Casablanca Baseball


The bartender’s name was Sam.
And as the golden Indian summer songs of October gave way to the chilly dark winds of November in the seemingly deserted city night around Wrigley Field in Chicago; Sam kept watch with her one customer, an old man named Rick.

The bar was called Bernie’s. From April thru September, and rarely for a few days in October, a carnival of red and blue celebration shouts, spilling over and into the neighborhood like sunlight as 40,000 anticipating people streamed into the old ballpark across the street. A field of dazzling green grass inside a coliseum on the grounds of what once had been a Lutheran Seminary. Bernie’s was always throbbing and full.

But on November nights, there was just Samantha and Rick. At the far end of the long polished bar that separated them like a river of time that passed much too quick. Both of them sitting with their backs against a wall, she pages through a newspaper, he looks out at the hulking empty ball field across the street. There is a comfortable silence. As if they’d sat together that way for years.

He says to her. “So you’ve settled on piano then? At Columbia?”

She looks over. Dancing hazel grey eyes. “Rick, I’m not settling for anything. It just seems like if you can play piano, you can play anything. And the program is good. So. . “

“Ah Sam,” he smiles at her. Seeing her face like a promise of tomorrow’s joy. “You will break a lot of hearts.”

And she laughs in a bubbly joy. “But I will never, ever, break yours!” Somewhere, he thinks, there is an old soul in there. Hidden in the sparking beauty of her youth. He wonders if she’s found it yet. He says, “Hey Sam?”

“Mmm?”

“Do you like baseball?”

She has put down her newspaper and is happily texting. While her thumbs beat out a rhythm to some conversation he’ll never hear, she answers, “Not really. I’m not sure there’s much to like.”

“How so?”

“It seems like baseball is all about memory and money,” she says.

“Well,” he puts an old man’s authority into his voice, “Baseball has always had its share of flim flam men. Smooth operators.”

She shoots back, cutting right through the tone of authority, smiling like a sunrise on a Caribbean Island even here, in a Chicago wind.

“Flim flam men, smooth operators? God I love the way you talk! No I don’t mean that. I don’t even know what that means! I mean money. As in, how many games did you pay to go see last year?”

“Well, ah . . .”

“”Exactly. None! And you know a lot about baseball.”

“I’m just a fan. I’m not some expert,” said the old man.

“You’re not one of those slick announcers with the voice like a greased bullfrog. All serious and saying nothing and being pretty?”

“I thought the girls liked guys like that?”

“Not this girl.”

“Hmm. You’d think I would have figured all this out by now huh? At my age.”

“Rick, said Sam, you are about the most NOT old man I’ve ever met. There are boys in my program at Columbia. They’re 23. But they are older than you.”

“So that’s good?”

“Of course that’s good. Now what else were we talking about?’

“Loosing the memory Sam?” smiled Rick.

“Shut up!” She grinned. “We were talking memory. Everything about baseball is in the past. Statistics, stories, all of it. I hear more about Ron Santo than I do about anybody who plays today.”

“That’s just because the Cubs have been trying to replace him since 1972.”

“I wasn’t even BORN in 1972! Which is another thing. Baseball is all about middle aged white guys remembering things. No kids. No women. Nobody who isn’t white. They put the world series games on past most kid’s bedtimes. I guess kids don’t buy much beer. So no point in kids watching all those beer commercials.”

“You make a good point Sam.”

The two lapsed back into their silence for awhile. Samantha kept texting. Rick kept looking out the window. After awhile, he said to her, “Hey Sam?”

“Mmm?

“Play it. Play that song again?”

She reached out her left hand, never stopping her texting, and the sounds of this song filled the empty bar.

And while the song played, the old man heard a bell chime, a bell like a door opening into the dusty corridors of time. The young girl kept texting. But the old man saw the door open, felt the November wind sweep in as the woman, not a young girl, a woman with laughing eyes, from the echoes of his mind, walked into the bar. And said to him. “Go ahead. Say it.”

Rick laughed. Pretending just for a second he didn’t know what she meant. “Say it!”

“OK. I’ll say it. But you finish it.”

“Deal.” She nodded.

“Of all the gin joints in all the world. . .”

“She,” the woman finished, “Had to come into mine.”

“So.” Rick stumbled for a moment. “How’s your life been?”

“Hah! How do you answer that question? And how much time you have?”

“I wish I knew the answers to those questions.” Rick said. “Especially the last one.”

“Well, what do you know then?” asked the woman.

And he looked at her hard and said; “I know that it was always you. And I know that you had to go.”

“Who’s choice was that?” she asked.

“Does it matter now?” he answered.

And there was silence, as they both knew the answer. The song was ending as the woman said, “Remember that lyric you had on your wall. The song was “The Dutchman.” By Michael Smith. Remember the part where it said,

She hums a line or two

They sing together in the dark

The Dutchman falls asleep

And Margaret blows the candle out

“Perfect, “ he said. “Even if your name isn’t Margaret.

“And even if you’re not Dutch.”

They took one last look at each other as she faded into the November darkness of the old man’s memory.

“Rick! Sam punched his arm across the bar. So what about baseball? We were talking about baseball. And I think you went somewhere else while we were talking. So why should I like baseball? Are you saying I’m right? That it is all about money and memory?”

And the old man answered, “Sam, let me see if I can remember this. It’s from Bart Giamatti’s “A Great and Glorious Game”

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then just as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high tides alive and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it the most, it stops. Today, October, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf clogged streets, it stopped and summer was gone. Somehow the summer seemed to slip by faster this time.

“Wow,” said the young woman. “That is beautiful. That’s really about baseball? Maybe there is something there besides the money and the memory. Not sure what. But something.” And as she said this she picked up the newspaper again. “Maybe there’s something about baseball in here. Hey Rick, who’s Theo Epstein?”

“He’s the kid from Boston who’s gonna try to run the Cubs. Young, smart, good looking, rich . . .Hey Sam, you know I bet he’ll come in here . . .”

“Shut up Rick,” she smiled without looking up. Any guy that pretty . . ..

Hey wait. Listen to this!”

“Suddenly you’re interested in baseball?”

“No, listen. It says that Epstein’s Grandfather and Great Uncle were two of the writers who worked on the script for the movie Casablanca! Hey that’s my favorite movie! Hey Rick, that’s pretty cool! Baseball Casablanca! Hey Rick, here’s a question. What if baseball was somehow, someway like a trip to Casablanca?”

“That,” said Rick looking out into the city night and the massive walls of the ballpark soon to be covered in snow, “that is a wonderful question.”

2 Responses to “Casablanca Baseball”

  1. Paulhaider74 Says:

    I like the fact that you kept the names of two characters, Rick and Sam, from the movie Casablanca; the Cubs have driven so many men to drink heavily as much as love and war drove so many people to hide out in Rick’s American Cafe. This old heart of mine still bleeds Cubbie blue, but I have a living Cub fan’s first request: one World Series championship in my lifetime, please!
    Paul Haider, Chicago

  2. Ted Schneider Says:

    Lets hope Theo can write a script to bring some life back in Wrigley in the upcoming season. Having grown up on the north side of Chicago I have been a Cubs fan all my life but this past year for some reason it was difficult to get excited at all about the Cubs.
    Ted

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