, Backstory on the 2 main characters...
1. Madeline Slezak
A warm evening in the early fall. The window's open a crack, letting in the sounds of a swing music band tuning up in the Rose Garden below. Sounds of the serving staff setting up tables and chairs. The smell of meat roasting over an open flame. The Ball will soon be underway.
Madeline stands alone in Henry Slezak's corner office in the West Wing. She's 22, tall, slim, athletic, dressed in a shimmering gown and 3 inch strappy sandals that look like they're made of glass. She's Henry's third wife. His new third wife, to be precise. How new? They were married three weeks ago. They just got back from their honeymoon yesterday.
It was a quick courtship. Six months ago, Maddy was a junior at Iowa State, majoring in kinesiology and minoring in public policy. Then Henry came storming onto campus with his entourage and his security detail to deliver his now-famous "Left in the Dust" speech on Iraq in the Stephens Auditorium. A packed house listened in rapt attention as he he heaped scorn on the radical right for having "the wrong game plan, the wrong tactics, the wrong strategy. Is it any wonder we're always outpaced, outplayed, outpointed when we let them diagram the play?" It was a vicious speech. It was a take-no-prisoners speech. And it signalled tough times ahead for anyone who dared to cross Danny Prophet.
Later that night at the reception, she and Henry locked eyes. And that, as they say, was that.
Right now, this moment, she's nervous. In a few minutes, Henry will escort her down to the Rose Garden and present her to the President of the United States. She wonders if she's supposed to curtsy.
She paces, waiting for Henry to get done on the phone. She scans the pictures on the wall. Pictures of young men playing a kid's game for money. And not just for money. For the adulation of millions from all walks of life. The wall is Henry's connection to all that is good and pure and beautiful, his personal shrine to his true love. The San Francisco Giants. Signed photos of Willy Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal from the 60's. Barry Bonds from the 90's. And from the 2011 Western Division champs, Kenny Wetzel. She spends a long moment studying Wetzel's grinning face.
She picks up a bat. It's a signed Will Clark. She goes into her stance. Suddenly, she's 15 again. She hears her father's voice, "Push off on the back foot, Maddy! Push off on the back foot!"
She pushes off and swings. Even with the gown and the heels, it's a good, crisp, clean swing, a swing that took years of practice to get right..
The sound of the phone hanging up.
She puts the bat back. She winks a gotcha wink at Kenny Wetzel's photo.
2. Kenny Wetzel
Early on, everyone knew Kenny had it. From the time he was seven, he was stroked and coddled. His Dad bought a pitching machine and set up a batting cage in the back yard. His mother kept scrap books all through Little League and up to his high school senior year. Then she died. Her last words, "Keep it low and on the inside corner."
Kenny went to the University of Idaho on an athletic scholarship. He actually stayed all four years, graduating with a degree in business administration. He was popular with the girls. The Red Sox took him in the third round and sent him to their Double-A franchise in New Britain. He had an outstanding May and June, garnering four saves in five appearances. The Sox sent him up to Pawtucket where he finished out the season as the stopper. He got a reputation for coolness under fire. He always kept it low and inside.
He went to San Francisco in the Teddy Tooler deal. Kenny was one of the "two minor leaguers to be named later." Kenny wore number 54 and, in 2011, when the Giants won the West, he got 54 saves, same as his number. That led to a big contract.
Then, disaster struck.
The Barry Bonds/Roger Clemens scandals of 2007 had never really gone away. Up until 2013, the Baseball Commissioner was a weak willing cypher under the thumb of the owners and the Players Union. But then things changed. A former baseball star turned US Senator, Roger LaJeunesse, gave a series of speeches about "our national pastime being dictated to by a pack of whores and pimps and crackheads who care nothing about integrity or history." He and a number of others in seats of power resolved to introduce legislation to revoke baseball's antitrust exemption unless the Leagues moved to police themselves. President Danny Prophet saw how the wind was blowing. He piled on, saying it was "high time" to take the game away from the thugs and give it back to the people.
Enter Carl Csoppenszky, a retired federal judge known for his harsh sentences and visceral contempt for lawyers. He hit the ground running. On Day One, he banned Sparky Wyatt, Rubin Acuña and Big John McGrew for life for "persistent and continuous substance abuse" and "conduct detrimental to the national pastime." He told the press, "Stay tuned. It's just the beginning." A few players saw the writing on the wall and headed for the hills. But most just hunkered down, kept cashing their checks and prayed the Death Angel wouldn't spot them as it passed overhead.
When the list came out, Kenny's name was on it. He'd been fingered by an employee of a sports clinic. Which answered a question a number of people had been asking: how could a relief pitcher go from 30 to 54 saves overnight with the same number of appearances?
He refused to go to the hearing. He locked the door and gave no interviews. A month went by and suddenly the phone rang. It was Henry Slezak, Counsel to the President of the United States. "How'd you like to work for me?" Kenny said he didn't know anything about government. "Don't worry. Nobody else knows anything either."
Kenny stands at the mirror, straightening his tie, getting ready for the Rose Garden wingding. He studies himself in the mirror. Hmmm. Still got my flat stomach. Still got all my hair. Got no wrinkles. I may be thirty-five, but I'm a young thirty-five. And I can still get it up like a seventeen-year-old.
Next post. The "A" story. The plot...