Friday, October 30, 2015: Bronx, NY, USA
My father never thought that the Boston Red Sox finally winning the World Series back in 2004, breaking the legendary “curse of the Bambino,” would ultimately be seen as the turning point of American civilization.
It’s downfall, some might say. Yankee fans, mostly.
He certainly never thought it would signal the end of his playing career so early in its prime, run out of the Bronx the following year when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays won the division title, losing the World Series to the Chicago Cubs in five games, while his Yankees failed to make the playoffs, sagging under the weight of a bloated payroll full of aging former all-stars and the bitter sting of karma. He wasn’t the only one cut loose when George Steinbrenner completely cleaned house and sold the team, but he was the one the media focused on thanks to his embarrassingly large contract and a reputation for being a cancer to every team he played for.
“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ they always like to say,” he told me once. “But there’s no dollar signs in ‘team,’ either, and none of them are paying our mortgage!”
He’d sometimes point out that there actually was an ‘I’ in team, in Spanish: “Equipo. ¡Putas!”
That was the last year they played meaningful baseball, before the government stepped in, took over all professional sports leagues, appointing Jerry Bruckheimer as Commissioner of Homeland Sporting Events and mandating scripted seasons designed to boost the nation’s sagging economy. That was partly the Devil Rays’ fault, administration apologists argued, as sales of their usually unpopular licensed merchandise quadrupled, “lifting all boats,” as the saying goes. Everyone loves an underdog so the government decided it was in the national interest to give them one every season, in every sport.
Not surprisingly, the Washington Americans, aka the relocated Montreal Expos, won the championship the following year.
Bruckheimer also resurrected the XFL, locating it in New Texas – formerly known as Mexico – returning He Hate Me to the spotlight and making Ryan Leaf a productive member of society again.
It was believed that these changes would lift people’s hopes, inspiring them to greater heights, as every underdog now had a chance to succeed. More importantly, though, they hoped it would help take people’s attention away from the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela and Greenland, not to mention inflation and the 20% unemployment rate – only 13%, the President would optimistically point out, if you included the mandatory two-year relocations of high school graduates to staff the new Disneylands Baghdad and Tikrit, Universal Studios Kabul, and Caracas’ Democracy Plaza.
“We’re not exporting jobs,” the President declared. “We’re exporting democracy!”
Just to be on the safe side, though, elections had been suspended throughout the United States and its territories, new and old.
And martial law, cleverly termed Community Policing Reform, was imposed.
That was six years ago.
Before the dirty bombs.
Before the occupation.
Before the zombies.
Way before the zombies.
My name is Diane. Diane Rodriguez. I run this place and you’ll be safe here.
Relatively speaking, of course.
Let me explain.
It wasn’t really the Red Sox’s fault, of course. Other than the short-lived fad of egging cars with Yankee stickers on them, the overall effects of their improbable victory were limited to Curt Schilling’s questionable influence on the Presidential election that followed two weeks later. There are some that believe he managed to tip that election in the final days with his appeals for the incumbent, George W. Bush, but that’s as unlikely as the slogan “Vote or DIE” having contributed to the spike in suicides that year.
No, the real culprit was the Babe.
A small, secret group of Yankee players and fans, my father included, desperate in the aftermath of losing the sixth game of the World Series to the Red Sox, traveled up to Hawthorne late that night, to the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven where the Babe was buried, and held a séance in an attempt to resuscitate the fabled curse. Joe Torre, the manager was there; Jorgé Posada, the catcher, and Kevin Brown, the pitcher, too. Rudolph Giuliani, the former Mayor and a huge Yankee fan was there, along with a couple of other regular guys my father thought were local journalists. He says they had done it the year before to guarantee a game seven victory and it had worked and he was desperate to find a way to make the team like him and, I think, hoped the Babe would favor him with the decisive hit, so he went along.
Said it was the second weirdest thing he had ever experienced in his life.
When he balked at stripping naked and running in place on the Babe’s grave as part of the ceremony, Brown did it instead, and he always blamed himself for what happened the next night. Brown was a bust, knocked out of the game in the 2nd inning, and my father batted 0-for-4, and the rest is history.
Brown was run out of town before the first snow, and Torre and Posada never forgave my father for backing out at the last second, but the Babe paid him a visit a week later to tell him what had happened.
That, he said, was the weirdest thing he had ever experienced in his life.
Apparently, the year before, when they’d pulled the same stunt, it had worked better than they’d imagined. Not only did they revive the curse, enabling some guy named Aaron Boone to hit a game-winning home run, they’d managed to revive the Babe himself – albeit as a zombie.
It had taken the Babe a good six months to adjust, living like a nomad in the wooded suburbs of the villages and hamlets of northern Westchester County, feeding on deer, lost pets and the occasional transient caught napping at Metro North stations. By the time he visited my father, he could pass for an overweight goth in the moonlight. He’d even gotten a job as a part-time gravedigger at the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven, which is how he came across my father, following him home the night of the séance and assailing him seven days later after the Red Sox had swept the Cardinals for their historic championship.
The Babe told him he had another curse in store, a real one this time that he’d personally see to carrying out.
For years there were rumors that Babe Ruth was actually a light-skinned black man that managed to “pass” on account of his talent. Film director Spike Lee had even managed to cause a fuss a few years prior by publicly saying as much. My father once joked that he was the inspiration for Superman’s identity being kept secret by a simple pair of glasses.
“The Babe was the original Clark Kent,” he said.
He was also the equivalent of Patient Zero, as he soon realized that some of his human suppers would return to “life” as zombies three days later if they weren’t properly interred. Or decapitated.
So the Babe decided to start a family in the woods of Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park.
He wanted revenge.