Hardball Theatre: The Major League

THE MAJOR LEAGUE
A Screenplay by Keith Good

INT. JAKE TAYLOR’S BEDROOM – NOON

Fade in. JAKE TAYLOR lies face down in bed, sheets crumpled, part of the mattress exposed. His is a pig short of a sty; clothes and food wrappers and beer cans litter the floor. Strong light filters in through the bath towels hung over the windows.

Slide focus to the alarm clock on JAKE’s bedside table. It reads 12:29. Hold for a moment. It flips to 12:30. A voice crackles from the radio.

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
Good Afternoon, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to America’s national holiday: baseball opening day!

JAKE stirs, groans. He rolls an looks to the clock.

JAKE
Shit.

Hold on the glowing clock face as JAKE, blurred in the background, slouches out of bed.

CUT TO:

INT. JAKE TAYLOR’S BATHROOM – CONTINUOUS

The radio drifts in from JAKE’s bedroom as he slaps on the light and plods, half-dead, to the vanity.

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
A lot of people have been hoping and waiting for this day for a long time. It’s been a date circled on many a calendar in these parts.

COLOR MAN (V.O.)
Years, really. It’s a special, special day not only for this city, but for baseball.

JAKE looks to himself in the mirror. The lines, the stubble: he is a man whose better days look to be permanently in the mirror. A sigh. He puts on the faucet, full cold, and tries to splash some life into his face.

CUT TO:

EXT. BEHIND JAKE’S APARTMENT – A LITTLE LATER

JAKE, dressed in jeans and a tee, stumbles from the backdoor of his walkup, skipping steps. He goes to a car that, like him, has seen better days.

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
The stadium is sold out. The people have been line up at the gates since last night. Just listen to that roar.

On cue, JAKE gets into his car and cranks it to life. It lays a trail of milky smoke as it rumbles down the street.

CUT TO:

INT. JAKE’S CAR – CONTINUOUS

JAKE drives, distracted, troubled. He fumbles to get the radio on the right station.

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
We always say it, Jerry, the mantra of hope eternal… But “there’s always next year” is this year. Its right here and right now, a city vibrant with life—

Outside the car we see rundown buildings, shuttered dollar stores.

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
Heck, even the bars are empty this afternoon.

HARD CUT TO:

INT. A BAR – CONTINUOUS

We’re looking through the open door of a bar. We dolly in to see all the stools, every booth and seat, empty. A few pennants hang in the background to clue in the observant. A BARMAN leans lazily on his bar, drying an already-dry pint glass with a towel. He stares to the television in the corner above him, mesmerized by the pure emerald green of a stadium ready for another season of baseball. We fly up, closer and closer to the TV. The image fills the screen. The glass of the TV shimmers and melts…

FADE TO:

EXT. A BASEBALL STADIUM – CONTINUOUS

The ripple of glass smooths and we’re flying high over a packed baseball stadium. Players pour from the dugout, little ants taking their places in the field. Fans pack every seat, churning, shouting, a mass of excitement. We circle, then swoop down.

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
After being so close last year, so close the year before, finally—yes!—this is our year. The first pitch of a new era. We’ve closed the book on heartbreak, on curses, on coming up just short.

Swoop down to the pitcher’s mound. The pitcher, MCCARTHY, stands on the mound. He’s tall, lanky, but confident, his chest puffed. We watch over his shoulder as the UMPIRE calls “Play Ball!” and the BATTER digs in.

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
And we’re set to open a new chapter, take the first step to something great.

MCCARTHY gets his sign. He nods.

HARD CUT TO:

EXT. CLEVELAND BASEBALL STADIUM – CONTINUOUS

We are behind JAKE as steps from his car, parked just outside the stadium. He holds a baseball in nervous fingers, the seams dancing as he looks up to the building before him.

CUT TO:

INT. A BASEBALL STADIUM – CONTINUOUS

With the crowd roaring, drowning out anything the ANNOUNCER could say, MCCARTHY winds up and uncorks a blazing strike. The crowd explodes.

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
And that’s it! Jimmy McCarthy throws a perfect strike! A throw for the record books, for history! Ladies and gentlemen… Welcome to the inaugural season of Las Vegas Knights baseball!

HARD CUT TO:

EXT. CLEVELAND BASEBALL STADIUM – CONTINUOUS

With a cry, JAKE hurls his baseball at the stadium. We pan up, follow the ball, watch as it bounces impotently from a sign hanging on the structure: “Thanks for the Memories, Cleveland!”

With a roar, JAKE goes back to his car, gets more baseballs, he throws them, one after another, at the stadium.

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
And it looks like new skipper Mike Talon hasn’t missed a beat. This Knights team is ready.

COLOR MAN (V.O.)
It can be tough, replacing a player’s manager like Jake Taylor, especially so close to the start of the season, but Talon has come in from New York and made himself right at home in the Knights clubhouse.

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
McCarthy sets… And another strike! Painted the corner with a lethal curve.

COLOR MAN (V.O.)
Buckled his knees there.

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
And just like that, we’re one strike away from the first strikeout in Las Vegas Knights history!

JAKE exhausts his supply of baseballs. Spent, he stands, hands to knees, huffing. We pull back, the stadium a colossus towering over JAKE’S beaten body. Hold.

TITLE: THE MAJOR LEAUGE

Randy Newman’s “Roll on Big River” plays as the Title fades from the stadium. We crane away, further and further.

FADE TO:

MONTAGE: The opening titles play over a montage of Cleveland sights. Interspersed with the statue of Moses Cleaveland, factories, etc., are newspaper clippings: “Cleveland’s ALCS Disappointment.” “Another Year, Another Heartbreaking Loss.” “CLE Sets MLB Low for Attendance.” “Housing Market Dips Again.” “Close but No Cigar Again for Poor Cleveland.” “Even in 1st Place, Fans Don’t Show.”

In the montage, we see the ashes of fires, scraps of burnt baseball jerseys, posters of Chief Wahoo and Cleveland ballplayers torn from bedroom walls. Hints of Cleveland baseball peek from beneath fresh lines of black paint, images of a memory quickly scrubbed away.

FADE TO:

EXT. CLEVELAND BASEBALL STADIUM – CONTINUOUS

We come back to JAKE before the stadium. The fizz of new baseball taunts from his car stereo. We stand with him before an empty stadium, watch as he fights back emotion.

JAKE
Damn it, Dorn.

The sounds of baseball echo to us all the way from Las Vegas. We dolly past JAKE, through the padlocks and chains keeping the stadium gates shuttered on opening day, and into the stadium. The seats are empty. Some are gone altogether. The grass, counterpoint to the emerald green we’ve just seen, is a strange shade of grey/brown. Weeds are starting to sprout in the infield dirt.

ANNOUNCER (V.O., far away)
What a day for baseball…

Hold on the empty stadium. Then we fly across the field, toward a massive row of widows above the third base line.

FADE TO:

EXT. CLEVELAND BASEBALL STADIUM – SIX MONTHS AGO

As if adjusting the saturation on the picture, the field comes back to life. The weeds disappear. The grass is again bright green. The seats glimmer in the sunlight. A few stadium workers patrol the rows, cleaning, getting ready for that evening’s game. We continue flying to the windows, closer and closer until…

TRANSITION TO:

INT. ROGER DORN’S OFFICE – CONTINUOUS

We fly through the windows and hover over ROGER Dorn’s shoulder. He’s dressed in an impeccable suit, hunched over paperwork on his desk. He’s writing furiously, signing documents, shuttling papers. The office around him is massive, all dark wood and leather. Jerseys and memorabilia hang on the walls, a reminder of ROGER’S time as a ballplayer.

A knock booms at his office door. ROGER pauses his work.

ROGER
Can it wait a minute. I’m—

The office door bursts open. JAKE fills the door, dressed in his Cleveland Baseball uniform, spikes and all. He’s fuming.

ROGER
Please, Jake, what have I said about your spikes. This is Persian—

JAKE storms to the desk.

JAKE
You son of a bitch.

ROGER says nothing. He puts down his pen, takes a breath.

JAKE
Tell me you didn’t.

ROGER
I don’t know what you want me to say.

JAKE
Tell me you didn’t sell this team.

ROGER
I didn’t sell this team.

JAKE’S anger deflates by degrees. He sinks in the chair opposite ROGER’S desk.

JAKE
Because I couldn’t—

ROGER
I brought in a partner. A group, actually.

JAKE (disgusted)
Then it’s true. What the reporters said is true?

ROGER
I’m sorry you had to hear it from a reporter. Truly. We only finished the deal last night, I planned on telling you, telling the team, after tonight’s game. It—

JAKE
Where?

A beat.

ROGER
Jake. I understand you’re upset. I love this team just as much as—

JAKE
Where. Roger.

A beat.

ROGER
Las Vegas.

JAKE
You greedy son of a bitch.

ROGER’S cool finally breaks.

ROGER
Oh, come on, Taylor! Get out of la-la-land!

JAKE
And to Vegas?

ROGER
It’s a business! From the moment you signed your rookie contract, to the day I brought you on to manage, you know it’s a business, Jake! Be a grown-up, for once in your life! What would you have me do? You’ve seen the gate receipts, the financials.

JAKE
Find a local partner.

ROGER
You don’t think I looked? You don’t think I spent the last 18 months in every CEO’s office in 100 miles, begging on my hands and knees?

A beat.

ROGER
The fact is that this team is worth ten times as much in another city than it is here.

JAKE
The commissioner approved this?

ROGER
It was his idea. Either that or fold.

ROGER stands. The energy in the room seems to have boiled away, leaving hard silence. He strolls to the display cases lining his walls.

JAKE
Las Vegas. Jesus.

A beat.

JAKE
You can’t do this.

ROGER
It’s already done.

JAKE
We’re close, Roger. We’re so close. I know we had a stumble here, missing the playoffs, but that comes with having a young team. Young and talented. You’ve seen winners, Roger. You and me together. We’ve been a part of it. Tell me. look at me, Roger, turn around and look at me and tell me this team doesn’t have it too. You know they do. Just give it one more year, Roger. We’ll give this city something to really cheer for. They’ll come.

ROGER
The city’s had a team to cheer for for the past three seasons. A playoff-caliber club. We’re the defending AL Central Champions and we’re second to last in league attendance. It’s a football town, Jake. Used to be it was football with us close behind, but now its football and basketball, then twenty feet of nothing, then us.

JAKE
We’ll remind them. They’ll come.

ROGER
Stop living in the past, Jake! Stop! This isn’t… isn’t… It’s changed. The manufacturing isn’t coming back. The money is gone.

JAKE
When you bought this team from Rachel Phelps, you stood on that pitchers mound, with the city listening, and you promised to build a winner.

ROGER
We did build a winner! Damn it, Jake! We did everything we could. I didn’t buy this team for charity. I want to win. I want to taste the gold of the Commissioner’s Trophy.

JAKE
One more year.

We look over ROGER’S shoulder, see his face reflected in the glass of a display case. Inside are jerseys from his playing days, trophies, MVP awards. We see an AL Central Champion pennant. ALDS winning headlines. ROGER looks down to a clipping tucked away in a corner, partially obscured by bric-a-brac: “Cleveland Comes Up Just Short After Magical Run.” Below the headline is a familiar picture: Willie Mays Hayes, Pedro Cerrano, Rick Vaughn, ROGER and JAKE celebrating. Below the picture is another, larger image: ROGER at his locker, stripped from his uniform, his chest and arms peppered with bruises, head in hands.

ROGER
I’ve waited “one more year” for enough years. We’re not young men anymore.

ROGER turns from the display case, faces JAKE.

ROGER
How many more chances do you think we’ll get at a winner? Not just getting to the playoffs, not just winning a pennant, but a walk-off winner, drinking champagne from a trophy.

JAKE doesn’t answer.

ROGER
We don’t have any more “one more years.” I didn’t come this close to have it slip through my fingers again.

JAKE
It won’t.

ROGER
No. It won’t. I’ve made sure of that. We haven’t even announced yet and already the phones are overloaded with calls for season tickets. Merch will be ready soon. We’ll finally have enough capital to invest in free agents. Quality free agents, not the bargain-barrel reclamation projects we usually get. We’re this close to a winner, Jake. This close. I won’t sit in the opposing dugout and watch other guys celebrate again.

JAKE has listened to all this with his jaw clenched. He can listen no more. He stands, marches face to face with ROGER.

JAKE
Even for you, Roger, this is low.

ROGER
They’ll get over it. It’s not the first time. Plus, a winner after all these years will wash the bad taste out of your mouth.

JAKE
No.

ROGER
No?

JAKE
I quit.

A beat.

ROGER
Be reasonable.

JAKE
Maybe not punching your smug face is as reasonable as I get. I’m not going to Las Vegas. You hired me to manage the Cleveland Indians, not the Las Vegas…

ROGER
Knights.

JAKE
I resign.

ROGER
I do not accept your resignation. You’re hot. I get it. That fire is what made you a good ballplayer, makes you a manager that the guys love to fight for. But give it time. Cool off. You’ll come around.

JAKE
I won’t.

A beat.

ROGER
Because you’re my friend, I’ll give you two months. If you’re still… I’ll find someone then.

A long, hard silence.

JAKE
I liked you so much better when you were just a ballplayer.

JAKE turns and strides to the exit, upturning chairs as he goes.

ROGER
I was never, “just a ballplayer.” That’s why I’m here and you’re there.

JAKE’S gait hitches as the jab lands home. But he does not turn, continues his path to the door. We follow JAKE as he strides away, ROGER fading to a blur behind.

ROGER
Just think about it, Jake. My door is always open.

JAKE slams the door shut behind him, leaving ROGER alone in the massive office. The desk phone starts to ring. With a sigh, he jogs to the phone.

CUT TO:

INT. JAKE’S CAR – PRESENT

JAKE stares out his window at the empty stadium. A ringing phone jolts him from the memory. He shuttles aside the clutter on his passenger seat and picks up the phone.

JAKE
Yeah. No, I’m… Yeah. I’m fine. I know you’ve got people lined up and waiting. The power went out at my place and killed my alarm. I overslept is all… Yes, I know… Yes… No, it won’t happen again. See you in a few.

JAKE ends the call and tosses the phone back to his passenger seat. He takes one, last, long look to the empty stadium, then throws his car into drive and peels away. We pull back from the car as it exits, staring at the empty shell of Cleveland stadium.

*Header Image by H.L.I.T. Used and modified under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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