Thursday, April 14, 2016

Free Billy Butler

Danville, Kentucky - Blockbuster Video stores are an artifact of a different America from an era long gone. An America where good manners, family-friendly entertainment, and face-to-face interaction were still valued. A man could take his son out for ice cream, then stop by the old neighborhood Blockbuster to rent a Nintendo 64 game and a VHS or two. Over the course of a summer, the underpaid teens working behind the counter became like family. They'd learn your favorite actors, your genre preferences, and stylistic tastes, offering you movie recommendations far more helpful than a Netflix algorithm. Best of all, Blockbuster was a truly communal experience. It gave me a feeling in my heart warmer than any fireball shot when I popped a VHS into my cassette player: if the previous renter had rewound the tape, it was a small gesture of brotherhood that made the whole rental process worthwhile. Folks didn't have to rewind the VHS -- they could free-ride and just pay a fee or something -- but taking the time to actually do so was an act of good Blockbuster citizenship that gave me faith in the American dream.

For these reasons and more, I used to love Blockbuster. Until one summer day in the late 90s. It was a July day like any other. I had just hopped into my '69 Ford with my youngest son, and taken him to Blockbuster. He returned a rental copy of Ken Griffey, Jr.'s Slugfest, a fantastic Nintendo 64 game. I told my son to pick out another video game, and proceeded to mull over my own viewing options. It was a familiar situation: internally debating whether to rent My Dog Skip or For Love of the Game. Unemployed and divorced, I was in the mood for a good cry, and knew one of these two movies would get the job done.

I was just about to make a decision, when my third wife and her new boyfriend entered Blockbuster to return a movie of their own. Feeling alienated and bashful, I hit the floor like it was a "stop, drop, and roll" fire drill, trying to avoid being seen. As I laid on the floor of the Danville Blockbuster, in the middle of the action/thriller isle, the coarse carpeting began to irritate my skin. Yet, nothing would irritate me more than what I overheard next. The friendly neighborhood kid working behind the counter asked my third wife and her boyfriend if they re-wound their copy of Notting Hill.

My third wife's new boyfriend said no. He broke the unwritten rules of Blockbuster; the social contract that was the connective glue of this fragile community of movie-lovers, united only by the mantra: Be Kind, Rewind.

Billy Butler is a man who wants to rewind. A man who wants a second chance. A man on the short list of great ballplayers who should be considered honorary members of the 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals™. Like Big Game James Shields, Brandon Finnegan, Raul Ibanez, and the elusive Josh Willingham, Country Breakfast helped guide the Royals to greatness in 2014 but didn't get to share in the glory of their 2015 World Series win. Billy could only watch from afar as the organization he grew up in won it all without him.

Billy Butler should've been there in Queens on that November night, popping champagne and hoisting the championship trophy. As if being denied this catharsis wasn't enough pain for one lifetime, Billy Beane is now conspiring to rob Billy Butler of his one joy in life: hitting baseballs.

Demoted to a mere platoon bat -- only to be used against left handed pitching -- the Oakland Athletics have broken Country Breakfast's soul and spirit, reducing him to a lifeless shell of himself, like Jesse Pinkman in Nazi Todd's bare-life meth dungeon. Few things hurt more than knowing your ex-wife is dating a man not kind enough to rewind, but being denied at-bats by a fanatically sabermetric franchise is surely one of them.

Oakland Athletics, it's time to free Billy Butler. A man like him deserves to spend the twilight years of his career doing what he loves: hitting baseballs. Maybe Billy Beane doesn't appreciate a man born to knock in runs and rack up RBIs, but many teams still do. The hapless Cleveland Indians are still in need of a proven run-producer. Mr. Beane, give Mike Chernoff a call. Don't let a once-proud DH, who swatted 29 bombs and drove in 107 runs in 2012, spend the rest of his career withering on the bench. Don't let Billy go the way of Blockbuster: a desolate ruin of a once great dream.