by “David Shapiro”
On Saturday morning, me and Angelica and a reporter drive my mom’s car from Brooklyn out to East Hampton for the 63rd Annual Artists vs. Writers charity softball game, which takes place in a public park next to a really upscale Hamptons strip mall. My only pre-game exposure to the game was when I went to the game’s official website, where I was greeted by an unexpected embedded auto-play video of Mike Lupica speaking really loudly about the game, with a resolution too big for the frame that the video is inside so a lot of the text is cut off. The video sounds like a commercial off a local TV sports network that plays high school games. My only previous exposure to Mike Lupica was in the episode of “Seinfeld” when Costanza is asked who his favorite writer is and he responds, “I like Mike Lupica?” Mike Lupica is a sportswriter for the New York Daily News.
On the drive to the Hamptons, Angelica is talking about the rich history of art in the Hamptons, including the time that Jackson Pollock wrapped his Oldsmobile around a tree, and I am thinking about how if my mom knew I was going to an Artists vs. Writers softball game today she would say, “That’s [conceptually] rich, David,” and also I am wondering what the inverse of this game would be, maybe like an NBA vs. NFL charity villanelle contest or MLB vs. NHL charity contemporary art exhibition?
So I park the car in the parking lot of the strip mall, keep the windows half-open because it’s like 89 and I don’t want to get back into a sweltering car and also nobody is going to reach through the windows and steal out of your car at a luxury strip mall in the Hamptons, and then we walk into the park and see the field, which has hundreds of fans in fold-up chairs crowded around it. About 70 artists and writers are in the fifth inning of their softball game.
Mort Zuckerman, the billionaire publisher of the Daily News (and editor-in-chief of U.S. News and World Report) is pitching for Writers, underhanded, but if you had to guess how he was pitching from the determined look on his face, you would probably guess he was pitching overhand. Perhaps due to Mort Zuckerman’s fierce pitching, the Writers are winning (8–4 I think?) and the Artists look like they’re starting to get worried. I walk to a spot behind the backstop to get a better view and notice that James Lipton, host of “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” is sitting at a folding table and announcing the game with two other announcers. Behind the center field wall there is a maybe 20-foot-tall plastic blow-up bottle of Snapple, I guess because Snapple is sponsoring the game. It makes me suspect that the players are aiming for it and think about how satisfying it would be if one of them popped it with a softball (not as an act of anti-corporate aggression but more as a testament to their strength and masculinity). I am standing a few feet behind James Lipton and he’s wearing a sun-faded fishing vest over his t-shirt.
Then Angelica, who is not a sports fan, comes up behind me and tells me she is going to go to the strip mall to maybe find some water, and I give her a thumbs up and don’t turn around because Alec Baldwin is up for the Artists and I don’t want to miss his at-bat. Here is a picture of Alec Baldwin hitting a pop fly to left field that will be caught in the air, thus retiring the side.
It is really hot in the direct sunlight so I find a spot in the shade and towel off my forehead with the bottom of my shirt and watch the crowd for a minute, mostly families, and when I come back to my spot behind the backstop and next to James Lipton, sportswriter Mike Lupica is being driven in from third base and as he comes down the third base line towards home plate, the entire Writers team comes out of their dugout (actually just the grass next to the third-base line) and high-fives Mike Lupica as he’s on his way to home plate. Mike Lupica high-fives everyone vigorously as he again lives out a dream he has also vicariously been living out through the pages of the Daily News for decades, scoring a run in front of legions of fans, and then Angelica comes back from the mall and gives me some water and shows me a yoga shirt that she bought. Alec Baldwin’s 28-year-old girlfriend is Angelica’s yoga instructor, and she’s probably around here somewhere, and Angelica wants to say hi to her, so she wanders off again, and when I turn back around to refocus on the game, some guy is asking James Lipton to autograph his copy of Dan’s Papers, which is a local Hamptons newspaper. James Lipton obliges.
Back in the Writers dugout, Ken Auletta, prolific author and media columnist for The New Yorker and the man who popularized the term “information superhighway,” who is captain of Writers, is carrying a clipboard and cheering his team on.
So as players come up to bat, I Google them so I can learn about their literary and artistic achievements. I learn that Greg Bello, of Artists, played a minor part in The Wrestler and was also in Requiem for a Dream. Rick Leventhal, of Writers, is a Fox News correspondent. Jim Leyritz, also of Writers, was actually on the Yankees during their 90s dynasty run but I guess has done some sports writing since? Either that or Captain Auletta just wanted to shore up his squad with an ex-Yankee. I also notice that, strangely, both teams have filled out their ranks with some reputable Manhattan cardiologists and other non-literary/artistic professionals who I suspect are the doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who count the celebrities here as clients. Like right now Alec Baldwin is in his dugout conferring with Artists teammate Ron Noy, an orthopedic surgeon whose office is located on Madison Avenue between 48th and 49th Streets and who has some glowing Google reviews, and it makes me think that the eligibility rules are pretty lax and next year some twentysomething Internet writers should stage a coup, join the team, and lead the Writers to victory. When I was younger I was really obese so they made me play catcher in Little League, even though it was murder on the knees, but I think I could reprise that in the 64th annual Artists vs. Writers charity baseball game if anybody who organizes the game, like Ken Auletta for example, is reading this right now: Pitchforkreviewsreviews at gmail dot com.
So anyway, now it is the eighth inning and an Artist who is wearing a jersey that doesn’t have his name on it comes up to bat, and James Lipton announces his name and credentials, which I can’t really hear, and then the batter momentarily interrupts the flow of the game to walk behind the catcher and inform James Lipton that he is an Academy Award Nominee. The game resumes and the Academy Award Nominee gets on base and then is eventually driven in as a run, and he slides head first into home plate, which is maybe an offensive maneuver that violates the two-hand-touch-equivalent spirit of this charity softball game, but nobody on Artists objects because they are desperately in need of runs.
Orthopedist Ron Noy again confers with Alec Baldwin and then it is Alec Baldwin’s turn to bat, and as Alec Baldwin gets up to the plate, he points his bat in the air towards the left field fence, which nobody is paying attention to because the Artists’ squad is congratulating the artist Eddie McCarthy because he hit a home run and drove the Academy Award Nominee in.
So Alec Baldwin calls his shot into left field, Babe Ruth style, and this is Alec Baldwin’s big moment because it is the Artists’ chance to solidify the momentum shift in their direction. But then Alec Baldwin grounds out to the shortstop and unceremoniously walks back into the dugout and is greeted by his attentive teammate, orthopedic surgeon Ron Noy, and it makes me wonder if Ron Noy is Alec Baldwin’s orthopedist and he has recently done some orthopedic work on Alec Baldwin and wants to check in with Alec Baldwin about the new configuration of his body, or if Ron Noy wants to talk to Alec Baldwin because Alec Baldwin seems like a cool guy who anybody would want to pal around with.
The side changes again and soon Jim Leyritz, the former Yankees slugger, is on deck. Jim Leyritz is the only player on either team to perch his sunglasses on top of the brim of his cap, like Major League-style. Jim Leyritz takes more practice swings than any other player in this game, and he scans the field purposefully, because I guess he has more face to lose than anybody else playing in this game because he used to be a professional baseball player and should be showing everyone else here how it’s done. It occurs to me that Jim Leyritz playing for Writers is like if the NFL recruited Terence Koh for the contemporary art squad. That would be a real “special team”! Zing!
Jim Leyritz gets up to bat and watches two softball pitches float by him, which causes one of the other announcers (who is not James Lipton) to announce that it has been six years since anyone walked in the Artists vs. Writers charity softball game, maybe subtly joking that Jim Leyritz is taking this too seriously and should just swing the bat because softballs are huge and they move through the air very slowly.
Jim Leyritz nervously but jokingly asks the announcers how long it’s been since someone struck out, and the announcer doesn’t have an answer, and then Jim Leyritz hits a pop fly to deep center field that is caught, but it doesn’t matter because the Writers are winning by a lot of runs and therefore not relying on Jim Leyritz’s production. He trots back to his dugout and makes a comment in a self-deprecating tone that I can hear but not understand.
During the last inning of the game, it seems like the Writers really have this in the bag so I walk over to the concession stand to buy a t-shirt before the game ends and then everyone will want a t-shirt and they will probably run out of shirts in my size. So I get one in maroon, the Writers team color, not because I am a frontrunner but because I identify with the writers, and I hand the elderly man behind the concession stand money and he hands me back my t-shirt and also the dimebag that I keep my pills in that accidentally got caught inside the $20 bill I handed him (inside my pocket), and he looks at me sternly and says, “Here are your pills,” which sounds vaguely accusatory because he has probably watched some “60 Minutes” segments about prescription drug abuse among young people, and obviously the pills being in a dimebag isn’t helping. This is embarrassing and I want to tell him that I am prescribed those pills and I only carry them around in a dimebag because carrying a pill bottle in my pocket is too bulky and the dime bag secures the pills just as well, but he probably wouldn’t believe me or care, so I just take my dimebag of pills and my t-shirt and walk back behind the dugout and watch the end of the game. Alec Baldwin, in his dugout, yells, “One out! One out!” and then someone else (maybe Dr. Noy?) says something to him and he quietly asks, “How many outs?” and then the other person corrects him and he says, fatalistically, “Two outs,” because the Artists’ chance of a comeback was brighter when he thought there was only one out.
Then the last out is made and the game ends and everyone (fans and players) crowds onto the field, except Alec Baldwin who quietly slips out behind the left field fence with his girlfriend because he would get mobbed. I find Angelica and The Reporter and then The Reporter interviews Ken Auletta and I stand near him, which is where I am standing now: next to the pitcher’s mound of a baseball field in the Hamptons on a scorching Saturday, standing like nine feet from Ken Auletta, Literary Lion and Captain of the Writers Softball team. The Reporter is conducting a post-game interview with him now and I notice he has a spectacular set of teeth, and Angelica says they are definitely veneers but I am willing to give his teeth the benefit of the doubt. His dentist was probably in the game and might be listening to us now. Then The Reporter finishes interviewing Ken Auletta and Ken Auletta introduces himself, probably because I am lurking, and I congratulate Ken Auletta on his win and say, “You guys totally dominated,” and he thanks me and then I ask, “What was your greatest on-field moment?” Ken Auletta looks at me and laughs and says, “You mean when I was about 30 years younger?” I smile and say, “I mean lifetime,” but then Ken Auletta smiles again and mostly ignores the question and tells me that as Captain of the Writers, “This is a game where you try and win, entertain the fans, and get everybody in the game. I have a roster of 40 people,” and then he shows me his clipboard with all of the Writers names on it.
This sounds like a humble/admirable sentiment but honestly, from where I was standing, Ken Auletta ran a ruthless program, stacking his team with a billionaire pitcher (who except Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch, or someone with a professional death wish would have the courage to hit a homer off a Mort Zuckerman pitch?), a recent ex-Yankee, and a determined sportswriter among other sluggers, while the stars of the other team were a sitcom star and a man who may or may not be his orthopedist. The Writers ended up winning 11–5, making Ken Auletta’s false modesty even more transparent, and I want to ask him if he already pre-ordered opening day tickets to Moneyball or if he pulled some strings and watched a friends and family screening at the director’s house, but he would probably say he doesn’t even know what I’m talking about.
Then Ken Auletta invites The Reporter and Angelica and me to a bar for a post-game drink with the teams, and The Reporter still needs to interview people, so we get back into my mom’s car and drive to the bar. Me and Angelica eat chips in the parking lot of the bank next to the bar, and the guy who was in The Wrestler and Requiem for a Dream walks past us but doesn’t see us eating. Then we go inside and I wash my face in the bathroom and towel off with some very thick but disposable cotton paper towels, probably the thickest possible paper towel you could get before they’re no longer considered disposable, and I am happy to be in probably one of the only places on earth where a group of writers is really rich and has emerged victorious from an athletic contest.
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David “Shapiro” is 23 and lives in New York City and has a Tumblr.