Joyless in Mudville

Twins/Angels Game 5

From: Steve Perry
To: Brad Zellar
Subject: Joyless in Mudville

I thought the most telling moment in Sunday's game came early, when AJ Pierzynski drove in the Twins' second run. Before the play is over, the guy basically runs his team out of the inning trying to advance to second--and after he's tagged out he stands there pumping his fist, as if it were the greatest of moral victories for the Twins to have scored a run at all. You knew right then that, win or lose today, this team was licked.

I can't remember seeing a club wilt so visibly in the postseason since the Cardinals dropped the '85 World Series to the Royals. What the hell happened? I told you all along I thought Anaheim was the better team, but that doesn't account for the Twins' folding up like a pup tent this way.

How was it that 7th inning could feel so stunning and so inevitable at the same time? When you write the final chapter on the '02 Twins, compadre, you're going to have to spill some ink on the figure of one Ron Gardenhire, don't you think? His use of the bullpen these last few games has been a study in timidity and desperation--he's gone by the platoon percentages so slavishly it's been like watching a frightened man steer violently against a skid. And it looks to me like his skittishness has infected the whole team. Or maybe he caught it from them. But in either case...

There's only one bit of business left to settle. Here, now, is the funniest joke in the world:

It's the day of Jesus's crucifixion, and his band of disciples has gathered at the foot of the hill of Calvary.

Shortly after the Roman soldiers have raised Jesus up on the cross, the disciples hear a faint, plaintive cry from the hilltop: "Paul... Paul...."

So Paul leaves the other disciples and clambers up the hill. But as he approaches the cross he's grabbed by centurions and pummeled and thrown back down the hill.

The other disciples bind up Paul's wounds and give him wine to wet his mouth. A couple of hours later, though, they hear the same call, fainter this time: "Paul... Paul..."

And once again Paul hobbles up the hill as best he can. This time he reaches the foot of the cross and is about to stroke Jesus's foot with his outstretched hand when the soldiers kick him away from the cross, beat him, and throw him back down the hill.

This time Paul passes into and out of consciousness as the other disciples see to his injuries. On toward dusk, Mary Magdalene is changing the wet compress on Paul's head when Jesus's voice comes to them again, more halting than ever: "Paul... P-Paul..."

And Paul leaves the disciples and crawls on his hands and knees up the hill, reopening wounds as he goes. With twilight falling he manages to reach the cross of Jesus without being seen.

"Yes, teacher," he pants to Jesus. "What is it you wish to tell me?"

"Paul," Jesus croaks, "is that you?"

"Yes, my savior!"

"Paul," says Jesus, gesturing feebly with his head, "I... I can see your house from here..."

From: Brad Zellar
To: Steve Perry
Subject: re: Joyless in Mudville

Blasphemer! "How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10.29). You've taunted me for days, psychoanalyzed me, and even--shame on you--invoked Rilke, for this? *This* you are prepared to insist is the funniest joke in the world?

In these annual longest and darkest of the long, dark nights of the soul, with the indignities of the last several days still rolling over me like a steam thresher, do you honestly think that I'm going to tempt fate by offering anything but the strongest possible censure for your misguided choice and poor comedic judgment? Sorry, but I'm in enough pain at the moment, and I have no desire to incur the wrath of the righteous while I'm trying to recover from the brutal shock of the sudden and appalling conclusion of the local baseball season. I simply can't take any chances, Steve; it's the old Pascal's wager, I suppose. And, frankly, I'm still at a loss as to why you would drag me into this whole ridiculous debate about the World's Funniest Joke in the first place, and right in the midst of what was supposed to be a genial-enough conversation about the baseball playoffs.

That was the initial idea, anyway, or at least so far as I understood it, but you kept trying to change the subject. First it was this business with the joke, and then you tried to draw me into a speculative exchange about the psychological profile of this sniper out east. And you know how important it is for me to stay focused on the *game,* how important it is to the Twins. I have my routines, right? You know that. I have to concentrate and send powerful brain vibrations to the players, beginning several hours before each game. I have to wear the same lucky Nancy and Sluggo tee shirt I've been wearing for postseason Twins games since 1987. I have to tap my left shinbone seven times with a pencil between pitches in tight situations. Between innings it is necessary that I roll back on the couch and kick my legs straight up in the air fourteen times. I have all these things I have to do just to survive these games, and every one of them requires my complete attention and concentration, and yet *you* kept wanting to talk about the World's Funniest Joke.

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