Along the third baseline, Marcus flaps his wings and takes a stance meant to look intense as the Marauder batter, Rodriguez, digs in. The big righty on the mound for Oklahoma City has been dealing, and Rodriguez – in spite of the pedigree behind his name – hasn’t been able to hit anything besides the bottle since his girlfriend left him for Kalispell’s right fielder. The Okie winds and fires, bruising a strike into the catcher’s meaty palm. Marcus flaps again in, “Aw, shucks,” sitcom fashion.
He’s been the mascot for three seasons. The pay is lousy – thirty dollars a game, with a ten-dollar bonus when the temperature reaches ninety degrees – but he enjoys watching games for free behind the perpetually-smiling beak of Pedro the Parrot. Surprisingly, the ridiculous costume even helps his cause with the local talent, some of whom seem to genuinely enjoy the novelty of a half-costumed romp in the stadium’s auxiliary room. Especially after Dollar Beer Night.
In short order, Rodriguez goes down swinging to end the third inning. Marcus says a small prayer for the kid’s liver and goes about, stomping and waving his wings angrily as the crowd boos. The inside of the gaudy green and yellow suit reeks of sweat with a stinging background odor resembling spoiled Indian take-out. Something sticky grabs at him from the inside of the right elbow, and both legs are itchy and unbearable. Marcus shakes his tail feathers to the disco blasting through the stadium and surveys the crowd, spotting three promising leads – possibly four if wedding rings matter as little as he remembers. In particular, an unsteady blonde, twelve rows up from the visiting dugout catches his attention. She is dancing along to the music and flagging down the beer vendor each time he passes, shelling out dollars with reckless abandon. Marcus can’t help but be impressed with her steadfast support of the local economy. He waves at her with a feathered hand, getting a sloshing cheers and a blown kiss in return.
Lupe Lopez – the Marauder’s star-crossed Dominican knuckle-baller – catches a gear in the fourth, and retires six batters in a row, before he falls back to Earth. In spite of the brief glimpse of control, he gives up four walks in a row to allow a run in the top of the sixth, followed by a devastating bloop single to score two more; the crowd flexes its selective memory and takes after him. Mercifully, his manager takes pity and makes the walk to the mound to end the kid’s night. He calls for the lefty as Lopez drags his feet to the dugout as the fans rain down insults and a more than a few domestic beers. Marcus senses rebellion in the air. The reliever throws his warm-ups and the metal riffs of AC/DC fill the stadium. The blonde is again dancing, teetering on her heels but otherwise nailing a karaoke take on “Back in Black.” Marcus’s time to shine has arrived.
He climbs atop the visitor’s dugout and waves his arms wildly to catch the eye of the stadium PA man. Finally, he gets the man’s attention and gives him the signal – two arms crossed in front of his chest and dual finger pistols.
“Alright, fans!” yells the announcer, “Get up and get rowdy because it’s t-shirt time!”
Marcus flails some more for good measure – shedding a few feathers for his effort – before climbing off the dugout to meet the grounds crew who carry a menacing contraption his way. The crowd comes to its feet and roars as he slips his wings through the shoulder straps of the homemade cannon and heaves its weight onto his back. Fans whip themselves into a lather, with children and the elderly alike screaming like mad in hopes of securing their prize. Marcus is consistently impressed at the lengths normally rational people would go for Chinese-made paraphernalia.
“Ok, fans,” says the man in the booth, “Pedro is looking for the loudest, craziest Marauder fans here tonight! Scream like you mean it! Who wants a t-shirt?”
The assembled masses squeal louder as Marcus aims the cannon at the crowd and fires the first barrage of shirts into the stands. One lands directly in a man’s nachos, sending cheese and chips all over his wife and child. The next is bobbled by a twelve-year-old and snatched up by a middle aged man behind him, triggering a torrent of screaming from the boy’s mother. Amid the frenzy, Marcus again spots the blonde – swaying on drunk legs and thrashing her arms.
The free shirt is always a clincher – better than dinner and a movie. Marcus smiles behind his beak and levels the barrel at her. He wraps a feathery finger around the trigger, already tasting her warm, drunk tongue in his mouth. He is about to fire when she stops waving and reaches for the bottom of her shirt, lifting it high over her head and blindsiding Marcus and all of Section 114 with two enormous, tan-lined behemoths. He flinches at the sight of them – blinking dumbly at each small pink nipple. The barrel drops only a few inches during his trance, but it is enough.
Before he can stop himself, his hand twitches and the cannon booms, sending a tightly-balled shirt hurtling toward an octogenarian in the third row. A younger woman may have bore the impact, but the woman’s ancient nose shatters. Blood pours over her face and sends her into hysterical, snotty sobs. At the sight of the mess, the blonde goes pale and $17 worth of Milwaukee’s Finest makes it’s return into the night. Dumbstruck by the hurricane of bodily fluids, Marcus takes flight, diving from the dugout in a flurry of neon plumage and making a direct beeline across the diamond. His shortcut bisects the lefty’s final warm up pitch – a fastball with real Big League potential. With a great thud, the fastball connects with the side of his head and Pedro the Parrot falls prostrate to the turf. Just before falling unconscious, Marcus catches sight of the stadium scoreboard where the temperature is noted in burning bulbs at 89 degrees.