It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.
1. It is one A.M and the cool licks of Herbie Hancock are jarred by the syncopated staccato of demons rattling the bedroom door.
They are the same demons. They are always the same demons.
But somehow they look different. Like a great aunt with a horrific new hairdo, these demons seem uneasily intimate and distressingly foreign all at once.
After a few moments of anxious contemplation, the difference becomes clear. The demons have changed the names on the backs of their jerseys. The blood red numbers framed in the ghostly gray flannel are the same, but the names are all wrong.
There’s #78, wiry and cruel as always, with the letters A-N-X-I-E-T-Y stretched across his back. Funny, it used to read S-T-R-E-S-S didn’t it?
And there’s #86, a stout, pile of a wraith with “Fear of Failure” crowded onto his back like so many Houshmenzadehs on Cincinnati Orange. But Jose is not fooled for even a moment he knows the spook called “Self-Deceit” when he sees him.
But it is the third demon, that is the most frightening—Demon #03—“The Past.” The back of his frock may read “The Past,” but as he should know better then anyone, the past leaves insidious traces of what once was, and the uneven shading of the fabric where the word “History” once stood, betray the work of days gone.
The door was never an obstacle for the demons. It was not locked, no chair barred its opening, and even if Jose had taken precautions it would not have mattered. They are, after all, demons, and privy to the latest in door opening magicks.
“Bad things are going to happen,” hisses Anxiety, a thin mist of noxious saliva spraying from his mouth. “Errors will be made, meatballs will be thrown and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”
“Oh, it’s true, it’s so true,” Fear of Failure interjects. “And when things go wrong, my word, it will be Aww-full.” His sing song tone makes Jose wince. “And then it won’t matter what’s been done already. Who will care that they won the division? Who will care that they had the best record in baseball? They are going to fail and it will be so, so Aww-fullllllll.”
And then The Past steps forward, the bastard, and readies his speech, his haunting. But he does not taunt. He is not a taunter, not some petty ghoul like his accomplices. He is a scholar of disappointment and tragedy.
“Congratulations,” he offers smugly. “Really, Jose old boy, I mean it. Your fellows avoided the collapse, much to my surprise, and congratulations are most definitely in order.” He pauses, preparing a change of tack.
“But do you think that’s all I have in my satchel? 1978? Do you thing that’s the most wicked charm I can conjure? You know better than that. You’ve seen the balls through the wickets, the phantom tags, the extra inning home runs by light hitting nobodies. There is so much opportunity for mischief, so many passion plays to reenact.”
It is frightening to be sure. Jose prefers not having his rest interrupted by haunting, and he shakes, shivers even, beneath his covers.
And yet he responds.
“You are a terrifying bunch, Jose must concede. Absolutely monstrous.
And in many ways you may be right. Things could well go wrong for the Red Sox this October.” Jose prepares a strategic fortification behind the safety of the passive voice. “Pop ups could be dropped, bases could be left loaded and pitchers might be left in one pitch too long. These are all distinct possibilities.”
Jose jerks up right, switching from his cocoon of blankets to a more aggressive posture.
But do you really think, you antiquities, you relics, that our fate is in your hands?
"Jose knows why you’ve, refined, shall we say, your jerseys. It’s slight of hand isn’t it, a little subtle misdirection? You know as well as Jose does that your power comes from belief and that if no one believes you, misfortune may still come, but it will be nothing more than the bitter bite of luck and completely unrelated to your insidious efforts
These pseudonyms are nothing more than a reaction, as a silly reaction at that, to the events of 2004. 2004 exposed you for the grifters you are, and now you are trying to rebuild your strength, to recreate an illusion that has been hopelessly shattered.
But really, did you thing that Jose wouldn’t figure it out? If you really wanted to frighten him, you should have sent demons named ‘eighth inning relief’ and ‘offensive production from the catcher.’ Now, begone, Jose has some serious sleeping to do."
And with that icy dismissal, the demons snarled and hissed, before suddenly disappearing in a puff of sulfurous smoke.
And then it was back to the norm, the open door, the only evidence of the infernal visit.
“Joes knows that you only have power if he believes in you,” Jose yelled into the void. “But he at least believes that you could have closed the door.”
And a tired Jose trudged to the door, and pushed it closed, before retreating to his cocoon, secure in the certainty that whatever would happen in the days ahead, it would be a function of skill, perseverance and perhaps even luck, but safely insulated from the demonic power of anxiety, fear and the past.
2. Three years ago tomorrow, Jose wrote about a playoff series startling similar to this one. He taunted Garrett Anderson about being no more effective than Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life, quipped about manager Mike Scioscia’s recovery from the radiation sickness that struck him on the Simpsons and expressed his well-warranted fear of Vlad Guerrero. And then Jose vowed that the Red Sox would conquer the Angles like so many angry Normans.
And conquer the Red Sox did, making the Angles their King Harold, with a David Ortiz walk off home run ending it as swiftly and surely as an arrow in the eye on the battlefield of Hastings.
But things have changed since then. Pedro is gone, Curt Euro is not the man he used to be, and The OC is playing, suitably enough, in the OC. But the 2007 Red Sox are not without their weapons. Most advantageously, is that in St. Josh a Beckett we have an honest to God Norman on the mound. The Beckett clan descends from the Gilbert of Thierceville, Normandy, a wealthy Norman merchant who fathered Thomas Beckett.
Just to clarify, for those of you who come to KEYS from wrestling perspective, Normans are not people connected to the unfortunately gimmicked WCW wrestler Norman the Lunatic. They are people from Normandy, France, and William the Conqueror, who ended Angle rule of England, was the Duke of Normandy.
So what does this tell us about today’s contest? If one looks at the record, the Normans are 1-0 against the Angles historically, so one should anticipate a Red Sox win today followed by five hundred years of intermarriage, the eventual merger of the Red Sox and Angles into one team, and then centuries of colonial rule over the Cleveland Indians.
3. In other news, it turns out that blackmail works. It works really well.
As you may recall, in an earlier KEYS, Jose attempted to blackmail his way to playoff tickets by threatening to send a KEYS thong to the shiny new wife of his regular ticket provider with a message about how “he like all of his ladies to wear these.” It would be a gross distortion of the truth about his previous thong purchase, but it’s blackmail not sworn testimony, so what do you expect?
Jose didn’t expect it to work though. It never works on TV. On TV, the blackmailee learns that whatever humiliation he has in store, it is a small price to pay to be out from under the thumb of the extortionist, and the blackmailer learns that crime doesn’t pay. In the real world, it turns out, this is not how it goes.
In the real world, the blackmailer asks for something reasonable, like playoff tickets, and the blackmailee gives in rather than deal with the hassle. Then the blackmailer instead of pressing his advantage to demand money or a car simply goes to the game and drinks a few beers. The blackmailee, not subject to ongoing harassment, never decides that the price is too high and thus never goes to the police. The blackmailer gets tickets, the blackmailee gets his horrible secrets kept to himself, and everyone is happy.
Having learned this lesson, Jose has decided that when he blackmails Angles pitcher John Lackey by threatening to reveal certain improprieties (note: Does Jose have anything on Lackey? Almost certainly not, but maybe Lackey will think he has something. That’s the beauty of blackmail.), he will not ask him to do something completely out of proportion, like throw the game. Rather, he will only demand that Lackey turn in his typical Fenway Park performance. Reasonable, effective, blackmailtacular.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.