Two interesting things happened when Rudy Tansler went to exchange the medium-sized t-shirt the young girl in tight pants had just slung-shot his way. (Rudy was obese, he’d tell people, but not morbidly obese). As he made his way up to the stadium offices during a lull in the action (it was mostly lulls when the Mudslides were at bat; they were by far the worst team in the Central Independent League), he slipped in a pile of what he later determined was peanut shells and vomit, and dropped the shirt. When he bent down to pick it up a sharply hit foul ball — probably the hardest hit ball any Mudslide would have that day — bounced off the wall beside him, coming within inches of his head. Rudy watched as the ball trickled down the concrete steps past the mostly empty seats.
The other interesting thing occurred in Mr. Parson’s office. As one of the original season ticket holders, Rudy had privileges other fans didn’t have: Unlimited foam seat cushions with the Mudslides logo on them (Rudy usually wore one out every month or so), up to three refills on his soft drinks per game, and a complementary ice cream sandwich on Friday nights. He also had the ear of owner Bart Parson who often remarked about his open-door policy, a feature few if any other team owners employed.
Madge, the middle-aged woman sitting behind the desk, smiled and told him to go right in. Her name wasn’t really Madge but Rudy always thought that was a good name for a secretary, and ever since he had met her at a team luncheon several years earlier, that’s always how he referred to her in his head.
Rudy found Mr. Parson on the phone.
“That’s right, yes.” He nodded at Rudy and held up one finger. “No, go ahead and tell Jeff to handle that…Yeah, that’s fine…Okay, bye now.” He hung up and smiled. “Rudy! How are you on this fine day for Mudslide baseball?”
Ever the optimist, Mr. Parson had taken over the team from his uncle who had one day crunched the numbers and discovered that his emu farm was more profitable. Regardless of the terrible record and even worse ticket sales of the Sluggin’ ‘Slides — as they were affectionately called — Mr. Parson always had a smile on his face.
“Not bad, Mr. Parson, how are you?”
“Couldn’t be better, Rudy. Is this an official visit or did you just drop in to say hello. You know I don’t mind either, what with my open-door policy.”
“Well, actually, I just got this.” He held up the white shirt which now had a small brown stain. “And I wanted to see if I could exchange it, you know, for one a little bigger.”
Mr. Parson laughed. “Of course, Rudy. There’s a box over there, help yourself.”
Rudy walked over to a large cardboard box in the corner.
“Rudy, I’m glad you stopped by. As the lone season ticket holder-“ Rudy stopped his rummaging and turned around suddenly. “Yes, I’m afraid Frank’s out. He said something about being disenfranchised with the team, upset with all the losing, I wasn’t really paying attention. To tell you the truth, I never liked Frank, the way he’d show up late or not at all, that incessant “belly itcher” song he was always bellowing, and I say good riddance, the Mudslides don’t need fans like that. Anyway, now that you’re it, we wanted to know if you’d like to take a more active role with the team.”
A small smile crept across Rudy’s face. For years he had been trying to ensconce himself in the organization. He wrote the monthly Mudslides newsletter (Slidin’ Into Home), he ran the unofficial message board, and he was always coming up with ideas on how to improve things around the park, like adding more garbage cans, and making the cotton candy in team colors (brown and darker brown).
“What would you need me to do?” Rudy asked, yanking a t-shirt out of the box. He walked over to the desk and sat down.
“Well, you’d kind of be like a team ambassador, you know, try to get folks interested in the Mudslides, raise awareness, that kind of thing. You’re main goal would be to get people to sign up for ticket plans.”
Rudy nodded. “I’ll do it.”
“Excellent!” Mr. Parson opened a drawer and pulled out a sheet of paper. He handed it to Rudy. The Mudslides logo was centered at the top; underneath were several names and addresses. “These are the people we’d like you to focus on. A couple of them are former season ticket holders who left some time ago.”
“How long ago?”
“When the club was called the Mudslingers and, well, when Hungarian players weren’t allowed on the team. It was a dark time for this franchise. But of course that’s all changed and we need to convince them of that. The others are locals who may have at one time or another expressed interest in the team and we believe a first-hand testimonial from you would do wonders. No one appreciates the team like you do, Rudy. Do you think you could handle that?”
“I’ll do what I can, Mr. Parson.”
“I’m sure you’ll do a fine job,” Mr. Parson said. He stood and extended his hand; Rudy got up and shook it. “Now, I won’t keep you any longer, I bet you’re anxious to get back to the game.” He turned and glanced out the big window that overlooked the field. “Hey, we already have a hit? Not too shabby!”
Late the next morning, wearing his new Mudslides shirt, Rudy got into his car and pulled out a road map from the glove compartment. There were no phone numbers on the list Mr. Parson had given him; he told Rudy calls were impersonal and face-to-face meetings were much more effective.
The first name on the list was Mr. Raymond Stiegler. He lived about a mile from Rudy and he found his house easily. He noticed the rather overgrown and unkempt lawn as he walked up the front path. Before he could knock a second time, the door opened. An old man wearing a white undershirt and wrinkled plaid boxer shorts stood there. His whitish-gray hair stuck out from the sides of his head and he squinted up at Rudy.
“Hello, sir,” Rudy began; he had been practicing his pitch all morning. “I am here on behalf of the Mudslides. You strike me as a baseball fan, am I right?”
The man’s eyes narrowed but he didn’t say anything.
“Well, uh, I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not but right now the Mudslides are offering very reasonable deals on-“
“Wait a second, is this about that god awful team that used to play in that piece of crap stadium over on Milton?”
“Uh, yes sir, the Mudslides still play in Milton-“
The man cackled; his head rolled back on his thin neck.
“Well, I’ll be. I coulda sworn they got ridda that team twenty, thirty years ago.”
“No, sir, the Mudslides still play there every-“
“I heard the stadium was made into like a shelter for the crackheads and the knocked up teen girls and the like.”
“No, sir. Like I said, the Mudslides still play there every year and right now they’re offering very reasonable season ticket plans. Would you be interested?”
The man burst into laughter again.
“You expect me to watch baseball sittin’ next to the crackheads? No thank ya.”
The door slammed shut. As Rudy headed back to his car he could still hear the man laughing.
Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Tompkins, although they knew (or pretended to know) that the Mudslides still did in fact exist, also declined a ticket plan. They were certainly more polite than Raymond Stiegler but that didn’t make Rudy feel any better.
His mood, however, was buoyed significantly when Mrs. Harriet Bandow invited him into her house. He became even more encouraged when he saw what looked to be a program from a Mudslides game sitting on a dusty shelf.
“You say you’re from the blood drive?” she asked, easing herself onto a faded green sofa.
“Uh, Mudslides, actually,” Rudy said, sitting down across from her.
“What’s that about mud?”
“Mudslides,” Rudy said, raising his voice. He pointed to his shirt. “You know, the baseball team?”
She smiled, revealing an almost completely toothless mouth.
“Oh, of course, the baseball team. How they doin’ this year?”
“Father used to take us there all the time, that was before Robert died. Polio it was. Oh, we’d have such a grand time! Me and father, Margaret, Sarah, Henry. One time we even tried to bring in Charlie, our old Cocker Spaniel!”
“Uh, Mrs. Bandow, do you think you’d be interested in maybe getting a season ticket plan with the Mudslides again? For you…or maybe your grandchildren? It’d make a great Christmas present.”
She just sat there with a little smile on her face for a moment before suddenly saying “Let me get my purse.”
Rudy beamed as she slowly got off the couch and headed for the kitchen.
“You’re making the right move, Mrs. Bandow,” he said as she pulled out a checkbook from her large, yellow purse. “The Mudslides are going to be great again, you’ll see. They just signed a guy who used to play in the big leagues, an actual major leaguer! His name’s Burt Szabo.”
Mrs. Bandow put down her pen and gazed at him.
“Szabo? Is that Hungarian?”
The Chandler family lived in a large, gleaming white house in the nicer section of town. Although they had a no-solicitors sign, complete with a bright red circle and slash through the word “solicitors” spelled out in a threatening font, Rudy rang the bell anyway. A moment later he heard a shuffling behind the door but it didn’t open.
“Hello? Is anyone there? I’m here on behalf of the Mudslides and wanted to-“
Suddenly there was a loud cracking noise and, although had had never heard one in person before, Rudy thought it very well may have been the sound of a shotgun being cocked. He didn’t wait to find out and bolted for the car.
Discouraged and ashamed he’d so far let Mr. Parson, nay, the team down, Rudy pulled up to a red brick house. After he rang the doorbell he looked down at the last name on the list: Miss Barbara Jansen. He pressed the button again and after waiting another moment, turned and glumly headed back to the car.
Rudy looked to his right to see a woman coming around the side of the house. She was probably in her early 40s and wore overalls, a large sun hat, and dirty gardening gloves.
“Can I help you with something?”
Already resigned to failure, Rudy became flustered. “Um, I just, I’m from the, I can see you’re busy, I’ll just be going.”
“Now hold on a second,” the woman said. She removed her hat, letting her light brown hair fall to her shoulders. “I was just about to take a break. What can I do for you?”
Rudy cleared his throat, trying to compose himself. “Hello, ma’am. I am here on behalf of the Mudslides. You strike me as a baseball fan, am I right?”
She chuckled. “Yes, I suppose I am.”
“I don’t know if you’re aware of this but the Mudslides are offering very reasonable deals on ticket plans. And before you say anything, yes, the team is still there, no the stadium’s not full of crackheads, and occasionally they might have a Hungarian player.”
She stared at him with a confused expression.
“You do know the Mudslides, right?” he asked.
“Of course. You say they’re offering reasonable ticket plans?”
Rudy smiled. Over the next hour or so, he did what he did best: he talked Mudslides. While Miss Jansen dug holes for her tomato plants, he delivered an extensive history of the team (conveniently glossing over the Mudslingers era). As he helped her lug bags of topsoil from the garage, he provided detailed bios of all twenty-three players. While he trimmed the hedges, he gave a thorough description of Milton Park — including all the amenities like the extra garbage cans and team-colored cotton candy. And before she went into the house to make some lemonade, he even acted out some of the better defensive plays he’d seen over the years.
As the sun began to set, Barbara stepped out onto the porch carrying two tall glasses. She handed one to Rudy and sat down next to him in a matching wicker chair.
“I have to tell you, Rudy, you’re some kind of salesman. You must really love the Mudslides.”
“Uh, well…” he stammered, blushing slightly. He took a long drink of lemonade and said “So, Miss Jansen, what do you say? Do we have a deal?”
“Rudy, my boy, how goes it? Did you see that last hit? If that outfielder hadn’t caught it, it might’ve gone for a double!”
“Hi, Mr. Parson,” Rudy said, sitting down at his desk.
“So, did you talk to the prospective ticket holders?”
From his pocket he pulled out a folded check and handed it to Mr. Parson. Mr. Parson unfolded it and stared at it for a few seconds.
“Way to go, Rudy!”
Rudy beamed. “It took some convincing but I got her to sign up for a three game package.”
“I knew you’d come through, Rudy. You know, you deserve something for this. Did you get your complementary ice cream sandwich yet?”
“Oh, what the hell, tell Barry I said you could have another one.”
Back at his seat — half-eaten ice cream sandwich in hand — Rudy gazed out onto the bright green field and grinned. It was another fine day for Mudslide baseball.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED