Medium Manager: A strange baseball mystery (Micro Baseball Stories Book 3)

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They're called Alex Rodriguez Scholars, which may be why they're a bit glassy-eyed at the sight of Alex Rodriguez, but his eyes are glassy too. Now that he has one college class under his belt, he's more college-obsessed than ever, and over fried zucchini and chicken tenders he quizzes the Rodriguez Scholars about their undergraduate experience, their career goals. One says she wants to become a sociologist. One says he wants to be a cancer doctor. Rodriguez looks amazed. Toward the end of the luncheon, after he's bombarded them with questions, and listened intently to their answers, Rodriguez asks if they have any questions for him.

Cancer Doctor raises his hand: Do you have a personal philosophy or life motto that you follow? His face turns serious. It's Marketing all over again. I like to go around the room and have my students It's also every press conference ever. Do you have any comment about But it's also different. He wants to help these kids, who are still looking at him with those glassy eyes, and so he tries to think of an answer, the perfect answer, which will simultaneously take into account that he's a good person who did bad things, but also that when he was a bad person he did some very good things, or maybe he doesn't even want to get into all that, doesn't dare to try to explain himself, because he's the last person who should try to explain Alex Rodriguez, he's not there yet in his education, and so he continues thinking, and thinking, and you can almost see the rotating multicolored pinwheel in his forehead, and when he finally starts talking it just doesn't come together, it's nerve-wracking for everyone, like a game of word Jenga, and when the word tower comes crashing down on the table with a clatter, Rodriguez smiles, and Cancer Doctor nods, the way he'll one day nod after he's just told someone they have three months left.

Could someone please pass the fried zucchini? Rodriguez hoists the trophy after the Yankees beat the Phillies in the World Series. There will be a moderator, a question-and-answer session, guests -- and alcohol. Why on earth would he agree to such a thing? Maybe it's his friendship with Milken, maybe it's his desire to get better at explaining himself in public. Whatever the reason, as the guests settle into their seats in the backyard, Rodriguez looks as if he wishes he were dead, or at least wearing his security hoodie.

The moderator begins. As I walked around tonight, he says, as I talked to some of the folks here, almost without exception each one of them said: Are you gonna ask him? The moderator looks mightily pleased with himself, though it's hard to imagine why. If he'd moderated the Paris peace talks, the Vietnam War would now be entering its 50th year. So yes, he says, haha, yes, I am, I'm gonna ask him! The moderator continues: Alex, you just got done serving the longest suspension in baseball history for PEDs.

Tell us about that. What happened? Where are we now? What's going on? What was it like? And while you're at it, is there a God, how did the universe start, and what's the deal with Kanye? Rodriguez gazes at the moderator, then at the audience, then at some fixed point a thousand yards in the distance.

Softly, he tells them it's been a nightmare. Very painful, he says, very humbling. And the worst part, he tells them, was that He says a few more things, adds that he'd like to finish his career on a good note, answers a few softball questions, and that's it. Good night, folks. Get home safe. All things considered, an abject failure. And yet the next morning, before his workout, Rodriguez is ebullient. He feels like St. Augustine after publishing his Confessions. It feels so good to have gotten all that off his chest. He's really turning the corner, he thinks, really learning how to talk openly about his troubles.

His mood stays upbeat, unnervingly so, well into the afternoon, until his BlackBerry blows up. A tabloid has just posted bizarre comments from the wife of Rodriguez's cousin Yuri. She says Rodriguez is evil , calls him the devil, swears that he treated her husband for years as a slave. What's more, she says, once upon a time, as a show of disrespect or primal control or some sort of gangster disrespect, Rodriguez urinated on their house. The Internet goes boom. The entire galaxy retweets the story, and Rodriguez understands.

It's delicious. Not true, he avers, but delicious. If the story weren't about him, he'd be laughing too. Yuri and the Urinator. It's -- a hoot. As the story builds and builds, as it goes from whimsical curiosity to lead item on the afternoon sports talk shows, Rodriguez retreats to his house in Hollywood. He recently bought it from an Oscar-winning actress, and tour buses still stop outside, and people still jump out and take pictures of what they think is Her front gate.

Little do they know it's Garbo-Rodriguez on the other side, in deep seclusion, watching TV in his backyard and wincing at the latest scene in the surreal black comedy that always seems to be his life: stone-faced reporters debating whether or not A-Rod went peepee on his cousin. Jeter congratulates Rodriguez after a two-run home run in Gene Sweeney Jr. A recurring memory: He sees himself as a rookie. He can't yet hit, hasn't yet deciphered big league pitching. He can't even figure out how to dress like a big leaguer.

Which is why, throughout his decadelong tenure with the Yankees, he tries to buy three custom-made suits for every rookie who walks into the clubhouse. Finally, he's called into the office of his manager, Lou Piniella. We're sending you down, Piniella says. Rodriguez stares. He knows he's been struggling, but the minors? He can't believe it.

Angry, humiliated, he flees the ballpark, phones his mother from the car. He tells her he's coming home. He's done with baseball. He just wants to enroll at the University of Miami. Thus begins a long, toxic, doomed relationship, ultimately devastating to both men. Rodriguez has said publicly that Yuri was his right hand, then his supplier, that it was Yuri who introduced him to a performance-enhancing pill from the streets of the Dominican: boli.

The name must have rung a distant bell. Finally, it was Yuri, according to Rodriguez's testimony in his arbitration hearing, who introduced him to Tony Bosch, the pretend doctor in the fake lab coat, the man who owned the seedy anti-aging clinic Biogenesis -- and who would soon own Rodriguez. Bosch offers elixirs far more potent than boli, magic beans that cure nagging injuries, restore energy, grow hair, shed pounds. And Rodriguez buys the beanstalk. A partnership is formed, with shattering results.

By the time it's dissolved, Rodriguez's career is in shambles, Bosch is in jail. He was sentenced to four years in prison on Tuesday. And Yuri, sometime around Opening Day, will go on trial for distributing testosterone. Rodriguez will likely need a day off from the Yankees to testify.

Bosch or no Bosch, Yuri or no Yuri, what made him do it? He loves baseball too much, he sometimes says elliptically. Baseball is a beautiful woman, he says, and the more you love her, the more you reach for her, the more she pulls away. But he also loves praise; he's always wanted to please people, and this desire to please seems to be at the heart of his worst decisions. He wanted to please fans, please teammates, please sports writers, and that meant hitting home runs, and in when his body was breaking down, when he couldn't hit anything, he was in hell.

He could no longer do this wonderful thing he'd done since he was a boy, could no longer practice his art, because though baseball is sometimes a game, and sometimes a woman, what it really is to him is high art. He's been studying art since he was a young man, collecting it since he first made real money. In New York he would routinely befriend young artists, leave them tickets at the box office so they could come see him play, and in exchange they had to let him drop by their studios. He'd sit in the corner of some dingy loft for hours, watching some intense kid paint or sculpt or draw, because it inspired him, sent him back to his own studio, the batting cage, with new dedication.

His notebooks are full of ideas about the masters, daVinci, Van Gogh, Picasso, and if it's not quite true that he knows the Monet Room like the back of his batting glove, he's one of the few baseball players who's been there more than once. He identifies with the artist's hunger, the artist's need to make some noise, leave some mark. Also with the artist's sense that some divine voice speaks through him.

If that voice can speak through a brush, why not a bat? Crushing a fastball high into the night above Fenway -- that's not art? You'd never say that if you'd done it. But when that voice stops speaking? The silence is like nothing you've ever heard, or not heard, and the loneliness is not unlike death, because it is a foretaste of death. He'd do anything to get it back. Maybe it's not simply about cheating. Maybe it's more complicated. Maybe's it's also not that complicated. If no one is more alive than the athlete in his prime, then no one understands the senescence that awaits us all better than the athlete suddenly not in his prime.

Maybe every disgraced athlete is Dorian Gray, selling his soul to stay young, to retain his beauty and power. Hiding his true portrait from the world, he wakes one day in horror at the bargain he's struck. Rodriguez thinks often about that first meeting with Bosch. Shaking his hand, taking what he gave with the other hand, which might have been sugar and lies -- his numbers went down for two years. He laughs: Only he, only a dope like he, would do that stuff and have the two worst statistical seasons of his career. And now Yuri's wife is calling him the devil. He grimaces, stands, walks inside the house.

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He's been trying to get in touch with Bonds for weeks, to get together for a chat, maybe a workout, but their schedules are always in conflict. Now Bonds is back in San Francisco, so Rodriguez changes his plans, rents a house in Tiburon through New Year's and begins a series of sessions with baseball's all-time home run leader, the second-most notorious figure of the steroid era. Regardless of the skepticism that haunts Bonds' legacy, regardless of how it might look when the two are pictured together, Rodriguez admires the hell out of Bonds, sees him as a mystic, a hitting scientist.

He looks to Bonds for guidance only he can provide. Bonds has no peer as a hitter, Rodriguez believes, but especially as an older hitter, who stayed fresh and lethal into his 40s. Rodriguez wants to ask him a million questions. They meet at a local college, and much of their days are taken up with Bonds tossing batting practice to Rodriguez, and mocking him.

Then they run, break a nice sweat, Bonds encouraging, exhorting Rodriguez to step higher, faster, quick quick quick. Finally, with the late shadows creeping across the outfield, they stand at home plate, two old painters before a white canvas. Bonds tells Rodriguez to work at quieting his mind.

Quiet mind, quiet body. It's the secret, Bonds tells him. Secret of hitting, secret of art. Secret of everything. Rodriguez knows this, though hearing it from Bonds is inspiring.

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Later, when he talks about Bonds, when he demonstrates what Bonds said about quieting mind and body, he makes a startling gesture, puts his palms together in the middle of his chest, almost like the prayer pose of Buddhist meditation. The other thing to remember, Bonds tells him: sleep.

You can't get enough, especially if you're an older player. Sleep, sleep, sleep. So on New Year's Eve, his head swimming with Bonds' words, Rodriguez craves a good night's sleep, but his daughters won't hear of it. They want to stay up. They want to drink soda until their ears bleed and watch Ryan Seacrest and have a dance party with some girlfriends, and also a costume party with Daddy and his friends.

And not just costumes-onesies. Rodriguez sends someone to Target to buy onesies, and come dinnertime he's wearing a skintight pale purple Batman onesie, while his longtime pals Jose and Pepi are in Superman onesies, and they all can't stop giggling at the sight of one another. Over dinner, Rodriguez-qua-Batman sits at the head of the table and watches his girls closely.

Eyes shining, he asks them questions, prods them to say a few words about themselves. He asks Natasha to tell everyone where she wants to go to college. He stops beaming. He looks stunned, breathless. He tells her that Daddy went to the University of Miami, for a short time, a little bit. He holds his thumb and forefinger a quarter-inch apart. But Daddy is going back. Daddy's going to get his degree.

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Ella asks if they can play Monopoly later, if they can finish the game they started earlier. They talk about who was winning, and who owned Boardwalk and Park Place, and all those side deals Ella was making, the negotiations that prolonged the game.

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Rodriguez tells her that they can finish the game, but they have to play by the rules. The girls are so excited about being allowed to stay up past their bedtime -- they need to burn off some of the excitement. They ask if they can start the dance party. They don't wait for an answer. They crank the stereo, all their favorites, and go twirling and hopping and lip-syncing around the living room. Close to midnight they all run to the living room and gather in front of the TV. Ten, nine, eight Ella looks as if she's going to pop. As the ball drops in Times Square, everyone kisses and hugs and wishes one another Happy New Year, then gulps 12 grapes, a Spanish tradition that guarantees luck in the coming 12 months.

Reluctantly, the girls go off to bed, and Rodriguez and his friends move outside to the patio. Smoking big Davidoffs, Jose and Pepi talk about what lies ahead. Pepi calls Rodriguez Gumba; his children and Rodriguez's daughters call one another Gumbita. They talk about the future, because that's what men with cigars always do eventually.

Then they dare to talk about the past. The past is usually dark and foreboding, like the old Tiger Stadium, and no one likes to go there, but Pepi tonight is keying on , when Rodriguez told all the haters, Silencio. With the lights of San Francisco guttering like candles in the cold fog, Pepi, whose father gave Rodriguez his first pair of cleats, recounts every highlight from that fall, when Rodriguez crushed six home runs and drove in 18 and almost single-handedly vanquished Minnesota, Anaheim and Philadelphia to win the World Series.

Rodriguez listens, smiling wanly. Long night. Long year. His Batman suit is wrinkled, his utility belt is all cockeyed. He seems thoroughly worn out. But as Superman keeps talking, and talking -- You remember, Gumba? Each time he connects, it sounds like a Civil War cannon. One, two, three balls go flying over the wall. Another half dozen stand in the outfield, also staring in awe, when they're not shagging grounders and fly balls.

The awe is natural: Fricking A-Rod is taking batting practice on their field. But it's magnified tenfold by the fact that he's wearing their uni -- a dark blue Columbus High T-shirt. He's wearing the shirt for them, to remind them that he played here, that he was one of them, though he sounds as if he's still one of them. Talking about his freshman year at Columbus, he sounds an awful lot like a shy, skinny, awkward year-old desperate to make the team. Shockingly, he didn't make it. Coach told him he wasn't good enough. So with the help of a growth spurt and a scholarship, he transferred to a private school nearby and became a star.

Thus, coming back here tonight is about more than getting back to his roots. It's about getting back at his roots, letting his roots know who's boss. One of the boys hacks the ballpark sound system, puts on some music. As the old wooden ballpark shakes to the bass, Rodriguez gets loose, takes a dozen swings with just one arm, to tighten and strengthen tiny core and side muscles that most people don't think about, let alone use.

Then he starts to unload. Balls begin slamming out of the yard. The work with Bonds is paying off. Rodriguez instantly looks locked in, looks as if he's quieted his mind to a Walden Pond stillness. His bat isn't quiet. The boys whip their heads around, watch the balls soar into the outer darkness. Four, five, six balls sail toward the lights, prompting oohs and ahhs from all directions. Cars are now pulling off the road and people are watching.

Seven, eight, nine balls go whirling over the center-field fence, and the left-field fence, and two boys beyond the fences scurry in the underbrush to retrieve them.

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Some balls are screaming line drives, others are graceful arcing rainbows, and some just hang in midair, like big asterisks. Rodriguez is settling into a sick rhythm, his Columbus T-shirt sopping -- 11, 12, 13; when he finally, reluctantly, steps out of the cage, he's clouted 27 home runs. He towels off, grins. Before going to dinner at a chicken joint up the block, hard by the house where he grew up, around the corner from the restaurant where his mother waited tables, he poses for photos, signs autographs, goes up and down a sort of receiving line, a delegation from Puberty Town, shaking each boy's hand, asking his name, thanking him.

Later Rodriguez is smiling, laughing, and yet he concedes the night is tinged with melancholy. When his swing feels this good, when everything feels this good, he thinks of the what-ifs. What if he hadn't been so stupid. What if he hadn't -- you know. Pocket aces. But maybe this upcoming season, which is now just weeks away, maybe he can begin to set things right. If not make people forget, maybe give them some new memories. Maybe with enough home runs Rodriguez worries about protecting his daughter Natasha from the fallout of his suspension.

Splash News. They stay this way all the way across the tarmac. It's Jan. She's catching a ride to New York to visit old friends, he's scheduled to visit the offices of Major League Baseball, and then his doctor. Both meetings will go a long way to determining his future. He guides her to her seat, visits with her a bit, then moves to the front of the plane and sits with a book on his lap.

Den of Thieves, by James B. Stewart, an account of the insider-trading scandals of the s. The book has plenty of fascinating tidbits about his friend, Milken, but Rodriguez isn't in a reading mood. He's keyed up, focused on what lies ahead. He lands late, goes for a quick lunch in Midtown -- grilled fish, no oil, no salt, no butter, a cup of hot green tea -- then walks briskly down Madison Avenue.

People passing him on the sidewalk smile, wave, cheer. One burly older man, changing liner bags in a garbage can, barely looks up, just cuts him a quick glance. Good luck this year, my brother. Rodriguez, taken aback, thanks him. He's slated to meet Pat Courtney, baseball's communications officer, but moments after they sit down, in walks Rob Manfred, the commissioner-elect.

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Rodriguez jumps to his feet, shakes Manfred's hand. He jokes that he wishes they were meeting on a different floor -- this floor hasn't been good for him, historically. The energy is way off. He's having flashbacks, he tells them, laughing, and they all chuckle, because they are too, back to the grim scene a year ago. It was in an adjacent room. Sitting at a vast conference table, surrounded by lawyers, some of them his, some of them baseball's, Rodriguez lost it.

Upon learning that Selig wasn't going to show, wasn't going to testify at his arbitration hearing, Rodriguez stomped around the table, did something like the opposite of a home run trot, and shoved a chair, and shouted: This is fucking bullshit! Then he stormed out, left the building in a cloud of righteous indignation, as if he were the innocent victim of some terrible miscarriage of justice. Hours later he swore his innocence to Mike Francesa on live radio. Now, after months of fence-mending, and lying low, and doing everything Manfred asked of him, plus therapy and introspection and rest and a few dozen private telephone apologies, Rodriguez tells Manfred he's in a much better place.

Manfred agrees. In fact, he says, as far as baseball is concerned, the suspension is a closed matter. He welcomes Rodriguez back to the fold. Rodriguez thanks Manfred, and Courtney, shakes their hands, then floats down in the elevator. He sails out of the building into an icy-cold wind -- snow on the way.

But he looks flushed, warm. He looks giddy. He looks reborn. He hurries uptown to the Hospital for Special Surgery. A nurse whisks him into a sort of closet, hands him some shorts made of blue paper. He puts them on, comes out, looks uncertainly at the nurse, at everyone, as if trying on a suit at Barneys. She leads him into a dark room, stretches him out on a table, under a multiheaded camera, and just like that his good mood is gone.

He looks like a frightened little boy as the nurse leaves the room and shuts the door and punches a few buttons on her console, next to a label: Alexander E. Rodriguez DOB July 27, The machine hums, whirs, takes several X-rays of Rodriguez's pelvis. He stares at the ceiling, purses his lips.

What if it's bad news? What if the hip is impinged again? What if, after all this --? The nurse opens the door, tells him to come, leads him to a tiny exam room down the hall. Within seconds, in walks Dr. Bryan Kelly, a boyish, squarely built man in a crisp white lab coat. They hug, laugh. You look good, they both say, and they immediately begin reminiscing about the day they met, exactly two years ago, in this very room.

Rodriguez was having none of Kelly. He wasn't feeling like himself and he was out of patience with doctors. Hunched over, wearing a hoodie, he was staring at the floor. Kelly talked to him softly, kindly, won his trust. Then dropped the hammer. You've got three stark options, he said. Play with a compromised hip. Try a miracle surgery with little chance of success. Or retire. Others thought it was a terrible gamble. But that same interest in the conflict between different ways of seeing, thinking and being invest almost all of the other stories as well, including those dealing with exotic forms of alien life and technology.

The fiction of David Brin is informed by a central recurring theme as well, in his case the operation of various kinds of evolution: organic and synthetic, directed and undirected, fast and slow. Despite the odd dystopic detour, however, Brin remains hopeful, while providing us with thought experiments that help us to imagine, and prepare for, what may be ahead. Copyright owned or licensed by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved. To order copies of Toronto Star articles, please go to: www. While the Royals played the Mets in the World Series, the Blue Jays sustained another loss: The architect of the team, General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, turned down a five-year contract offer and left the organization.

Ross Atkins, the former player personnel director for the Indians, has replaced him. Anthopoulos, a native of Canada, had built a deep farm system that allowed him to act boldly on the trade market. A makeover before the season had not produced a winner, but his moves for the team had overwhelmingly succeeded.

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Before the season, Anthopoulos signed catcher Russell Martin and traded for third baseman Josh Donaldson. In July, he traded for the ace starter David Price, the star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and the speedy left fielder Ben Revere while also adding to the bullpen. In a poll of executives by The Sporting News, Anthopoulos was the runaway choice for executive of the year. Anthopoulos, now the vice president for baseball operations with the Los Angeles Dodgers, declined an interview request.

But the departure seemed to indicate, at least, a difference in their visions for the team. The Blue Jays are a winner now, and they expect to win again as they enter the final season before free agency for the sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. It is a relatively new identity. The Blue Jays were , though close to a playoff spot, when they reached a trade agreement with Colorado for Tulowitzki last July There were strong indications that Toronto was due for a turnaround — it had a substantial run differential over its opponents — but the flurry of moves propelled the team.