Jeff Phillips: Grand Theft Home Plate

My real name – nah, nah! You won’t find it on my baseball card. Dave Hickey seemed the right substitute. Right place. Right time. A game changing transaction, a gentleman’s agreement.

When I made this agreement, I was far from a gentleman. I’ll refer to that self as Brashboy. Brashboy was a high school baseball star. Brashboy dominated in travel league tournaments. Brashboy had a bright future, said college ball scouts. Until Brashboy and his buddies broke into a liquor store, snagged 3 bottles of Popov and a 30 pack of Labatt’s, drank it all, broke into the same liquor store 6 hours later as the sun was rising, and beat the shit out of a snoopy, do-gooder neighbor who called them out. Brashboy giggled by the end of it, and peed into the street as his buddies took off and a police cruiser rounded the corner behind him.

Brashboy was 18 and tried as an adult. Brashboy was found guilty and sentenced to 2 years in state prison. Brashboy’s gut sunk.

There was no way he was going to do time during the peak of his play-ball years. Brashboy had a friend, this Dave Hickey, who was supposed to go off to college, but Dave Hickey was more excited about art and Europe. Dave Hickey had read the famous expat writers and wanted to do what they did. Dave Hickey wanted to change his name to Claude Grimes. Like I said, right place, right time. The lucky thing too, this Dave Hickey friend was a baseball buddy and he had been awarded a fancy scholarship to play ball at Vanderbilt.

We said goodbye to each other and our former selves outside the DMV when I went in to get my face on his driver’s license. He handed over his social security card like it was a sweat soaked leaflet for some religion that would change my life. The drive over it was as though he indeed was evangelizing the switch. I had to sell him back to confidence.

“Claude, buddy, I feel as though I were born Dave Hickey. Some freaky lightning long ago switched our bodies.”

“That’s what I like to hear, but you’re creeping me out. I better not return one day to find that you’ve altered the body of Dave Hickey, man. You talk like a tranny…this wrong body shit.”

His birth certificate came close to dissolving in my clamped palms as I waited in line. The old lady with the black perm looked familiar, as I prepared myself for her to find me familiar as well. My heartbeat reverberated like a home run derby’s bat cracks on fast forward. She adjusted her glasses. She eyed me as I shifted from side to side, a jittery dance, fourth in line. She looked the type to read the newspaper, and if her memory wasn’t totally deteriorated, then she’d recall my name and heroic picture on the front of the local sports section. Or the crime log where my delinquency was waved like a shame flag. Gah! We should’ve gone to the DMV the town over. I was ready to rush out of there and push for attempt number two elsewhere.

A hand reached for my elbow. Security was about to get a punch to the nose. Criminal instincts were already emerging from just below the receptors of my fast twitch muscles. I had spun around to face this invasion of my elbow!

A skinny man my dad’s age in suit and tie looked me in the eye and swallowed. My sweat must have made the air thick. Or he was nervous about making his first pinch of shady alternation in the DMV.

“Come here, son.”

“What for, sir?”

“I’m opening up another counter down over there.”

He pointed to a station where people usually had to take their written test.

“Aw, whoa. I have to take the written test again?”

“What are you here for?”

“Getting a new license. I, uh, lost mine.”

“When did you get your license?”

“Two, uh, years ago.”

He looked in my eyes and seemed to be processing my bullshit. “No, well, not unless you would like to. But follow me or I’ll help someone else. I’m just trying to ease congestion.”

I sighed and laughed.

“Yeah, sir, let’s do this.”

I handed him my birth certificate, social security card, piece of mail, and a $10 dollar bill, all a little soaked. I perhaps ignited a dormant germophobia causing him to curse the little rush he’d have to attend to, while he’d shiver and just want more than anything to wash his hand. Uncomfortable in his skin, I grew more comfortable in my new personhood. I could tell I ruined his day, while he unknowingly did the opposite and saved me from the potential scrutiny of the curly dark haired old lady.

Claude Grimes had to dodge pretty quick before things got complicated with his passport situation and my absorption of his identity.

What made this easier than it should have been was that his parents hated him. He hated them. And right place, right time, he got that full ride to Vanderbilt and it was agreed he’d be on his own. What about my parents? I was dead to them the moment officer Rand told them of my misdeed that night of shit-faced supply grabbing and goading.

And thank God Dave Hickey didn’t want to go to Vanderbilt, because Brashboy didn’t want to go to jail. Sure, Brashboy might have been able to toss the ball some on the prison yards. But that’s not the same as becoming a legend, as getting his false identity on a fucking baseball card rubbed on by a dried stick of bubble gum.

And you’re lucky too, you die-hard and fair-weather fans alike, that I had the balls to pull all of this off so you could have the thrill of seeing me slide into home plate; my 500th stolen base!

And so Mr. FBI. I can tell you were cut from your Junior Varsity baseball team and that wound has never healed. I get the need to be a hot shot. To out-perform others in an organization. You’re doing a fine job of showing what the force can achieve. You’ve found the sport that’s a right fit for you. You wanna target an investigation that highlights me as a fraud in matters of estate and tax filings, I can get behind that. I can cooperate. But if you’re gonna go saying that I’ve destroyed the integrity of this sport, that I’m giving baseball a bad name, well fuck off right into the swampy troughs of hell. Every entertainer has a right to a fucking stage name. What of your code names, jagoff, sponsored by Dave Hickey’s tax dollars?

I never did steroids. I never did any performance enhancing garbage outside of Muscle Milk and Bayer Extra Strength. I never cheated in the physical sense. I cheated, though, on a bit of a soulful sense. Because circumstance almost cheated you out of a soulful team victory for the Pittsburgh Pirates. 2017 could have never happened.

Brashboy was just a kid, got into a little trouble. Only one person got hurt. And he healed. But the law’s the law. In other people’s eyes. In my eyes, games must be played, by the people that are the best at playing that game. The only crime I am guilty of is a little grand theft home plate.

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