January, 2020 – Luxury sedans slowly depart a long driveway lined with palm trees. A calm evening has fallen on West Palm Beach, Florida, but the temperate weather does little to lift the spirits of the crestfallen party-goers. They’ve been waiting all day for a phone call that never came.
“Thank you for having us,” says a neighbor, “and we’re so sorry, Larry. You deserve better.”
Further pleasantries and goodbyes are exchanged, and the last of the guests has gone home. Angela Walker has been through this nine times before. Usually her husband takes the disappointment in stride but this was the tenth time: the final time. She gave him a wary embrace; his stoicism betraying his anger and frustration within.
“Honey, is there anything I can do? I wish there was some way I could help,” she offered.
“Nothing anyone can do now. I guess we just wait for the Veterans Committee.” Neither of them said anything for a long time. They stood there holding each other silently in the hallway, maybe for minutes, maybe for hours.
Eventually, Larry kissed Angela on the cheek and walked dejectedly toward the stairs. He climbed halfway, then turned back to his wife. “I just don’t get it. Rock got in. Vlad got in. Hell, even Hawk got in. My numbers are up there with all of ‘em. You know what was my problem? My best years were in Colorado. Every time I got a hit they said it was because of the damn thin air!”
He stomped the rest of the way up the stairs and yelled, “I wish I had never played in Denver!” as he slammed the bedroom door.
Sleep would not come to Larry. Around midnight he gave up, put on his slippers, and shuffled downstairs by cell phone light. Suddenly, he froze. A floorboard in the living room creaked. He heard the footrest of his favorite recliner spring open. Panic set in. He reached for the nearest weapon: a silver baseball bat engraved: BATTING CHAMPION 1998.
“Whoever you are, I don’t want any trouble,” Larry called out in the darkness. “Leave now and I won’t call the police.”
“Oh, I’m not going anywhere, Larry,” said the intruder in squeaky voice. “In fact, I’ve always been right beside you.”
Why did the voice sound so familiar? Larry couldn’t place where he’s heard it before. Slowly he advanced toward the living room. The creature wasn’t human. It was huge, at least seven feet tall. It was almost comically round in middle with gigantic feet. In the dim light it appeared to be orange and…was it furry? The creature turned its massive head towards Larry and smiled.
Recognition set in for Larry, but that did nothing to quell his terror and amazement. “It can’t be! You…You…”
“Yes, Larry, it’s me. I’m your guardian angel.”
“Who else would it be? Did you think it was a coincidence that a native Canadian would grow up to be an Expos legend? I’ve always watched over you, Larry. Isn’t it time we had a chat, eh?”
Larry lowered his Silver Bat. Questions flooded his mind like a tidal wave. “How can you be Youppi!? How can you be here in my house? If you’re really a guardian angel then HOW COME I’M NOT IN THE HALL OF FAME!??” he shouted.
“I’ve always been there for you when you needed me. I was rooting for you to make it. I tried my best. But that’s not why I’m here. You wanted to know what would’ve happened if you’d never…”
“…Played in Denver! But I love the Rockies! I had great years there! I was just upset, that’s all!”
Youppi! stood and shook his belly. “Of course you’re upset. But the question has always been in the back of your mind. I’m here to answer that question for you.”
Larry’s eyes widened. “Are you going to take me back in time to see how things would be different?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Youppi! said with a chuckle. “Do I look like The Ghost of Christmas Past? I printed out a timeline to show you.” Youppi! reached into his Expos jersey and pulled out a folded paper. He offered it to Larry.
Slowly, Larry reached for the paper. He took it and unfolded it. He sat down on the couch, turned on a lamp, and read.
* * *
1991: Major League Baseball announces two National League expansion teams will begin play in 1993 in Miami, Florida and Portland, Oregon. (Youppi!’s note: links provided indicate anything that would have been different from actual history).
1995: On the backs of their strong pitching staff, the upstart Beavers make a push for their first playoff appearance but come up short on the season’s final day. A long fly off the bat of Eric Young in the third inning is caught by Marvin Benard on the warning track. They finish tied with Houston for the Wild Card spot. In spite of fans and pundits calling for the benching of Dante Bichette all season long, manager Don Baylor starts him in left field. He makes a crucial error that costs them the game, adding fuel to the accusations that his iron glove isn’t worth his solid bat. Following the season, Baylor is fired and Bichette is traded to the American League to be a designated hitter.
2000: Todd Helton slashes .353/.439/.633 and finishes second in the league in all three categories. He also finishes second in 2B, RBI, TB, and OPS. Barry Bonds tops the National League in OBP and SLG and narrowly edges out teammate Jeff Kent for his record fourth MVP award.
December, 2000: Portland signs Mike Hampton to a record $121 million, eight-year deal. Hampton wins over fans immediately by touting the Portland area school systems as the reason he chose to sign. He would have several successful seasons for the Beavers and become a fan favorite.
2004: The Beavers lose 89 games and attendance remains poor. Larry Walker is sent to St. Louis at the trading deadline for players to be named later. Ownership decides to move the fences in to stimulate offense after the Beavers finish last in the league in home runs.
2007: After years of losing, the Beavers make a memorable late season playoff push. They win 13 of their final 14 games to tie the Pardes with a 90-72 record forcing a play-in game. The score is tied 6-6 in the 13th inning when Scott Hairston hits a two-run homer for the visitors. After doubles by Kazuo Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki to lead off the bottom of the inning, Matt Holliday sends a deep drive to right field. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite carry far enough and is run down by Brian Giles. The Padres celebrate on the mound in Portland and go on to the World Series. The Beavers’ playoff drought continues.
2009: They’ve finally done it; the Beavers make the postseason with a 90-72 record! They split the first two games of the NLDS in Philadelphia. In game 3 with the score tied 5-5 in the ninth inning and Jimmy Rollins on third base, Ryan Howard hits a fly ball to center field. Rollins tags and bluffs but the ball wasn’t hit far enough for him to score. The game goes into extra innings. The Beavers get a walk-off single from staff ace Ubaldo Jimenez pinch-hitting. Portland goes on to win the series in five games. They continue on to the NLCS and eventually the World Series where they would be defeated by the Yankees.
2012: The best moment of the Beavers’ dismal season is when they retire Mike Hampton’s number in a touching mid-season ceremony.
January, 2017: Larry Walker receives less than 5% of the votes for the Hall of Fame and falls off the ballot.
* * *
Larry awoke with a start and sat up in bed. The morning sun was brightening his bedroom curtains. Angela rolled over and sleepily asked, “Are you OK?”
Larry didn’t answer. He jumped out of bed and checked his phone. It was the morning after the Hall of Fame announcements. He had several text messages from apologetic friends and former teammates. He ran downstairs to his trophy case. Yes, the batting trophy was still there. It had all been a dream.
He made himself some coffee and turned on the TV. ESPN was running a special on Derek Jeter, who had gotten into the Hall on the first ballot. He sat down in his recliner and put up his feet, but something didn’t feel right. There was a lump in the chair that hadn’t been there before. He reached between the cushions and pulled out something large and soft.
It was a dark blue baseball hat with a few orange hairs inside and an Expos logo in front.Next post: On the Innate Beauty of Baseball
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