Episode 46 — Chapter 52
All I need now is to start fantasizing about the Atlanta Braves winning the World Series; then I’ll be sure it’s time for the men in white coats to commit me along with my new friend, Ty Cobb.
Bolt’s brilliance, drive and good fortune had infected every segment of his business empire, save one—the Atlanta Braves. There, he couldn’t predict revenues, control costs and determine profits—because there was no freaking way to tell what was going to happen from one year to the next with his crazy club. Little good his optimism did when it came to baseball in recent years; sure, the team had once been a perennial favorite to contend for the World Series, but nearly always fell short of the winner’s circle. In those years where the Braves had reached post-season play, the team had a pathetic record of underachieving; but now the play-offs seemed as improbable as they had back in the eighties, long before Bolt acquired the team. Rebuilding in baseball was no fun and creating a winning culture required a few players who actually knew how to play the game! After all, it was all about winning the World Series, not just making the playoffs; and, the current Braves’ contingent was light years away from either achievement.
Years of dashed dreams had caused Bolt to develop a thick skin, to lower his expectations, to tolerate mediocrity. Now Cobb was threatening to change all that. Could one player of supreme talent and confidence change an entire culture? Was it possible that the Braves moribund fortunes could somehow be reversed? Could this be the year when the impossible happened?
What the hell am I thinking? This schizoid hasn’t even played a single game.
Yet there was something about the man that inspired hope, that caused Bolt to fantasize about red, white and blue bunting hanging on infield walls, about Naval jets flying overhead, about celebrities descending in droves upon SunTrust Park in October, about the Braves being the talk of the nation.
Damn you, Cobb. I was doing fine with my mistress until you came along. Hell, yes I would give half of my friggin’ wealth for one round in the winner’s circle. Bolt exited his limousine amid a conclave of reporters, who were hoping for an advance tip on the subject of the news conference.
Cobb was dressed in an understated three-piece navy blue business suit. Savannah was her usual stunning self, wearing a pastel dress with pleated skirt which complemented her slightly curled waist-length blond hair. Calvin rejected formal attire, in favor of a light brown sport coat, dark brown trousers and cowboy boots.
The press announcement took place in the magnificent lobby and reception area of Bolt Tower. An interior waterfall and six-story atrium provided a lavish backdrop for the occasion. Reporters knew that Bolt reserved that location for announcements of no small import or bearing. Savannah started counting the number of press attachés, but gave up after she reached thirty and noticed a television cameraman looking her way. There was an electric air of anticipation as the press entourage breathlessly awaited a bulletin that had been leaked as the most dramatic pronouncement concerning baseball in the last half-century.
The mammoth gold-embossed reception clock chimed eleven o’clock as Bolt began his lengthy stride to the temporary podium where Cobb was standing. Muted applause greeted Bolt’s arrival. He looked out at the crowd and paused for several seconds before speaking, as cameras and mobile phones readied.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the press…
“Friends and fans of the Atlanta Braves…
“The Atlanta Braves Baseball Club signed a player to a major league contract early this morning just after midnight. It is anticipated that this player will be our starting center fielder for the duration of the season after his initial phasing-in period. The player we have signed was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League…” Suddenly there were gasps, cheers and screams from the huddled audience. Yet, Eugene McGentry of the Oakland A’s, the American League’s reigning M.V.P. coming off a 51 home run season, was a first baseman, not a centerfielder.
“…during his last season. His batting statistics from his previous campaign included 47 doubles, 24 triples, 83 stolen bases, 144 runs batted in, and a batting average of…” Bolt paused to let it all sink in, the buzz from the audience augmenting each second he waited, “Listen carefully please, this man’s batting average last season was four hundred and twenty, making it five consecutive American League batting titles.” The mood of the crowd was now one of frenzy as several spectators began shouting.
“It’s not possible…”
“No such person exists…”
Yet, knowing that Bolt’s press conferences were not conducted to perpetrate practical jokes, there was a look of hope on the faces of those addicted to the fortunes of the Atlanta Braves—akin to a spiritual yearning for a miracle. The tumult of the crowd bordered on hysteria, with shouts and jeers reverberating against the marble walls. Angered reporters began converging toward the raised platform where Bolt stood with his entourage and mystery guest.
“Please, let me finish,” he cried into the microphone. “Quiet, please… quiet…” The crowd enforced the silence with a cascade of hushes and sh-h-h’s. “…Many of you read the article in Sport Report about a man who claimed to be the legendary Detroit superstar from yesteryear. I was suspicious, too, when he came to my office a short time ago and requested to play for the great State of Georgia, where, as we all know, the great Ty Cobb was born and raised. Call it a miracle. Call it a mystery. Call it an answer to the prayer of the masses. Call it whatever you want. For all I know, time travel’s been invented in the future, and the inventor is apparently a huge baseball fan…”
The crowd suddenly erupted in laughter.
“… because I assure you that the man standing next to me is the Detroit superstar, in the flesh. We have verified his identity in every possible way along with his superlative talent. Don’t believe me?
“Believe your own eyes when he takes the field!
“Ladies and gentleman… I present to you the Georgia Peach himself, Mr. Tyrus Raymond Cobb.” Cobb stepped forward, separating himself from the cluster of people encroaching onto the platform. Bolt grasped Cobb’s hand and extended it upward, while mobile phones flashed and cameras continued to roll.
The press conference lasted another twenty minutes as the engaging Bolt responded to the hyperventilating press corps, with a mixture of transparency and humor. He was in his element and enjoyed fencing with even the rancorous and skeptical members. Bolt was masterful in his protection of Cobb, answering most of the questions directed at Cobb yet allowing the press to hear Cobb’s voice and sincerity briefly. For the media, it ended all too quickly.