Episode 47 — Chapter 53
Cincinnati v. Atlanta
Cobb held up the white jersey and looked at the word “Braves” written in red script with blue border across the chest of his uniform shirt, along with the tomahawk logo underneath. There was piping around the collar, down the front of the jersey and around the bottom of the sleeves. Cobb turned the uniform around and noticed that the back of the jersey had his last name embroidered above the number “8″, in red, with a navy-blue border.
Why the number eight? Cobb wondered. The number meant nothing to him, but he found it a novel idea to mark players with a name and number. I might even suggest it to Lavin, when I find my way back.
He looked at the white pants, which also had identical piping about the belt loops and down the outside seam of each pant leg. Only the black socks and stirrup reminded him of his days with the Tigers. He pulled up the socks first and then arranged his pants so that they stopped just below the knee, the way he had always worn them with the Tigers. After dressing, he looked at himself in the mirror next to the equipment manager’s counter; it seemed odd to be wearing something other than the gothic D he’d become accustomed to during his major league career. The materials seemed too light and silky smooth, so very different from the heavy thick flannel he’d always put on before. He couldn’t help smiling at his reflection in the mirror.
I’ll be even faster than before.
Cobb spent the next hour going over club policies, procedures and baseball signs with one of the coaches. He smiled at himself that his unwelcome and jarring trip through time had produced at least one welcome gift: avoidance of Spring Training—an event he always dreaded. He smiled inwardly at the shenanigans he had employed in past years to avoid most of the pre-season calisthenics and exhibition play.
Carrying his civilian clothes, glove and cleats in a duffle bag, Cobb walked down the short hall to the Braves’ dressing room. Several other players had congregated in the room, in various stages of dress.
Cobb halted at the entrance. He overhead his name mentioned several times by players who were not yet aware of his presence.
“…Ty who? Are you shittin’ me? He’ll make us the laughing stock of the league…”
“Carpenter says he’s one arrogant bastard…”
“Time travel, my ass. Bolt’s really gone off the deep end this time…”
“We’ll make his life a living hell… the sooner we’re rid of this farce the better…”
Cobb kept his head forward and walked toward the locker he’d been assigned, as the muttering abruptly stopped once recognition dawned that the new Brave had entered the room. The players pretended to ignore his presence and there were no words of welcome. As Cobb approached his locker, he became aware of a putrid odor emanating from within the metal compartment. Opening the door, the inside of his locker had been smeared with human feces. A placard hung from the left-side hook under the single shelf contained his name, except that his first name had been crossed out and replaced with the word “Die.”
Cobb had a flashback to the hostility he had endured with Detroit at the beginning of his first full season in the majors. His Tiger teammates had systematically schemed to break his spirit all year long. He recalled angrily having been locked out of hotel bathrooms on the road, having his shoes nailed to the floor; he’d been showered with dripping wet newspapers from anonymous teammates on train rides, and more than once had found the crown of a hat impaled on a restaurant coat rack. What few roommates he had been able to sustain for any length of time had asked to be transferred, not able to withstand the pressure from veterans who made it clear that any kindness to Cobb would be met with reprisal. Seared in Cobb’s mind remained the ultimate affront from catcher Schmidt: the intentional destruction of all of his specially-made ash bats.
“Lick it up, rookie,” an anonymous voice pierced his ears, followed by raucous laughter.
“It sure as hell smells better than you,” cried another.
A tall, half-dressed, sullen and muscular black man walked past Cobb, snarling, “Go back where you came from, white boy, or we’ll run y’oh ass off the team…”
Cobb stood his ground, staring back at the hostile player who surpassed him in height by several inches and in weight by thirty pounds.
Cobb’s first words to his new teammate evinced no cowardice, “Where I come from, all niggers do… is shag balls.”
Jumping over the bench that separated the two, the black player charged into Cobb, striking him just below his left shoulder. Cobb fell back, crashing against the locker. On the rebound, Cobb forced his aggressor back causing him to trip over the bench. On top for a brief instant, Cobb landed a solid right to the chin of the veteran player.
Several teammates rushed to the aid of DeMarcus Gates. Cobb felt a knee to his ribs and his head being pulled back and then smashed against the bench.
Thud Carpenter’s voice was suddenly heard, “What the hell is going on?!” He gave an accusatory glance at Cobb, “You prima donna… The minute you show up, fighting breaks out? You’d better shape up!” The putrid odor invaded Carpenter’s senses and he saw the brown discoloration inside the locker and instantly recognized what had happened, “What the hell are you guys trying to do, get us all fired? This guy is Bolt’s pet project. Hazin’ him won’t do any of us any good. Let him die on his own! He won’t be around for long…” Carpenter’s words faded as he stormed out of the malodorous dressing room and walked into his adjacent office.
Slumping to the floor next to the open locker, Cobb was only half aware of the warnings and cursing coming his way. He retreated inside his mind, hatred mounting at his compatriots.
I have already paid my dues—and at no small price!
The thought of having to relive a season of horrors—with the attendant hatred, jealousy, mockery and rejection—made his blood boil. If the price of admission back to the majors required reliving that nightmare, he was prepared to pay it, but this time the bloodletting wouldn’t be one-sided, nor would it be pretty.
Cobb washed and rinsed his forehead gash and was given a new locker by the equipment manager. By the time he returned to the dressing room, all the players were gone, having exited onto the playing field. Cobb sat on the bench adjacent to his locker, still smoldering from his earlier encounter. His intense eyes stared straight ahead. Imprinted in his mind were the faces of his assailants.
They will pay!