The Nightmares of Baseball Players
by Patrick Dubuque
Earlier this week, or perhaps last week, or perhaps two days after my daughter was born in 2013, Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh of the Effectively Wild podcast considered whether baseball players have bad dreams. They quickly surmised, probably correctly, that the modern athlete rarely has nightmares, with their confidence already polished into a perfect, unquestioning state.
But I’m not interested in what is; my realm is what should be. And so I present to you: the nightmares of several ballplayers.
Eric Davis: A long fly ball is hit to deep center, and Davis gets a good jump. It gets caught up into the wind, however, and he has plenty of time to settle under it at the warning track. He looks up and notices how blue the sky really is, and for a moment he worries that he’s lost it. But he hasn’t, and the ball floats down easily for him. Right before the catch, however, the wall topples on him from behind, crushing him.
Angel Hernandez: Hernandez strips out of his gear and slips out of the stadium. On the sidewalk a father is talking to his son. “Boy, that umpire sure was terrible, huh?” the father asks. “I didn’t even really notice him,” the son answers.
Michael Pineda: After a one-two-three top of the first, Pineda comes back out for the second only to find a smear of pine tar on his arm that he doesn’t remember putting on. He worries that people might notice, but he pitches anyway. After getting up 0-2, he looks down again to see his entire arm coated in brown. Someone must surely notice, he thinks, beginning to panic. He can’t walk off the mound, he can’t leave, but even though everyone is acting normally, he knows they’ll all attack him as soon as they see. They’ll kill him. His entire jersey is stained with pine tar now, and he’s alone on the mound, sweating, drawing each individual breath knowing that he’s going to die. Then Showalter climbs the top step of the dugout, and asks for time.
Chuck Knoblauch: It’s a two-hopper to the second baseman, and on contact he’s already starting to overthink the throw. He fields the ball cleanly, but when he tries to make the transfer his hand gets stuck in his mitt, and he can’t pull it out. The runner rounds the bases as Knoblauch watches, paralyzed by the jeers of the crowd.
Carlos Gomez: Just like a normal plate appearance, except that every ball the pitcher throws is coated in blood.
Rafael Furcal: It’s the year 2000 and Furcal is a rookie, taking the league by storm. He’s leading off first, and reads the pitcher perfectly, breaking on first movement. As he runs for second, however, the base stretches away from him, so that no matter how hard he runs he can never get closer. Minutes (hours?) later, the throw gets to the second baseman, and Furcal turns around to head back to first. He gets caught in a rundown, but the fielders never seem to be able to tag him and he never seems to be able to make any headway. He spends the rest of his career in that rundown, aging, feeling his hamstrings tighten every time he turns around. Eventually, he wakes up.
Jon Lester: Lester is cruising, throwing a shutout through six. There’s no one on, and he’s feeling great. He drops the resin bag and turns toward the plate only to find first base there instead, Rizzo standing behind the batter and the umpire impatiently behind Rizzo.
Luis Valbuena: Nothing out of the ordinary, just batting practice before the game. After a few swings, Valbuena looks around the cage and realize that everyone else is gone, the entire stadium dark and empty. The only other person left is the pitcher, who he recognizes as his own, expressionless father. Valbuena can’t see his eyes. The father motions with his glove to step in, and Valbuena does. The first pitch is a 98 mph fastball at his head.