Ron Gardenhire sits alone at his desk in the darkened bowls of Target Field. The only light in the entire facility is the dim glow of the lamp on his desk. He picks up a pair of dice and then rolls them. He checks a sheet of paper with rows and columns of numbers.
He picks up the dice, cards and papers and puts them in a box labeled "STRAT-O-MATIC - DELUSIONAL EDITION 2013."
Suddenly the door opens with a crash. Gardenhire dives under the desk. A familiar voice calls out, "Reporting for duty, skip!"
Gardenhire’s cap slowly appears over the edge of the desk, followed by a pair of twitching eyes. In the dim flicker of the lamp light, he makes our a diminutive, almost elfish figure wearing a catcher’s chest protector with a catcher’s mask under his arm.
"Nick? Nick Punto? Is that you?"
"Sure skip, thought you’d be expecting me."
"What? You scared the hell out of me. Dammit, I peed myself. And these shorts were still good for a couple of days. What the hell do you mean ‘expecting you?’"
"Well Skip, I was lounging by the team pool in LA with Misty and Heather - they’re the team massueses - say why didn’t we have anything like that? - anyway, Heather hands me the sports page and I see Old Joe is moving to first and you expect me to play a big role next year."
"Really." It was not a question.
"Sure Skip, I was a little surprised since I never played catcher before, but I figured, how hard could it be? I mean, even Butera could do it. Oh, and don’t worry about the concussion thing. After I sto … borrowed this gear, I had Misty hit me in the head with a bat a few times. Didn’t affect me a bit."
"So, this was all from the newspaper?"
"Yep, Skip. I was surprised I hadn’t heard from my agent about the team’s offer, but he’s so busy. He is always out when I call. Most times I have to sneak in and hide in his office to catch him."
"Nick, did you notice anything … odd … about the story in the paper?"
"Oh yeah, they kept misspelling my name. Called me Pinto, can you believe that?"
"Nick … ever hear of a kid named Josie… nice kid, think he was in Beloit when you left … his last name is …"
"… Pinto?" Punto’s lower lip starts quivering. A single tear tries to escape the corner of an eye where the light of hope is slowly fading. His silohuette slowly collapses in on itself, transforming from elvish to dwarfish.
"C’mon kid. I know a Dairy Queen where they put extra nuts in the Peanut Buster Parfait."
Gardy puts his arm around Punto’s shoulder and they silently walk side by side into the darkness.