He woke up feeling off. Part of the problem, he knew, was that he slept at his desk the night before at the Peroia Sports Complex. He had meant to leave. He really had. But sifting through a few extra scouting reports had turned into dozens had turned into hundreds, and by the time he passed out face down, it was three AM.
But something was off. Something was missing. Something was squirming just under his skin. It had been for a few days. Before his morning coffee, Jerry Dipoto was already jittery.
Before the team started to arrive, Dipoto slipped down to the clubhouse and took a shower and changed into khaki pants and a Mariners-issued polo shirt that were virtually identical to the ones he wore the day before. He sat back down at his desk and waited for the rest of his staff to filter in.
Still, it was like there were ants crawling inside his skull. He couldn’t focus. Sitting still wasn’t an option, so he went for a walk around the back fields. Young men, eighteen years old and full of hope, were already out stretching and playing catch. Dipoto took out the small notepad he always carried with him and a pen and began to take notes. He watched the youngsters for a while, picking them apart. This one lifted his leg too much. That one had a bad mustache. Gradually, it dawned on him that his objections to the next generation of Mariners were becoming increasingly petty, and he moved on.
Circling back around to the clubhouse, Dipoto stopped in to talk to his manager, Scott Servais. The two had been kindred spirits for years now. Their families had vacationed together during the offseason in Majorca, and it had been good. Away from the press and away from the office, they discovered how much snorkeling and wine could improve an already unbreakable bond.
“How’s tricks?” Servais said as his friend walked in.
“Getting that feeling again,” Dipoto said. “You know.”
Dipoto and Servais had discussed this at length in Spain. How Dipoto, normally the smartest man in the room, cool and collected, would start to feel buggy. And how, as that feeling built over time, getting strong and stronger, it would make him do things. Sometimes good things. Sometimes terrible things. Sometimes things that made no sense to anyone but him.
Servais looked at his friend, “What can I do?”
“Nothing. There’s nothing anyone can do, Scott. You know that. What about you, do you need anything?”
“Just another starter.” Servais laughed.
“Fine. I’ll see you later,” Dipoto grumbled and walked out. It was strange. Talking with Scott usually helped things, but now it just made the general manager more anxious. A thin line of sweat had begun to form on his brow. He took out his pen and began clicking it open and closed.
Tired of fighting, Dipoto closed his eyes for a second, letting his instinct take control. He would do the thing. He would do it and he would feel better, and then he could get back to running his ballclub. As if he were running on a track, without thinking he glided back to his office and closed the door. He sat behind his desk in his high-backed leather chair and looked down.
On the top of the pile of scouting reports was one for Chase DeJong, a 23 year old starter in the Dodgers organization. The name intrigued him. Some kind of marriage of East and West, it sounded like. He had had good success in Double-A and seemed like he might be poised to be a decent back-end starter for a couple years.
Before Dipoto knew it, the phone was in his hand and ringing.
“This is Farhan Zaidi,” the voice on the other end said matter of factly.
“Farhan, it’s Jerry,” Dipoto said desperately. “What would it take to get Chase DeJong?”
“DeJong? Let me see…I mean, you don’t have much left,” Zaidi responded. Dipoto was growing impatient. That urge kept rising, now pounding on the back of his forehead like a bass drum. “We could always use another infielder, so Drew Jackson? He’s not much on offense, and was a little old for his level, but we like his defense at short. And maybe some kind of lottery ticket. What about Aneurys Zabala, that 20 year old reliever you’ve got in rookie ball?”
Dipoto, now digging his nails into the mahogany on his desk, raised his voice. “Yes. Fine. Whatever. Send me the paperwork.”
Then he hung up the phone and sat back, looking at the set of impressions left by his nails, same as the other 13 sets from earlier this offseason. He would need a new desk next year. Just like the year before. But for now, the buzzing in his ears had ceased. The ants had stopped marching. And, once again, he had the illusion of control.