Scene: A small white room, empty except for a bare table and a chair of the type commonly found in a dentist’s office, or perhaps in a prison. Upon closer inspection, an alert observer will notice that the chair features leather straps and an odd assortment of plugs and wires.
The door opens and a boyish, tentative Mets minor leaguer enters the room. He is in uniform, carrying a bat. His metal cleats click on the tiled floor. He looks around, confused. A moment later, NY Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens enters. Behind him follows a slight executive wearing a fashionable Italian suit, carrying a heavy sheaf of papers in both arms. In turn, he is followed by two lab technicians, dressed in traditional white coats.
Player: Mr. Hudgens, sir! Thanks, it’s really a privilege for a new draft pick like me to get a chance to work on hitting with the coach from the New York Mets.
Player (confused): What?
Hudgens: Not coach. Instructor. I am a philosopher of the at-bat.
Player (takes a swing at an imaginary baseball): Well, I sure do love to hit.
Hudgens (eyes the bat in the player’s hand, says disdainfully): You won’t be needing that.
Player (looks down at bat, back at Hudgens uncertainly. He’s not sure if he’s being punked or not): I thought . . . um . . . ?
Hudgens: You can leave it with Benjamin.
[Lab technician steps forward, accepts bat from player, opens door and flings the bat out of the room.]
Player: Careful, that’s ‘Wonderboy.’ I named it after . . .”
[Player sits in chair. Lab technicians move forward, strap in player and begin to apply various electrodes to the boy’s skin. His eyelids are held open by a metal device.]
Player: Wait, ouch, this hurts. What’s going on here?
Hudgens: In Phase One of your indoctrination, you will watch a basic training film.
Player (attempting the lighten the mood): Great, I love movies.
Hudgens (his lips form a weak smile that does not reach his eyes): We’ll be back in eight hours.
Player: Wait, what? Eight hours? Can I get any popcorn? What if I have to pee?
[The door slams shut. The film begins and a pattern emerges. The first scene is of a Mets player swinging at a pitch. It is immediately followed by a horrible car crash, blood everywhere, people screaming. Then another shot of a player swinging, followed this time by the air bombing of civilian villagers in Vietnam. A girl runs down a dirt path, naked, bleeding, horrified. Cut to image of Mets batter swinging . . . and so on.
The player, strapped in, unable to shut his eyes, sits in terror. His screams go unanswered. After each scene of a player swinging, he vomits all over himself, again and again until there is nothing left.
After 5-6 hours, the pattern shifts. The scene now is of a player taking a called strike on the outside corner, followed by a shot of blue monarch butterflies flitting in a field of yellow poppies. Another Mets batter stands, bat on shoulder, a tough pitch at the knees for a strike. A shot of a beautiful woman sunbathing on the beach. And so on and so forth.
At last, the door opens.
The lab technicians unstrap the player. He blinks, stunned, numbed.]
Hudgens (enters): Very good, we made real progress today. Excellent.
Player (stammers): I don’t . . . I don’t . . . understand. Why did you . . . ?
Hudgens: Behavior modification. Simple, really. We are remapping your synapses, building new associations in your cerebral cortex. For Phase Two . . . Paul will review some data.
[The tiny executive steps forward, drops heavy sheaf of papers on table. He pulls up a chair, adjusts his glasses, turns to a pie chart on page one . . .]
[Days, weeks pass. We again find the young player alone in a hospital room, staring listlessly. His head has been shaved. We see an ugly scar and realize that he’s been lobotomized. Hudgens enters room along with nurse and the familiar men in lab coats.]
Hudgens: Ah, at last, Phase Six is complete. How do you feel?
Player (blandly, robotically): Very well, thank you.
Player: Very well, thank you.
Hudgens: We’re almost done. But first we’re going to play a little game. It’s called word association.
Player: Very well, thank you.
Hudgens (frowns): Okay, I’ll say a word, and you respond with the first thing that pops into your brain. Understand?
Player: Very well, tha —
Hudgens: Shut up! [Awkward silence.] Swing.
Player: NAPALM! BURNING BABIES! DEATH!
Player (vomits, wipes face with back of hand): PRISON RAPE!
Hudgens (nods with satisfaction to assistants): Walk.
Player: Money, booze, women, sex . . .
SOME FACTS: A former hitting coach for the Oakland A’s (where else?), Dave Hudgens was hired by the Mets after the 2010 season. It’s all been downhill from there. At what point will this organization admit that it’s been a disaster?
2011: .264/.335/.391 * 571 BB * 1085 K
2012: .249/.316/.386 * 503 BB * 1250 K
2013: .237/.306/.366 * 512 BB * 1384 K
2014: .216/.294/.308 (Note: Does not include Thursday’s performance.)
NOTE: Dave Hudgens would like to thank author Anthony Burgess for the inspiration and insights about behavior modification.