A True Nightmare by Ross Allen

Ross Allen is a Cubs fan and former second-rate Division I tennis player.

I awoke several weeks ago from the most searing nightmare. It brought me back to my teenage years when I would awake from horrible dreams involving Craig Biggio, Shane Reynolds, and an antiquated dump known as the Houston Astrodome.

However, this dream was more horrifying than any before because it involved my favorite player, Chicago Cubs slugger Carlos Zambrano, instead of my most hated. Zambrano has been my favorite ballplayer for a decade. I saw his first major league start, the second game of a double header in August, 2001, and have been transfixed by his passion and energy ever since. A man who could develop tendinitis in his elbow from furious online communication with his family is a man I must believe in.

The nightmare began in a half-empty Marlins stadium. At first I thought this was any other regular season game, due tothe general apathy and limited number of spectators. It was the bottom of the 8th inning and the Cubs were leading by three runs. This game, I quickly realized, had much greater significance. The normal post-season banners were out and the chalkboard voice of Tim McCarver* came on. It was just like I was listening to a portable radio at the park. As I continued to curse McCarver and everything he stood for to the random guy sitting next to me, the jumpotron showed infuriating replays of the 2003 National League Championship Series. Eventually the play-by-play man informed me that this was game 7 of the National League Championship Series and the Cubs were nearing their first pennant since 1945.**

The bottom of the 8th rolled by without any incidents. The first out was an easy ground ball to short and the second was a routine foul pop to left field. After the third hitter walked, Cubs skipper Dale Sveum came out to settle Kerry Wood down, and he struck out the final batter on a great curveball away. The top of the ninth went by similarly without incident, my confusion and stress only increasing. As the TV cameras kept moving to Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, who had the weirdest and cruelest grin on his face, I figured something horrible had to go wrong.

The bottom of the ninth started like any other Carlos Marmol save opportunity. He hit the first batter and walked the second. Every count went to 3-2. Marmol’s slider was unhittable, but it also couldn’t hit the plate. A strikeout, a walk, and a strikeout later I was shaking in my seat. The Chicago Cubs were now one out away from heading to the World Series.

What strode to the plate next was something so disgusting and repulsive that I can barely stand to describe it. It was Carlos Zambrano. My Carlos Zambrano walking to the plate in a garrish Miami Marlins uniform. He was the starting pitcher. It was his turn in the batting order. I was conflicted. I had never before been in a situation where I was rooting for him to do anything but hit it straight out of the ballpark. This is the man with most home runs by a pitcher in the DH era. This is the man who could break Wes Ferrel’s all-time mark someday. What is more exciting in baseball than seeing a pitcher help his own cause? What is more exciting than seeing a pitcher win a game with both his arm and his bat?

The at-bat was like any other Carlos Zambrano at-bat ever. It was not long or climactic. There is a reason his slugging percentage is a career .395 and his on-base percentage is .251. The run was never going to be walked in and it wasn’t. The 1-0 fastball, right in the middle of the plate, left his bat so much faster than it left Marmol’s arm. As the ball traveled through the blue Miami air, my dream popped, punctured by the ball I never saw land.

*Imagine for a second how horrifying it is to hear Tim McCarver’s voice in a dream. I haven’t recovered.

**The play-by-play man must have been someone other than Joe Buck, because Joe Buck would not have provided me with such useful information without a million clichés that forced me to rip off my headphones and throw them at the redneck Marlins fan in front of me, who still was asking his friend to explain to him who those six individuals in black were on the field.

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