His personal cell phone never rang for anyone other than family. The number just wasn't out there, and Bud had always been responsive to communication through his MLB issued mobile. But the random calls had started coming in a few days earlier, usually 2 or 3 times a day.
It seemed to Bud that the numbers were always different, but the area code was the same, 813. Tampa Bay. He knew it from the Steinbrenner days, back when you actually had to dial a phone and not just scroll through and find a name. It was almost nostalgic in a way when Bud thought back to his nearly biweekly calls to the Yankees' Tampa Bay offices during his time as Interim-Commissioner. The calls were so frequent that Bud felt like George was just messing with him, which he probably was.
At first Bud thought it was a wrong number, but the calls just persisted. Deep down he knew picking up that call was probably a bad idea. What if it some young reporter who didn't know the rules trying to cut in line? Or worse, some crazy blogger looking to make hell. Eventually though, the curiosity was too much. Damn the consequences, Bud wanted to know who was on the other end of that phone...
"Beaver" the voice on the other end said quickly, "Its Alligator."
"What?" Bud couldn't have heard that correctly.
Again "Beaver, its Alligator."
"I-I-I'm sorry" Bud had no time for whatever this was "but you have the wrong number."
As Bud pulled the phone away from his ear he could hear the voice on the other end "NO, NO, NO! WAIT, WAIT, WAIT!!!"
Bud put the phone back up to his ear "Yes?"
The voice on the other end whispered "Bud, Its me. Uhhh, Shmalex Shrod-shriguez"
"Alex!?" Selig blurted into the phone.
"Yes, SHHHH!!" the voice shot back "Last time I saw you, you said they were listening. I was using code names"
"Call me Alligator" ARod interrupted.
"Alex," Selig reaffirmed "I never said anyone was listening. You said they were listening. I didn't say anything."
"Right Bud, its what you didn't say. Its better to act like we don't know any way. We don't want to blow our cover."
"What cover Alex?" There was irritation in Selig's tone.
"Perfect Bud. Like there's nothing is going on" The pause was timed so perfectly that Selig could just imagine ARod winking into the phone. "Listen, I followed the clue you gave me. And I kinda feel like I'm at a dead end here."
"Alex, I'm really not following you-"
"Bud, you told me go to Tampa and see what the Yankees wanted me to do. So I came down here and went to the headquarters. Man, its almost as if they knew I was coming. Soon as I got up on the sidewalk in front of the player's door Skip was out there with Cash, Randy, & Hal right behind him. Once I finished hugging it out with every last one of them Randy started in with something about 'How I shouldn't be here' & 'The lawyers on each side had made that very clear'. Skip just said that it wasn't anything personal, but that I had to go."
Selig tension loosed a bit.
ARod went on "Then I told them that you had sent me down here and-"
Now it was Selig's turn to interrupt "Alex. Wait a minute. I just said that-"
"Bud, don't worry I didn't blow our cover." Interrupting was kind of ARod's thing "I told them exactly what you told me to say. I just asked them want they wanted me to do. That's when Hal laid the clue on me. He told me to 'Just get lost'. He didn't have to be so rude about it, but I get it. He's trying to impress Randy, Skip, & Cash. You know, that whole Boss's son thing."
Selig sat back in shock. It was all he could do to keep the phone in his hand. 'What on Earth is going throw his head right now' he thought to himself.
ARod went on "So that's what I've been doing down here. I've just been wandering around Tampa for the last week or so. I don't know, I kinda lost track of the days. I think I read something about this once. Native Americans would go on long trips in the woods to test their man hood and stuff. What's it called... a...vision quest!. That's it!! Its like a vision quest, right Bud? You need me to wander around the woods of Tampa to find myself?. Right?"
After a moment lost, somewhere, Selig snapped back. This conversation was really happening. "Alex, where are you right now?"
"I'm at one of those phones on a pole. You know, the kind you put a quarter into and make a call. Its like a cell phone except it doesn't fit in my pocket and it doesn't have any of my numbers anywhere. I think they're new. I don't get it, but they are good for making calls that can't be traced. At least that's what this dude Andre told me. Andre says he hangs out these pole phones a lot. He says its a good way to meet people, but he's the only person I've met at any of these phones. Anyway, I left the hotel last night around 8:00 and have been wandering ever since."
Mr. Selig, the MLB brand steward kicked in "Alex, this is very important. Have a lot of people seen you wandering around?"
"Oh yeah" Alex answered "Tons of people"
Selig sunk, deflated into his chair. His right hand dug deep into the creases in his brow.
"They've been real nice mostly. A lot of them just wave and yell 'Hey ARod!' They are A LOT nicer down here than they are in New York. But its kinda hard to figure out who you are when everybody is always telling me who I am. Its like 'Who am I supposed to listen to'?"
"Ohhh... Bud... I think I'm starting to get it. We can't go forward until I go forward. Man, I'd be so lost without you right now. You sent me on this vision quest and for that I cannot express enough thanks. You're like my North Star, just leading the way for me."
"Don't worry Bud. I won't let you down. I didn't get to be the greatest player in Major League Baseball history by being a quitter. And I'm not going to quit on you. On this.
I'll complete this vision quest on we'll move on to the phase 2."
"Alligator. Call me Alligator.