run around the house. Just go do something. Well, you know what, Mom? OUTSIDE IS DANGEROUS! Outside is where the germs are! Outside is where people get hurt and sick. Outside is where the yelling is. It's where the hurting happens. It's where I break down and people shout at me for it. Well, no more. Come back in February and get me, and not a moment sooner. Come back when I've got no choice but to get on that plane for Florida.

Mauer pauses. His gaze, until now steady, drops slowly to his own feet.

MAUER (whispering, as if to himself): Come back... when the yelling stops.

The janitor, dumbfounded, backs slowly out the door and softly closes it. Inside, we hear one droplet of water hit the floor, and the shallow breathing of a man who may or may not be breathing like someone who's crying.

SCENE: A bowling alley in the wrong part of town. A neon sign hangs out front, glowing its message in exactly the shade of yellow and red that haunts nightmares: "_OWLING AL__Y." A midsize sedan pulls up to the side of the building, and a young man steps out - clean-cut, but with fear dancing behind his eyes.

DREW BUTERA (uncertainly, whispering): Hello? Are you there? I got your message... hello? Listen, just let them go. We don't need to do this. He straightens up. Clearly, he's been practicing this part. I... uh... I've been thinking. I've had a long time to think this year, and I, uh, I don't think we should do this stuff any more. I'm older now and I've got my career to think about and, you know, uh, I'm not so sure you're, uh, a good influence, you know?

He stops. He looks around, wild-eyed. There's a noise behind him, and Butera whirls around with fear.

BUTERA: Hello? Are you even there?

He waits, on edge... but after a moment, decides there's nothing there. His shoulders drop. He exhales, a long exhale - partly of relief, partly of the adrenaline leaving his body.

He turns back to the car... and jumps in alarm. Leaning against the car is exactly who he came to see.

PAVSTACHE (tossing away cigarette): Oh, Sweet Drew. You didn't think for a minute I wouldn't be here?

He grinds the cigarette into the gravel with the heel of his boot, and begins slowly walking towards Butera.

PAVSTACHE: I've been gone a long time, buddy, but I'm back. I'm back. The neon from the sign glints wildly off his eyes. And this time... whoo, this time, I ain't holding nothing back.