The last hurrah

The strike is over, but pain lingers

But the situation has soured baseball--for all fans. It's hard to commit your heart to a season when everything in this usually constant and reassuring game is in such chaos.

In the clubhouse after the game, it looks like the post-game of any normal big-league home opener. There are balloons and trinkets in lockers from proud moms and dads, kids and wives. There are cameras and notepads and a horde of radio mikes trapping men before they are dry from the shower.

All in all, the guys were more cooperative and unnaturally polite. But there are also plenty of regular big-leaguers who are cooperative and polite. Mostly, it was all the same.

Oates was asked the usual questions before being asked about replacement players.

Did he feel bad for these guys, who had worked so hard for such short-term rewards?

"They're naive," says Oates, "if they thought they were definitely going to play."

Well, yes, everyone understood that--but then they worked so hard, and it became so real. Replacement right fielder Tony Chance is across the clubhouse talking plays. The precarious tenure here is definitely on his mind.

"I didn't know what to expect," he says. "I looked up here [at the stands] and thought, 'man, there's a lot of people here.' I think this night is enough for these guys if it has to be."

Three lockers down, the starting pitcher of the coffeehouse gang is trying to honestly answer the question: Could he play ball at this level after the strike? "When I walked out of that tunnel, I had a tingling sensation," says Arrington. "This feels and looks almost like an amusement park. Being in a ballpark of this caliber, there is a sense of everything being escalated a notch."

Escalated, but not normal. Excitement is tempered by reality. Every strike has a morning after. "To be honest," says Arrington, "this is an awkward feeling. This situation hasn't really happened before. It is awkward."

It's like the holiday you got moved to the grownup table, even though you knew the only reason you made it to there was because those older cousins from Odessa were delayed by ice. Now the roads were clearing before dinner was over.

Jackie Davidson, named opening day strike starter, is taking his children inside the clubhouse. "Dad?" the kids ask. "Can we go in here tomorrow?"

No--and never again.
Back on the elevator running between the press box, garages and clubhouse, a handsome young man in a major-league-issue black turtleneck and expensive-looking sports coat gets off the elevator at the wrong floor.

"See that guy," says the elevator man. "That guy was the first pitcher for the Houston Astros tonight.

"I forget his name," the elevator man says, laughing, "but he was the starter."

That would have been Tyrone Narcise. We'll probably all forget his name quickly.

But this bizarre night, the chaotic 234-day strike is forever imprinted on our memory.

No one--not owners, not regular or re-placement players, not fans--will be able to forgive.

Or forget.

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