Gazing intimately into the eyes of death as it gave them a come-hither look and slipped into something more comfortable late Thursday night, The Austin Chroniclers resisted its clumsy advances and demurred with the class that has emerged as their calling card.
In so doing – winning a staring contest while dodging a bullet, which poses a bit of a challenge when you actually stop and think about it (something you should do more often) – they captured a hard-fought game 12-11 and a highly charged series 2-1 against archrival BookPeople. It was a remarkable moment last week that ranked right up there among the return of Rick Ankiel to the St. Louis Cardinals and the release of the new Okkervil River album alongside word of the I’m Not There soundtrack. And while life would indeed go on for the Chroniclers as well as the world around them – please, God, let it – the People of Book were not nearly as fortunate: They were ritually beheaded according to the ancient Maya rules of competition adapted and agreed upon for this Unofficial Shadow League of Local Businesses showcase.
“Painful,” said one bare-chested and hungry-looking witness to the grisly scene at the Monroe “Lefty” Krieg Softball Fields and Athletic Complex as he gathered up plastic cups and aluminum cans to sell to a local recycling facility. “Preeeetttyy sure they’ll find enough replacement retail workers in time for their next game though.” Whether they’ll find enough morale after blowing a late 11-7 lead is anyone’s guess, as is who brought back the keg that BookPeople rented for the rubber match, since they were all … well, you know.
Yessir, a sobering bottom of the eighth for BookPeople led to celebration for the Chroniclers and their few but faithful fans. A team that had struggled to string hits together, to secure the Dudley Thunder in their Shady Ladies, and to maintain any scoreboard momentum in a see-saw battle of startling mediocrity were as surprised as everyone else when the end of their order – heretofore a black hole – plated five runs in the penultimate frame after BookPeople had brought home three in the top half to stake a four-run advantage for starting pitcher Chris Blank.
A sharp single by Michael King drove in inflammatory third-baseman Commander Cody Captain Kirk and Andrea Skola to start the scoring in the Chronicle eighth, while Christina Jupson reached on an infield hit (subsequently taunting the opposition with a somersault) that set the table for big two-out singles from pitcher Charlie Sotelo and designated photographitter Shelley Hiam. The latter laced an authoritative liner over short – its sheer force and je ne sais quoi should bode well for her future endeavors as an Austin Roller Derby diva – to tie the game for the Chroniclers; a controversial call at first on a James Renovitch groundball into the 3.5 hole gave them a lead they would not relinquish.
With two outs and the bases loaded, the gazelle-like Renovitch hit what appeared to be a ball headed for right field. But BookPeople second baseman Patrick Blank showed the range of a young Ronnie Belliard in reaching it, lunging at the last second and spearing it off of a short hop. He whirled, fired to leggy and laconic first basewoman Jen Blank, and watched helplessly as Chronicle first-base coach Matt Bumb (longtime compadre of shortstop Shawn Badgley and on loan from the American Studies program at the College of William & Mary) decisively spread his arms out wide with his palms down. The Chroniclers nosed ahead 12-11, and the field exploded into equal parts revelry and hairy-eyed cross words. Not the ones good for preventing Alzheimer’s, mind you, but rather those good for sheepish regret after the game. Here’s looking at you, “All the Boys Love” Mandy Blank.
Renovitch was clearly safe.
BookPeople was clearly in danger.
Sotelo closed the deal in the top of the ninth with help from catcher Jupson catching a routine popout behind home, first-baseman King catching a routine popout down the first-base foul line, and left-center-fielder Renovitch – a young man who couldn’t catch cold in a warmup loss against Waterloo Records & Video a week before – catching a routine popout in left-center-field. See how all of that works?
In the wake of the win, champagne sent in absentia by Editor Louis Black was uncorked, and a trophy provided in person by tile designer/outfielder/former trampoline owner Shannon Stott was presented. Much fun was had, and many pictures were taken. But there was a certain passivity in the air.
The trophy presentation itself was a lesson in concession and compromise: Captains Badgley and Jeff Rose, each a little crazy in their own way, decided that
1) the Chronicle team should keep not only the trophy designed and supplied by Stott – it’s papîer-machéd and pees on you; come by the offices to see what I mean – but also the weirdly awesome circa-1993 P.O.S. dropped by Rose and His Thorns (not just a softball team comprising booksellers anymore, but a grunge band, as well);
2) the negativity and nihilism inherent … in … the BookPeople trophy should represent the ill will and shaky resolution of the third Chronicle-BookPeople match-up; it marks the point wherein we realize things don’t always go our way, often randomly, even when they benefit folks we favor;
3) ineligible for rosters are Chinese Cresteds named Bowie and Iggy who reside in the Velvet Dogpound every time no matter what; eligible are golden-eyed emperor cats named Shmoo;
4) inscribed on the trophies will be the respective nicknames of the squads: the Filthy Animals for BookPeople and the Infantile Retards for the Chronicle; and
5) a daylong USLLB tournament thought up by (very) occasionally brilliant Chronicle co-captain Mark Fagan will resolve all, trophy and otherwise-y; stay tuned for the deets, skeeters.