Craig Calcaterra

I write about baseball for NBC Sports.com. I write about other things here.
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The game ended. I left the ballpark and I didn’t feel like going back to the hotel, so I drove around. I like to think I’m a cool person who likes cool places, but I have to try hard to find cool places. When I put it on auto-pilot my suburban sensibilities take over I tend to end up at malls. So it was not really a surprise when my car took me to the Tempe Marketplace Mall. “Oh well,” I thought. “I’m sure I can kill some time here.”

I went to the Barnes and Noble and got a magazine and then sought out a restaurant where I could get a beer while I thought about how I’d spend the rest of the evening.  The Thirsty Lion was right next to the book store so I went inside, took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer. I texted some people, messed around on Twitter and watched a couple innings of the Pirates-Red Sox game.

After a while I heard a man’s voice behind me.

"Is anyone sitting in this seat," he said, referring to an empty seat between me and a woman who was also sitting alone.

"No," I said.

"Would you be kind enough to move over so my lady friend and I can sit in these two?"  He actually said "lady friend," which is a term that makes my skin crawl. I said I’d have no problem with it and moved a seat to my left, next to the lone woman. The man and his lady friend sat down to my right. They were probably in their mid-40s. Not attractive. Not unattractive. Perfectly placed in a suburban restaurant. Not a couple you’d ever give a second look.

"I’ll even let my lady friend sit next to you so that you can try out your moves on two different women!" he said.  I looked to the woman to my left who was looking back at me, both of us trying to determine if we should laugh or flee this strange man.

"I don’t think I have any moves," I said. "Just having a beer."

Some time passed. I watched the game. The woman to my left was joined by another woman and the two of them left. It was just the couple and me at the end of the bar. My attention was drawn to the couple’s conversation.

"It’s an alien fucking a rock," the man said. "Can’t you see his head?"  He was referring to a painting on a far wall. This painting. I took a picture of it with my phone for posterity:

image

"It’s not an alien," the woman said. "It’s not anything. Maybe it’s a woman. It’s not an alien."

I was quickly becoming amused and thought I’d join in the fun.

"It’s not an alien," I said. "It’s Iron Man. And he’s throwing up."

The man got up from his seat, saying, I believe to both of us, “I’ll show you the alien. You just can’t see it.”  he walked over to the painting.  As he did, his lady friend said “Don’t encourage him. Please.”  I got the sense, though, that she was kind of amused herself and probably didn’t really mind me encouraging him.

The man ran his finger along the alien head, looking back at us like he was a professor revealing some keen insight.  I shot him a thumbs up. “Oh god, I need another drink,” the woman said.  When the man came back over she ordered a tequila shot. The man ordered scotch eggs.

I eventually gave up my contention about Iron Man barfing and we all started talking. I eventually mentioned what I was doing here and the man’s face lit up.

"Baseball writer! You’re who I need to talk to. Tell me: who’s gonna win the World Series?"

"Well, I dunno. It’s always hard to guess those things," I said. "I suppose, if someone put a gun to my head now I’d say the Nationals look strong, but it’s just a wild guess."  He began typing "Nationals" into his phone. Then asked me which American League team would make the World Series.  The woman told him to stop bothering me about it.

"He’s a gambler," she said. We’re going to Vegas next week and he wants to bet on baseball."

"You shouldn’t bet on baseball," I said. It’s too unpredictable.

"Well, I like to," he said. "I don’t mind.  I’ll bet on anything."

"He will," the woman said, again feigning disgust, but clearly liking something about it all. "He lost a thousand bucks on roulette last week! A thousand!"

"Look," he said. "I was watching the wheel. It came up red FIVE TIMES IN A ROW.  It HAD to come up black some. So I bet black a bunch of times and before I knew it I was way down."

I took this in for a minute and considered how to proceed. I made my own gamble that I could explain the gambler’s fallacy to him without getting assaulted. So I did.

"That’s what I’ve been telling him," the woman said. "It’s like flipping a coin!" I nodded and said that, yes, it’s exactly like flipping a coin.

The man was quiet for a minute and I was worried that he felt he was being scolded, so I tried to deflect things a bit and asked if they always go to Vegas or if they go to the Indian casinos closer to Phoenix.

"We can’t," the man said. "She keeps getting us kicked out."  I looked to the woman to see her reaction, but she was just nodding.

"They’re so goddamned uptight here," she said. "You say ‘fuck’ and they kick you out. And when I gamble I say ‘fuck.’ And they don’t give you free drinks when you gamble anyway, so Vegas is better."

The man added that there were more roulette tables in Las Vegas than in the Indian casinos and that he really liked roulette. Going back to his gambling strategy he added that “you know you’ll be alright if the person throwing the ball has a certain motion and repeats it every time. If they change up their motion all the time you got no chance.”

My phone rang several times after that. Calls from Southwest Airlines and Allison, each of them informing me of a slight flight delay in her trip here this evening. While that was going on the woman figured out that I was waiting on someone to fly into town.

"Your wife?" she asked.

"Girlfriend," I said. I gave her the one minute story of my love life and, after a few questions from her about kids and things it was out that I was divorced.

"I’m in the middle of a divorce. It’s the weirdest story!" she said. "Mike and I used to date when we were in our 20s. He wouldn’t get married, so I dumped him and married someone else. Then he married someone else. Then he got divorced last year and now I’m getting divorced and we’re back together."  She told it like it was the greatest love story of our time. He was smiling too. It was actually quite sweet.  Then she added "See all this bullshit we had to go through because he wouldn’t commit to me?  He will this time!" They both laughed and he put his arm around her.

"The best part?" the man said, and then waited as if he wanted me to guess what the best part was. I had no words. So he answered. "Her divorce lawyer is the guy who was my ex-wife’s divorce lawyer! He did such a good job kicking my ass that I told her she should hire him to kick her husband’s ass."

"And he is!" she said, and both of them erupted in laughter. “God, I fucking hate lawyers,” the man added and they both laughed even more. “He really does,” she added. I was glad I left the lawyer part of my life out.

After a few minutes of silence the man asked me if I was going to the ballpark in Peoria where the Padres and Mariners train before I leave town.  

"Yes," I said. "Probably next Friday."

"That’s great!" he said. "I live right across the street from there in those apartments. We should both go and get some beers and watch some baseball!"  He pulled his phone out and asked me for my phone number so we could meet up.  I stalled for a second, wondering if I should give him a fake phone number. Before I had to make that choice, his lady friend spoke up.

"You can’t go on the 8th, if that’s the 8th anyway," she said. "That’s the day you’re getting your tattoo."

"Oh, yeah," he said.

"What’s the tattoo?" I asked, happy that our baseball date was apparently unraveling.

"It’s stupid," she said. "God."

"Popeye the Sailor Man!" said the man with extreme satisfaction. It was like he was giving me a gift to tell me so. "My grandpa always reminded me of Popeye. He wasn’t a sailor or anything but he had big, big biceps." The man then made a muscle with his arm, using his other hand to show how high up his grandfather’s muscles would bulge. "It was like when Popeye would eat the spinach and make a muscle and there’d be, like, a battleship in it!"

I nodded my approval. Things got quiet for a minute. I got up and wished them both well. Then I left the Thirsty Lion, wondering if all the time I spend in my house by myself is a good thing or a bad thing.  As I sit here this evening, I really don’t know.

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