He had been here before; many times, in fact. To an outsider, the scene may have been appreciably different—he was still dressed in his baseball uniform, proudly adorned with the sprawling Braves logo, his cleats marking the passage of time with the familiar click-clack that was well-known to athletes and Under Armour aficionados. But to him, the feeling was all too familiar. The disappointment, the crushing despair; it was as if the world around him dimmed and darkened as the pit in his stomach grew larger, churning, begging him to regurgitate in disgust. It was as if his mind and his body were at odds with one another, one refusing to acknowledge the others’ ardent commands. Reflecting upon the predicament he had put himself in, he lurched forward, grabbing his Denny’s All-American Slam in his left hand, and animating his impassioned delivery with his right.
He couldn’t help it. He was Juan Jaime—he had no control.
“Who the hell scrambles eggs!” he exclaimed, much to the surprise of a dozen or so patrons. He placed a special emphasis upon the swear as it left his mouth, hoping to convey the weight of the situation and the degree of the monstrosity that had been committed. Scrambled eggs were an atrocity. Juan preferred a nice over-medium. Hell, anything was fine, so long as they weren’t cooked to death, yolks and whites blended together so thoroughly they were inseparable, like high school lovers at a homecoming dance. As it were, the taste made him ill; green, both with a sickness in his stomach and envy at those who had been more discerning with their orders. Juan didn’t know why he was exhibiting his rage for this crowd of elderly war veterans. But he had no control. He knew the All-American Slam came with scrambled eggs, but two bacon strips, two sausage links, hash browns, and toast for ten dollars was a steal. Sure, he could’ve built his own Grand Slam.
But he was Juan Jaime—he had no control.
He realized the eyes of the crowd were upon him, and that while lost in thought, he had fallen silent for some time. Resigned to his fate and seeing no way out of this particular jam, he reared back and tried to hurl his All-American Slam platter at the wall. It instead found its mark on the ceiling and Juan was mesmerized as it exploded into a thousand pieces, like the Friday fireworks that speckled the Turner Field sky.
Dejected, Juan pulled his phone from his pocket. One of the benefits of his fame was his fans and their affirmation. He liked to think of himself as a normal man, albeit one with an extraordinary gift—men who can throw 95 miles an hour are rare—but unlike normal men, he could always rely on a group of devoted followers to rebuild his broken confidence. Juan would regularly search for his own name on the internet—he was a man of no control, after all—but today, the love and adoration he was seeking would be scarce. Juan Jaime was about to learn that the pit of despair and brokenness brought on by a Denny’s in downtown Atlanta was but a harbinger of the pain to come.
Juan Jaime, professional pitch-maker, had been DFA’d. In that moment, the flashes of glory and accolades that had just started to permeate his mind came rushing back. Fredi Gonzalez had afforded Juan the opportunity to live out his most extraordinary boyhood fantasy. John Hart had stolen the American Dream out from under him but a week later. There would be no more chartered plane flights from game to game. Gone were the dreams of saddling up his father’s old 1970’s motorcycle and riding the open tarmac of the American West with Coach and the strange beat writer who kept handing out mix-tapes in the clubhouse. And without a job, gone would be his daily dinner at the most American of eateries: Denny’s—America’s Diner.
He began to weep in the only way Juan Jaime could: uncontrollably.
The manager brought him his bill and kindly asked him to leave. “Of course,” Juan said sadly, head down in shame, his double-chin quivering under the weight of repressed tears. Juan reached into his fannypack and fumbled for his wallet. His thumb ran across the edge of a few dead presidents as he counted to himself – one, two, three… – he’d be short. The manager dismissed the bill and whisked him out the door. Juan slowly inched toward the curb and took a seat on the sidewalk. He knew the manager wanted him to leave. He knew he should keep on walking.
But he was Juan Jaime, and he had no control.
Juan sat there for almost twenty minutes—it seemed like hours—when suddenly he lifted himself up and turned his gaze up to the night sky. Under the pale yellow glow of the illuminated Denny’s sign, now forever a beacon of light reminding him of the halcyon days in Atlanta, Juan looked determined, unbreakable. He thought of John Hart, of Bobby Cox, of John Schuerholz. He thought of the tumultuous off-season that was, and how he had thought this is my shot. He had, in his youth-like jubilation at being a bullpen contender, lost what had been the most important lesson of them all. The Elders were not looking for Juan Jaime, pitch-maker. They were not looking for the rare man who could throw 95. They were looking for Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. They were looking for men who could get the job done, men who could grit their teeth and wouldn’t buckle under the pressure. They were looking for men with control.
And he was Juan Jaime—he had no control.
But as he stood up from the stoop, Denny’s light shining down upon the Braves logo emblazoned across his chest, he knew what he had to do. He looked back one last time at the restaurant where he’d eaten many a meal and where he now set forth anew, pumped his fist, and strutted headstrong into the night. What lie ahead for Juan Jaime would take more than his fastball, more than his moxy. If he wanted to become the pitcher he wanted to be—the pitcher he needed to be—he’d have to locate his pitches, he’d have to find his control, and he would have to pinpoint the most magical of unicorns. He would have learn to command The Braves Way.