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Old 04-19-2008, 08:02 PM   #1
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Join Date: Mar 15, 2002
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Default Choices

Cheers: Choices Chapter One
Clothed in a dark brown suit with matching tie and pants, hippoesque Norm Peterson strode happily into the bar. He looked forward to his bar stool at the other end of the room. "Hey, everyone," he remarked casually, his extreme paunch almost bobbing as he spoke.
"Norm!" came the cacophony of cries from the "Cheers" crowd, expressing the happiness bar owner and ex-Red Sox pitcher Sam Malone tried to spread to all his patrons. The still dark-haired Sam stood behind the bar cleaning glasses, and sat one in front of Norm's customary spot.
Norm sat and greeted the other bartender, blond-haired Woody Boyd. "Hey, Woody, long time, no see," came the reference to Woody having been away from the bar for some time. "Gimme a beer."
Woody wrinkled his nose in the familiar, confused way. "Beer, what's that?"
Sam concealed a smirk, reminding himself to stay focused. "Yeah, is that a new drink?"
Norm grinned, accustomed to a few light jokes. However, he knew that the tenders of a bar knew better. "Okay, come on, guys, you know what beer is."
Woody shook his head and remarked "we've never heard of it" before returning to converse with another patron.
"You sure you're feeling okay?" came a serpent-tongued waitress named Carla, with numerous last names, as she walked past him with a tray.
"Come on, guys, beer," Norm emphasized, wondering if everyone was suddenly hard of hearing. "On tap, in bottles, in cans. It's all over," reported the very befuddled man. Noticing still-blank expressions, he became desperate. "Hops? Barley? Malt?" Surely they've heard of these things, Norm considered.
Norm's longtime drinking companion, postman Cliff Claven, turned to Norm. He often utilized odd - and, usually, incorrect - trivia. "The ancient Assyrians made a drink with fruit and hops." Norm's eyes expanded exponentially as he noticed Cliff's mug. "However, that combination of ingredients..."
"Cliffy, you're drinking wine," exclaimed the man. Flailing his hands, Norm raised his voice and announced: "Come on, guys, you know beer! Don'tcha?" came the almost pleading question. Any minute now I will wake up in a cold sweat, pondered Norm.
"I always drank wine," Cliff remarked. A recently arrived patron on the other end of the bar, with whom Woody had been silently conversing, wondered why wine glasses were not in use.
"If this is some new drink you found," Sam offered helpfully, "we can try and get it, but if there's not the demand..."
Sweating slightly, Norm went behind the bar. He didn't consider it sacred ground - he'd helped himself to a beer before and placed it on his fifteen-page tab a number of times. But, he did consider that only a near emergency would make him go back there. "Come on, Sam, I know you have..." He halted, seeing neither beer nor tap. He suddenly got very confused. Standing erect, he cried out: "What's happening? Have I been imagining all this?" Woody finally began snickering, only to keep from emitting a large guffaw. "I know what beer is...don't I?" he inquired, questioning his sanity. As the others exploded in laughter, Sam signaled Carla to enter his office. Nice place, the new customer observed. I should remember this place next time I need a break.
As the laughter gradually died down, Sam called out: "April Fool! Okay, Carla, bring it out, I think we've had enough fun here." Norm shook his head as he sat down and Carla brought out a cart with their beer and tap.
"We really got you on that one, Mr. Peterson," came Woody's voice amidst his giggles. I won't be able to stop laughing for weeks, the Indiana native considered.
"Yeah, well that's a very cruel trick to play on someone like me," Norm remarked. While not an alcoholic, since he did not rely on beer, nor did he drink an excess when at the bar, he did love the beverage. Norm Peterson thoroughly valued the routine of slowly having a couple glasses of beer each day. He smiled a little, imagining the work that went into the joke. "Though I guess it was kind of funny."
Carla smiled, remembering the Zima ad that had prompted the thoughts. This was the first year they'd been able to work the joke in, with all their other activities. "Yeah, we've been waiting to pull that one on you for a long time."
"It's our best April Fools' joke ever," exclaimed Sam.
"Yeah, well let's just save that for our battles with Gary's, okay?" Norm requested with a hint of insistence, referring to a rival bar near them. "So, how's things going, Woody?"
"Fine. Carla's boyfriend's coming in today," the younger man answered, trying to recall the purpose for a string around his finger. He thought he'd written a message for someone, but saw no paper.
Norm raised his eyebrows as Woody stared at the string. "Another one," he exclaimed, his beer firmly in hand. "What is this, like her five thousandth?"
Carla rebutted by remarking that "when I find a good man, he often becomes my husband awfully fast. I think this one's a keeper. Third time's the charm, that's what I say." Two customers at a table wondered why their waitress had spun away from them just as she was bringing their order.
"I thought you'd already been married more than three times," Woody admitted.
Carla nodded. "I have. And this will be the third third time," she explained, turning back to the expectant couple.
Woody whistled. He'd gained a new outlook on life with his marriage and children, among other things. He'd returned to the traditional conservative roots of his parents, just as had been predicted. He didn't totally enjoy the bar like he used to. However, he'd decided to come back and bartend once, for old times sake.
He addressed Carla. "Wow, Kelly and I have been busier with the family than we thought. I had it on either five or six."
As if on cue, Cliff picked up his mug, now filled with beer, and faced the multitude, gleefully anticipating the attention that would come his way. "Well, there were a couple three month jobs," he deadpanned, "but she's nowhere near the record. In the Umbala tribe it's not uncommon for people to be married hundreds of times in their lives. They have a very strict culture, and any physical sign of affection means the couple has to get married. That means the prior marriage is instantly annulled."
Carla shook her head, hiding a grin. Though she liked to talk tartly to them - and tended not to respect many customers, since she didn't respect herself - she couldn't help but admire Cliff's wild imagination at times. Not that he would ever know. "Man," she began, "if that was true with me I'd have been married about five million times." Wanting to keep her reputation intact, she added: "Not that I believe any of your trivia." At that moment, a rather tall lady walked into the bar with a child who came up a little past her waist.
"Hello, is Sam Malone here," inquired the woman. Woody scratched his head as Sam raised his hand.
"That's me," Sam said simply, walking out from behind the bar. The woman shook his hand, as the boy shrunk shyly away.
"Hi, I'm Linda Barnes, from Human Services," the woman explained, as Woody snapped his fingers. "And, you know Teddy." She pointed to the boy.
"Oh, that's right," Woody told Sam, "some woman called for you from Human Services." He searched his pockets for a note that would not be found. "I know I had her name around here somewhere."
Linda giggled. "That was me," she remarked. She wondered if the gentleman fumbling through his pockets was married. She saw a ring, and sighed inwardly.
Someone has a very amusing husband, she considered as Woody remarked: "My, what a coincidence." Linda enjoyed the forgetful, Colombo- type of man. Such a person might be a little more slow-witted, but that meant they couldn't take advantage of a woman, either.
Considering her boss' sexual exploits, Carla inserted: "What, you got a kid you didn't know about?"
Sam rolled his eyes slightly, but knew he'd told the people at Human Services about his past escapades, and about his having settled down a little the last few years, as he became old enough to have fathered some of the prettier women he'd seen. Hopefully, she wouldn't take that the wrong way.
Sam smiled as Linda said, "I think he'd know about it." I'd better, he thought as she looked around. "You own this bar, huh? Nice place." As orderly as the home visits the others reported, she considered.
"Yep. I make sure to get out a lot, though. I wouldn't have to be tied down to this place all the time. Norm's a very capable assistant manager." Sam smiled as he considered his genius move of a few years ago. After Rebecca had left to become a full-time housewife, he'd needed a helper. Norm, needing to pay off his tab, had been given a crash course in several areas, and soon was helping Sam, with his payments often in beer. An intriguing way to eliminate the middle man, the owner pondered.
Linda smiled graciously. "Well, I'm sure you and Teddy will have a good time." Teddy sat next to the patron to whom Woody had explained the prank, coloring in a book. He didn't mind being ignored; in fact, he was quite accustomed to it. "I know you won't keep him around this place."
Sam nodded. "A place like this isn't for kids. Plus, I don't drink with them; I can't drink myself." He knew he'd told the others that, but caseworkers often changed in midstream because of the staff turnover.
"Can't..." she began, then thought better of it. I should have recalled that, she told herself. "Oh, because of your earlier problem." Sam nodded. He wasn't averse to mentioning that he was, and always would be, a recovering alcoholic. Teddy didn't need to hear about that just then, though. "Well, that's good, Teddy's parents would go out all night and leave him alone," Linda continued sadly, in a voice so Teddy wouldn't hear.
Woody heaved a sigh as she gave Sam instructions and left, her beeper telling her an emergency had occurred. The blonde bartender considered whether the family problems would have remained hidden from Family Services had the parents not died. He couldn't bring himself to think about that, but knew they could have.
"Wait, is that it? You're just going to leave?" Sam inquired. He could tell this a dire problem in a case in which Linda worked, however, and so he allowed her to go.
"What, you volunteered to have a kid," Norm wondered, snickering.
Sam shook his head, astounded at the recent events. "Oh, no, it's one of Rebecca's friends," he commented, slightly uninterested in the details as he spoke them. "She and her husband died in some auto accident, so I'm like third in line to be guardian. But her folks're dead, and Rebecca declined, saying she couldn't afford it, and we knew 'em, so I'm supposed to watch him if her parents were dead and Rebecca said 'no.'"
Carla shook her head. "If I had a choice I might decline, too." Woody smacked his lips, wishing Carla took more joy in her family, the kind of innocent joy he and his wife, Kelly, took.
Sam continued. "I figure why not, the kid's with Human Services, but I can take care of him for a while."
Scratching his head, Woody tried to recall the last time he'd spoken with someone from that department regarding Boston area families. "Do they normally leave kids for a whole weekend if you're just watching? Sounds more like you expect it to be like with Big Brothers, where you're with him a few hours a week."
"I don't know, why," Sam inquired as he poured a drink for someone.
Woody grinned. It wasn't often that Sam proved less knowledgeable than he himself, but this was one of those time. He knew he should tell Sam before he further embarrassed himself. Walking toward the latter's office, Woody wiggled his finger and said: "Uh, Sam, can I talk to you a sec," as he considered how to approach the problem.
Puzzled, Sam followed him. "Sure, what is it," he inquired as they entered a room with a large desk and numerous photos and other mementos of Sam's days with the Red Sox. These included a jacket, cap, and baseball cards from 1973-1976, the years he was in the major leagues.
Woody explained that "the lady said this was your weekend visit, to get acquainted so you could keep him next time."
"Do they know about this...oh that's right, his folks are dead," Sam recalled.
Woody giggled at the irony of the situation, but knew he should have expected it. His work with Human Services while on City Council had exposed him to many things that Sam, being averse to volunteering himself, would not know.
"Man, you're sounding as dumb as me," Woody teased, showing a toothy grin as Sam continued to look around in puzzlement.
"Must be the effects of that April Fools' joke," Sam noted, trying to avoid the subject. "We're all getting turned around."
Woody continued to elaborate. "The lady I talked to said you'd been approved for home placement, leading to your adopting him. I've had a lot of contact with Childrens' Services as a councilman, that's how I know this stuff. If a will names you guardian," concluded the man, "you become the parent."
Woody wondered how often Coach had spoken about life with Sam. Woody had taken a bartending correspondence course the elder bartender had offered, and had come to Boston to see him and look for a job. Coach having died, Woody replaced him as bartender. He knew from corresponding with Coach that he'd spent lots of time with Sam, especially while Sam recovered from his addiction to booze. Now, he perceived, perhaps he had truly achieved maturity, and was replacing Coach not just at the bar, but in other ways.
Sam held a hand near his head and walked in a sem-circle before facing Woody again. "But I thought..." he started, not ready for the type of responsibility that this realization entailed. Trying to excuse his behavior when he knew he should have known he would become a parent, he remarked: "I must have filled out the wrong forms or something."
"She said she'd had several home visits, and interviewed a few people. I even put in a few good words when they interviewed me," Woody remarked, ignoring the previous comments. He knew Sam sometimes liked to appear ready to help when he was ill-prepared, and this may have caused his problem in some small part.
"But all I wanted..." he began. What did he want? He'd wanted to be a father, certainly, but now that he was one, what? Was this another case of his needing to be more careful of what he wished? "I wondered it there was usually that much to it. Come on, let's straighten this out," he remarked as he left his office. Woody pursued him, on guard should Sam say something stupid. Since Rebecca no longer worked at "Cheers," and Carla never appeared capable, he'd found himself ensuring more and more that Sam stayed out of trouble.
As they re-entered the bar, they noticed Teddy completing a picture on a cocktail napkin. The boy, having met Sam before, showed him the picture. "Hi. Like my drawing," he inquired as Sam glanced at it.
"Yeah," came Sam's acknowledgment. "Hey, listen, ah..." the man stammered as the child looked expectantly at him. Not yet old enough to be totally cynical, the six-year-old still felt a little unease at the situation. Sam, meanwhile, saw enough of himself that it frightened him. And, while his own parents had never physically abandoned him, his father had emotionally abandoned him. Sam didn't wish this child to suffer the same fate. And, yet, he felt less and less confidence that he could pick up the pieces of this boy's life as he stared into his deep blue eyes.
"Mrs. Barnes said you useta pitch for the Red Sox," Teddy remarked excitedly, wondering if perhaps this was the way to start a relationship. He wished the adult among the two would begin a dialogue, but he'd become too used to fending for himself. "Could you teach me how to pitch?" Whining a little, he added a "pleeeese!"
Sam looked around, as if the answer were in the ceiling beams. "Yeah, sure, first I wanted to talk about this adoption thing..."
"I know you'd want me to pitch 'cause you useta pitch, right? I can do anything you want, though," came the small voice, and Sam suddenly wondered how much this kid could do.
Backing away, Sam said "yeah, sure, thanks...just a second." Ushering Woody over to a corner of the bar, Sam almost wished a former girlfriend - one of thousands - had told him she'd had his baby. At least then there would be another parent. "You gotta help me think of something," he insisted to Woody.
All at once the irony struck him, as well; he'd begun to rely on Woody the same as he had on Coach and others. All along he'd searched for some form of father figure, and he was even willing to turn to a young, still oft-naive farm kid.
Woody sighed, not knowing of Sam's desire for a male role model he could trust. If he had he might have started witnessing like some friends he knew did. He didn't know how to reach Sam, though. Working with his own kids was so much easier. Besides, charity began at home, he felt.
"Like what," Woody wondered, thinking "come on, Sam, you're older than me, you're supposed to be the one with the answers."
"I don't know," Sam remarked, shrugging his shoulders. An idea hit him like a ton of bricks, and he became excited. "Maybe you can adopt him. You and Kelly could always have another kid. He's your oldest's age, after all, or just about."
"You filled out the forms, though. The will named you," Woody remarked, though without much conviction. It was hard to say the testator clearly intended for Sam to have this child, seeing as he was third in line, but Woody knew some higher power had ordained it from the foundation of the world. People could always try to mess things up, but Woody knew God worked people and their mishaps into His plans. It was something he'd learned years ago back on the farm. He'd just forgotten it for so long.
Sam shook his head. "Yeah, but there's a big difference between a few hours a week and a lifetime of..."
Teddy walked up behind Sam and patted him on the back, requesting attention. The discussion had gone on long enough, and the boy wanted to ensure he would not be rejected. He didn't like the way this person, who was supposed to be his new father, was acting. "What?" Sam asked, turning around.
Teddy handed him the napkin with the picture, trying to endear himself. "Here, you can have this."
Sam studied it this time. "Gee, thanks...What is it?"
Teddy looked downcast, wondering if he'd done something wrong. He'd seen other parents react, and could sense that this wasn't right. "Does it hafta be something?"
Sam shook his head. The same mistake his dad had made, expecting a kid to be able to act and think just like an adult. "No, of course it doesn't have to be anything," he chastised himself. "There's probably a great big story he wants to tell, and I ask about it like it's a Picasso."
Bending down to speak, Sam consoled him. "Oh...no, no, I guess it doesn't. Come on, I'm gonna hang this in my office, then we can learn about pitching," Sam remarked, patting the boy on the head. As they went into Sam's office, Teddy felt infinitely better about the situation. Sam, meanwhile, wondered if he could ever avoid being his own dad.
Chapter Two

As Sam and Teddy discussed the most suitable spot for hanging the boy's work, Carla's boyfriend walked into the bar. He sported slightly graying hair, and waved a big greeting. "Howdy, guys," he exclaimed.
"Hey, Jim. This is the councilman I was telling you about, Woody Boyd," she stated as the men shook hands. Finally, I'm with someone who gets out and does something, Carla considered.
"Pleased to meet you. So, what is it you do for a living," the bartender inquired.
"I'm an inventor," he replied proudly. "I've got the greatest machine you can imagine out there."
Carla rubbed her hands expectantly. "Oh, boy, I've been waiting." She hugged him as if he'd returned from four years at war, and turned to the others to explain. "He's been working on this thing out in the garage, but won't let anyone into his 'secret chamber.'" But whatever it is, I get half no matter what once we're married, she thought to herself. She'd had so much marital trouble, she'd long ago forgotten the importance of the "till death do you part," portion of the vows. That was what impressed her so much with Woody. He and his wife, despite major differences in income going in, appeared to have a very harmonious marriage.
Jim grinned like the Cheshire Cat, ready to announce the news as if it were the greatest invention since the wheel. "I've got it in the van. It's a time machine."
The amazement among those paying attention knocked them into silence as they pondered the weight of such a discovery as time travel. To be able to change anything about one's life was truly extraordinary.
Putting it in perspective with his unique naivete, Woody broke the serenity with five simple words. "Oh, you mean a clock?" Funny, I thought they'd been invented, the Indianan pondered. Must be a special type, he surmised, and went back to wiping the bar.
Jim shook his head, unable to resist laughing. "No. I mean a real machine that can travel through time," he explained. He wondered if the bartender would grasp the enormity of the situation.
He did, but only by alluding to things which he knew. "Do you have to get it up to 88 miles an hour first," Woody inquired, referring to one of several science fiction movies concerning time travel. An understandable error, thought Jim; when something new and unusual is first introduced, people often need a frame of reference. Perhaps science fiction was the best place to find it on this occasion.
"That's just fiction," Jim remarked. "Here, I'll show...Hey, Sam," he greeted as Sam and Teddy walked out of his office. Jim considered that the child looked more like Woody's offspring than Sam's.
"Hi, Jim. Hey, this is Teddy, I'm taking him to the park to show him how to pitch. Wanna come along," he invited, anxious to show someone else that he still had something left in his pitching arm. He still clung to the athlete's dream that he could produce like he did twenty years before. Indeed, Sam had tried out and done well with the Sox' minor league club in New Britain, only quitting for good when he couldn't take the sophomoric pranks of the players. Better get used to it now that you have a kid, Sam thought, for the first time acknowledging that yes, perhaps he could stand having a child. Still, it was hard to consider being a father for any other reason than to be able to say he was a father.
Jim shook his head, debating whether to invite Sam. He decided he could wait a couple more hours. "Sorry, I'm going to show off my invention. When will you be back," he wondered.
Sam considered the question. He'd wanted to do some other things with Teddy, but all he'd promised was to teach him to pitch. It wouldn't hurt to leave him with a sitter for an hour or so. Knowing the park was in close proximity to the Boyds', he inquired: "Could Kelly watch Teddy for a while this afternoon?"
"Sure, I'll call her and tell her you're coming," came Woody's voice as he picked up the phone.
"Good. I'll drop him off and come back here," Sam agreed, starting to tell Teddy who Kelly was. He assured the boy that there would be other children with whom he could play.
"Great, then we can go back to any time you want," Jim exclaimed, realizing Sam hadn't heard what the invention was.
Sam shrugged. "Well, I was thinking when I got back," he remarked. "That's sort of why I said I'd drop Teddy off at Woody's."
Cliff explained. He was still salivating at the thoughts of wowing others - including himself - with his trivia. "He means we can travel to any time."
"What kind of road do you ride on, anyway," Woody inquired. He was still stunned by the concept. Sam considered that Woody, like a child, would often see things differently than most Bostonians saw them. Perhaps he could ease into this if he pictured himself interacting with Woody.
"It's a complicated process. I'll try to explain it," he began. Sam and Teddy left. If it truly was a time machine, Sam knew would have no clue what Jim was talking about, anyway. He was very glad he'd chosen on a whim not to invite Teddy, who he knew would rather be playing than viewing some demonstration. At least, he told himself, that bit of fatherly instinct worked.

Sam and Teddy entered a small park not far from the bar. A wooden backstop featured a painted white target. Probably supposed to be a strike zone, mused the ex-pitcher. Sam wore an old Red Sox jersey with a beat-up ball glove, with the words to "Talkin' Baseball" echoing through his head.
Teddy wore a child's ball glove and carried a softer ball than the big leaguers used. Sam wanted to ensure nobody got hurt the first time. As both stood on the pitchers' mound, Sam toed the rubber. He could almost hear the sounds of the ballpark. He grinned as he noticed a chain link fence over his right shoulder. Sam pictured it as the "green monster," a 37-foot tall wall in Boston's Fenway Park.
"Looking for something," Teddy inquired. Sam woke from a daydream.
"Oh, just thinking about my days with the Sox," he explained. "Adults like to remember the good ol' days." He maneuvered the boy's fingers so the index and middle ones were parallel with the stitching. "Okay, first you hold the ball like this for a fastball...uh, you are right-handed, correct?" The boy nodded.
"What about a curve," queried Teddy, anxious to learn every pitch.
Sam thought for a minute, then shook his head. "Naw, you're too young, your muscles haven't developed enough to throw that."
"Do I hafta throw all fastballs?"
Sam tried to envision a different pitch that Teddy could throw. He thought of the circle change, thrown by a Hall-of-Famer. He decided that if Teddy wished to learn to pitch, though, the motion needed to be developed first. "For now, until you get your mechanics straightened out, yeah." Sam straightened and jogged to a position in front of the backstop. He found he could get to like this a lot.
As Sam jogged away, Teddy spouted, in a confused voice, "I'm not working on a car." Sam smiled. Just like Woody, he told himself.
Facing Teddy at the backstop, Sam explained. "What I mean is, the way your arms and legs move. That has to be the same each time so you don't throw the ball twenty feet over the batter's head." He jogged out faster, and took the ball from Teddy. "Here, I'll show you."
Striding the rubber, Sam glared at the backstop as a person eyes water after days in the desert. He brought his hands together, cheers echoing in the back of his mind. Picking his leg up and kicking, he pushed off with his right leg and fired a fastball, hitting the target. Teddy, who had been watching with rapt attention, ran after the ball, sliding into the backstop and grabbing it. He and Sam exchanged positions, Sam crouching behind the plate and pounding the mitt with his fist.
"Okay, now let's see you try," he requested. Teddy wound up as he'd seen, and kicked a little. However, he released the ball early. Sam suddenly pictured himself playing left field as the ball caromed high off the wall. He playfully ex-pitcher grabbed it on the ricochet. He turned, ready to fire it back to the pitcher, then stopped in mid-motion. He wasdumbstruck by the dejected look on the boy's face. Was he trying so hard he got choked up over a failure on his first try?
"Hey," Sam encouraged, "it's okay, that was a good first try. Here comes the ball." A gentle toss landed in Teddy's mitt.
Teddy brightened up. "Really?" He was relieved that he didn't need to worry about messing up the first time.
"Oh, sure," the ex-pitcher remarked, crouching down again. "Let go of the ball a little later this time." He did, and the pitches bounced 15 feet in front of Sam, who bounded over to retrieve it. "Hey, you know, that's still better," he told him without looking.
The boy looked excited at the thought he could succeed in this man's eyes. Now, the independent part of him, the part honed by parents who hadn't been there for him, kicked in - he requested that Sam grab a bat. Malone hesitated, feeling that the boy wasn't nearly ready to face live hitters. Still, he worried that if he said no, the boy might believe Sam was lying when he said Teddy had improved. And, he really didn't think he had been. Still, this was uncharted territory, since his dad had never credited him with even first tries.
"Wellll, okay," Sam remarked, jogging over to the left of the backstop. He picked up the bat they had brought. It felt odd in his hands, for the designated hitter rule had been in effect when he was in the majors. A hitter always batted in the pitcher's spot. He hadn't batted since the minor leagues, when as "Mayday" Malone, he'd begun a rapid ascent to the majors, where he first pitched in 1973.
Standing at the plate, Sam twisted the bat in his hands, twirling it a couple times. He took a couple weak practice swings. "Just let go of the ball in between where you did the last two times," he instructed the young pitcher. As Teddy threw the ball, Sam licked his lips, forgetting the child's fragile psyche. He couldn't resist the chance to sock the ball, eyeing the fence he'd recently dubbed the "green monster." He stepped into the pitch and sent a towering smash against the fence, watching it as if it were a launch from NASA. He looked out at the pitcher, and realized the boy was ready to burst into tears on the mound. Dropping the bat, he quickly ran out to console him, unsure of what to say.
"You weren't supposed to hit that," bawled the youngster as Sam knelt and embraced him. He sighed, mad at himself for letting his athletic instincts get the better of him. Why couldn't he have missed for once. Is this how my dad was, Sam wondered, did he put others down because he felt so lousy about himself? But, Sam thought, maybe that's why I've always tried to be so cocky, so I wouldn't be like that. He had so much to learn as a father, but at least he knew how to hug. Teddy seemed greatly consoled by his affection.
"It's okay, son, nobody strikes out every batter," he remarked, only later realizing he'd used the word "son" for the first time. Maybe he didn't mind being a dad. Still, as he ended the embrace and looked the boy in the eyes, he wondered if he truly could handle the job all the time. "Everyone gives up a few hits; why, that wasn't even a home run," he explained.
The tears now coming infrequently, Teddy responded that "nobody likes a pitcher who can't get nobody out."
Especially the media in Boston, Sam thought, though he didn't say this. Instead, Sam said the only thing that could come to him - something which was all he'd ever wanted his own dad to say. "Listen, I like you just the way you are. You don't have to be perfect for someone to love you. No matter how your folks thought of you, you're really doing good. Besides, it took me years before I got good enough to make the big leagues. I didn't make it till my early twenties."
"How come you're not still there," the boy inquired as Sam wiped away his tears. Suddenly the long hit and sad pitcher brought something else to mind.
"Wellll," the ex-hurler began, and suddenly the year was 1974. He was on the mound for Boston, a team which had been in first by six games at the start of the month, but which would wind up seven back of first place at the end. He stood on the mound facing the aging Norm Cash, in Cash's last season. There were two outs in the ninth, with the Sox up 5-3 and two runners on base. Sam Malone had a chance for the win that would keep his club in first.
The catcher signaled fastball, and Sam knew to get it in near Cash's hands. He was fast enough to make Cash hit a high pop-up if he did that. However, he got it out over the plate, and Cash, reaching back into his youth and a storied 1961 campaign, hit Sam's pitch way over Fenway Park's Green Monster. The Sox fell into second because of this, and never recovered that year, winding up third. Sam would never be the same.
Lost in time, Sam thought about the loss, and his drinking binge later that evening. He'd thought he could succeed with his athletic talent, but after that game he figured his father was right - he was no good. Trying to live down to those expectations, he'd drunk himself out of baseball within a few years. He sighed heavily. Could he truly make a difference in this child's life, given what he'd gone through? He wasn't sure.
"Well...I'm just too old to play ball," he told the boy. This was true. He could count on one hand the successful hurlers in their middle to late forties. Without a knuckleball, he knew his chances would be very slim. But, did Teddy also need to hear the rest of the story? Perhaps someday, but not right now. "Hey," he suggested, "how's about we work on the motion without the ball first." They did this for several hours, Sam throwing enough pitches he felt loose enough to pitch a couple innings.

Several hours later, Sam walked into the bar feeling refreshed. The practice in the park reminded him of warming up in the bullpen long ago. "Okay," he remarked, suddenly thinking gladly of his days on the ball field. "Teddy's at your place, Woody. Phew, that was a good warmup."
"You probably feel like you could go a few innings, huh," came the small talk from Norm. He sat down a half-empty mug of beer and walked toward the door, where the others were congregated.
Musing, Sam nodded his head. "Maybe, but - man, that kid needs someone who's willing to spend some serious time with him." And, even if I tried, would I be good at it?
Cliff patted him on the shoulder. "Hey, you're the man who can do it, Sam," he remarked. Now I know why I love this group so much; Sam concluded, they believe in me. And, in a way, maybe Teddy does, too.
The subject of Sam Malone's pitching and Sam's other pursuits interested Cliff. Sam was more successful than he was, but somehow, he thought he could attain what Sam had. Cliff used his mind for trivia - some of it nonsensical - to attract whatever attention he thought Sam had gained despite his missteps.
"Didn't you always want to be a father," Woody inquired.
Sam looked wistful. "Yeah, I wanted to be able to call a kid my son, to be able to..." He found he couldn't put it into words. "You know, do dad stuff." Woody grinned at the vagueness. "But...He is so much like me when I was young," Sam commented. He remembered the day when he was six, and had tried to fix his dad breakfast in bed, only to have him complain because things weren't perfect; the toast wasn't done just right, for instance. That was something he'd only confided in his on-again, off-again love interest, Diane Chambers. He knew no child like himself, or Teddy, could be expected to be perfect. The way Teddy acted, it was apparent to Sam he'd had similar experiences. But...did Sam want a child with those needs? Or, did he want a child for himself, just so he could be a dad. He wasn't sure anymore.
Woody's question, as usual, brought snickers. "He's just like you? What, you had freckles and a mole on your chin?"
"No, I don't mean that," Sam explained calmly. "I mean the way he acts, he seems almost desperate to please me," he explained, emphasizing the "desperate." Not that I mind, he pondered. But, from all the stories told by others at AA meetings before, he'd come to realize how bad that is, to need to please any other person, as people were just as human.
Sam then considered the Lord's work in this. He onlyi knew of a higher being - acceptance of such was one of the hallmarks of the AA program. It helped one to realize they weren't alone, and that there was a higher plan
It was probably good to follow this higher being. Working for himself had been easy until now, though. Still, as Sam continued to his friends, "I keep finding myself needing to tell him he doesn't have to do that. Oh, well, we can forget about that for a little while. What about this invention, Jim," he inquired, changing the subject.
Jim opened the door excitedly. "Come on out and I'll show you. I'll set a random date," he remarked as he left the bar.
"Oh, let's not go back too far, I'm a little scared of dinosaurs," Woody added. Nobody could determine if he was joking.

Once the occupants were seated in the van, Jim pressed a few buttons and twirled some knobs, setting the date for September 15, 1974. "There was a great ball game at Fenway that day," he explained. "I'm from Detroit, and a big Tiger fan." Sam contemplated the events of that season, scratching his head.
"The Tigers," spouted the ex-hurler. "Hey, wait a minute..." he began before pausing. Finally, he murmured "was that the day?"
"The day for what," Norm inquired, anxious to go on an adventure. Sitting at the bar all day seemed even more stale to Cliff, who grinned with the excitement of a child going to Disneyland. As for Woody, he wondered if this machine would work, and - on a more theoretical level - whether events could be altered. Carla felt happy that Frazier Crane, a psychiatrist who had frequented the bar before, was not here. He would doubtlessly be spewing all sorts of what was - to her - ridiculous psychobabble in analyzing the events that would soon occur. As for Diane... Carla shuddered, thinking that the woman might be writing poetry on the topic!
"Oh, nothing, nothing," Sam remarked as the van rode down the street. A brilliant flash soon surrounded them. Yellow and blue twirled around them in fantastic patterns. Norm wondered if he'd broken his promise not to drink so much he got drunk, as Sam looked puzzled. "Man," the ex- pitcher uttered, "I hope I didn't fall off the wagon."
"What wagon, we're in a minivan," Woody inquired, not accustomed to the term.
Norm remarked that "we can't have each others' hallucinations, so don't worry, we're all seeing this stuff outside the van." That was not what Sam had meant, but he appreciated Norm's attempt to help him.
As they "landed," which was the best term for the feel of it, even though they did not seem to have left the road, each of the occupants lurched forward. The shock prevented Jim from stopping immediately, and since they were on a street, he decided the best course of action was to continue driving while he regained his senses.
However, a person crossing the street at the same time needed to quickly duck out of the way. He dove onto the sidewalk and landed on his knee the wrong way, wrenching it slightly. He rolled over and grimaced as the van came to a complete stop.
"Oh, no, my first major time traveling and I've already altered the timeline," flashed through Jim's head. Jim considered that anything could conceivably cause a change, even if the change was as insignificant as the color of socks worn that day.
"Arrrrggghhh, my knee," hollered the voice on the ground. Staring at the occupants of the van, with a glare that could melt lead, he exclaimed "why don't you watch where you're going." He was slowly developing a hatred of Boston motorists.
Jim hurried out of the van first, anxious to apply first aid if needed. His wallet jumped out of his jacket, thanks to the incredibly quick sidestep he'd made, but he failed to notice it. "Oh, no," he commented simply, unable and unwilling to tell the fellow the gravity of what Jim believed could have occurred.
Getting out an normal speed with the others, Sam did a double take. "Guys...that's Norm Cash," he explained, expecting that his companions would know the name. Only Jim acknowledged it, however.
"Who?" rose from Norm's lips.
Jim said "he played for the Detroit Tigers," while hoping that he was all right. Sam began, for the first time, to ponder whether events could change - after all, if Cash can't pinch-hit tonight, he told himself, who in the world hits the home run.
Cash looked at Jim as if he were insane. "I still play for them; unless you imbeciles wrecked my knee."
Trying to find something to say, while determining that nothing was broken, Jim tried to console him. "It was gonna be your last year anyway, right?" Hopefully I can make him think that's what I meant by "played," he thought to himself. If not, it will pass, as most words do. A little comment like this won't affect a timeline much, since Cash is not overly sensitive as a child would be, is not a paranoid person, and is in his last season, Jim concluded.
"Yeah, no thanks to you! Where'd you learn how to drive," Cash inquired snidely.
Carla gazed longingly into his eyes, forgetting for a second that her boyfriend was there.
As Sam and Jim helped him stand up, Cash put pressure on his injured leg and decided that no major problem existed. However, he stepped gingerly on it. Given his age, the manager might make him rest today, as a precaution. He suddenly noticed Carla ogling him.
"Look," the waitress said lovingly, "it's my fault, we just...look," she stammered, pulling out some money. "Here's some money, let's just forget this happened." With a much more provocative voice, she cuddled up to him and said "in fact, tell me where you're staying, and I can really make it up to you."
Jim gawked at her, dumbfounded. "Carla!!" her boyfriend exclaimed as he grabbed the money from her. He'd seen her act friendly to men before, but this was ridiculous. Not to mention what a sexual escapade in a year in which she didn't even belong could do to the timeline. And then there were the bills which had dates in the 1990s on them!
Suddenly realizing Jim stood nearby, Carla looked at him matter-of- factly. "Sorry, I've never been with a ballplayer from the past before." Jim slapped his forehead and rolled his eyes.
"The...past? What are you talking about?" Now I know these people are fruitcakes, Cash told himself.
Jim hurriedly strode up to him and spoke. "Oh, don't worry, it's nothing. She's just teasing," he remarked. I might have thought Woody would be the first to slip, from what I had heard. Or maybe Cliff, but nobody would believe him. Motioning to them to get back in the van, he said "let's go." As they rode off, he lectured out of anger. "Carla, I don't ever want you talking about this while we're in the past."
"Hey, till we're married," Carla announced, "we agreed we could see anyone we wanted." Jim shook his head, driving to an abandoned stretch of road before launching the time machine portion of the van. She really doesn't understand time travel, he told himself.
"That's not the point," exclaimed Jim. "The point is we could easily alter the timeline with anything we say and do. Anything!" He breathed deeply. Walking around is fine, but for goodness sakes, don't give them anything from the future! And, for Heaven's sake, don't go telling people you're from the future. You let slip something and the person bets on it and wins a million bucks, or loses it because of some other change, you've altered a life."
Jim continued by remarking that "we'll go check and make sure nothing happened to alter the timeline. Then, when we come back, we're going to act like we belong. Got that?!" The group lurched forward again, and soon the van parked on the street "Cheers" fronted.
As they exited, nobody considered how much could have changed - after all, Jim hadn't explained the enormity of the possibilities. Sam, like the others, went about his business. "I gotta go check on Teddy now, I'll catch you all later...Hey, where's my car," he inquired loudly. I know where I parked it, he told himself, fuming.
Carla gasped. "Someone stole your car while you were gone?"
"Yeah, I can't believe the nerve of some people! I left it right..." he began to bellow, pointing. As Sam moved closer, he noticed that the parking meter had expired. "...here," he completed lowly. Of all the stupid, idiotic things. I thought we'd wind up back exactly when we started. How stupid can I get, Sam declared finally to himself.
Resigned, he shrugged. "Well, I guess I gotta take the bus, and call the police when I get to Woody's." He walked the opposite way. Of all the dumb luck, he said to himself. But, even if it was stolen and not towed, why do these things...no, I guess they don't keep happening to me. They happen to Teddy, too. If I'd stop thinking so much about myself, I might be able to help him more. But, what else is there? And, in a spot like this, I am thinking of him. That's why I'm taking the bus, he considered.
Cliff shook his head, watching as Sam walked. "Poor Sammy. Well, let's..." An idea suddenly struck Cliff. "Wait, are you sure there is a bar." Norm began to feel a tinge of concern.
"Not that it has," Jim hedged, "but we can't be sure of anything."
Norm's eyes nearly bulged out of his head as he jogged down the street at his fastest speed, though that speed would not have allowed him to catch up with a tot on a tricycle. "Ohmigosh," Norm exclaimed, "I hope they still have beer." The others laughed as Norm left, but Jim had to admit the lack of beer was a possibility. However, he knew the chances of that were very slim.
They decided to meander about the city, looking around for a couple minutes before entering the bar. Carla chided Cliff for a mumbled comment. "Come on," she declared, "don't be paranoid. I'm sure the Soviets don't run Boston."

Norm huffed and puffed as he ran the half block to "Cheers." He entered the bar to the familiar cry of "Norm!" He felt right at home for two seconds, then noticed several peculiar things. Rebecca, who had left several years ago, was a waitress. No Red Sox mementoes existed. Frazier, who had only been a patron, was tending bar. Squinting, Norm noticed a beer tap, and saw a couple patrons holding beer mugs. The effects of that practical joke, that's what it is, Norm thought to himself as he regained his breath and stepped forward. Still, he believed he had a right to be concerned.
The color slowly coming back to his face, he uttered a quick "Hi...guys." He then walked to the seat he'd used since the early 1970s - obviously he had here, too. It bore the precise imprint of his bottom. He noticed that Woody also stood behind the bar. Boy, what will Woody say when he sees this, Norm thought.
"Norm, you got off early, huh," Frazier inquired, walking up to him from behind the bar, pouring him a beer. The man sported no facial hair, which Norm thought was odd.
Suddenly, the thought hit him. Got off? What was Frazier talking about? "From...from where?" he inquired, trying not to sound too unfamiliar. After all, he knew it should be, but still wasn't sure it was the right year.
Handing him the ale, Frazier remarked: "Why, from the beer tasting job you've had the last...what, now, well over five years." So I got that job in this timeline! Drat! But, wait, Rebecca sort of foiled that, Norm considered. And she's still here? What changed? Maybe it was a female boss, so I didn't sound funny talking about the boss in a dress, and thus I didn't sound like a moron by correcting myself more and more. But, all that could have changed was one batter, right?
He finally spoke. "Yeah, well...I...wasn't feeling good, so I took a sick day," he explained. When in doubt, say you don't feel good, he coached himself. Certain actions made people assume that, anyway. Norm felt relieved as Frazier nodded. Hey, I can handle this pretty well, he decided proudly. As long as the old bar's pretty much the same.
"Ah," the bartender began, "then you should be home in bed. Or is that just the 'official story,'" he said with a wink, "your modus operandi, so to speak." My who, Norm thought.
"Whatever. Hey, what happened to Seattle?" Keep the questions vague, he thought to himself, till you find out about this timeline. He could always think I mean some game a Seattle sports team played.
"Pardon?"
"You know, where you..." he began. He tried to lead the bartender. I could get to like this, he recognized.
Seeing his puzzled look, Frazier considered the possibilities. While he knew Norm could be referring to the Seattle Mariners, or the Supersonics, his first thought was of his dad living there. "If you're referring to my father, he moved in with us here about five years ago. You've seen him here."
Norm decided to ask a question in the form of a joke. "Us? You mean you and me are sharing an apartment?" He kept grinning broadly, considering the odd arrangement that would result from him sharing anything with such an intellectual.
Frazier laughed, taking it as intended. "That's a good one. Of course, I mean my dear Diane. Oh, I must call her and discuss our pending anniversary," he stated. Norm's eyebrows nearly shot off his head.
As he recalled her ditching Frazier in Paris...or was it him leaving...well, it was in Europe, he told himself. "Oh, because she didn't..." he started, then realized that Frazier was warming up to his being the real Norm. He stopped and reminded himself that with those big words, he should have suspected Diane and Frazier were together.
Jim, Carla, Cliff, and Woody walked into the bar at that moment.
Alternate Woody A-Woody looked up from an order and noticed Woody. "Hey, that's me," he uttered, shocked. "No, wait, I'm me. I think."
As Frazier noticed the newcomers, he quickly did a double take. Then, he pulled out a notepad. "My goodness, that man could be Woody's twin," he exclaimed out loud. "I must take notes on how Woody and this other fellow react. It will make an excellent case study," he muttered to Norm.
The psychiatrist became incredulous as the Woodys chatted. "Hey," Woody uttered happily, remembering they could be on a different Earth, "I bet you're Woody Boyd." So he would have let it slip soon, Jim thought. Carla just beat him to the punch.
A-Woody smiled, as if recognizing a relative he hadn't seen in years. He didn't know who it was, but assumed the other Woody knew him in some way. "Sure am," he replied.
"What a coincidence, so am I," Woody remarked as Frazier mouthed the word "what?" The Woodys walked toward each other.
Carla, recalling several sci-fi shows, rushed up to Jim and spoke in a semi-whisper. "Is it safe for them to see each other," Carla inquired.
Jim spoke warningly while not looking at the two Woodys. "Yes," he spoke as the Woodys shook hands, "but they shouldn't touch each other. The same matter may not be able to occupy two spaces at once, and there could be a cataclysmic explosion with physical contact." Suddenly glancing at the Woodys. "Or...not," came the slow reply.
Frazier considered whether the Woodys simply assumed they were related. He quickly dismissed this notion - why would they call each other by the same name? Unless that was a common practice in Indiana, something of which he was unaware.
Just as he was trying to unravel that mystery, Rebecca walked up to Carla. "So happy to see you."
As Cliff sat at the opposite end of the bar, Norm blurted "what is this, a mirror universe?" He suddenly felt ashamed, but saw no reaction from Jim. It might not be as bad when discussing it in the present year, since things can't change, he told himself. So, I know it's the right year.
"Knock it off, will ya," Carla hollered, jolting Norm back to reality. At the same time, Carla took the cue from Jim that she could tell people who they were. "Look, Frazier, you won't believe this, but I'm from a...well, a different world."
Frazier smiled. "I have always suspected that about you, Carla. I still hold group therapy in my office," he remarked, pointing to Sam's office. This sent a small chill down the spines of the travelers.
"Your office?" came the indignant reply from Carla's lips.
Frazier nodded, proud of himself. "Yes, it is a rather attractive idea, a psychiatrist's office in a bar. It's why I bought the place in the early '80s, after winning big betting on the Red Sox in 1981." He owns...but where's Sam, Carla thought to herself as Norm contentedly sipped his beer.
"Wait, you own the bar," Woody inquired. "Was Coach here? And if not, then how did I get here?"
"You came through the front door" was A-Woody's response.
Suddenly, Norm felt even more at ease. As long as Sam was around, he would love staying here. He forgot there was another Norm Peterson out there.
"You think that's something," Norm remarked, filling the others in on his information. "Listen to this - Frazier's dad moved here and comes into the bar once in a while, and Frazier and Diane have been married for a number of years."
"Oh my G-," shrieked Carla.
Frazier's voice held a tinge of concern. "Are you all right, Carla?"
"Yes," she said, nodding, "it's just...the shock is so enormous." Those two are the biggest nerds I can imagine, she thought.
"But we've been married 10 years," the very confused psychiatrist remarked. He pulled out a card. Handing it to her, he instructed: "Here, give my secretary a call."
Jim smiled. Okay, he thought, time to try and explain this...if I can. "Wait, let me straighten all this out. You see, I invented a machine..." he began as the alternate Cliff A-Cliff strode in, sporting a Red Sox warmup jacket instead of a postal uniform.
"Cliff!" shouted the denizens of the bar as Carla's eyeballs nearly shot out of their sockets and imbedded themselves in the wall.
"Wow," Cliff uttered as Frazier began to take more notes, hoping this would be a more logical meeting of doubles. "They love me. Maybe I should stay here." They didn't recognize me with my postal uniform on, he pondered, noting his double's Red Sox jacket and hat. Also, his double bore no mustache.
A-Cliff sat next to Cliff, considering the Red Sox book that Diane had helped him author. A new edition had just come out, and he was anxious to speak with Frazier about going with Diane on a book tour. "Hey, Fraz, gimme a beer," he instructed.
Frazier poured it. "I hear your book's doing well, 'Day by Day in Red Sox History.'"
"Sure is," came A-Cliff as he sipped his beverage.
To himself, Norm said "I can't believe Cliff wrote a book." Lower, he turned and mumbled "in fact, I can't believe he even read a book."
Cliff, noticing his double was not in customary postal attire, inquired: "Who are you?" The scribbling began on Frazier's pad. He noted every word and gesture that occurred since the Clliffs first saw each other.
"Clifford Clavin," came the utterance as they shook hands. He then added the title "Mr. Red Sox to you."
"Your socks are black, Cliff," Woody remarked, looking down.
Frazier laughed again, and Jim realized they could explain this as a comedy act. "Good one. Cliff is the biggest authority on the Red Sox in this area," exclaimed Frazier, not thinking that his Woody might have told this "other Woody" about him.
"Huh," Cliff remarked, anxious to show off his supposed knowledge. "Did you know that the Red Sox were originally called the Green Socks? Only due to a shortage of green during World War One caused by the military needing it for camouflage did they change their socks, and thus their name."
A-Cliff sneered. "That is the strangest, most ludicrous thing I've ever heard," A-Cliff exclaimed. "Take it back, or else!"
Carla's mouth hung open as if a gaping hole had been shot in her face by a torpedo. After several stunned seconds, she exclaimed: "Oh my G-, I agree with Cliff. The world is coming to an end!"
Frazier tried to prevent possible fisticuffs. "That's a good tall tale, but I'm afraid Cliff here doesn't take kindly to people taking his team in vain." One tried to upstage his lookalike, and the other responded with anger, inscribed Frazier. Perhaps akin to a school child upset that a classmate bears the same first name, he footnoted.
"Now, wait just a minute," countered Cliff, "I've got just as much right to be me as he does."
A-Woody raised his eyebrows. "Did you understand that?" he asked Frazier.
The psychiatrist behind the bar shrugged his shoulders, opened his mouth, and closed it again. This is also turning too bizarre to report, he thought. "I..." he began, trying to think of a psychological explanation for such a statement. It was truly a unique saying. "Well, I..." he tried to begin anew as the phone rang. He thankfully picked it up, happy that someone had saved him from that puzzlement. "Cheers. Oh, hello Carla, I was just talking to you...well," he corrected, "that is, your...I see. I see, well, yes, certainly, take the night off, by all means. I hope your mother feels better." He hung up the phone. Carla made a note to call her own mother when she got back home, though she didn't know how she would explain the rationale.
"I think I've got it," Frazier exclaimed, clasping his hands together.
"Well, don't give it to me," A-Woody said hastily, moving away, "I just got over a bad cold."
Frazier laughed again, and suddenly his thought made even more sense; after all, there had been even more jest than usual in the bar. "I mean, I see the joke you are pulling. You want me to think there are two of each of you, plus whoever this man is," he remarked, pointing to Jim. "I bet you're with the talent agency, Sir, am I right?"
Jim was unsure how to respond.
"Clever, clever indeed, a great April Fools' gag. Maybe the best we've had," the man behind the bar resumed cheerfully, drifting into thought. "Hmmm, would Diane appreciate such a stunt for...no, it might scare the children at home," he decided. Carla once again felt shocked.
"You two had children?! Oh, the horror..." she commented, half- joking.
"Of course, you remember little Hezekiah and Mephibosheth." Quoting Shakespeare, Frazier turned to Jim and said "by all means, let them play. Play, Sirs," he said, turning away to tend to a customer's order. "Sorry Carla had to call and spoil it, or I might have been clueless for hours." He felt great satisfaction, and even a little relief, at knowing the rationale behind this confusion.
" I still am clueless," A-Woody admitted.
A-Cliff shook his head. "Yeah, I sure wouldn't ask someone to lie about the greatest team known to man."
Norm felt even more at home now. He decided to offer a truce everyone could agree upon, even those from his own timeline. He raised his beer, now almost half gone, and exclaimed "you said it. To the Red Sox!"
A-Cliff grinned, raising his glass and repeating Norm's toast. He finally added "to the hero of the 1981 Fall Classic."
That's right, Norm considered, Frazier said something about Boston in that Series. Could it be they won for the first time since 1918 that year? And, if so, how?
"Who's that?" asked Woody.
Carla nodded. All seemed to lean forward a little. If this Cliff were such an expert on the Red Sox, they could learn a lot about this world. "The question on all our lips," she murmured.
"I don't see any writing there," A-Woody remarked.
A-Cliff ignored him and assumed his statesman pose, authoritatively sitting up and speaking. "Why, Sam Malone," A-Cliff announced, giving the travellers goose bumps. "The Sox won the second half by a game and a half over the Brewers, beat the Yankees in five, the A's in 3, then the Astros in the lowest scoring seven-game Series ever; ironic considering Fenway is a hitters' park. But, Nolan Ryan started two games there, and Sutton lost only 3-2 in game 6."
Carla forgot her animosity toward either Cliff. She felt more excited than she recalled being in a long time. "And Sammy did it," she declared. "Oh, I knew he had it in him." After all these years, he's a real success, she thought dreamily.
Norm held up a hand, figuring he could be expected to be a little forgetful. "Wait a minute, I thought it was the Dodgers." It was them over the Yankees in my world, he thought.
A-Cliff set him straight. "No, my friend, the Dodgers split those Series with Boston in 1977 and 1978," he explained, assuming that was where Norm got confused. "That's what you're thinking of, Norm." A-Cliff loved the attention having all this information brought him, especially considering that he could follow someone who had become what he'd needed to be his whole life. Sam Malone was more than a hero to him.
Cliff, meanwhile, considered whether he could ever know enough to write a book. Perhaps having Sam around the bar instead of having to go around collecting information on him has kept me from having that get up and go, he considered.
A-Cliff continued. "Sammy pitched in 1975, too, and won game six, but he got taken out in the 9th of game 7, or we'd have won that Series, too."
"Yes," Frazier mused, "I wonder whatever happened to him."
"Well, you just said, he won two World Series," remarked Woody.
"Plus," A-Cliff exclaimed, holding up his right index finger, "the 1977 Cy Young Award. He almost took the MVP from teammate Jim Rice. He was the Series MVP in '81, winning one, saving two, and stranding all nine runners in his five entrances from the 'pen. He threw nine and two thirds scoreless innings." Carla's gaze grew steadily during this part of the monologue, as she grew increasingly amazed at the enormity of Sam's accomplishments. And, the amazing part to her was, as he wandered through the city, he may not know any of this.
Won't he be thrilled, Carla considered. If it's good news about Sammy I can almost put up with all that stuff from Cliff, she decided. At least this Cliff talked about subjects she liked. She hoped they could trade Cliffs.
Rebecca agreed, awed by Cliff's knowledge. "Isn't he amazing; baseball's all he talks about, but he really takes an interest," she finished. Indicating Frazier, she remarked that "as for his question, I think he's asking what happened after 'The Pitch.'"
"Which pitch is that?" came from Woody's lips.
A-Cliff became somber for a second. He nodded slowly, realizing how close he might come to disappearing like that. In fact, the idea often tempted him. "Oh, yeah, 1986, game 7. The Sox are one strike away from a pennant with nobody on base in the top of the ninth, up by three. Sammy gives up two hits and homers to Bobby Grich and Gary Pettis, the last also with two strikes on him, and the Sox lose the pennant to the Angels." He added that "nobody's heard from him since he walked off that mound."
Carla's mouth stood agape. "Oh, poor Sam."
Norm remarked that "this is a mirror universe. The teams did that in reverse...hey, Cliffy, who won that Series," he inquired, considering his own 1986 season.
As Cliff uttered "Tokyo," A-Cliff glared.
"I knew you'd say something absurd. The Mets," came the authoritative comment. "They did it in five, with Tom Seaver winning two for them before retiring the next spring with arm trouble." A-Cliff leaned forward, as if to confide a secret. "While nobody's actually heard from Sam, I have my spies, and they're positive he's in the mountains of Tibet. I plan to join him if life gets too tough." Another part Diane would disapprove of - my biography of Sam would contain 200 pages of invented stories before revealing where Sam was.
Frazier lit up, considering another reason why all this had occurred. "Say, I just wonder," he mused out loud, rubbing his chin. "Could you all be talking about this so..." As if on cue, Sam walked in hurriedly, ensuring that his companions were here. "Good Heavens, it is! It's Sam Malone," Frazier announced to the bar. As the people from the alternate timeline cheered and raised their glasses, A-Cliff ran and knelt before the ex-hurler, whom he assumed was his world's Sam Malone.
"Oh great one," came the words that made Carla realize this Cliff was just as crazy as hers, "I have worshiped your pitching all my life...well, the last decade, anyway," hedged the ex-postman. Such a great man, and yet to give up such a monumental home run to the Angels...and, perhaps that was even a sign, the fact it was the Angels, A-Cliff thought to himself.
Sam looked around, somewhat confused. "Wait, wait..." he said, looking down. What manner of weirdness is this, he wondered. "Get up, Cliff, you're acting insane."
A-Cliff jumped back. "My goodness, how did you know my name?"
"'Cheers is the place where everybody knows your name, dimwit," remarked Carla, anxious to insult Cliff.
"Of course," Frazier remarked, walking out from behind the bar and greeting Sam warmly. "You planned this whole thing, this stunning re- entrance, right, Sam?" What a way to come back home, it's right out of Hollywood, he thought.
Rebecca looked up from a customer on whom she was waiting and remarked: "I must say, that is a unique emergence. I wonder if Elvis will do it the same way." Woody smiled, trying to recall who in his world was obsessed with Elvis Presley.
Sam suddenly noticed Frazier. "Oh, hey, Fraz. How's it going?" To the others, he said "I don't know what you're talking about, but come on, gather around." Norm, Carla, Jim, Woody, and the Cliffs gather around him. To A-Cliff, who decided to kneel rather than stand, he said insistently: "Not you!"
A-Cliff looked genuinely hurt. "But I shall always be with you, even unto death!"
Woody grinned at A-Cliff's obsessiveness. He also knew it was a perfect place to insert a joke, one of those he used so people wouldn't know when he was clueless about a given situation. Recalling the time one of the Lord's disciples acted particularly cocky, Woody asked Sam "isn't this where you say to Cliff 'you shall deny me thrice before the **** crows'?"
Sam shook his head, barely noticing the question. "I don't care, listen - I can't find Teddy."
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Old 04-19-2008, 08:04 PM   #2
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Chapter Three

Sam had never felt more frustrated. A few hours ago he was wondering if he even wanted a child. Now, after a long search, he became genuinely concerned for his safety. If Teddy had been with good parents, or if he knew that Rebecca or the grandparent had adopted the child, that would have been one thing, but there was no trace of him.
As Frazier pondered what comedy the group might be planning, A-Woody noticed the reference to Teddy, and turned to the elder bartender. "He's hunting his teddy bear?" came the query.
"How odd," spoke Rebecca, walking somewhat aimlessly as the considered the situation, "to spend years looking for a stuffed toy. Of course, I had a similar experience with a doll..." she said, as Sam realized she gave no hint of knowing the name, and thus likely hadn't adopted the boy.
"So you became dull," Carla interjected, pleased at her play on words. To Sam, she inquired: "What do you mean, can't find him?"
"I looked everywhere," Sam remarked, flailing his arms. "Kelly's, she said hello, by the way."
"But she doesn't know me," remarked Woody.
"He means me," A-Woody explained. As Woody nodded his ascent, Sam continued his diatribe.
"I checked where his folks lived once, an old couple lives there, and has for 20 years. Called Human Services, they never heard of him." What am I doing here, Sam felt like asking, and what happened in this world?
Jim pointed out that "that couple might never have met." It's only one of a myriad of possibilities, as he began to point out, but Sam never gave him the chance.
"Yeah," Sam nodded, comforting himself with the thought. "Do we know that for a fact?" Jim shook his head, leaving Sam puzzled.
"You're right," Woody remarked, trying to think of every possibility. The more he thought about it, the more he felt the Lord might not have meant for history to be altered. "He could be lost somewhere, maybe in a totally different state. What if he's being treated even worse?" Thanks for cheering him up, Carla thought, glaring at Woody.
As the ex-pitcher seemed ready to head out the door once more, Carla stood in front of him and placed her hands on his chest. "Sam, listen. Before you go any further, you're a legend in Boston." She emphasized "legend," knowing even an ordinary baseball career might not keep Sam from going back and re-writing history. This, however, was something that, while it might not put him in the Hall of Fame, would certainly greatly endear him to the fans of this sports crazy town.
Sam glanced at her, incredulous. How can this be, he thought to himself. I drank myself out of baseball and then...well, maybe, I did have talent, he told himself. "I am?" emerged from his lips after several seconds. While he'd come to recognize during his recovery that he had drunk himself out of a promising career, even the normally boastful Sam Malone never considered that he could have become a legend. And now? Good Heavens, he thought to himself, what did I throw away?
The waitress nodded excitedly. "Sure, tell..." she began to request of A-Cliff, grimacing as she decided he was just a little too crazy for her to ask. "No, I can't even pay a compliment to an alternate Cliff. Tell him, Woody."
I can see why she's gotten confused, Woody thought, explaining that "I've only been here a couple hours, Carla, I can't." Carla growled lowly.
"I mean the other one. Hey, Woody, how'd Sam do in the Series?" She hoped the alternate Woody would provide at least some specifics. Sam stepped forward, toward the bar.
"The Series?" came the dumbfounded ex-hurler. He'd been up and down in 1975, and left off the Sox postseason roster. Had he pitched in the '75 Series in this world, he wondered.
"He pitched in four," A-Woody explained as Sam's eyes widened, "including two winners, and was the Series MVP in 1981." Sam gasped, wondering if he'd been traded, since he knew nothing of the Red Sox history in this world. "He even won the Cy Young in 1977. That right, Mr. Claven," A-Woody wondered, and as A-Cliff answered in the affirmative, Sam put his right hand to his face and inched toward a chair, dazzled by the spectacle.
"The Cy Young Award?!" came the awestruck former pitcher, as he thought of the great hurlers who inhabited the majors He couldn't imagine that even for one year, he had shared something with Seaver, Carlton, Koufax, and the other pitchers considered the best of his era, or perhaps of any era. The award became a powerful image, inhabiting much of his thoughts.
"You left after 1986, master," A-Cliff explained, now sitting back at the bar, "but I have kept alive your hopes, your dreams. I even picked up your two Series rings and awards which you won for our beloved Red Sox, you'd left them at Fenway Park and I snuck in and took 'em; folks figured you'd been back for them." My people were right about how he'd tried to forget all worldly things, A-Cliff considered, as the travelers shared Sam's astonished reaction. It's all coming back to him, A-Cliff thought, as Frazier began to believe the same thing.
Sam continued to sputter as he pondered his future...or was it his past. "You have...I won...oh, my gosh." He sat in a chair, gazing at some infinitesimal speck on the ceiling. "And in 1977...I was the best pitcher in the league! Phenomenal!"
Frazier smiled, delirious over whatever cure had allowed the once star pitcher for the Red Sox to overcome his demons and return to the city he'd once thrilled. "Think of it," he remarked, coming out from behind bar, going to shake his hand, "now that you're back home you're like the Prodigal Son. No one will remember 11 years later. Plus, you were such a hero before in those seasons for the Red Sox, Boston will adore you now." So it was for Boston, the ex-pitcher realized. "You could have...any job in the city."
"Except mine in city council," A-Woody hastened to add.
Woody perked up, remarking that "I'm in City Council, too."
"How come I never see you at the meetings," came A-Woody's response, as the humor allowed Sam to collect a few thoughts.
If I'm that well liked, Sam considered, I could have any woman in this city I wanted. Hey, maybe I could even win Rebecca, we don't have a history here, I bet. Except...do I dare ask about my ex-wife? Might she have left me and gotten divorced since I was gone so long? They might not know, though, unless that Cliff does. Man, he's spooky.
Could she still be here, waiting for me, he asked himself. No, that was impossible, considering the length of time. He could always file for divorce. Suddenly, a thought struck him. What if the other me...oh, well, I've made two dates on the same night before, I can do that and get away with it, Sam considered, dismissing the thought. Fame, fortune, romance, it's all waiting.
Except...I can't believe Teddy was affected by all this, too, he pondered. Diane, I can see, he told himself. She and I never meet, so she doesn't have second thoughts about marrying Frazier. He glanced over at a newspaper, and noticed a freelance column by Diane Chambers Crane, on the same page as a couple other well-known, nationally syndicated scribes, Dave Barry and Bob Greene. So, she's still writing, he thought, just likely not for Hollywood.
But the others...how does this work, anyway, he asked himself. Out loud, he muttered: "Wow. But, that happened all because...of one traffic mishap?"
As he did this, Norm pondered the changes. He'd always respected Sam as a person because they were both, to some extent, losers. He knew the others felt the same way. Was Sam out of their league now? No, he decided, sipping his beer, that pitch in 1986 made him the same. Wait a minute, though, he considered, I don't need to worry, because it'll be this Sam at heart who stays. Cliff won't care, he's somehow tied to Sam. Woody might need to go back, but the others? May as well stay here, he decided.
Jim considered the enormity of the changes. Though some of the people and references he was unaware of, he recognized that there were subtle differences. Still, he needed all the facts. Turning to the Cliff outfitted in Red Sox garb, he said the following. "Our friend here has a great baseball memory, I bet he would know. Off the top of my head, let me ask you, Cliff, what happened September 15, 1974 in Red Sox lore."
Wrinkling his nose, A-Cliff turned to him and explained. "That was peculiar" he began, considering it was even too bizarre for him, a thought the other Cliff shared as it was spoken. "It seems Norm Cash nearly got run over, but the only person they could find bearing a close resemblance to the people in the van was young Sam Malone. He was 20-plus years younger than the man in the van, as it turned out, but the police asked him some questions the next day, and that's it. Malone fanned a pinch-hitter to get a win the night of the accident, but he was late for the next game due to the questioning, and never entered, that was the manager's rule."
Jim nodded. "Thank you. Could you describe with much brevity Mr. Malone's career, particularly whether he ever purchased a bar or restaurant." Frazier thought the questioning fairly ordinary, considering that Sam may just now be accepting his past.
"A bar, that's a funny question. He never did anything like that." A- Cliff added that "he had come up in the summer of 1973, had so-so years through 1976, and became the relief ace in 1977, when he pitched the Sox to a Series win. During the season he saved 32 games, won 7, and captured the Cy Young Award." Sam's eyes grew wide once more. "He won the pennant in 1978, but the team lost the Series to L.A. They won the Series in 1981, Sam winning Series MVP, and a division in 1986, after which Sam disappeared."
"Wow. I did all that! And...1981, too? Of course, because with me there they could win at least one half, couldn't they? All because..." he trailed off, now thinking only of his awards, platitudes, and recognition. The incredible shift in his career shocked him, and while he thought a second about how sad it was he didn't witness it, he knew with the time machine he could always attend those games himself. Why, he could even pick only his wins, and forget all the bad outings. What a way to enjoy a career.
Jim awakened Sam out of his daydream. "So, what was supposed to happen that day?"
Sam sighed. This had been so much easier in AA, when he'd learned to put the past behind him and accept his faults. In a way, he'd been aided by convincing himself that his career would have been very ordinary, and that he would have had no major effect on the pennant races, let alone winning major awards.
Placing an elbow on the table, Sam rested his head in it and remarked that "I gave up a homer to Cash, then I..." he cut off, mumbling the words "I got drunk."
"What," Carla wondered, not having heard the response.
"I got drunk, okay," Sam complained loudly. Why couldn't I have blown an adequate career, he asked himself, instead of a really good one. He looked puzzled as Frazier nodded his head.
"Yes," came the psychiatrist, "I always suspected a drinking problem after 1986."
What in the world is he talking about, Sam asked himself. Out loud, he insisted: "Hush it, will ya? This ain't easy, knowing what I gave up! I'd drunk some in 1973, but I was getting over it until that game. I came in soused the next game, gave up five runs, and pretty soon I'd drunk away all my potential. I was lousy for a couple years, finally got sent to the minors for good in '77, and a couple years later I'd totally drunk myself out of the game!" There, it's said, it's finished, Sam thought to himself.
Cliff shook his head, whistling. "Man, what one game will do for you."
Frazier, presuming that his world's Sam Malone sat there, and was trying to pretend his whole career had never occurred, faced the others. "I suspect that Sam always had a fragile psyche," he told them.
Is that ever the truth, Sam considered. Nodding, he elaborated. "Yeah, I was going downhill before, especially since we were losing the lead so rapidly that month. A win and a few good outings might have turned things around, though."
Rebecca interjected, trying to play psychiatrist. "We can put 1986 behind us now, right? We're glad you're back."
"What's with the 1986 business," Sam persisted as Jim fumbled in his pockets for his wallet.
Carla handed him some money. "Forget your wallet," she inquired loudly.
"Look...we have to go back," insisted Jim, suddenly shocked, hoping nothing else had changed. Maybe this is why the doubles are here, maybe they're not supposed to be, he considered.
Sam stood, unsure of his words. "Well...do we?" finally emerged from his lips.
Carla nodded. "Yeah, I'd like for Jim and I to meet if we haven't!"
"I'd love to get season tickets for 1977." Dreamily, Sam repeated: "The Cy Young Award."
"Besides," Jim explained, "I dropped my wallet. We can't let anything contaminate and possibly change the past further." He swallowed hard, knowing what the reaction would be. If needed, he supposed he might be able to compromise a little on this, but still, totally restoring it would be much safer. "Now, we should also get Mr. Malone in there to fix the timeline."
It was Sam's turn to affix an angry stare. "Suppose I don't want to," he declared defiantly, as Frazier tried to determine what the comedy team was doing.
"What about Teddy, your son," Woody asked simply, and suddenly Sam looked a little downcast.
"Yeah," he admitted casually, "I kinda worry about Teddy, too."
"You can always have my teddy bear, Sam," A-Woody remarked.
"Even if you are me," Woody said, "you're driving me crazy. This shouldn't be that hard."
Still thinking, Sam remarked: "Man, that's tough...How much time do we have?" Can I, say, watch my career and then stay here for ten years while I think about it, he considered silently.
"We could wait," Jim acknowledged, "but who knows what else has changed. Maybe this place is radioactive, and we'll die quickly; that's the danger in changing the past." Boy, that was a lousy argument, Jim thought to himself. We'd have noticed something like that. "And, like Carla said, we have to make sure we met."
Norm held out his hands. "Look, they have beer, I think that's good enough!"
Sam thought a minute. It would be a shame not to have pitched at least one game of his glorious career. Why not, he thought. I won't be facing world beaters. This won't be the pennant winners, this will be a last place club. I can still get people out, I came back a few years ago. "Tell you what," he offered, "we won't hold up Cash to keep him from getting hit, okay? I'll pitch that game in 1974, but I can't promise you I'll give up that homer. I don't know if I can give up all that fame. Oh," he added as they left, "let's get tickets for the 1981 Series, too." Jim sighed. Ultimately, he said to himself, I suppose it is the decision of the one whose life changed the most. Still, though, it seemed a shame to go to all that trouble if they weren't going to change it.
As for Woody, he prayed that the Lord show Sam which way to go, and more importantly, that he show Sam whether Teddy had even been born. He knew his mom had prayed a lot about things. And, that might make all the difference in his decision.

Chapter Four

As the time travelers piled into the van, Sam prepared his game face. While to avoid suspicion he felt he would have to remain out of the view of most people, then enter in the eighth inning, Sam Malone grinned expectantly, anxious for one last moment of glory. They say some athletes can't take an end to the cheering, he considered, and that's why they have such problems later in life. For me, going through AA probably helped me accept that, because I'd been the one to throw it away.
Still, though, the reason I retired the second time was I couldn't stand the childish pranks. Oh, well, I can take them for a day.
And then? wondered the pitcher as the streaks of blue and gold swirled around the time traveling van. I've got a date with destiny, a chance to watch a career. In fact, with this machine, any athlete can spend gobs of time reliving old memories. The stands for a no-hitter could become populated entirely with different versions of the star who twirled it.
The bizarre nature of the thought made Sam laugh and shudder simultaneously. Throughout his recovery, he'd been taught to put the past behind him, that it couldn't be repeated. And, yet, here he was about to do just that! A chance to get it right! But, then, the whole nature of his reality changed.
After noticing the first van drive off and a limping Norm Cash stumbling off to the ballpark, Jim halted the van. He then exited and retrieved his wallet, driving to a parking deck that Sam indicated was used for fan parking at that time. As they began to walk to Fenway, Jim developed his plan.
"Okay, look," spoke Jim as they neared Fenway's entrance, "you'll need to put on some makeup, make yourself look younger, once you get inside. Tell the guard you'll be leaving again in a few minutes, that way if we don't find the younger you he'll understand."
"Well, what's the younger me going to do," Sam inquired, concerned for himself.
"We'll get him drunk," Jim stated simply.
"Now, wait, what if I decide not to blow this thing?"
"Look," Jim insisted, glad few fans milled around at this time of the afternoon, "you yourself said they put you in the next night to boost your confidence in the original timeline. First, they might not put you in, just as the other Cliff mentioned; second, if he doesn't remember...that is, if you don't remember that day, we can make you think you won, and that will boost your confidence, anyway. You won't want to be drunk for the next game - didn't you say you also drank some the next day," the inventor inquired, ensuring he recalled everything.
Sam nodded. "Before the game, yeah." He couldn't believe he was about to relive that nightmare game. But yet, the thoughts of Teddy stuck in his mind. He should have found out more about the couple, he considered. If he'd made sure they never met...no, that wouldn't necessarily have helped, even one of the couple might be just as bad with different kids. He sighed, recognizing that he probably couldn't have ensured that.
Now, he had to work based on faith...but faith in what outcome? The only effects he knew were of his own pitching career and the lives of a few friends at the bar. Were the aftermaths good or bad for them? Sam determined it was probably a little of each. Hence, Teddy would be his main concern in deciding whether to repair the timeline.
Recalling the massive crowds, Carla inquired: "Can we even get seats?"
Sam pulled out a drivers' license and hid the date. Sauntering to Gate A, he said "my friends here need tickets, I'm pitcher Sam Malone."
The ticket taker nodded and glanced quickly at the ID. "Sir, if you have friends here you'll have to talk to the GM about leaving tickets for them."
"Okay, but...say, can they sit in those seats behind the first base dugout?" He struggled to quickly think of who owned them that year. "You know, season ticket holders, almost never show up?"
"If they show up your friends will have to move..."
"They will, I promise. Right guys," he turned to them. As Jim and the others nodded their ascent, he said: "I'll call once I get in the clubhouse. Thanks, I don't remember doing this before."
The ticket lady looked puzzled, but said nothing. Sam waltzed over to his friends. "I thought I remembered, there's a company that bought front row seats but hardly ever used them down along the Sox dugout; actually several, that's why I made it vague. One group is sure not to be here." Wow, closest I ever sat, Woody thought excitedly. I wish I'd brought my catcher's mitt for a foul ball.
Sam suddenly realized that his wife might be sitting behind the screen. "Uh-oh, what do I do with my wife...okay," he ad libbed. "Jim, I'll point her out, go over about the second inning, say I knew you guys from the minors, you're...ah..."
Norm jumped in with "beer vendors," his mind already on ballpark fare.
"Yeah," Sam remarked, pointing to him, "yeah that's good. You're vendors from New Britain who get together and see the big leaguers once a year. The minor league season's over, so she'll buy it. Carla remembers the park from when I tried to come back, use her on details."
Jim nodded. Sam's catching on to time travel really fast, he considered. "Good, then if you need to come over to us you can." Placing his hands on Sam's shoulders, Jim asked: "You know what to do?"
The part I dreaded, Sam considered. I haven't the foggiest notion. Oh, well, he thought, I wouldn't know if I was here five years instead of five hours. "Well...no. I mean, isn't getting the other me drunk..." he repeated.
"Don't think of it as the other you, this is your past self," Jim remarked.
Carla reiterated that "we'll make him think he won, then got drunk afterward, and convince him he shouldn't do that again."
"Carla," Jim commanded, "that's not what he did."
"What if my mission was to win those Series," Sam wondered aloud. "What if I blew it, and now God's giving me another chance?"
Woody finally decided to speak. "God didn't want you drunk, but what if your mission was to help that boy so he doesn't become like you were, or worse?"
"Well, maybe Jim's right," Sam rebutted, almost yelling, "that couple didn't meet. You don't know if he would have been born."
"You don't know he wouldn't have," offered the younger bartender.
Jim glanced down at the pavement, sighing. There are so many problems with this technology, he pondered. So many people could use it for selfish reasons - or even evil ones. Still, that was the danger in bringing someone back. Sighing, Jim acknowledged "it's up to you, I guess. You're the one who has to live with it."
Walking contemplatively toward the players' entrance, Sam sighed. Making his own choices had never helped him a while lot, had it? And yet, here he was, receiving incredibly mixed signals. How could he not be selfish? Even working only for himself, he couldn't know which choice was better. "You just made it a lot harder," he shouted back to the "Cheers" gang.

The locker room felt noticeably tense, which thwarted Sam's efforts to get away from the problem. Nobody was joking around like he remembered, and everyone just seemed to stare at everyone else. Sam Malone couldn't blame them, though. As he reminisced, he realized that this ball club had fallen from a six game lead over Baltimore down to a half game in two weeks. The Orioles would win tonight - nothing he did could change that, he didn't think - so a loss would drop a Sox team once sure of victory into second place. They would be in third by season's end.
As Sam mumbled "hello"s to various players, he wondered why he couldn't recall the differences. Could things truly change for him, he asked himself. He then recalled how Frazier had left for Seattle, and how Diane had gone off to write her novel before Hollywood - there's another difference, he realized, thinking of his former love interest. Obviously, those events were modified. Same with Cliff, he was more bizarre than ever. But, what about his pitching career? That was no mere modification. He was still amazed one man's career could change so many things, but apparently it had.
Sam recalled Jim's warnings about messing with the timeline, so he tried hard to refrain from mentioning anything about these players' futures. This made it difficult when hearing players converse about contemporary events. Not wishing to identify the next U.S. President, or tell players who would be traded, who would leave via free agency, and so on, he quietly slunk back into the whirlpool, glad their clubhouse had recently installed one...well, recently to these people, anyway.
"Hey, Sam," Coach remarked after a while, "it's almost game time."
Malone glanced up, shocked at the voice. "Coach, you're alive," he blurted before mumbling to himself: "Of course, it's 1974. There I go again, thinking so much I forget to leave my mouth closed." Coach looked not the least puzzled. Thank goodness he's as confused as Woody sometimes, Sam thought.
"Of course it's 1974. What year did you think it was?"
"Oh, er, well, I thought it was..." Should he say? No, not unless he had to, decided Sam. "A few years later, I guess. Seems like this month has dragged on for years."
"What'd you do, have a bad dream," Coach inquired seriously, and Sam realized that he might have had a nightmare or two about his home life upon entering the majors. Thanks for the excuse, Coach, he thought.
Nodding, he said "yeah, yeah that's it. Dreamt I was 25 years in the future."
"That whirlpool isn't helping you, in fact it's making you look older. Better get out before you look as old as Methuselah," Coach quipped. Sam didn't know if he was serious or not. That must be where Woody learned that, he thought. "And get out to the 'pen, it's almost game time," he heard Coach repeat. Dutifully, Sam donned his uniform, and sauntered to the area behind the center field wall.
He spied the starting pitcher just now running out to the mound, leaving his warmup jacket with Coach. The pitching coach was home with a sick relative, so Coach, the bullpen coach as of this date, served as the pitching coach. He would even serve as third base coach for a time next year. Hence, Coach wandered between the dugout and bullpen. Sam felt a little relief at this, for he really didn't want to have to explain things to Coach if he didn't have to. Still, he thought, it might happen.
As Sam surveyed the ballpark, he noticed the brilliant green all around him. The "No Pepper" sign behind home plate hadn't changed, and likely hadn't changed in the fifty years before that. The green monster, Fenway's gorgeous, 37-foot behemoth ranging from the left field foul pole to left center announced itself like Mt. Everest. It protruded high into the sky, and Sam felt like he was at the base of the Sears Tower as he gawked at the tip from its base. It seemed to be daring some to climb it, while announcing to pitchers they had precious little hope of avoiding big innings. Sam recalled that even from the mound, he felt he could reach out and touch it. It scared the bejeebers out of many hurlers.
"Hello, old friend," he said, peeking around at the wall.
Pitcher Bill Lee looked at him and laughed. They won't call me "spaceman" much longer compared to him, he considered. "What'cha doin'?"
Sam glanced around. Good, it's only Bill Lee; he'll understand if I'm a little nutty, thought the time travelling hurler. "Oh, I figured if I befriended the wall it might be nice and not let any balls get hit off me," he ad libbed.
Lee looked puzzled a moment, then nodded. "Nice thought. Never heard of it working, but if you do good the next few nights, we might all start doing that." Yeah, Sam thought, we're superstitious enough, we just might do that. "Anything to get out of our slump."
Sam decided to humor the lefthander. "Say, ever thought of time travel," he inquired. "Hypothetically, of course."
"You think I'd think of it any other way? Of course not," Lee insisted. "Nah, first we gotta get some things like the HAL9000, then a few other items. Technology might eventually get that far, though," he agreed.
"If you could change your life, would you," Sam inquired.
As the Tigers made several quick outs, Lee protested. "What would I do that for? I'd just end up getting in a big fight with my former self over the right thing to do. Next thing you know they call the police. Then what do I say? I'm arguing with myself? They'd figure I was insane," came the diatribe's end. Jim solved that one, Sam conceded. No wonder he wanted to see the other me - my former self - out of the picture.

Woody Boyd consumed a bag of popcorn and three hotdogs with ease, prompting jokes from Norm that he was becoming like him. Of course, Woody drank soda pop, and ate because he hadn't eaten in hours, but that didn't stop the humor. He grinned, satisfied. He couldn't wait till his children were a little older and could appreciate the joys of baseball. He'd tried to take the older one to Fenway a while back, when he was four, and the tot got bored after an hour of batting practice. The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Boston Children's Museum. Perhaps this season, Woody contemplated...no, make that the season of his present. This season is 1974, he reminded himself.
Sam rested in the bullpen, and as Cliff helped everyone in the stands who worked crossword puzzles, Woody wondered whether Sam truly could give up a home run. For all that Sam talked about athletes having the "eye of the tiger," that driving urge to win, he wondered if any athlete in his right mind could lose on purpose. Most couldn't stand losing, he assumed. He determined that players such as the Black Sox - eight players who conspired to lose the 1919 World Series - may have been insane. From the incredible desire Sam showed in trying to beat Gary's Old Towne Tavern, how could someone who grew up trying to win ball games suddenly turn tails and lose? Yes, Woody concluded, those eight players must have been insane.
"Hey, Wood," Cliff spoke, derailing his train of thought, "can you believe this guy behind us didn't know a six-letter word for 'person of reduced height' was 'shorty?'" Those around him laughed as Woody wondered what was so funny. Everyone called short people that back in Hanover, Indiana when he was young.
His mind drifted back to the thought of trying to lose, as a Tiger was thrown out trying to bowl over Carlton Fisk to score. Why, when Sam neglected to place my bet on those NFL games, Woody reminisced, I wasn't even angry at losing out on 12,000. I only pretended to be mad because he insisted on it. Money doesn't buy happiness, and I should have recalled that before I placed the bet. He helped me remember. Kelly's parents are less happy with all their riches than we are knowing Christ these last three years, he pondered.

As the eighth inning dawned, Sam awoke from a nap. Boy, this messes up your biological clock fiercely, he told himself. It's close to midnight by what I'm used to. He stood and gazed at that left field wall once more, remembering Carlton Fisk's dramatic home run over it in the World Series. Was I supposed to win that game, he wondered as the telephone rang. He grinned, memories of 20-year-old adrenaline rushes surging back to life as he stalked to the mound. He knew what would be said before Coach said it.
"Sam..." Coach began, noticing his pitcher already refreshed and alert. "Good, you're awake. Maybe you need more sleep, I still can't believe how old you look. Manager wants you up in the 'pen, but I guess you figured that."
Loosening by wiggling his arms and twirling his right one, Sam announced: "All ready, Coach." He received the throw from the catcher and fired a fastball down the middle. He couldn't recall a time when he felt more excited to enter a game.
"He's got great stuff," Coach told the manager over the phone a couple minutes later. "Maybe a mile or two slower than normal, but it's popping." That meant his fastball moved when he threw it. Even the fastest pitchers could get hit hard if those tosses went straight. As Fisk visited the mound, Coach walked into the dugout, conferring about strategy. "Bring him in with none on, he probably needs a little confidence boost," Coach suggested to the manager.
Sam finished throwing, and watched the game over the fence. Fenway's right field fence stood merely four feet high, allowing pitchers a great view of the action. He eagerly anticipated the wave to the bullpen, leaping when Coach waved his right arm. That meant a righthander, and he was the only one throwing. Rather than leave his warmup jacket in the dugout, Sam carried it out to the mound. Just like the wall, Sam thought, word will just get around that I'm trying to break our streak with silly superstitions. That can't change anything, that's normal baseball.
Coach and Sam shared the mound with nobody. Is now the time to tell him, Sam inquired to nobody in particular. I still don't know what to do, except that it feels great to be here on the hill; it's as if I never left.
"Okay, Sam, go get 'em," came the final instructions. The score was tied in the top of the eighth. As Coach carried Sam's jacket into the dugout, Sam began to fire fastballs. He wanted his arm as strong as it could be, because he needed to pretend he was 20-some years younger. He noticed a slightly concerned look on Fisk's face, but as long as the catcher didn't ask anything specific, Sam wouldn't worry.
As Sam finished his eight warmup tosses, the Detroit batter stepped up to the plate. Sam felt his heart pumping wildly as he stared in for the sign. High, ball one. Another pitch missed wide, and after two more pitches, the count was three balls, one strike. Fisk glanced into the dugout, and then stood with his right hand out. One normally didn't put the winning run on base, but this was their cleanup hitter, and perhaps their best batter this season. Sam threw lightly, and with the "ball" call, the batter sprinted toward first.
What's going on here, thought Sam, I was almost sure I got him last time. I know I didn't walk him. Fisk strolled out to the mound, and Sam realized things could be changed drastically. Only now, he worried he couldn't win the game even if he tried. As the catcher walked toward him, he felt compelled to tell him everything.
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Old 04-19-2008, 08:05 PM   #3
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Chapter Five

In the stands, Cliff looked hopelessly for some more crosswords to unscramble. So far, he'd "helped" three dozens patrons with their puzzles, though half the words ended up incorrect. Seeing none that needed help, Cliff turned his attention back to the game. Norm called the vendor for another beer, and Cliff stared at the field while speaking.
"At this time I would have been finishing a South Boston route, getting home to my mom and watching the game on TV. What about you, Norm," came the inquiry.
"In the bar having a beer," Norm stated as if it were a law of nature.
Carla nodded wearily. I'd like him better if he tipped, but since he doesn't even pay his tab, I guess I can't ask for much, she considered. "That's true for every day, isn't it?"
"Well, not every day," said Norm, using his new beer in a gesture and thus splashing some onto the field. "I wasn't there during the Civil War."
"I coulda sworn you smelled at least that old," Carla quipped. He walked right into that, she pondered.
Jim explained that "he's supposed to get an out, then the Sox score in the bottom of the 8th to give him a chance...oh no" he said with a start.
"What is it," Carla wondered, a little concerned.
"I don't recall that walk; in fact I'm sure he didn't walk this guy. This alters the batter order."
"So? Can't he give up the home run to someone else," Norm inquired.
"Well, yes, but Cash is in street clothes, and he pinch-hit..." trailed the inventor. No, I suppose he could still pitch around the pinch hitter and allow hits to the top of the order, losing that way. The Tigers were awful in '74, but they had a few good, young hitters.
Woody questioned Jim. "Why would he want to give up hits. The Sam I know would want to get everyone out." Which may have started his problem, not accepting it's okay to be human, Woody considered. Jim said nothing, deciding that the way Sam looked on those pitches, he might not be able to get four more outs.

As Fisk reached the mound, he found a fretting Sam Malone. Not unusual, he told himself. "Hey, Sam, a little nervous, huh," came the sympathetic remark. He recalled his rookie season two years before, and how tough it was to keep his mind on things when in a pennant race. He'd overcome his nervousness at first by visiting the mound often, but now his constant visits had become ways of helping his pitchers when they fell out of a rhythm. And, this hurler clearly needed to get back in sync.
Sam nodded. He looked around him, at many thousands of expectant faces, and considered how the choice he made in that game could affect all of them. "Yeah, wouldn't you be?"
"I guess," Fisk acknowledged, thinking of their shrunken lead. "You're throwing across your body too much," he explained, moving his arm to demonstrate. Sam at once knew he'd not brought his hand far enough over his head before throwing the ball. Coming almost sidearm, that had caused him to miss on those pitches.
"Yeah, thanks. I haven't pitched in years," blurted Sam before he could think, and Fisk almost burst out laughing.
"What?!" exclaimed the catcher, pulling his red mask back down over his face and taking a step back. Noticing Sam said nothing further, he jogged back to his spot behind the plate. Man, this guy's weird, he thought. Crouching, he kept signaling for a curveball, dropping two fingers just below his mitt, and Sam kept shaking his head "no." Finally, he signalled fastball twice, and the batter swung and missed, then fouled one into the crowd behind the third base dugout. Fisk jogged out again, and Sam did a double-take.
"You again? I'd forgotten how often you came out," said the hurler as Fisk arrived at the mound, this time with mask down. What is he talking about, wondered the catcher.
Deciding to make light of his visits, Fisk thought of that year's Rookie of the Year, nicknamed the Human Rain Delay for his antics at the plate. "Thank the Lord Hargrove's not at bat, we could be here till tomorrow."
Reverting to instructing the hurler, Fisk explained: "Look, he's timing that...well, what you're throwing as a fastball. You got a curve? A change?"
"Change for what? Oh, I see," Sam realized, wondering where his mind had been. Probably on the Cy Young Award, he thought. "Yeah, want me to throw it?"
If he has those and wants to know what I want him to throw, why was he shaking me off when I signalled for them, Fisk asked himself. The question appeared unanswerable.
"Yeah, use the change. This guy's a good curveball hitter, I wanted one outside to get him to try and swing, but you're ahead anyway." Fisk continued by remarking that "you look like you're trying to heat the ballpark with all your gas, and it isn't even that fast." Does his arm hurt? Is he drunk? Fisk had more questions than a trivia book when he went back behind the plate, but a strikeout to end the inning calmed him for now. As he removed his catcher's gear, he couldn't recall Sam acting that odd before, but decided the pressure just did funny things to all ballplayers.
Sam, meanwhile, fretted that he couldn't throw like he had in the past. Oh, well, he realized, he could prevent batters from reaching base. Perhaps not all the time, but he clearly had a chance to win this game, if he wanted.
"And with that, we go to the bottom of the eighth tied at three," Woody suddenly shouted, pretending to be an announcer. "The Orioles have won, Boston is now tied with the Birds." Groans erupted around them, including from Jim at first, until he realized that someone with a radio might have known that, anyway. He appeared shocked as Sam came over to them.
"Hey, usher," called Sam, "you wanna let my friends into the dugout?" Jim looked up and shook his head.
The usher, a man who'd passed seven beers and five bags of popcorn to Norm alone since an hour before game time, considered that several vendors might go broke if Norm was allowed to make a routine of sitting in the dugout and not the stands. Besides, the rules didn't allow it. "You're new here, aren't you," he wondered of the pitcher he thought had been there last year.
"In a manner of speaking, I'm new," agreed Sam.
"Well, I guess you don't know, we don't just let friends and family come down into the player's area, especially during games," he emphasized to the once and present pitcher. "They can come down after the game if you let them in," he concluded. His eyes bulged out to second base as Sam begin to climb into the stands. He stammered a little, and Cliff thought, with that look, the usher would soon exclaim "I know noth-ing! I see noth- ing" like Sergeant Schultz on Hogan's Heroes.
"Ah, gee, well, okay, I guess," Sam murmured, looking at a couple of fans. "Could you each scoot over one seat?"
"Sure, if you give me your autograph," they spoke.
"After the game," Sam remarked, unsure whether he would keep his word. The fans moved, and Sam sat next to Woody, the husband very slowly leaning toward Sam to hear the discussion. "Guys, I can't do this," Sam admitted, almost broken-hearted at having to admit it.
"Whaddayamean, you got two options," came Cliff's rejoinder.
"Yeah, surely you can pick one," Norm considered.
Sam shook his head. "I mean pitch, at least like I did in my prime. Sure, I can get guys out, and I came back with the double-A team in the 1980s," he remarked as the fan became increasingly perplexed, "but even that was years ago."
The fan's mouth hung open, as he struggled to express his utter disbelief at the events of the last few minutes. "Don't you mean...years...from now?!"
Before Jim could excuse Sam's actions as those of just a truly flaky pitcher, Sam glared at the fan. "Stay out of this, this doesn't concern you." Back to the Cheers gang, he said lower that "I'm older than anyone who's ever pitched, save for Paige, maybe Phil Niekro."
Carla couldn't stand the defeatist attitude in her hero. "Sam, all you have to do is pitch the ninth."
The next words from Sam's lips made the fan's mouth stand agape for the entire bottom of the eighth. "But why couldn't we just tell the younger me the options, and let him choose? That would still take away the problem of me arguing with myself."
Jim elaborated on the situation. "Because he might alter his course based on that; he might choose to do a third thing, one that means you never get to have either choice. Why, he could even have a nervous breakdown." The fans cheered as the Red Sox put a runner on first via a hit. "He could assume he'll live, do something foolish, and die in 1974."
"Would that mean I disappear?" came Sam's query, stealing the question from Woody's lips.
No," Jim explained, "you create an alternate timeline, but you can't just travel between timelines. You'll be stuck in whatever future you create."
Maybe I can trust my friends, they've always helped me before, Sam thought. Fixing his gaze on all simultaneously, he said: "Okay, so what would you do?"
Jim pondered all the moves that would be made. "Restore the original; it's safest," he asserted.
Carla shook her head. "Are you kidding," the waitress wondered with more than a hint of incredulity. After all she'd been through in life, there was no doubt in her mind. "I'd go for the glory," she insisted.
"Me, too. That's a great past you could have in your future," Cliff remarked, dreaming of glory as he might define it. Unlike the others, he'd seen his alternate self and loved it, especially since everyone yelled his name like they did Norm's. Of course, that Cliff had had to work harder, and he himself would need to work to maintain his other self's level. However, he didn't mind a little effort when the other him had already provided him with such great references, such as his Red Sox books.
"Woody," came the roll call question. While the other three responses had been somewhat expected, it was often hard to gauge the simple farm boy's views.
"My mom always said build your treasures in Heaven, not on Earth," he remarked. "God doesn't like people to turn their backs on family. And, like it or not, you don't know where that boy ends up in another future." At last, a reason, Sam thought.
But how good was that reasoning? To Sam, Woody made it sound like God would be mad at him either way. That didn't sound like the being he knew from AA. But, Sam determined, I've always thought I was okay with Him after I got my life in order. Maybe there's more to it, considered Malone.
Either way, Sam thought, it's tied. "Norm?"
"Well, you could build a different treasure by giving Boston fans their first World Series wins since 1918." Wow, Sam thought, I'd forgotten it was that long. "On the other hand, if Teddy is still around, and you have to find him..."
"Come on, Norm, the vote's tied at two, call it," insisted Sam as a new pitcher entered the game for Detroit.
Perturbed, Norm grumbled and raised his voice. "Come on, why do I always get left with the tough ones." Stabbing downward at the air with each word, he exclaimed: "Just make sure the timeline has beer, okay? Sheesh," he finished, rolling his eyes.
Wishing to be back in the dugout for the big hit, Sam began to climb down from the stands. "You guys are no help," remarked the hurler, wishing someone could have helped him so he wouldn't have to choose himself. "Wait, I'll ask Coach. He can break the tie," Sam remarked out loud. However, Sam wondered if he could blurt the question to Coach. On the other hand, if he danced around the topic, could Coach even understand him?
"Oh yeah, I didn't recognize him," Carla told the others as Sam walked into the dugout. To Jim, she explained: "He was Sammy's best friend and chief bartender, then he died and Woody replaced him. He was a really great guy."
In the dugout, Sam walked up to his mentor. "Hey, Coach," he called.
"Yeah, Sam?" responded the man who looked so out of place in his Red Sox uniform and red cap with a navy "B" on it. Even with only gray hair, and not white, Sam felt he should be tending bar, not coaching in the majors.
Licking his lips, Sam inquired of him: "If you had to choose between winning a bunch of games and awards, and having a kid, which would you choose?"
Coach stared blankly ahead. "Well, Sam, I already have a daughter, I don't need another kid." Boy, I'd forgotten how much he's like Woody, the hurler considered. I suppose I could tell him everything. Not here, though, with others overhearing.
"I mean..." Sam said, unable to force more words out of his mouth for a second as he pondered a way to help Coach understand the hypothetical. "Suppose you knew what would happen for the next 25 years in two futures. And you could choose what happens."
"Well, I know what I'd do!" Coach insisted. Sam almost jumped for joy as he asked what that was.
Sam's hopes were quickly dashed, his grin slowly turning to a downcast look, as Coach explained. "I'd bet on every sporting event I could. I could get a billion dollars by the time I was through." Before Sam could respond, Jim Rice hit a towering home run, with an outburst of praise erupting, an incredible explosion of noise rocking the foundations of the park. Sam gazed out as the ball cleared the screen in left.
"Wow, that's longer than I remember," Sam muttered. Boy, that Jim Rice could hit. He could have won three straight MVPs with a few breaks, but he only won the one. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, Sam finally considered, ensuring that no words leaked. He knew what high expectations sometimes did to a promising young star.
Coach, befuddled, asked "remember what, Sam?" Malone shook his head as he mightily grasped the hitter's hand.
"All right, way to go, Jim, what a smash," he exclaimed, telling Coach: "Uh, longer than I recall seeing a home run hit."
Coach smiled, patted him on the back, and told Sam "you got a chance for the win, kid."
Sam nodded, still unsure of his decision. "Yeah, yeah. Are they gonna put me out for the ninth?" Maybe I can get out of it this way.
"Sure, why not," Coach wondered hypothetically. Sam had no easy reply. "And hey, don't think about the pennant race; I know that's what you must have been pondering in the 8th."
Arrrggghhh, Sam thought, that's just what you said in 1974...well, 23 years ago, Sam thought, staring as Coach walked away. And of course I thought about it once you mentioned it. As the Sox prepared to take the field, Sam stepped out to meet his destiny.
"Give it your best shot, Sammy!" Carla hollered. She felt proud of herself, not flirting with any men during the game. She'd played her part as a vendor from New Britain very well, she believed.
"Soo-ee. What a ball game!" Was that a hog call Woody just made, Jim wondered incredulously.
"Sure wish 'Cheers' had had a radio," Norm remarked, "so I coulda heard this game back then. I'd know more about what was supposed to happen."
Cliff reported that "that may be true, but one thing you've forgotten, what if Sam tries to lose like before, and Detroit won't co-operate."
Jim shuddered. He hadn't thought of that possibility, but it existed. Still, the excitement of his youth filled him once more, and as he recalled the great 1968 championship team, he soothed himself believing that Detroit could not mess things up if given the chance.

As Sam finished his warmup pitches, Fisk jogged out again. "Can't we wait till the inning starts," inquired Sam, holding out his hands.
"I just wanted to make sure you're okay. Your velocity is getting a little better, but you're still throwing weaker than you did a couple days ago," Fisk noted.
"Well, I'm fine. I can get these guys," Sam declared with an authority he hadn't displayed before then. Seeing a chance for the victory, he suddenly felt that intense desire to win he'd felt all his life. Whether it was to live up to unrealistic expectations or to provide himself with a sense of worth, the roar of the crowd had heightened the memories of "Mayday Malone," the hurler with unlimited potential as of 1974.
As he gazed at the left field wall, though, he thought of his experience with Teddy. The kid had been crushed by his lack of success, and he was just six years old. Man, Sam thought, I wasn't even that bad when I was six. Could he wind up worse than me without someone who understands him, without someone who will care for him? The feeling still seemed quite odd to him, that desire to think of someone other than himself. Even when trying to woo women, it had been to score for himself. Here was a chance to do something right for a change. And yet, on the other hand, there were a bunch of awards and a great name that he could make for himself.
Sam looked around, and the crowd assumed he was soaking up the atmosphere. As he turned to deliver to the plate, a curve got roped into left field for a single. Sam bore down, concentrating heavily on the batter, and induced him to launch a medium fly ball to right field. One out in the ninth.

"This is the way it happened originally, except there were two outs now, the last out of the eighth had been the first one of the ninth," Jim recollected for the others. "It was the high point of a disastrous season."

Rather than collecting a single, as happened previously, the next batter drew a walk. Sam whistled, considering how much things could change. Suddenly, he realized how a few tiny changes could expand into his winning the Cy Young Award, or the Series MVP. And, the fans would remember him forever. Why, he might make a Red Sox Centennial team in a few years. He'd be mentioned in the same breath as Cy, Yaz, the Babe, and Ted Williams, a.k.a. Teddy Ballgame.
Yes, then there was Teddy. Man, if he just knew that couple's name, he could ensure they never met, and...no, wait, then they might marry different people and there would be even more problem kids, like Woody said. Good grief, was this complex.
Sam understood why Fisk jogged out to him this time, what with him standing motionless on the mound for several minutes. Pudge probably wants to make sure I haven't turned to stone, he thought, putting on a game face.
Fisk assumed Sam was trying to stay extra focused, but spoke anyway. "Okay, they'll pinch hit here, but stay calm, you can get the double play."
"Thanks," Sam acknowledged. "At least it's not Cash."
Fisk shook his head. "Come on, he can't hit the fastball anymore, you could have jammed him."
"That's what you said last time," Sam admitted, quite honestly. "I just got it too far over the plate and he hit it out."
Here he goes again, Fisk thought, puzzling over the statement.
Suddenly, a light bulb appeared to flash on in his mind. "Oh," he proclaimed with a hint of understanding that hadn't come before now. "I bet you had a ballpark dream. I've had those."
"You have?"
Fisk patted him on the right arm with his glove, grinning ear to ear. "Sure, you dream you're playing and you do something stupid, or you're running home to score and you can hardly move your legs. Lots of us have those."
"We do?" Last inning he would have made sure to agree, but now he wasn't sure how to react. Hence, he just let Fisk talk in his soothing voice.
"Sure, scared me as a rookie, too. But you know what?" Fisk slapped him on the non-pitching shoulder and didn't await a response. "I've learned the game never unfolds the same way. It's always a little different, like Cash not being here. These aren't premonitions, believe me."
Fisk grinned excitedly as he heard Sam's "thank you" on his way back to home plate. He believed he'd solved a mystery as great as that of the Loch Ness Monster. While he couldn't recall ever being spooked so badly by a dream, he also realized different players handled things differently, and he felt he'd done the right thing in reassuring the young hurler.
After Sam tossed a ball and a strike, the batter reached for a ball. He barely tapped it with his bat. The sphere seemed to skip along the first base line like an energetic schoolboy. The first baseman grabbed the ball and, after looking at the lead runner, recorded the out at first. The manual scoreboard changed as a second red light appear in the "out" column, and the Red Sox' faithful began to stand and cheer in various part of the ball park. Soon, they felt, the losing streak would be over, and perhaps their beloved team would not blow this division title after all.
Sam, meanwhile, pondered his next move, with the tying run on second and the lead run at the plate. Coach jogged out to discuss things, and Sam knew his moment of decision had come.
"Okay, Sam, the manager wants you to go after this guy. You don't want to put him on," Coach advised.
As Fisk arrived at the mound, Sam kicked the pitcher's rubber. "You sure that's a good idea?" came Sam.
Fisk concurred. "He just got called up, he's cold from being on the bench. Plus, he's not a power man. Better to pitch to him than the second place hitter."
In accord with the young catcher, Coach remarked that "with Kaline third you don't want to take a chance on having him bat with a tie game. This gives you two chances to get the out. Besides, you never put the winning run on base." Although this is a good spot for what they like to call an unintentional intentional walk, he surmised.
"Yeah, that's..." Sam began, deciding to see if he could tell Coach. And, if he tried, how far into his mouth would he could stick his foot. "Listen, Pudge, go back to the plate, I gotta tell Coach something."
Fisk wandered back to the plate muttering. "I thought I had this figured out, and maybe I still do, but..."
On the mound, Sam started to speak. "Coach, I might have to...well...I shouldn't say..." he stammered, recalling the advice against mentioning to anyone he was from the future. Drat, why can't I just get it out.
"Might have to what," Coach wondered, ready for anything from Sam discussing his marriage to his arm falling off his body.
In almost a whisper, Sam admitted that "I might be destined to lose this game."
The statement hit Coach like a thunderbolt, jarring him to life. "Sam," he advised with a voice rarely used, recalling the big poker games he enjoyed, "if there's gamblers threatening you don't let 'em. You haven't placed any money, have you?" That's one fix I couldn't get this kid out of, he thought.
"No..." began the hurler, realizing that Coach was making it sound worse than it was, something he didn't think was possible.
"Good," Coach commented, sticking a finger in Sam's chest for a second, "'cause you could be banned for life for that, and you know it!" More calmly, he remarked: "Now, if you've bet on other baseball games, it's a one year ban, but we can keep this quiet, and get you some help."
"Coach," Sam insisted in a loud whisper, later recognizing his anger at Coach's insinuations might have led him to spill the beans, "I'm not betting on anything. I came from the future, and if I lose this game, history's back to normal, and if I win, I don't go out and get drunk, I settle down and win a few major awards, and I live happily ever after. Except I might not, because I was gonna adopt this troubled kid, and now he's nowhere to be found in the other future." At this point Fisk stood, watching the tirade, and shrugged toward the umpire and batter.
Coach held a hand to his head momentarily, trying to make sense of what he'd just heard. "Sam," he exclaimed for many to hear, "that is the weirdest thing I have ever heard!" Weirder than what he's been saying to me, Fisk speculated inwardly. Is that possible?
Sam shushed him and elaborated. "Yes, and don't tell anyone about this, or it'll alter the timeline."
"I'm glad you don't expect me to," Coach spouted.
"But, think about it," Sam remarked. "Why else would I age 20-some years overnight. Why would I be asking those crazy hypothetical questions; you know that's not like me." Coach quietly acknowledged that those parts were not fully explainable. "Why would my friends be wearing those dorky clothes...well, I guess after the seventies, there's no such thing as dorky clothes."
Coach's expression mirrored Woody's at confused times. "What's dorky?"
"Weird," Sam explained.
"You got that right," he exclaimed, referring not just to the clothes, but to that entire day.
"So, you can see I'm in a bind," Sam noted as if nothing were amiss. "Does God want to give me a second chance, or am I supposed to do what I did in the beginning, and help the kid."
Coach sighed. "Sam, how should I know? Now assuming you're from the future, first of all, who wins the Super Bowl the next twenty years," Coach inquired. And if he says New Orleans any year, he thought to himself, I'll know he's crazy.
"It probably depends on what I do here," the hurler uttered, recognizing that he wasn't sure of anything anymore.
"I was afraid you'd say that," Coach muttered forlornly.
In a very businesslike tone, the umpire issued a proclamation for all to hear. "Okay, party's over, break it up."
As Coach turned to leave, Sam said quickly "what about the decision?"
Sighing, Coach turned quickly and advised: " Just pray about it, I guess." Walking back to the dugout, he mumbled: "I can't believe the press is interested in what we talk about out there. They'd never believe us if we told 'em."
The pitcher then turned toward home plate and called out: "Hey, Pudge, come here a minute."
The umpire shook his head. What are they doing, planning a wedding, he asked himself. "He can't come till you throw a pitch," hollered the man in blue, and Sam bounced a curveball five feet in front of the plate. "Hey!" hollered the arbiter as Fisk ran out. The catcher decided they were equally confused.
"What is it?" Fisk wanted to know as he reach the dirt portion of the mound, stepping on to it with a little hesitancy.
"How do I pray out here?"
Okay, this guy has completely lost it, the catcher decided. "You called me out for that?" I don't think the ump will believe this, thought Fisk. Heck, I don't believe this.
"Yeah," continued Sam as if he'd asked directions to the bathroom, "what excuse would I have to get on my knees and pray about something?"
Fisk, keeping his mask down, scratched his head. Handing Sam the ball, he decided this would be the epitome of his catching days. He might make 10,000 trips to the mound in his career, but he still couldn't repeat it. And, the sad part was, nobody would believe the way this story was unfolding, so he couldn't even tell anyone.
Thinking out loud, the young catcher muttered. "Well...you could hit a batter..."
He never expected to see the hurler nod. And yet, that's what Sam did. "Yeah, that's good, thanks." Sam pointed at him and requested: "Tell the batter to take a dive."
"What?!" inquired the catcher, totally flabbergasted.
Nodding more confidently now, Sam decided this was the perfect plan. "Yeah, tell him to look really hurt, I'm gonna pray about something, but I need a reason, so I don't look silly in front of all these people."
You mean more silly than you seem right now, thought Fisk. "Well...are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine, now get back there." Fisk left as the umpire began to walk out to the mound. Meeting him halfway, they strode back to the plate together, Fisk shaking his head. Maybe I should make sure I'm not the one having some bizarre dream, considered the catcher.
"What was it," inquired the genuinely concerned umpire. As the catcher and arbiter assumed their stances behind home plate, the batter stepped into the batter's box.
Fisk turned to him, and decided to flat out say it; it was impossible to approach this situation any other way. "He wants you to take a dive," Fisk remarked.
The Tiger player wrinkled his nose, exclaiming: "What?!"
"That's what I said," Fisk remarked, commiserating. "He needs a reason to get on his knees and pray."
Overhearing, the umpire decided that the entire ball park had gone nuts, especially when he recalled that the same hurler had climbed into the stands to talk with people in the middle of the last inning. The only reason he didn't insist they stop making a travesty of the game was he feared there could be something terribly wrong with the pitcher.
The batsman considered the odd request. If he was going to reach base safely, he thought, then why not? However, he added one caveat. "Sure, I guess. But...go tell him he can pray wherever he is if he needs to get Christ into his life, even just standing on the mound."
Accustomed to the movement, Fisk sprang up out of habit. "Okay, I'll..." he began, trotting out several feet before halting at the umpire's insistence.
"Get back here," hollered the ump, determined not to let this become a farce - if it wasn't already. "If he wants to see you he'll have to come here, and after this batter!" Oh, why couldn't they just send up a midget to hit if they wanted looniness, considered the arbiter as he thought of one of St. Louis owner Bill Veeck's zaniest stunts. Right now, that event appeared to make less of a sideshow of the sport than this incident. And yet, concerned that the hurler could be struggling mightily with something, he decided to allow it. He determined this would be the last time anyone visited anyone in this half inning, though.
Fisk called out the ump's orders, and Sam acknowledged with a nod. Fisk was totally unsure of where this pitch would go. He felt concerned that Sam would bean the on-deck hitter. Be ready for anything, he told himself.
As for Sam, he knew he needed help deciding. The thought of having a chance for a son, something he'd dreamed of, gnawed at him. While he knew he couldn't replace the awards he might win in the other timeline, wasn't raising a child just as rewarding? Of course. And yet, there was still that thought that he'd blown it so often before, and now was his chance to be a winner. Being drunk for almost a decade certainly hadn't helped him, and he welcomed the chance to erase that, too.
The hurler wound up and did something he'd never done before; he intentionally threw at a batter, plunking him in the leg. The batter flopped down and grimaced melodramatically, and Sam ran to the plate, kneeling at the side of the writhing athlete. For a second, he felt he really had done serious damage. Fisk signalled for the trainer, assuming that would make it look more natural, and Sam folded his hands, trying to hear the batter speak.
On the ground, faking severe pain, the batter prayed earnestly for the words to say to this obviously troubled person. He faked pain, and amidst the rather hushed Fenway crowd, he opened his mouth, hoping others would hear him, too.
"Listen," he began, "whatever your problem is, Jesus can help."
"Yeah," prodded Sam, as the batter told the trainer his knee "felt funny."
"This whole inning feels funny," Fisk mumbled. The trainer applied some ointment while the batter continued.
To Sam, the batter explained "we all, including you, got a second chance at life when He died on the cross and rose from the grave."
Okay, thought Sam, but how do I explain time travel to this man. Thinking out loud, he uttered "yeah, I guess I've never really thanked Him for that." He'd heard talk about Jesus in AA, but hadn't thought much about it otherwise.
"Do you know you'll go to Heaven when you die?" The young infielder, rolling a little, knew Sam's answer would determine what course his message would take. Another, more frightening thought entered his mind, however.
The batter was reminded of catcher Willard Hershberger, a troubled Cincinnati player who'd killed himself in 1940. He prayed that a similar thing would not happen here, and that he could get through to the hurler where others could not get through to Hershberger.
Sam thought a minute, realizing that he'd always tried to do things himself. He'd finally come to a place where he couldn't choose, though. "I don't know. I guess I figured He was okay with me, and I didn't need Him. I need help, though, I have a...very difficult decision." Sam admitted. "I don't know where to turn."
"God loves you, and wants to help you. He knows how you feel, and can get you through whatever it is. We all do bad things, we are all selfish, uncaring, and so on at times; it's our nature. Whatever you've done, He'll forgive you and help you," emphasized the batter. "The Lord can wipe away all your troubles, all your sins if you let Him." Sam leaned forward expectantly. "Tell Him you're sorry, and turn away from your sins. Accept He died on the cross as penalty for your sins, and that He rose again to get you into Heaven. Ask Him to be your Savior, invite Him into your life."
"That's it," Sam inquired. It seemed unbelievably easy.
"All the other stuff gives us rewards in Heaven, but the Bible teaches as many as believe on His name, He saves," came the roaring crescendo from the batter, as he praised the Lord.
"He'll listen to my problem then?" The batter nodded, and as the trainers worked on him, applying as many bandages as he requested, Sam knelt in prayer.
As he thought, and spoke to the Lord, conviction seemed to grow in his heart. Sam Malone wiped the tears from his face, got up, and strolled to the mound. The batter uttered a short, silent prayer as he limped toward first base. The umpire just sighed, hoping that this finally brought some normalcy to the contest.
Inhaling deeply, Sam Malone felt like a new person. And he no longer cared what his decision was, for he knew it would work out for the best.

Chapter Six

As the batter and first base coach exchanged greetings, the announcer's voice thundered through radios all around the park. "It almost looked like the young hurler was praying. That really did look scary for a moment, but now the batter appears to be all right."
His partner turned to him and remarked that "when it hits a bone like the knee or the funny bone, sometimes you get more pain than anything. It doesn't look like there'll be lasting damage, he's not even limping too bad now."
Making small talk while the trainers collected their gear, the play-by- play man considered the last several minutes. "I wonder what all those conferences were about right before then."
"The world may never know," spoke the color commentator, adding: "The winning run is now on first, tying run on second, and there is someone throwing in the Sox bullpen."

Back on the field, Sam pondered what he'd been through. He figured if he just threw the ball over the plate, the result would take care of itself. In a way, he now understood what Woody said, about building his treasures in Heaven.
Winding up to throw, Sam glanced heavenward, silently asking the Lord to let the pitch travel where He wanted it to go.
The fastball sailed down the heart of the plate, the batsman uncoiling like a cobra and connecting, just as Sam had in the practice with Teddy. The spheroid seemed to explode upon impact. As Sam turned, from the corner of his eye he found something ironic - the batter tried to urge the ball fair with body language. Just like Pudge will do a year from now, thought Sam as the orb sailed into the late afternoon sky, landing in the netting behind the famed Green Monster. The crowd groaned collectively as the team's slump continued
Sam wept a little not because of the loss, but because of his gain. "Goodbye, Cy Young," quietly mouthed the hurler. "Sorry, Boston," he muttered, thinking of the fans who would still be without a world title since 1918 when he returned. "There were more perfect plans, more important things to be done."
Coach walked out glumly, as if to face an executioner. He waved his arm to signal the next pitcher from the bullpen. He joined Sam, both wordless on the mound, gazing at the wall. "Well," Coach remarked, patting Sam on the back, "you did your best, Sam." They trudged off the mound together, Sam's head held low. The hurler looked back at the wall for a second. Well, he told himself, I made it back to the majors.
"I guess it was God's will," stated Sam as he nearly saluted the green giant that symbolized Boston baseball, a crown jewel among ballparks. He turned sadly to Coach. He was unsure of whether that sounded right after a loss, but hw was also uncertain of what else he could say.
Coach confused Sam further by hesitating, then admitting that "that's one way to look at it, I guess." He still wasn't sure what Sam's future would hold, but felt he would need to help this young hurler quite a bit...the younger Sam, that is.
"Isn't years of drinking and failure a lot to ask a guy to suffer," Sam inquired as they stepped into the dugout, sitting down alone and dejected on the bench.
Coach shook his head, confused by Sam's odd behavior. "I don't know about all that time travel stuff," he admitted, "but if there's someone with the same problems, you might be the only person who can reach him."
"Yeah, yeah I guess it's worth it then, huh," Sam considered, gazing at the new pitcher throwing warmup tosses.
"God would never want you to drink," Coach made sure to say. "Or is that He doesn't want you to start..." he began again, unsure of how grammar functioned in time travel. Throwing up his hands, he spoke louder. "Oh, whatever. He can use you wherever you are. You weren't supposed to get drunk, you could have helped whoever without that, and it wouldn't have hurt others. But, He gave you the freedom to decide, I guess."
Sam nodded, realizing the future he'd chosen for himself. "Yeah, yeah I know." He sniffled, repeating "I know." He rose and looked at his "Cheers" friends in the stands. He uttered a simple: "Come on, let's go home."

The van flashed through time, with Sam instructing Jim to pull up in front of Woody's this time, to ensure that everything was just as he'd left it the first time. As the group exited the van, Kelly and the Boyd children ran out first, the kids jumping into Woody's arms. Yep, exact same kids, Sam thought.
Teddy followed closely, and Sam's heart leaped for joy. As Sam knelt down to give him a big hug, he considered what he'd given up so this child could learn to love. Not exactly something I can tell him readily, he thought, but it would make for an entertaining bedtime story.
Something minor may have changed, Sam realized, as a former Tiger player, now clearly older, walked out to see them. No, he thought, that's an elderly couple who live next to Woody. This fellow could be their nephew, or son, or something. Still in his 1974 uniform, Sam sighed as he embraced the boy.
"Guess what," exclaimed the boy as they ended the hug. "This guy came to visit, he useta play baseball. Maybe you pitched against him."
Looking up, Sam grinned, walking over to him with a growing realization. "Yeah, you know what, I did. September 15, 1974, I hit him with the ball, then gave up a home run." Lowly, he confessed to the ex- Tiger that "I want to thank you. I finally asked Jesus to be my Savior, and I've...well, it's the greatest gift I can imagine." By emphasizing the word "finally," Sam realized the batter might think it had taken 20 years. Actually, it might have had he heard in 1974 the first time, pondered the man.
"I'm glad," remarked the former player, grinning broadly. "I kinda figured you didn't mean it back then, after hearing about your drinking problem, but I'd been praying..." Wiping a tear from his right eye, he repeated that "I'd been praying for you all this time." The thought warmed Sam immensely, thinking someone would pray for that long. And, though it seemed strange, since it had just occurred less than an hour ago, he figured it likely wasn't odd at all to God. He truly is timeless, Sam comprehended, and everything probably happens all at once to Him.
Sam sighed, thinking of how he'd been before today. He'd been almost at rock bottom several times, and had heard the word discussed often in his recovery, but had never really been prepared until he got a taste of what the Lord could offer him. He glanced down at Teddy and smiled, speaking to the batter from that 1974 game.
"Well...yeah, yeah, I wouldn't have been able to understand back then. But, I feel in my heart, there was someone I had to care for, and I was the only one who could understand how."
"Who's that," wondered Teddy, half-interested.
Kneeling down to his level, Sam uttered: "I'm talking about you. I know what you went through with parents who were never there, who wouldn't love you just the way you are, and I want to make sure you don't go through what I went through." Getting up, he turned to Kelly. "Thanks for watching him this afternoon."
"Sure, the kids had fun together. But, what was Jim's new invention," inquired Mrs. Boyd.
Jim shrugged. Was it worth all that, if one little thing could change so much? "Oh, it was nothing. I may just take it apart. One little mishap can make so many things go wrong."
Norm, suddenly recalling something, raised his hand. He spoke with a tinge of concern. "Wait a minute, this world does have beer, right?" Kelly nodded, confused.
Laughing at the antics of his favorite patron, Sam began walking with his son. "Come on, we can walk from here. I'll get my car later. I'm going to take you home and feed you, and then introduce you to the best person you could ever have in your life, Jesus Christ."
"Great. Say," came the small voice, having never heard of the Lord, "could Jesus join us for supper, too?" Sam chuckled, knowing the Lord would always be with him.
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