Cunningham Wins the Title For the Titans

April 29, 2008
By
The headlines on The New York Letter said “CUNNINGHAM WINS THE TITLE FOR THE TITANS”. The highlights all showed my game winning home run, a 417-foot blast that flew into the New York night sky, like a brilliant shooting star. The fans, all 55,000 of them, chanted my name in an amazing unity, one so amazing that if you were not at the ballpark, you would think it was only one person. However, the newspapers, the highlights and the fans did not see what happened after the champagne celebration or the bombardment of confetti. They did not witness what happened on 26th Street that very night.


I was very stupid back then. Invincibility and power was all mine, well so I thought. Being the captain of the New York Titans, 30 Time American Baseball League Champions, I had no other way to feel. The entire city was in my grasp, everyone wore my jerseys, and my name was a household one even in the star-studded streets of Hollywood. Back then I was 6’4” and most of my 200 pounds was muscle mass. But nowadays, my strength and might has disappeared, like dust in the wind. Having my best friend on the team, Frankie Roberts, really didn’t help my egotistical mentality. Frankie has been my best friend since grade school and we have been on every single one of our teams together, from those days playing in Little League ball the way through college and into the pros. However, he was never quite as good as me on the diamond and I always used that to make myself seem even more invincible and powerful. He was a few inches shorter than me, like 6’2”, and he was never quite as strong as I was. But Frankie had something I never had, even in my wildest dreams, and that was intelligence and common sense. He always accepted my foolish personality for what it was and he always bailed me out of the outcomes stupidity brings. The one time his common sense failed, though, we both ended up paying the price.


That day was the big deciding Game 7 of the American Baseball League’s Championship Series. My New York Titans were up against our bitter rivals, the Boston Bashers. Our rivalry was bitter and cruel, only comparable to the hatred between the Gods and the demons. After the first highly anticipated six games of this fight to the death, the series was even, both teams winning three games apiece. As I stepped onto the field before the start of the first inning, I could feel the tension slowly creeping into the packed stadium, like a dense fog. I was not feeling nervous or uptight, but I could see nervousness staring back at me when I looked at Frankie.
“What’s wrong with you?” I said, “You feelin’ nervous?”
“Nah”, he answered in a somewhat trembled tone, “just a lil uptight.”


After those words, I sprinted to my shortstop position and Frankie jogged precariously to left field. Our star pitcher B.J. Jackson was on the mound. He did not give up an earned run in the duration of the playoffs, and by the look in his eye; I could tell that he was determined to keep the scoreless streak continuing. It was going as planned, until their all-star cleanup hitter, Daniel Niles, stepped into the righty batter’s box and ferociously slammed the extra dirt of his cleat with his finely polished, authentic wooden bat. If his massive biceps and impeccable leg muscles didn’t intimidate you, his 520-foot home run would scare you like a ravaging tiger. This gave the Bashers a 1-0 lead. However, a 1-0 lead is an unloaded gun, which serves no protection for team’s quest to victory.


In the fifth inning, Frankie stepped up to the plate, his nerves by now have calmed and he was focused on exterminating another team on our quest to the top. As he dug his feet into the soft, clay-like dirt of the batter’s box, he looked down the chalky third base line. He stared into my eyes and I stared into his and could feel his determinedness to drive me home and tie up the game. He got into his stance and stared down the pitcher as he released the ball. The pitch was intended to be a low, inside curve, but all it did was hang. No brake, it just hung on an imaginary table, waiting for Frankie to crush it. And he did, up the left field gap, for a crucial two out, RBI triple. The crowd went crazy, like a wild pack of baboons, and the game was tied 1-1.


That was how the game stayed. The score was frozen as the mysterious aura of the ninth inning approached the diamond. With two outs in the top of the ninth, Niles dug in, anxiously awaiting an opportunity to redeem his two strikeouts in the previous innings. His frown was spitting fury, almost as much as it was spitting chewing tobacco. Jackson held the ball behind his back in his right hand, as he continuously shook off the sign for an intentional walk. Eventually, our catcher and coach gave into his stubbornness and gave him the sign for a low fastball. Jackson came to the set position, his cool and collected face hidden by his glove. As soon as the ball was released, he wished he could have taken it back because it traveled high and inside, straight into the power zone of Niles. And WHACK! He sent the mistake high into the air, toward the left field bleachers. Another run for the Bashers seemed imminent, as this ball seemed to have no chance to stay in the park. All of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, Frankie jumped up the wall like a kangaroo, stuck his glove a foot above the top, and snatched the baseball. It may have seemed like an amazing, life saving play, but it would end up costing him dearly.


I was slated to lead off what could be the last inning of the entire season. Figures, I thought, let’s have the best player in this league win the title for his team with a walk off home run against his rival team. Just like a child’s storybook. As I stepped up to the plate, I felt the hope of an entire city, an entire state, pounce on my shoulders, like a cunning panther pouncing atop its prey. But this immense pressure and hope did not penetrate the inner caverns of my mind. My nerves stayed in tact as I gallantly pranced over into the batters’ box and looked down the third base line for my coach’s commands.
“Swing away, Jack, Swing away” he said in his boisterous but yet confident voice that I knew far too well.


I dug my cleats into the already tarnished dirt. My bat hung atop my shoulder and salty sweat slowly crept down my dry cheeks, until my stained jersey absorbed it. The opposing pitcher stared at me, I stared back at him, and for a swift minute, I could enter his mind. He was thinking of throwing a slider on the inside corner. I could see his hand adjusting to the grip of the ball and he began his windup. He released the ball, allowing me to confirm my prediction of a low, inside slider. I waited and waited for the pitch to break to the inside. Once it did… “CRACK”, I sent it flying high into the New York night sky. The whole crowd held its breath, waiting to see if a lucky fan in the stands would be able to hold the game-winning ball from Game Seven. My entire team ran to the top of the dugout, to examine the ball’s flight and to see if I won the game. And all I could do was stare. Stand in the batters’ box, bat resting in my right hand, and stare. The left fielder ran to the warning track, to the wall, then hung his head in disappointment. At that moment, I threw my bat towards the dugout in jubilation, stuck my pointer finger in the air, and victoriously ran around the bases. The crowd went wild, so wild that you would never guess that human beings were sitting in those very bleachers. My whole team ran out to home plate to greet me and celebrate our championship. However, as I was rounding third base, Niles looked up and stared at me. I stared back at him, but this kind of stare was far different than the one I followed the ball with. I looked far into his eyes and I could see revenge floating in his pupils, ready for its opportunity to be unleashed. I ignored it at first, but looking back on it now, I should have done something about it right there.


After being bombarded by reporters and photographers, I was finally able to escape into the celebratory confines of the locker room. I was greeted by a surprise waterfall of vibrant confetti and was quickly handed a bottle of Krug Champagne. Corks were flying off at high velocity and I decided to join the champagne showers. I quickly ran to Frankie, who was smiling and laughing almost as much as I was. I drenched him in champagne just before he could get to me. Music blaring, all of my teammates and I bearing champion t-shirts, all seemed well. The night seemed even better when Frankie proposed that we go out to a club and celebrate our marvelous victory. It seemed like an amazing way to top off the night, but now, I wish that I would have denied his request and went straight to my home.


My finely polished black Escalade, with its brand new 24-inch chrome rims, was awaiting Frankie and I in the secret parking garage for the players. As we stepped into the car, one question was on our minds: which club do we feel like going to? We needed the most luxurious club with the best music in New York City. Being the champions of the baseball world, we needed to celebrate our tremendous victory in style. One name popped into our heads: Blue Ice Night Club on 26th Street. The entrance fee was grand, only celebrities could afford it.
“Yeah, lets go there,” said Frankie, a great deal of excitement was present in his voice.
“Another championship”, I said in a triumphant tone, “bet you we nab another one next year from those stupid Bashers”.
“Yeah, I sure hope so, I mean we almost let them win it this year”, Frankie muttered, almost sounding pessimistic.
“Yeah, well you saved us with that amazing grab on Niles”, I said reassuringly.
“Yeah, I guess so” Frankie answered.


The conversation died, as we pulled into the first empty parking space available in between all the Vipers and Hummers. I cautiously stepped out, making sure I didn’t knock into any doors or side view mirrors. All of a sudden, Frankie and I heard something prowling in the darkness, like a panther about to pounce on his prey.
“Did you hear that?” Frankie said, with a sense of fear on his mind.
“Yeah…Yeah I did, but its probably someone walking out of their car”, I said, trying to reassure my friend.


As we came closer and closer to the entrance, we heard the footsteps getting louder and closer. In between the footsteps, we heard an odd click, almost like the cocking of a handgun. By now, our nerves were rattled and we began to ponder, ponder what was lurking in the shadowy realm a few feet behind us. And in a swift second, our answer sadly revealed itself. A swift, silver flash hit Frankie and penetrated his arm. Another one struck him in the leg. I would later find out that they were the bullets of a .45 mm handgun. My first reaction was to slide under a nearby Hummer and drag my wounded friend with me. The shadowy assassin was still searching for us, like a panther searching for his prey. I slowly looked up from under the monstrous vehicle, to find the identity of the prowling gunman. As he removed his ski mask, I instantly noticed who it was. Daniel Niles slowly walked under a streetlight that reveled his face.
“Where are those stupid titan guys?” he said, his manly voice overpowering the sound of the music inside.


After a few seconds of nonchalantly searching for Frankie and I, he casually walked back to his Ford Mustang and drove away.


He was the last of my concerns. Frankie was gushing blood and I knew that if I did not help him soon, he would have no chance of making it. I frantically reached for my cell phone and called 911, hoping that an ambulance could come quickly. Fortunately, they had an ambulance not being used a block down and it was being sent immediately. As I sat in the back of the ambulance, shaking violently and praying that my friend would be all right, Frankie muttered in a low pitch croak “Don’t worry Will, everything’s gunna be fine”. I nodded and sat in silence until we arrived at the hospital.


Frankie’s stretcher was rolled rapidly down the hospital corridor. It looked as if he was mummified, but the bandages didn’t help stop the bleeding. The white bandages quickly transformed color to a vibrant, brilliant shade of red. As the door to the emergency room slammed shut, I sat down and began to cry. No, not just a soft weep, I began to ball vociferously and I had to hide my face in my hands. The realization that I may never see my friend again was running through my head and I could not deal with it. I have spent my entire life with Frankie and I don’t know if I could live it the way I wanted to ever again without him there.


Once I got settled and I stopped crying so loudly, I felt no need to sit anymore. So, I got up and began pacing around on the off-white tiled floor. As I paced, I looked down at these tiles and I thought I was going crazy. The tiles began talking to me.
“Invincibility is nothing but a myth to a human, it will never be reached or touched by a human being in its history”, they said, “at any moment at any time, you can be brought down from the top and your name will disappear, like dust in the wind”. At that moment, I finally realized that I could be lying on that hospital bed, instead of Frankie and that I deserve to be practically dying that night more than Frankie.


As I came to this realization, the EKG machine next to Frankie’s bed came to a screeching halt…





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