Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Free Featured Fiction: Hack: The Second Inning, #1

We're still alive and kicking! I promise more details in the coming weeks. For now, please enjoy this Thursday edition of Free Featured Fiction, finally taking us from the friendly, warm confines of the First "Inning" of the story into the dark, damp, pneumonia-riddled cockles of...The Second Inning!

Not only that, but I'm double-dipping this week: TWO installments for you. Can't beat that kind of value...or the price...

Here are the previous installments of this series:

First Inning #s 1-2

First Inning #3
First Inning #4
First Inning #5

DISCLAIMER: This story contains adult language and content--reader discretion is advised...

And now, without further delay, the Second Inning begins. Enjoy! -D.J.



Hack: The Complete Game
D.J. Gelner
Second Inning
#s 1-2
“BOOM!”
The door to the media room slammed against the wall. Hack’s usual sneer was even darker and more dour than it had been only hours before the Magpies lost their first game under his management, 5-4.
It had been a while since Hack had confronted the media, save for some particularly nasty spats in the catering line in the Jake’s press box back in Cleveland.
It was Hack’s least favorite part of the job: explaining his decisions to the vile, pasty, overweight, obsessive lot who devoted their lives to covering the exploits of men who played a child’s game.
That isn’t to say that he didn’t relish the occasional verbal sparring and repartee that accompanied press conferences, but by-and-large, Hack preferred to be in the safe cocoon of the clubhouse, away from the prying eyes of reporters eager to make names for themselves.
And yet, when Hack opened the door to the media room, he was shocked.
He had expected news of his arrival to have spread all over the state of Ohio, for reporters from Fox Sports and ESPN to travel to Hoplite to bother, or even beg him for a sound bite, a quote, a quip.
If that fellow who had caused him to smash his TV the previous evening showed up, all the better.
Instead, only four reporters and two cameramen sat in the rusty-looking squadron of perhaps a dozen folding chairs in front of the microphone, which sat atop a gerry-rigged podium. Behind the podium sat a professional-looking purple backdrop with the Magpies’ logo interspersed with a string of letters and symbols that Hack didn’t recognize as a web address.
 The lack of attention angered Hack even more; he strutted to the podium and allowed his anger to take control.
When he was a couple of steps away, a young black man with close-cropped black hair and glasses stopped him with a handshake and a smile.
“Hey, Mr. O’Callahan! I’m Marc Blake, Magpie media relations. Nice to finally—” Blake whispered. A photographer’s flash bulb illuminated the pair.
“Yeah, yeah, yer’ the one that wrangles these animals.”
Blake smiled perhaps a bit too broadly, “Something like that. Your introductory press conference is going to have to wait until after Friday’s game, but we figured you could have a short meeting with the local media tonight so that—”
“Son, I’ve managed in this game for over forty years. I know what the hell I’m doin’ when it comes to the goddamned press. Just stay outta my way, okay?”
Blake pursed his lips and shook his head, “This isn’t Philly or even Cleveland, Coach. This is Hoplite; be gentle, okay?”
“Fuck off,” Hack nearly pushed Blake aside as he stormed to the podium. Several more flashes.
“Turn that goddamned thing off,” Hack hissed at the photographer. The stunned cameraman made a face and typed in several commands on his camera’s touchscreen.
Hack stood as the assembled media sat at various levels of rapt attention, eager for the grizzled manager to make some sort of comment on the loss.
“Well…shoot,” Hack commanded.
“Coach O’Callahan, Jim Taggert, Hoplite Herald,” Taggert was a raspy old cuss of a newspaperman, cut from the cloth of the great beat reporters, to the point that his gray hair and complexion could be attributable to the newsprint that coursed through his veins. His voice was as deep and gravely as a potholed parking lot. “Tough one to take there in the bottom of the ninth. Your thoughts on the loss?”
“My thoughts? I thought it was pretty terrible, obviously. We were winnin’, then we weren’t winnin’ anymore. Only so much I can do in six hours.”
“So you pin most’ve the blame on the closer, Tommy Stearns, for the two home runs in the ninth?”
Hack knew a trap when he saw it, “Team sport, team loss.”
“Coach O’Callahan, Liam Canard, Magpie Mayhem dot com,” A short, thin kid with a bob-cut and thick, black plastic frames asked.
“What the fuck now?” Hack muttered with a cough. Fortunately, the bark didn’t inspire a fit, and effectively masked his profanity.
“Magpie Mayhem? Only the premier site dedicated to all things Magpies?” Canard snorted with too much unearned superiority. “Did you think about pulling Stearns after the first homerun?”
“I’d have to be a damned fool not to,” Hack said. “But fer’ tonight, all I had to go on were scouting reports, turned in by scouts who may or may not be thick-headed shits who have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about.”
An attractive blonde female who wore a loud, pink business blazer winced and shook her head at the video cameraman next to her.
“So for now? Right now? Sure, Stearns is the closer. But he fell in love with his fastball too much tonight. Trusted ‘the old way’ of doin’ things. Right now, everyone on this team should be on notice, no matter how good ya’ are or what kind of a prospect the team thinks ya’ are, if we don’t start winnin’, I’m gonna make some changes. Hell, I might make some changes fer’ Friday, just fer’ the hell of it.”
“But his xFIP is off the—”
“His what now?” Hack asked.
“XFIP? You know, expected fielding independent pitching?”
Hack shook his head at Taggert, “And here I was thinking that Stearns had some kind of disease. Last time I checked, son, nothing a pitcher does is independent of his fielders.”
“That may be true, but by using different metrics, it clearly was the right decision to—”
“It was clearly the wrong decision to give this kid a credential, Blake.” Hack stared through Canard, who cowered in his seat.
Taggert raised his notebook, “Coach, talk a bit about that throw Manny Poblado made in the sixth.”
Hack nodded curtly, “Hell of a throw. Rocket arm on that kid, ta’ backhand it in the hole like that, and rifle it over to PatrĂ³n at first ta’ get the guy, that’s somethin’ else.”
Taggert could’ve sworn he saw the gears already turning in the salty manager’s head.
“Coach O’Callahan, April Barker, Channel 7 News,” the woman in the pink blazer said, “Why did you decide to make your return to Hoplite, and why right now?”
“Whoa, hey, sorry folks,” Blake stepped forward, hands outstreched, “Coach is gonna answer questions about all’a that good stuff after Friday’s game. This is a game night only session.”
“Okay then,” Barker said. “How was your first game in Hoplite? What’d you think of the fans?”
“The fans? You think I have time to think about the fans during a game, Missy? Let me tell you somethin’, I didn’t meet any of these players until an hour before game time,” Hack paused to let the sentiment linger in the media room.
Hack didn’t have to tell them that it was his choice not to.
“I was tryin’ to get a feel for the club, figure out what’s what.”
“Did you?” Barker asked.
“What?”
“Did you get a feel for the club?”
Hack grimaced, “Gettin’ there. I’d like to get a little better feel fer’ ‘em. So if you’ll excuse me…” Disappointment washed over the faces of all those in the room, including Blake. Hack looked around for something to knock over and settled on the pitcher of ice water on the podium. He swatted the container with the force of a man half his age. Its contents spilled on the concrete floor below, fittingly close to one of the scattered drains as he waddled through the exit into the clubhouse.
He was met by Pete Moray’s pleasant face, made deceptively pudgy by the large dip he packed.
“Pete, I wanna talk to ya’ for a minute after I address the men.”
Pete nodded sharply with a tight smile.
Hack shuffled into the locker room, which was abuzz with activity. Mitch Henry had an icepack on his left shoulder, but nonetheless held court with the other blue-collar players on the squad, including Kyle “Oiler” Derrick and Colin “Murph” Murphy, who was scheduled to be the starting pitcher on Friday after the Magpies’ day off on Thursday.
Noticeably absent from the group was Tommy Stearns, who sat in front of his locker, hat brim pulled far over his head.
“Well, that was just fuckin’ wonderful, gentlemen. Absolutely fantastic. Henry over here goes out and throws a gem, and how do ya’ repay him? An error and a couple’a taters? And we lose the game.”
Henry’s glare over at Stearns pushed the nominal closer deeper into his chair.
“That was a dogshit game, men. A dogshit game by a dogshit group of players. Notice I ain’t callin’ ya’ a team yet. That wouldn’t be right. Because the way yer’ all playin’ right now, you’re like a goddamned bunch of girls.”
Hack spat the last word like it was the worst insult he could level at the players.
An errant chuckle echoed around the locker room, but whomever had released it collected himself before Hack could find the offender.
Hack slowly shook his head, “That may’ve been over the line a bit—I apologize. But mark my words, men: there will be changes. Tomorrow, we practice, 8:00 am.”
Hack expected a collective groan that never materialized.
“That’s all, gentlemen. Get plenty’a sleep tonight: this ain’t Charles’s practice yer’ gonna be goin’ through tomorrow.”
Hack marched off toward the coaches locker room, opened the door, and slammed it behind him.


“Who the fuck is Charles?” Mitch Henry asked the still-silent room.
#2





“How’s it goin’, Hack?” Pete Moray had spent the past twenty-five years of his life perfecting the art of talking with a dip packed firmly in his lower lip. The result was a booming baritone voice that seemed more fitting for a baptist minister than the hearty, but slim, assistant coach of the Magpies.
Especially since he still wore an old-fashioned chain connected to the temples of his out-of-style, gold glasses.
“Eh, we’re all waitin’ to die, ain’t we?” Hack asked.
Moray chuckled, “Shit, the way you’re goin’, you won’t have to worry about that for another fifteen years. I just assumed they’d dig a hole in the third base coach’s box and throw you right in, wouldn’t even stop the game.”
Hack shook his head, “How the fuck did you get a copy of my will?” Hack sold the joke without so much as a smile, but Moray couldn’t help but choke out a few hearty chuckles.
“Is that why you came back?” Moray had no way of knowing how accurate the jest was.
“Eh, just never shook the bug, Pete. You know how it is: through all of the ex-wives and season after season, we’re baseball men, through-and-through.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Moray said. “What can I do ya’ for?”
“Well Pete, I couldn’t help but notice that we’ve got a lotta’ Latin guys on the team.”
Moray laughed.
“What the fuck’s so funny?”
“Shit, we probably have the fewest Latin guys in the league, by far. We’re so white, guys on other teams are always kiddin’ with us that we should change our name to the Ghosts. Or at least the Seagulls. The game’s changed, Hack. It’s not like it was when we were in Oakland together for that year, all honkies and brothers.”
“Well, I know we only have the one brother, but this is somethin’ that was just startin’ to pick up right as I was retirin’.”
“You retired in 2006,” Moray said.
“Yeah?” Hack replied.
Moray allowed time for Hack to make the connection before he shook his head, “Never mind.”
“Anyway, I don’t know how to speak Spanish. And I’ll be damned if the Latin guys just sit in their own corner, playin’ cards and listenin’ to that shitty music of theirs.”
“So whattaya want me to do about it?” Moray asked.
“You know Spanish from managin’ down in winter ball, right?”
“Shit, I know it from a lot more than that. Playin’ winter ball, Latin teammates, I’m not just some dumb farmboy from Nebraska, you know.”
“Yeah, ya’ always were one of the sharper ones, Pete,” Hack walked over and put his arm on Moray’s shoulder. “Which is why I want you to teach ‘em all English.”
Moray’s eyes went wide and rolled, to the point that his head tilted backward momentarily, “What now?”
“Teach ‘em English. Get ‘em all up to speed.”
“That’s easier said than done, Hack. I haven’t taught anyone English before, and—”
“You taught yourself Spanish, right?”
“Well…sure.”
“How’d you do that?”
“I dunno…soap operas…cartoons…the odd hooker or two.”
Hack nodded, “Well, there ya’ go. Ya’ have yer’ blueprint.”
Moray bobbed his head in with a smile that faded quickly.
“You’re serious?”
“Shit yes, Pete! I’m too old and curmudgeonly to learn how to speak Spanish—”
“To be fair, I don’t think you ever would’ve taken it up on your own,” Moray offered a disarming smile.
Hack ignored it, “But the Latin guys seem to respect you. You need to get ‘em over all of this culture clash, ‘our way or the highway’ bullshit and get ‘em so I can understand what they’re saying.”
Moray shook his head, “It’s not that.”
“What?”
“It’s not that they refuse to speak English. Most’ve ‘em, at least—there’s always gonna’ be an asshole or two in any clubhouse, ‘gardless of his nationality. Shit, look at Fynch and Henry; one’a ‘em was born with a silver shovel in his mouth, the other poor-as-hell. Lotta’ roads lead to ‘asshole’ in this profession.
“Most’a these Latin guys want to feel comfortable, and don’t wanna come across as idiots. If you were thousands’a miles from home, you’d hang around with American guys and speak English, too.”
Hack’s eyes grew narrow and dark, “I was thousands of miles from home, in the god-damned jungles near the 38th  parallel, bein’ shot at by hundreds’a Ko-reans each day. So don’t you lecture me about bein’ thousands of miles from home.”
Instead of inspiring the fear that Hack had hoped, Moray simply nodded and grinned.
“Sure, sure—I know, Hack. Didn’t mean nothin’ by it with regard to you. I’ll work with ‘em, but don’t expect any overnight miracles, either.”
Hack turned toward the door to the manager’s office, “You have two months,” Hack said.
“Or what?” Moray asked with a chuckle.
“Or God help us…” Hack muttered.
* * * 


OK, I know, I've been kind of shitty (hey, if you read through that, you can't be THAT offended...) at updating the blog as of late, but I will keep pumping these out until we run out of segments, which could be a while...

     Can't wait? You can get 
Hack: Innings 1-3 for free on Scribd (as a PDF), KoboiBooks, and Smashwords. It's $0.99 on Amazon and Nook due to their Byzantine price match policies.

     And if you want to check out the entire series, 
Hack: The Complete Game is available for $3.99 in Kindle/PaperbackNookKoboiBooks, and Smashwords editions.
 
Thanks for reading, and Happy Hunting!

D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Check out his books on his Hunt to Read Profile. Contact him directly at djgelner@hunttoread.com.
 

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