[EDITOR'S NOTE:l Per reader requests--well, just one, actually--we're doing another round of what is essentially Phillies fan fiction. But just... hold onto your hats. This... is a weird one.]
Ruben Amaro had taken his seat next to Cliff, had answered questions with equal levels of diplomacy and smugness, and was now taking the opportunity to sit back and admire his work. The assembly of on the of the most legendary starting rotations ever conceived was his handiwork, and were it not for the voice in his head, the day would have been immaculate.
“MY GOD,” the voice said, its British accent almost charming had it not been for the alarmed nature of its tone, “DON’T YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU’VE DONE?!”
Ruben, having had suffered through years of this exchange, merely smiled and nodded. He’d learned the worst times and places to respond to the voice were while playing with his kids, ordering coffee at Starbuck’s, or in the middle of a press conference. All he did was smile and nod at Cliff, who sat next to him, reeking of unmatchable class.
“I won’t be ignored, Ruben,” the voice continued, undeterred by his silence. “You’ve killed us all.”
Years ago, Ruben Amaro had been signed by his former Phils to a job in the front office, following Ed Wade and eventually Pat Gillick around like a happy dog, soaking up knowledge and experience from some of the best GMs in the game. During the Phillies World Series victory in 2–8, he and Gillick had accidentally bonked heads in celebration and fallen to the floor. Both lost consciousness. Upon awakening, they had both heard it–a voice, with an inexplicably British acent, taunting them, teasing them, threatening their every move. It added an unneeded and terrifying sense of pressure to the position, cuasing Gillick to flee into retirement almost immediately.
Though they had never spoken out loud about it, the haunted eye contact they’d made several times following the incident was all that was needed to indicate their shared horror. Ruben was alone now, and every off season he tried to drown out the voice’s contempt with an acquisition even more insane than last year. But to no avail… with each passing trade, the voice seemed to be getting stronger, and today… it was in complete control, right in the middle of Cliff Lee’s press conference.
Ruben shook his head, disagreeing with the voice, but disguising his action as one of amazement to whatever Cliff was currently saying.
“You know damn well what putting those four in the same room will do…” the voice said. “You’ve willingly assembled the four horsemen of the apocalypse in the same place! It is merely a matter of ill-fated moments before their minds are unlocked and the universe is overrun with terror. All because of you. All because you had to turn the Phillies into the NL Yankees.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut UP!” Ruben muttered, his final repetition sort of getting the attention from some nearby journalists. Their sideways glances caused him momentary panic until, but, being members of the media, their parasitic focus turned almost immediately back to Cliff, feasting on his presence for nutrience.
“Not only have you brought about the biblical apocalypse, but you’re financial inflexibility will prevent you from signing an able-bodied, right-handed bat! What have you done? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!”
“No one is ever satisfied I guess!!!” Ruben replied, now just shouting with reckless abandon. He hadn’t realized it, but his eyes had slammed shut in frustration. Slowly opening them, he saw a curious press corps and a confused Cliff Lee all staring at him.
Oh no, he thought, as the voice chuckled madly, I’ll have to play this one off with my superior media-handling skills.
“We are going to give several guys an opportunity, to seize the opportunity, to be out right fielder. It could be Domonic Brown, it could be Ben Francisco, it could be John Mayberry, Ross Gload, any combination of those guys.”
“Nice recovery,” snarked the voice, louder than before. “But you know that having inner thoughts only makes me stronger.”
Ruben bowed his head and massaged his temples. Fortunately, Cliff Lee alone was a vacuum of media coverage; when he was in a room, little attention would be paid to anything else, even if the Phanatic ran through on fire and flailing his arms. If Cliff Lee was in a room and talking, it was even more fervent. If he was in a room, and talking about how much he loved Philadelphia, well. Few actions outside of the destruction of the universe could distract the local media.
He looked up. The focus that had so intently been focused on his boy had now apparently rotated in his direction. Journalists extended microphones. Photographers snapped photos. Being totally oblivious to what had been asked of him, Ruben took a stab in the dark.
“…I love the guy.”
Heads nodded. Pens moved. Apparently this was the right direction. Ruben glanced at Cliff, who was nodding in agreement–clearly the question had not been regarding him, or his natural humility would have prevented him from doing little else than smiling politely or donating $100,000 to the nearest orphans.
Therefore, Ruben deduced quickly, the inquiry must have been Werth-centric. He continued.
“I wish we had him back. Sometimes you have to make tough choices. For us, having a number one starter as compared to a right handed bat, the impact on our club was greater. Is that the right way to look at things? I don’t know.”
“Did you just tell the press you don’t know if acquiring Cliff Lee was the right thing to do?” the voice demanded. “Am I getting to you, Ruben? Do you see the true repercussions of what you’ve done yet?”
The voice, with apparently the power to do so, flashed images of wartorn nations and fire-scathed landscapes, as Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee galloped past on demonic horses, dressed in immaculate cream-colored Phillies home Sunday afternoon uniforms, but with vicious helmets instead of hats.
Ruben, like a pro, put them out of his head.
“I got a long text message from him last night booing me, in classic Philly style. He was upset. But hey, that’s how it works sometimes. Business is business. I think he was half kidding. I told him he could still have been on our club if he accepted arbitration.”
And that, seemingly, was good enough.
When the conference ended, Ruben fled the scene, heading straight for the nearest restroom. His inability to calm himself was heavily contrasted by the fact that he convulsed and threw up four times in a row.
“You all right, Ruben?” Cliff asked, peaking in the doorway after having heard what sounded like a cat choking to death and then exploding.
“I’m fine,” Ruben replied, but for some reason, his voice now flavored with an accent of British origins. “Soon, everything will be right.” He smiled creepily into the mirror.
Cliff looked at him as if he was a man who had clearly just succumbed to insanity. “Okay, whatever.” Cliff didn’t feel like hanging around while Ruben tried out some new voices. Besides, he was meeting his new teammates for lunch. They had much to discuss.
More… than they knew.
*Shifty, intense music plays as credits roll*