The Mazeroski Blues

by: Jon Krampner

What if the one thing in life you wanted to change, changed everything in your life?


Dave Alpert almost has it all.

He and his wife Sharon are as in love as you can be after twenty-nine years of marriage. His work as an astronomer at the Observatory of the Northern Rockies outside Helena, Montana, is everything he could have dreamed of back when he was an astrophysics grad student at MIT. Their daughter, Susan, has caused them little trouble through the years. Instead of a constant pageant of whiny, hormonal adolescent angst when she was in high school, she was a freckled, red-headed honors student who played the trumpet in Capital High’s marching band. Now married herself, she’s the mother of an eight-year-old boy Dave likes to play catch with. There’s a slight pudge – well, maybe not so slight – beneath Dave’s burgundy sweater vest, and his receding gray hairline, which testifies to his sixty-three winters, hasn’t receded as much as some of his friends’. As the chill of Autumn descends upon Montana in the fall of 2015, life’s good.

But there’s a missing puzzle piece to his life. Dave knows it’s silly, but it’s there. He can’t get over Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

Growing up in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, Dave was, like most New York City boys in those pre-Mets days, a Yankees fan. It was easy – the Yankees rarely lost, least of all in October, and Dave could no more imagine what it must be like to be a Cubs fan than what it was like to be a girl or a Martian.

When classes let out at the Barclay Institute, eight-year-old Dave would walk home along Seventh Avenue in the springtime with his red Global transistor radio glued to his ear whenever the Yankees were playing. Stopping in at the soda fountain on the corner of President Street, he’d sit at the counter and have a chocolate egg cream, browse the comic books, and listen with glee as the Yankees, more often than not, dispatched American League teams in the spring and summer and National Leaguers in the fall.

Then came the World Series of 1960.

The Yankees cruised to the pennant and decimated the Pittsburgh Pirates during their three wins in the first six games of the series, winning by scores so lopsided Dave couldn’t understand how the Pirates had the nerve to show up and confront their betters.

But the Pirates eked out three close low-scoring games, and there they were in Game 7, held at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. As he sat in his third-grade class all day, reports whipsawed back and forth from kids bold enough to sneak transistor radios into school: Pirates 4-0. Yankees 7-4. Pirates 9-7. Game tied at 9 in the ninth.

When school ended at 3pm, Dave ran home and turned on the TV just in time to see Pirates’ second baseman Bill Mazeroski club Ralph Terry’s second pitch over the center-left-field wall of Forbes Field in the bottom of the ninth. The Pirates had beaten the Yankees 10-9 and won the World Series. Despite the terrors he sometimes met in the back alleys of his nightmares, Dave’s childhood had been largely idyllic. Now, staring him boldly in the face was loss, failure and defeat. It tasted like bitter herbs, gall and wormwood.

As the camera panned around the park, Dave saw a joyful blond kid with a crew cut, kind of on the beefy side, in the left-field stands. Wearing a Pirates cap, he had a pronounced gap between his upper front teeth and a Roberto Clemente signature mitt. His father, having ditched work for the day, had allowed him to ditch school as well. The kid was jumping up and down in celebration. The camera cut to an exultant Mazeroski rounding third base, cap in hand. How could this have happened?

Fifty-five years later, this boyhood moment of anguish lingers for Dave, a miasmic strand in an otherwise enviable life. Deep down, he’ll always be the kid who was so distraught to learn the Yankees had fallen in Game 7 that he threw out all his Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cards the next day. Forbes Field has long since been torn down, but it still makes cameo appearances in his nightmares. The game has such a hold on him that, even though he loves the expensive performance cars he can’t afford, he hates Maseratis because their first syllable is “Maz.” One night at dinner with Sharon, he brings it up again.

“The Yanks had tied it in the top of the ninth,” he says wistfully. “If they could just have gone to extra innings…”

Sharon’s blue eyes sparkle with amusement at her husband’s hobby horse.

Retired five years as a sales executive, she’s heard this rant countless times, but it’s a measure of the affection she bears him that she doesn’t lose the patience any other captive audience would long since have lost. He’s been a good husband and father. She remembers how Dave lost out on the chance to have a comet named after him: Instead of putting in the observation time necessary to claim it after first spotting it on their backyard telescope one June night in 1995, he spent hours consoling Susan because, in one of the rare moments of drama in her adolescence, her boyfriend broke up with her before the senior prom and took her best friend instead.

“That dumb game was the first time you learned dreams don’t always come true,” she smiles, idly caressing the back of his hand as they sit at the dinner table. “It’s how I felt when I realized Cary Grant was never going to marry me.”

“That’s because he liked men better.”

“You’re just jealous of old Cary,” she teases. “In any case, there’s nothing you can do about Bill Mazeroski.”

Of course there isn’t, Dave thinks. But what if there were? Think of the all the Yankee fans of my generation who would be spared the agony.

And just like that, Dave’s mind moves to the how of it. Time travel is impossible, unless you take the idea of transversable wormholes seriously. And most reputable scientists don’t.

That leaves only disreputable scientists. Dave is scheduled to attend an astrophysical conference in Boston. While there, he’ll look up Victor Von Demme, who was expelled from MIT during Dave’s junior year for attempting to use the university’s atom smasher to implode the universe. As Sharon drops him off at Helena Regional Airport, she has no idea what Dave is up to. He’s ordinarily not one to keep secrets, but there’s no reason to make her nervous.

Since his expulsion decades ago, an embittered Von Demme has forsaken the university circuit of theoretical physics and now owns a record store (vinyl only) in a run-down section of Cambridge. In the back, he maintains a lab where he runs experiments which the neighbors speak of only in hushed whispers, sometimes calling the police when his experiments get so loud the neighborhood’s stray cats start meowing in concert in the early hours of the morning.

Dave enters the store at 5 p.m. on October 12th, just as Von Demme is about to close up for the day. Gaunt and sallow, he doesn’t appear to get out much, wearing a cloak that wouldn’t look out of place on a Victorian gentleman. He always had a penchant for dressing dramatically. Dave remembers him eating breakfast in the MIT Student Union, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans paired with a top hat and spats. When the light hits them just so, there’s a manic gleam in Von Demme’s eyes, and his remaining hair, slightly unkempt, is as gray as Dave’s.

Von Demme fondly welcomes his old classmate, one of only a few to sign a petition protesting his expulsion. He still insists he was railroaded.

“Implode the universe? That was a lie spread by the dean of students,” he says. “I was just going to take out a few quadrants. At the worst, we would have lost the Crab Nebula.” Dave is a specialist in the Crab Nebula and feels somewhat proprietary about it, but that’s not the aspect of the past he’s here to re-litigate today.

“So what brings you into my little shop of horrors?” Von Demme asks.

Dave tells him.

“Funny you should ask,” Von Demme says. “I have been experimenting with time travel and just might be able to help you.”

“How will it work?”

“It’s a little hard to explain,” Von Demme says. “But it involves the use of Temporal Disjunction Strings or TDS’s.”

Dave has never heard of them, but Von Demme was always a bit ahead of the curve.

“They can be used to open up a force field which is a kind of time tunnel in a particular location,” Von Demme continues. “It won’t stay open long, not with the equipment I have. But if it’s close enough to the desired location, say this Forbes Field of yours, you can do it. There are a few potential glitches, though.”

Dave quizzically arches his eyebrows.

“Once in the past, you have to return through the force field by the appointed time or you’ll be stranded there,” Von Demme says. “Secondly, TDS’s can create disruptive eddies into the future, with later events rearranged in their wake, and you never know how that will play out. It doesn’t happen often, but it can. So,” Von Demme asks, “are you game?”

It’s like the moment in Dirty Harry when Clint Eastwood asks the bank robber if he’s feeling lucky. Dave is – life has been good, but it’s been getting a little dull, and he wants to put a stack of chips on one number – in this case, Number 9, Mazeroski’s number, and spin the wheel. Von Demme surfs the internet for a few minutes.

“Very well,” he says. “Part of the center-field wall of Forbes Field still exists, preserved on what’s now the University of Pittsburgh campus. Stand just outside it, take this gel-cap, and wait until the force-field appears. Step through it and you’ll have thirty minutes to conduct your skullduggery. Good luck with your mission, Mr. Phelps.”

The next day, October 13th, is the 55th anniversary of Game 7. Dave flies to Pittsburgh and heads to the University. It’s an overcast afternoon, cool and drizzly. Several students walk by in raincoats, umbrellas at the ready. Dave finds the remaining part of the center-field wall and stands outside it. As he’s about to pop the gel-cap, Dave hesitates. He checks the Albertson’s cloth bag he’s carrying to make sure he has the polished aluminum mirror he’s temporarily purloined from the Observatory of the Northern Rockies. It’s there alright.

At 3 p.m., Dave swallows the large, silvery gel-cap. It’s time to right this historic wrong.

The gel-cap has a slight almond taste. For a minute, nothing happens, and Dave anxiously starts to wonder if Von Demme was just having fun at his expense. Then, suddenly blocking the view of three young women walking along with books in their arms, a force field, gold and black, appears to Dave. Brilliant and pulsating, it shimmers like one of the ocular migraines Dave sometimes gets, except it’s outside his head. Dave gulps and walks into it – it’s now or never. There’s a momentary swirling of darkness and light. A dusty sheath envelops him, along with muffled sounds he can’t quite make out. A momentary feeling of dizziness washes over him, then it gets lighter and warmer….

The overcast pall and drizzle are gone. The sky is blue and the air carries the warmth of an Indian Summer. Forbes Field, that temple of doom, looms above him, basking in the late afternoon sun. Dave is outside Section One of the right-field grandstands, along with a group of teenaged boys in saddle shoes and their girlfriends in pedal-pusher denims who couldn’t get in.

A roar goes up from the crowd.

“What was that?” Dave asks a kid with a radio.

“Hal Smith just hit a three-run homer, mister,” he says giddily. “Pirates 9-7!”

So it’s the bottom of the eighth, 3:05 p.m. and Dave has twenty-five minutes left. That’s when he realizes he doesn’t have a ticket.

He goes to a gate along the right-field foul line and, looking embarrassed, tells the ticket taker he’s lost his ticket. The ticket taker rolls his eyes. He’s already heard that one more times than he cares to count this afternoon. This approach works no better at the second gate. Dave looks at his watch. Twenty minutes left and he’s not even inside the park.

At the third gate, Dave switches tactics.

“Great day for a game,” he says to the ticket-taker, a short, balding guy in his mid-40’s.

“None better,” the ticket-taker responds affably in his West Pennsylvania twang. “It’s just a damn shame about some of the kids these days,” Dave adds, going into Professor Harold Hill mode.

“Whaddya mean?”

“I mean j.d.’s,” Dave says, using then-current slang for juvenile delinquents. “Take the kid I just saw back there climbing the wall to get in for free…”

“No one gets in free to Section 10 while Irv Heckman is on duty,” the ticket-taker says angrily. “Thanks for the tip, mister.” He runs off in hot pursuit of Dave’s imaginary j.d. and Dave scurries up the temporarily unprotected walkway.

Dave crosses through the area under the stands in the bowels of the stadium and walks up into the sunlight of Forbes Field. Red, white and blue World Series bunting is draped all over the stadium, the Pirates are heading out onto the emerald green field, and the crowd is settling in for the top of the ninth. Dave’s rendezvous with destiny is near. From the right field grandstands, Dave has to quickly make it all the way around Forbes Field to Section 22 of the left-field stands, as far away from home plate as you can get down the left-field line before the bleachers begin. People yell that he’s blocking the view, so Dave decides to head back under the stands and circle around the park that way. He hurtles back down the walkway, makes a sharp left turn and crashes into a wiry steelworker in a blue serge suit and fedora bringing hot dogs, popcorn and sodas to his family.

“What the fuck is the matter with you,” he bellows as Dave apologetically helps him up, dusts him off and offers him a twenty for replacement snacks. “You a fucking Yankee fan or somethin’?”

The man’s temper brightens, though, when he sees the money Dave has handed him. That will buy a lot of snacks in 1960. But as Dave scoots away toward the left-field stands, the man looks closely at the bill, which indicates it was printed in 2014.

“Get the fuck back here, Yankee fan!” he yells at the disappearing Dave. “I shoulda known,” he mutters to himself. “Funny money.”

Dave misses the Yankees’ two-run rally in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game at 9 while he’s running through the bowels of the stadium. As he emerges back into the sunlight in Section 22 of the left-field stands, his watch indicates he has ten minutes left.

All the seats are taken, so he stands in front of one of the view-blocking pillars that are a feature of ballparks built in the early 20th Century. He looks around at the rapt Pittsburgh fans – crew-cut men, demurely-coiffed women, sneaker-clad boys, almost all of them white – and feels like he’s thumbing through an old issue of Life Magazine.

As Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski walks to the plate, Dave pulls out of his Albertson’s bag the instrument that will turn him into a malefactor of historical proportions: the curved, six-inch-diameter aluminum mirror, finely ground and polished, that he’s brought from the future. If astronomers know nothing else, they know how to view light and how to project it. Using the mirror, Dave will bounce a concentrated ray of sunlight into Mazeroski’s face from the left-field stands.

Pitcher Ralph Terry looks regal on the mound in his pin-striped blue Yankees uniform, but he’s also nervous, as befits the man whose one careless pitch devastated a generation of Yankee fans. The right-handed Mazeroski walks up and digs in on the left side of home plate. He looks out toward left field. The moment of truth has arrived for Dave.

Ball one is high. Without Dave’s intervention, Terry’s second pitch is destined to clear the left-field wall. But as Dave pulls his mirror out of the cloth bag, a wispy little cirrus cloud flits across the sun, depriving him of the sunlight he needs to interfere with Mazeroski’s vision. A momentary sense of despondence overcomes him. Now what?

As Terry prepares for his second pitch, he doesn’t agree with the pitch Yankee catcher Johnny Blanchard has called for. He shakes his head. Once, twice. A third time. Now Terry’s finally gotten a pitch call he likes, and goes into his wind-up.

And as he does, the cirrus cloud comes unmoored from the sun, and Dave has the light he needs. He pulls out his mirror and points it at Mazeroski.

In the batter’s box, Mazeroski is distracted. What the hell is that in the left-field stands? Is someone operating a goddamn lighthouse?

Terry uncorks a slider high in the strike zone. Not a good idea with a high-ball hitter like Maz. He still gives the pitch a hard ride to left field, but Dave’s skullduggery has done its work and the ball lands safely in the mitt of Yogi Berra, standing twenty feet in front of the scoreboard.

Relieved at getting the first out so easily, Terry regains his confidence and quickly retires the next two batters. In the top of the tenth, Johnny Blanchard cracks a shot to deep left field. Pirate left fielder Bob Skinner climbs the ivy-covered wall of Forbes Field like a cat, but the ball sails just over his glove and out of Forbes Field. It’s a home run, and the Yankees take the lead.

The Pirates fail to answer in the bottom of the tenth, and the New York Yankees are 1960 World Champions.

Dave has five minutes to get back to the force field outside the left-field wall. But at every turn, his way is blocked by morose Pirates fans, hurriedly streaming out of the park to escape yet another year of failure.

Both the stands and the area under them are choked with people. If Dave is going to get back to the force field in time, his only chance is to get out of Forbes Field and run across the concourse beyond the outfield walls instead of circumnavigating the whole park again. He dodges and weaves between people, slowing down with irritated reluctance only when he’s on the verge of crashing into them. He reaches the preordained spot with thirty seconds to spare.

Then, off to his left, he sees him.

The big blond kid with the crew cut, gapped teeth and Roberto Clemente mitt from more than fifty years ago. Or from right now, Dave corrects himself. The kid’s exultant look has turned to ashes. The boy, crying, is being consoled by his father, who doesn’t look much happier. Dave is so rapt in contemplation he doesn’t see the force field appear on his right. Suspended in the late afternoon sunlight, it opens a few feet away, lingers briefly, and starts to close.

As the force field is about to disappear, Dave snaps out of his reverie and makes a headlong dive, middle-aged pudge and all, into the glimmering pool of light. A hardware store manager from nearby Squirrel Hill assumes an anguished Dave is distraught over the Pirates’ loss and moves to console him. But Dave vanishes, and the man tells himself he needs to quit drinking.

Again, Dave is surrounded by a swirl of dust and muffled noise. When it settles down, it’s again a drizzly afternoon on the Pitt campus. He’s back.

He catches a flight back to Helena. Wait until I tells Sharon, he muses He calls her from the airport to come pick him up, but a recording says it’s a non-working number. Did Sharon forget to pay the phone bill? Dave rents a car and drives to their buff-colored sandstone ranch house at 1407 Custer Drive.

In the early evening, the house looks pretty much the same, but there’s an unfamiliar navy blue 2014 Hyundai Sonata in the driveway. To his astonishment and revulsion, he sees a Pittsburgh Pirates bumper sticker on it. One of the women from Sharon’s bridge club? But that’s Thursday night and today’s Tuesday.

As Dave’s about to put his key in the lock, the door opens and out walks Sharon with a burly man. He has short blond hair and is just barely stuffed into a suit and tie. He looks like he’s going to a bankers’ convention. He also looks like he belongs here. Sharon is dressed up as well and it’s obvious they’re heading out for the evening. Sensing Dave’s attraction to the woman he regards as his own, the man stiffens. That’s when Dave notices the pronounced gap between the man’s front teeth.

“Dear,” Sharon says to the fullback, “I left my purse on the dresser. Would you be a sweetie and go get it for me?”

The man is not inclined to withdraw, but, having been given his orders, he disappears into the house.

“Who’s he?” Dave asks.

“That’s Jack, my husband of twenty-five years,” Sharon says with a mixture of fondness, politeness and, it seems to Dave, anxiety. “It’s nice of you to make an impromptu visit like this, but- “

“What kind of joke is this? March 10th will be our thirtieth anni- “

“It might have been,” Sharon says wistfully, “if we hadn’t broken our engagement. That fight at the Prairieview Supper Club sunk us like the Lusitania. Remember? When I ran out screaming ‘Enough with the damn Yankees and Pirates already!’?”

“That doesn’t seem to be a problem for you now,” Dave says, gesturing toward the Pirates bumper sticker on the Sonata.

“Funny how things work out, isn’t it?” she says, flashing a sheepish ‘Yes-I’m-contradicting-myself-but-so-what’ smile. “He’s bad, I’ll admit, but nothing like you were.”

“Any problem, hon?”

The fullback has returned with Sharon’s purse and is eying Dave in an unfriendly manner.

“No, Dave just dropped by to reminisce,” she says. “Jack, this is Dave, an old friend of mine. Dave, Jack.”

They shake hands grudgingly.

“Nice to see you again,” she smiles, giving Dave a standard-issue peck on the cheek, and she and the fullback get into the Sonata.

Befuddled, he shuffles off. Dave has to return the rental to the airport. Then what? He can’t call Susan or play catch with his eight-year-old grandson; they were never born. On his way back to the airport, he drops by the Observatory of the Northern Rockies to see if they’ve even heard of him. A lucky break: Bill McGonigle, one of his fellow astronomers, is there, working late. But McGonigle looks at him oddly.

“Dave,” he says. “Haven’t seen you in years!”

“Years?” Dave asks. But he’d been there just a week ago last Friday! He thinks.

“Yeah, not since the night you were fired ten years ago. We were in the cafeteria and you were going on about the Yanks winning in ’60. Then you jumped up and said, “Oh, Jeez! I forgot to retract the reflecting telescope!” The dome closed on it, causing $10 million in damages and that, as they say was that. I’m sorry th- “ McGonigle’s smartphone beeps.

“It’s date night with Jennifer and I’m running late,” he says. “Good to see you again.”

“You too,” Dave replies, forcing himself to simulate affability. He watches McGonigle recede into the parking lot.

Dave Alpert is starting to wish he hadn’t put all his chips on Number 9, but it’s a little too late. He’s lost his coordinates in time and space and will have to get his bearings as best he can. But the Yankees did win Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, and he’ll have to take what consolation he can from that.

Jon Krampner is the author of the short story “The Provence Lane Haunting” (Eclipse Magazine) and three books of non-fiction. He lives in Los Angeles and tweets at @pbj06.

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