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Chapter Two: Flight 846 to Havana
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Over a few more drinks, Frank talked about his contact in Cuba. He trusted her implicitly and she had the eye like they did. She wrote him about a young kid down there who is a “once in a generation” talent. He explained how it wasn’t cheap to get someone out of Cuba and over to the States. Marshall knew that much and a wave of disappointment swept clearly over his face as Frank was talking.
“Don’t you know of anyone a little… closer?” Marshall interrupted.
“You think the next major league superstar is living in Maine, kid? If you are going to bring home the talent, one that might change the game, you need to get yourself to Cuba.”
“What if I get down there and he isn’t what you say?”
“Do you know who Willie Stargell is, kid? He’s in the Hall of Fame, look it up on your little computer there. His restaurant used to give away free chicken dinners every time he hit one clear out of Three Rivers Stadium. They had to cancel that promo halfway through the season.”
Marshall looked back at him blankly.
“This player hits like Stargell, kid, is what I’m saying. But he also runs the bases like Lou Brock.”
Frank looked up at the television and painted the image of the former greats on its screen. He saw Stargell and Brock at the plate and on the field and to him they were as natural elements there as the grass and the dirt. Though Frank had never seen him, he painted this Cuban prospect with the same athletic grace, the same instinctual ability to manipulate the game to his will as any great player had.
“And then, to top it all off, this player can gun it from the outfield like Vladdy,” Frank continued, eyes still glued to the set, evoking an image that danced on the projected scene before him. “I’m telling you, this one is the next Roberto Clemente.”
Marshall knew that the comparison was not made lightly. He watched as Frank’s possessed vision returned to the bar. Marshall sensed that the old man had been channelling something, either a supernatural apparition of the player’s skills, or the hallucinations of a washed up scout who had seen one too many baseball games.
“So what are you doing here? Why don’t you go get him yourself?” Marshall asked.
“I would if I were you, kid. But I had my career and this trip, this talent, it’s a young man’s job. I’ve scouted the best to ever pick up a bat, I even helped some make it to the biggest stage.” Frank took a final gulp of the beer he had been nursing and grimaced because it had gone stale as he sat there. “You see kid, I’ve learned something in my career and it took me years to do it. I figure it’s something a lot of us learn eventually, but I wouldn’t know that. It’s something I might as well tell you, since you won’t believe me anyway and it won’t make a lick of difference when you hear it since you can’t learn it from hearing.”
Marshall had come in for his tip and he had just about gotten it. But he knew he would need some more details from Frank if he was actually going to collect. So he tried to listen and look respectful as this drunken, faded old scout rambled on about the past.
“Everyone wants the majors. The players, the agents, you, me. That dream creeps into your mind just about the second you find out there even is a major league, or maybe it was there before. You see, the great ones, they only make it because they love the game. It’s what’s inside that makes us give everything to a game, to love a simple, unpredictable, running and throwing game, that would be there without the money.” Frank looked down into his empty beer glass. He wiped his moustache with a hand and spoke through it, down and nearly into the glass. “Once you grow up a little bit and find out how much a dollar’s worth, that major league prestige becomes the dream. Guys forget why they started playing or scouting and they never make it, or maybe they do and they get it all wrong. I can tell that you’ve got the vision kid, but I can tell you want the glory too. That’s not going to get you all the way there and you won’t know what I’m talking about until you know.”
Frank wrote down his contact’s name and phone number and gave them to the young scout. He would arrange for her to meet Marshall at the airport and take him to the talent. He assured the kid that she would take care of him, organize the details for the trip off the island, but that it’d be up to Marshall to pay for it. He explained how Marshall would need to bring traveler’s cheques, which took some doing since the kid had only heard of them in the movies. Cubans had to enter the country by foot, that was the rule, and then they could apply for residency and play in the States. He gave Marshall the number of his major league contact and told him that if he used Frank’s name, he could get a batting practice audition set up once they reached Mexico.
“With this player, that’s all you’re going to need,” the old man said.
When he was finished explaining how it should go, Frank was relieved. He had thought this tip was going to die, another unknown talent who wouldn’t get the chance he deserved. Now he had done all he could do.
Marshall’s mind refused to be overwhelmed by the change in its mission that the last few hours had brought. This was what he had wanted from Frank, the chance to strike it rich and famous and earn that sparkling promise with the type of frenzied trip that would anoint him. There was just one nagging thought that he allowed to break his confidence.
“But, I don’t speak Spanish,” he said.
Frank leaned back in his stool and looked at him through a tight, unbelieving face.
“You want to be a big famous baseball scout and you don’t speak Spanish?” he asked. There was a brief moment of concern at sending this kid on a suicide mission, but it didn’t hold against Frank’s confidence in the Cuban who would guide him. “Well, you’ll learn. Sabria will take care of you.”
Marshall left Frank at the bar as it closed. What had been a gleam in the distance of his mind now shone so bright with promise that he couldn’t look for too long. It shouted to him, blinded him, obscured everything else. It was new and shiny and he sprinted towards it as fast as he dared. He had a tip.
For hours he sat at the terminal and let the potential of the unknown bathe him in its light. What it promised, the new life, a golden ticket. He glanced at it shyly from all angles, he let it fill him up with self-assurance, he smiled at how easy it had all been. Eventually, “we will begin boarding flight 846 to Havana.”
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