A Punto Tale
Tony LaRussa sat at the restaurant table with his favorite people in the world, but even their company couldn’t bring him comfort on this night. He listlessly gazed out the window at the icy January storms, which couldn’t compare to the chill in his heavy heart.
“Tony, c’mon … have a drink,” said pitching coach Dave Duncan, motioning toward the glass in front of him. Tony looked it over, then swallowed the contents in one smooth, professional motion. However, even a third glass of wine couldn’t console him on this night.
Hitting coach Mark McGwire leaned in. “Look, buddy, you have a lot to look forward to. The team’s looking better these days!” said McGwire enthusiastically.
“Yeah,” hissed Duncan, “I mean, you finally got rid of that piece of shit Ryan … banished the little fucker to Seattle. Ya gotta be happy about that!”
Tony shifted in his chair. “Yeah … I guess,” muttered Tony, his hollow eyes glinting slightly, “but what will I do without the grit that Miles gave me?” McGwire and Duncan rolled their eyes and sighed deeply. They had heard this too many times before.
“Forget Miles, goddamit!” barked Duncan, “He’s gone!”
“But I can’t,” mumbled Tony, his eyes filling with tears, “and Mo’ said I can’t ever have him back.”
“I don’t get that whole thing with you and Miles, Tony,” said McGwire. A quizzical look came over him. “Were you two fucking?”
Tony looked back silently, his mouth contorting as if he was fighting the urge to reveal a dirty secret. Suddenly, Duncan waved away McGwire and his sordid question.
“Look, Tony, I understand that you liked Miles for his grit or whatever,” said Duncan softly, “but he just wasn’t that good of a ballplayer.”
Tony bolted back in his chair as if he’s just had 10,000 volts run through him. His defiant eyes locked on Duncan, his lips curled back to display a jagged set of teeth. Tony slowly rose from his chair, hunching angrily over the table.
“Don’t you EVER say that about Miles!” screamed Tony. He turned, and stumbled out of the restaurant.
Tony quivered with anger as he drove his environmentally-friendly SUV through the murky winter storm. He came to rest at a stoplight at a deserted intersection. While sitting there, Tony gently closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Suddenly, there was a gentle tap on his window. Opening his eyes, Tony was startled to see a little red fairy floating outside in the cold. It was wearing the tiniest little Cardinal jersey with the word “Hudler” on the back and a “10″ below it. Tony opened the window, and the fairy flew inside out of the cold.
“I am the fairy of Cardinal Grit,” said the tiny magical being, “and I’m here to bestow upon you a creature made of pure intensity.”
“You mean Miles?” asked Tony hopefully.
The little fairy frowned. “Fucking forget Miles, would ya? He’s been with the team four times, alright? My magic can only go so far!” yelled the fairy. Tony’s hopes sank.
The fairy moved in closer. “The creature I speak of is called a Punto,” began the fairy. “He is rarer than an albino unicorn yet a fiery competitor with the grit of a thousand Ecksteins.”
Tony was impressed. “This Punto, can he hit?” asked Tony.
“No, he can’t hit,” replied the fairy, “but he can play defense like a white, stubbier Ozzie Smith.”
“I must have this magical creature on my team!” exclaimed Tony. “What must I do?”
“I will grant you the Punto on the sole condition that you play him carefully,” warned the fairy, “for he is as delicate as the fart bubble of a woodland sprite drunk on the morning dew.”
A look of slightly-drunken enthusiasm washed over Tony. “I agree!” he screamed in response. The fairy waved its wand, and his wish was granted.
The 2011 season was magical because of the addition of the Punto. True to the fairy’s promises, the Punto made plays that only a being of pure light and goodness could even dream of making, flying through the air with the grace of a dachshund falling off of a couch. Tony loved the way the Punto would try his best all the time regardless of his abilities or skill level; even when he was overmatched, he still just kept on trying. The Punto’s jersey was dirty every day, even when he didn’t play. In other words, the Punto was grittier than a bowl of grits with sand poured into it.
But the Punto was also very fragile. Any time the Punto would throw the ball with his usual effervescent enthusiasm, he would strain a muscle or pop a joint out of place. And every time the Punto was injured, he’d have to return to his magical homeland known as Disabledlist to recover his magical grittiness. Tony would sit by the window in his office and stare out onto Market Street, waiting patiently for the time when his Punto would return.
Every time the Punto would return from Disabledlist, Tony would put him in too soon. And, inevitably, the Punto would re-injure himself while making a play. Finally, one night the Punto was trying to make a play at third, and his elbow gave out. Unlike all of the hundreds of other injuries that year, this one was the real deal. The Punto would return to his homeland far away and never return.
Tony watched mournfully as the Punto packed his tiny bags in the locker room. The only stitch of clothing the Punto was wearing was an elastic band around his injured wing. Tony admired the thick, stubby contours of the Punto. I will miss you, sweet Punto, thought Tony. The Punto, sensing Tony’s sadness, looked at him and chirped. Then, the Punto waddled over and hugged Tony, pressing his head into Tony’s stomach lovingly.
Tony watched out the window as the Punto climbed into his magical Lamborghini. While saddened at the loss of such powerful grit, Tony was grateful that he could ever have it at all.