From within the house he could hear the doorbell buzz loudly, and Craig's wife Patty answered the door. "Oh, Chris, so glad you could make it," she said warmly. "The guys are downstairs. Here," she motioned for him to follow her as he looked around. They walked to the basement door. "You're the last to arrive," she said, stepping back as he started down the stairs. "Have fun!"
Burke walked down to the bottom of the stairs. The basement seemed awfully dark for a party. He heard voices from down the hallway, and he could see flickering lights coming from a door on the right. As he stepped in, he was totally not prepared for what he saw.
Biggio was sitting at the head of a long table. Jeff Bagwell sat to his left. Lance Berkman, Eric Bruntlett, and Brandon Backe were seated staggered down the rest of the table. The lights were out, and the room was lit only by a set of black and yellow flickering candles, spaced out around the sides of the room and along the table. Everyone was wearing long, flowing black robes with yellow collars. From the corners of the room came a faint buzzing sound, somewhat reminiscent of the at-bat bee sounds from Minute Maid Park.
Everybody stared at Burke as he entered the room. Nobody spoke for a minute or two. Finally, Biggio stood up and broke the silence.
"Welcome, Chris Burke. Are you prepared to begin the initiation rites for your membership in the sacred fraternity of the Killer Bees?"
Burke stared. He tried to say something eloquent. "Uh."
"I'll take that as a yes," nodded Biggio, and motioned towards Bruntlett, who got up and grabbed a black and yellow striped bandana off the table.
"Wait, what the hell is going on?" said Burke, as Bruntlett came over to blindfold him. "I thought we were having a birthday party for you?"
"We are!" said Backe jubilantly. Biggio glared at him. He stopped smiling.
"Burke, you must understand the great honor that is about to be bestowed upon you. We must lead you to the sacred chamber blindfolded."
"To bee, or not to bee," mused Burke.
Backe giggled. "That IS the question!"
"Ah, crap, whatever," said Burke, shaking his head.
Bruntlett put the blindfold around Burke's eyes. "Don't worry, dude," he said. "I went through initiation last year. It won't hurt... not much, anyway."
Chris Burke could hear footsteps around him, and he could tell that they went through a hallway, then down some stairs, and then through a door, and then... outside? It was warmer, and he could smell freshly-mowed grass, and also something burning, like charcoal. They took off the blindfold. Everyone was standing in a gorgeous, spacious backyard, no longer wearing the robes. "Sacred chamber?" he muttered.
Biggio grinned. "Let the Biggio Birthday Bee Bee Q begin!"
"Oh for crying out loud," said Burke as everybody else broke down laughing. But soon enough he joined in the laughter, as Bagwell put a bunch of burgers on the grill. They had set out a cooler full of Budweiser beers, and there was also a pot of baked beans warming up.
"Bloody brilliant, Bags," said Berkman. "Blue cheese. How come we never thought of that before?"
"Last year we barbecued bratwurst, Berko," said Backe.
"Yeah. Well, grab a bun and burger, some beans, a beer, and begin the boogie!"
Burke shook his head. God, I hope everyone doesn't always talk like this.
They sat down at the table and started eating. Biggio went over to the outdoor sound system and pressed a few buttons, and soon the yard was filled with the bouncy disco music of the Bee Gees. Nobody seemed to think this was out of place. After a while, Biggio cleared his throat and looked around at everyone.
"My fellow bees," he said. "This was a good year for us. Despite the terrible setback suffered by our brother Bagwell, things went well. Brother Bruntlett played just about every position and excelled at them all. Brother Berkman valiantly covered first base for our fallen brother Bagwell, and also posted a team-leading on-base percentage above 400 for the fifth year in a row. Brother Backe became a regular starting pitcher this year and did a beautiful job, and was also the best-hitting member of our pitching staff. And our newest Bee, brother Burke, did a great job not only in the outfield, but also delivered several key hits at the plate, including that walk-off home run in the epic NLDS game four. I cheer you all. BZZZZ!" he said, holding up his beer bottle.
"BZZZZ!" everyone at the table buzzed, clinking bottles and drinking.
"Don't forget brother Biggio," said Berkman. "Came back to second base after Kent ditched us and took us right to the Series. You were badass, bro."
Biggio blushed. "Anyway.. we do have big bee business to conduct today, my brethren."
"Bee Business?" asked Burke.
"Yeah. I have a fantastic plan that will not only take the Astros TO the series next year, but get us to WIN it as well."
"You see, brother Burke, the problem is team unity," continued Biggio. "Not everyone can be a Killer Bee, you know? Therefore, I say we need to recruit more members to our order. Looking at our assembled staff here, I see that we need a catcher, a third baseman, a shortstop, a few outfielders, and maybe a couple of pitchers too. We have work to do."
"Brother Biggio and I have researched many possible additions to our family," said Bagwell. He picked up a pile of papers on the end of the table and passed them around. "Take a look, let us know what you think."
It was silent for a few minutes as the four younger initiates in the order read over the papers. Berkman was the first one to speak. "Bret Boone?" he said bluntly. "Are you bonkers?"
"Boone would make a great bench bat," said Biggio, "And he could play second base sometimes as well. Plus BOTH of his names start with a B, that would make him double Killer Bee material."
"Bogus," bantered Bruntlett. "You have Willie Bloomquist on this list. He's like me, only he sucks."
"Okay," agreed Bagwell. "But how about some of these other guys? Burrell? Byrnes? Bigbie? Baldelli? Good solid outfielders, there."
"Yeah, they're not bad," said Berkman. "But Blalock? Bell? All of your infielders are cornermen. Who's gonna play shortstop, Larry Bowa?"
"Ha! Good one, Berko!" said Biggio. "Actually, we thought he might make a good base coach. But no, we think the killingest Bee out there in the hole would be Betancourt, on the Mariners. Kid's got the best hands we've ever seen. He's the bee's knees."
Backe, who was still staring at the list, started giggling. "Bocachica!" he said. "Bocalocabocabocachicachicachicachica!" he giggled.
"Great, Backe's lost it again," said Bruntlett. "Hey Backe, how would you feel about some of these Bee hurlers? Burnett? Beckett? Brocail? Hmm... Benson's not a bad idea. His wife's a babe."
"And pitching coach Bud Black. Beauty, Bidge," said Bagwell buoyantly.
"Brother Burke, what do you think?" said Biggio in an encouraging voice. Everyone looked over at Burke, who had been strangely quiet.
"Well, I think getting Blum back might be a good move considering what he did to us in the Series," Burke started slowly. "But um, these old guys here? Kevin Brown? Barry Bonds? What are you guys thinking? Pat Borders? Isn't he like 50 years old?"
The table was silent for a second, as if people were unsure what to say. Then Bagwell clapped a hand on Biggio's shoulder and said "Yeah, but so's Biggio!"
Everyone broke out laughing. The party continued. After a while, everyone got sick of suggesting names, and they did infact break out and play some games for a while, tossing around a football, playing frisbee, and generally having a blast. Eventually Biggio's wife came outside with a huge birthday cake full of twinkling candles. They sang a birthday song to Biggio, but as Burke tried to follow along, they had distinctly different words:
Happy Bee-Day to you, (BZZZZZ!)They cut up the cake and devoured it. "Sean Berry?" asked Burke.
Happy Bee-Day to you, (BZZZZZZ!)
You look like Sean Berry
And you play like him too.
"Yeah, I dunno, he was on the team when I was drafted but off by the time I started playing," said Berkman. "I never knew him. It's some stupid inside joke."
They ate cake silently for a while, and then Burke spoke up again. "Hey Bidge," he said. "How old ARE you, anyway? You're not really 50, right?"
"In my mind, I'm still 25," said Biggio. "Even if my driver's license says I'm 40."
"Yeah," quipped Bagwell, finishing off his cake. "He's as young as he wants to beeee!"
(To beeee continued... NOT.)