May 10: “Attention Please Now” by Matthew Pitt

Hello, Story366! I’m a day closer to my summer break, but since I covered that yesterday, even I’m getting bored with talking about it. But it’s on my mind, just to let you know.

Instead, how about a baseball-themed post? I am currently watching my beloved red-hot Cubs (they’re up 6-2 in the fifth), and that makes me pretty darned happy.  As noted in previous posts, I could easily turn Story366 in Story366/Cubs16, and I’m certainly hoping to have lots of happy occasions to make note of as the season plays out. But in case there’s anyone out there reading every day, I don’t want to bog things down with anything but short story talk. Not even Cardinals fans.

Today I’m happy to have found a baseball story, “Attention Please Now” by Matthew Pitt, the title story from his debut collection Attention Please Now, out from Autumn House Press. I’ve known Matt a while now, as he was a finalist in an MAR contest a bunch of years ago (for a story, “Golden Retrievers,” that starts this collection off). He’s a solid short story writer and a huge baseball fan, and I’m glad to be featuring him here today.

“Attention Please Now” is about a minor league baseball PA announcer, dubbed “Mr. Voice” a couple of times, whose team, the Triple A Spartanburg Stags, is not only twenty-two out of first place, they’re about to be sold off. Everything and everyone is going, and the announcer has heard he has a month, if that, left before being out of a job.

Highlighting this final campaign for both the team and the protagonist is a lame-duck season for future Hall-of-Famer Steve Sprissel, a thirty-nine-year old walking disabled list holding onto the last glimmer of hope of returning to the bigs. Sprissel’s got a bad shoulder, a bad everything, but it’s at least interesting to have him around, something to distract from the Stags’ putrid season.

Our hero, the Voice, knowing he’s on his way out, bored by a lopsided score, decides to have some fun with Sprissel one day. As the aging player walks to the plate, instead of just announcing his name, the Voice reveals—or makes up—that during a recent weekend road trip, Sprissel ate at the same restaurant every meal, always ordered the special, had the same side dishes. And that’s it. It’s a goof, the Voice being silly, perhaps expediting his firing, giving the fans something to smile about.

Only, something else happens. Sprissel glares at the booth, angry about the comment , then deposits the next pitch into the bleachers. He has hits in every at bat after, and the Stags almost win the game, falling 7-6. After, the batboy fetches the Voice for a confrontation in the clubhouse, and the announcer thinks he’s going to have the tar kicked out of him.

Pitt takes the story in another direction. As the most superstitious of all people in the world, baseball players don’t peg anything as chance, so Sprissel, despite his anger, wants the Voice to keep doing what he did. He wants him, before every at bat, to say something wacky and mildly insulting, because, you know, it worked once. Wanting to get back to the Majors in the baddest of ways, he’s willing to try anything, and our announcer hero, with nothing to lose, obliges.

Sprissel and the team go on a wild streak, Sprissel revitalizing his career and the team climbing out of the cellar. He and the Voice form a weird friendship from there, one where Sprissel likes having him around, a smart-ass good luck charm. He brings him to poker games as a fifth, insisting he keep insulting him; Sprissel cleans up. They’re not really pals—Sprissel is clearly still the dominant force—but the Voice gets to get drunk and pass out on his couch, then hop a ride to the park the next afternoon. Not a bad way for a young baseball fan to ride out his last few breaths of employment, hanging out with a future Hall of Famer and destroying his liver.

Other elements of the story play large roles, including Sprissel’s twin baby daughters, but I’ve already spent a lot of words describing plot, and to give anything else away would be too much in a couple of ways. Pitt keeps things interesting, though, piling bad decisions (by his characters, not him) on top of questionable decisions, and of course, that all leads to a lot of fun for the reader. We get a close first-person telling from the Voice, playing the part of the rube just along for a ride. Like in all of Pitt’s stories that I’ve read, I never knew what to expect as I was reading, but was always surprised, always satisfied. Pitt’s a good writer, and Attention Please Now is a good book.

Okay, Cubs still up, and it’s now 8-3. When the Cubs are winning, isn’t everything just right in the world? I think so. Good night!