I’m continuing the piece from Thursday…. Let’s call it, “The Baseball Season That Never Was.”
At twenty-seven, the boy was no longer a boy. He was a man. His friends called him “Max” and that wasn’t short for anything. It was his name. Max Herman Jones. Just Max. Not “Big Max”, like the kids at school once called him, or “Mighty Max,” like the kid in that Jim Carrey movie, Liar Liar. Just plain old Max.
Max Jones had grown up on the westside of Phoenix, Arizona and continued to live there for his entire twenty-seven years. In fact, he lived less than a mile from the home he grew up in, where his parents still lived, and he worked just a little bit farther away than he had moved. By day, Max worked at Friendly Chevrolet, which was owned by a family whose name really was Friend. Can you imagine? Their TV ads were repulsive, but the pay was good, and people left Max alone. His job was in the alarm department, and he was good at it.
He hadn’t planned on this as a career, but it would do for now. This was what he always told people and it was what he told himself. His buddy from junior high, Andy, had gotten him the job there when he was deciding what to do after attending Glendale Community College for a couple of years. He hadn’t wanted to go right into Arizona State University or one of the other state schools, so he figured he would work for a while and figure out what to do next.
That was seven years ago in 1990.
A guy named Lee Wilson was Max’s boss. Lee had liked what he saw in Max from the time they started working together. Initially, Max had been a lot attendant, so his job could literally be doing just about anything on the car lot. When a new car sold, sometimes Max would get paged to go and grab it and take it get gas, get the alarm pulled or programmed, washed, or just bring it to the front. It was on these trips that he got to know Wilson.
Max was taller than Wilson, but Wilson was way more athletic. Both guys loved baseball, though, so it was a constant topic of conversation. Each possessed an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the sport from about 1975 on, so they had lots to talk and argue about. Wilson was a Pirates fan, but Max didn’t hold it against him any more than Wilson didn’t hold Max’s Dodger devotion against him.
Over the first couple of years that Max worked at Friendly’s, Wilson started showing him some basic alarm installation and removal techniques. When Johnny “Five Fingers” as Wilson called him finally got caught stealing parts, there was an opening in the alarm department and Max applied for the job with his boss’s blessing. It was really just a formality, but Max got the job.
The only real drawback, in Max’s eyes, was that he wouldn’t have nearly as much freedom in the alarm department as he did when he was working the lot. During downtime, for example, there was all kinds of ways to keep oneself entertained and out of sight. Max liked to read and his favorite thing to read about was sports. Sports autobiographies, biographies, stories about teams and championships. All of it.
He had two favorites. He loved the Joe Gilmartin book about the Phoenix Suns’ Cinderella season in 1975-76, for example, and he loved Ball Four, too, by Jim Bouton. Even though he only had fleeting memories of the Suns/Celtics series, it almost made him feel like he was there when he poured over the book. He spent a lot of time reading it while waiting for a car to be washed or just hiding out in the back lot in a car where no one could see him. Such was the life of a lot attendant.
Truth be told, it was Max’s greatest fantasy to one day see his name on the cover of a great sports book. He had done a little journalism in high school on the Skyhawk Flight at Deer Valley and even taken a few classes at Glendale Community. People told him he had skills, but he didn’t know what to do with them. It was easier to dream about doing it rather than doing it. He didn’t tell that to anyone, though, only himself.
Occasionally, Max would bust out the dice and play a little dice baseball in the shack on the back lot at Friendly’s. He stashed a notebook out there one day, some pencils, and a set of dice. It killed the time and by this point, he could play a game quite quickly and if anyone was coming, he could see them well before they could see him. To his knowledge, no one ever knew that several world series took place in that shack from 1990 to 1992.
So, when Max moved over to the alarm bay, he wondered if he would be able to do any reading or dicing. A couple of times, during their conversations, Max had wanted to tell Lee Wilson about his game. Mainly, he wanted to share the game because he thought Wilson would not only appreciate it, but he would really like it. To Max, it seemed that another thing he and Wilson had in common was lots of time on their hands. Wilson had a young son by a woman he was no longer involved with, so he had lots of weekend time to kill after his son went to sleep. Max didn’t have any children yet, but he and his girlfriend, Kate, both worked a lot on the weekends, and they didn’t have a busy social life.
One time Kate had found one of his notebooks and looked at him with a quizzical expression on her face, but then she just shrugged and said, “You and your sports. I should be so lucky.”
See you tomorrow.