Standing amid the felled, wilting stalks of autumn’s culled harvest, a numb Mike Morin scanned the barren farmland before him. The sun had sunk below the horizon minutes earlier, its fading brilliance painting the sky a dull crimson which seemed to bleed into the sprawling Kansan plains before him.
A muted but incessant pinging shot its haunting echo into the dusk air from a 2014 Chevy Silverado, dome light on and driver’s side door ajar. Headlights off, the truck had clearly been there for a while. The faint whisper of Sophie B. Hawkins’s dulcet vox wafted from the cab, lilting between pings.
From the 80 acres he’d purchased mere miles from his childhood home in Overland Park, Morin stood mired in existential dread in the same spot he just days earlier had experienced sheer, unbridled joy. It felt to him as though he’d only recently emerged from the desert, spending the first five years of his professional career in the Angels’ system before the Royals absolved him of the sin of not forgoing higher education and signing with them out of high school, claiming him off waivers in the waning days of this past season.
For 18 glorious days, Morin donned his hometown threads, thrust into action six times over the final 17 games of the 2017 campaign. A life’s dream was realized. A boy had left home, cast the seeds of his fortune into the wind, and as a young man he returned home to ply his trade amongst the best. Just a week ago, Morin and the Royals avoided arbitration in agreeing to a split deal, and Morin’s journey home looked to be carrying him into the 2018 season. With the homecoming, Morin felt as though the specter of impermanence inherent in the game had been vanquished.
What Mike Morin was not prepared for was the inhumanity of the Battle for Grass Creek, a war that raged between two clubs whose thirst for nefarious roster machinations designed to benefit themselves while destroying the other increasingly stretched well past the realm of good sport and taste. Years of strife, backstabbing, and the doing of dirty deeds done both dirt cheap—Sam Gaviglio, Willie Bloomquist, Tug Hulett, Mike Montgomery—and at great moral hazard—Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Guillen, Gil Meche, Mike Sweeney, Raúl Ibañez—had rendered Grass Creek a fallow post-apocalyptic wasteland, unrecognizable to the few denizens of the Wyoming burg lucky enough to have escaped the wrath of war.
The most recent player caught in the war of attrition, Sam Gaviglio, was claimed off waivers by the unforgiving Royals just two weeks before the Royals welcomed Morin back home with open arms. Ensnared in the messy battle between the long-standing rivals, Gaviglio’s shock at having been ripped from the Mariners—who were hoping against hope to sneak the righty back to the minors at the tenuous time of a 40-man roster crunch—truly settled in when he was met with bared teeth by the Royals brass, hand-clapping each other on their shoulders as they laughed at their good fortune which came at the expense of the hated Mariners.
As is always the case with this territorial war, though, the Gaviglio parry was sure to be met with a riposte. This one came at the expense of hometown boy, Mike Morin.
In virtually identical fashion to the rostering chicanery pulled off by Dayton Moore and his band of front-office brothers with Gaviglio in September, the Royals attempted to sneak Morin through outright waivers as a provision of his split deal to send him to the minors and keep a spot on the 40-man open for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.
Just as happened with Gaviglio, the opposing faction jumped at the opportunity to gain ground in the endless battle. The Mariners claimed the right-handed Kansan with little regard for his preference to stay home. Ruthless, cold, Jerry DiPoto stuck the knife in and twisted. With one move, DiPoto let it be known that this regime will not cease until the groundwork laid by Bill Bavasi and Jack Zduriencik before him led to decisive victory.
Home could well be where the heart is, but as Morin looked over his recently purchased expanse of land near what had been his childhood home, it dawned on him that home was now going to be enemy territory and that his heart was being thrown to the wolves, etc. Drafted into a war he never signed up for, Mike Morin attempted to steel his gaze, but as the western horizon went dim, darkness sweeping toward his new home—one where he’d be pressed into duty against his former kinsmen—a tear formed in the corner of his eye as the dome light in the abandoned Silverado faded to black.