Mike starts hitchhiking in high school. The only hitchhiker in Easton who doesn't care which way the driver's going, because going is all that matters. Who doesn't care if there isn't even a driver, or whether that's not hitchhiking, son, that's larceny. It costs him only a few nights in jail.
Then one day in 1975, three years after Mike graduates from Loyola College in Baltimore, his old man calls out of the blue, invites him to a 12-hour liquid lunch at a saloon, and at the end of it says, "McGill"--Bill calls him that out of affection for Cornelius McGillicuddy, the ancient owner-manager of the Philadelphia A's better known as Connie Mack--"McGill, I'm going to buy the White Sox again. You might want to come check it out. It's going to be interesting." And Mike, an English major/philosophy minor/rock band drummer and guitarist adrift, realizes he's being offered a job in the Show, a shot at the bigs, a place at the legend's elbow.
Hot damn. Double dip: He finds Dad. He finds himself. Some of Dad's best promotional ideas are actually Mike's ideas, because the kid's got a couple of quarts of zany in the blood too. Then, in his second year on the job as promotions director, Mike uncorks a whiz-banger. He's sitting in a Chicago saloon one summer night at 3 a.m., relishing the 20-stage disco-dancing contest that just juiced the gate at a White Sox game, when he remembers two things: his abhorrence of disco and his old man's marketing mantra--think opposites. So he blurts, "What about an anti-disco night?" Before he knows it, it's July 12, 1979, and he's got 60,000 fans inside 52,000-capacity Comiskey Park, another 15,000 pounding on the ticket booths and 15,000 more gridlocked on the Dan Ryan Expressway, all for Disco Demolition Night. He's got vinyl Bee Gees 45s whizzing through the air, a dumpster behind second base crammed with the crowd's old disco albums, explosives about to blow them to kingdom come ... and a mushroom cloud of marijuana smoke wafting overhead with the second game of a twi-night doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers yet to be played.
Down goes the detonator, up goes Abba and--ohhh my Waterloo! Finally facing my Waterloo!--there goes Mike's career. Onward they surge, Pillage People and Travolta Revoltas, climbing over the dugouts and fences, shimmying down the foul poles, storming the field, torching the field, cartwheeling the batting cage across it. When the Night Fever subsides, six people are injured and 39 arrested, and the 14th forfeited game in modern major league history has been declared. A travesty, howl the media and Sox season-ticket holders. When the following season ends, Dad sells the team--forced out of the game by runaway costs as the free-agent era explodes--and Mike is so radioactive that not a single baseball mogul will touch him.
For a half-dozen years he bangs around in Florida, sending unanswered application letters to the bigs, hanging drywall and promoting a jai alai fronton, pretending not to miss baseball, not to wonder if he was just his father's creation, not to notice the disappointment of all the strangers when they find out that he's Mike Veeck, not Bill. It all crests in the mid-'80s. He's drinking a bottle of whiskey a day, inhaling recreational drugs and watching his marriage unravel. His heart starts skipping beats. He starts blacking out. He goes to the hospital to take a Lamaze class to help his soon-to-be-ex-wife give birth and has a heart attack there instead. The doctor gives him two years to live unless he changes. His first child, Night Train, is born. His father dies. He cries so hard that his glasses fly off his face. His father's shadow doesn't die. Mike gets divorced. He goes into debt. He loses the battle for joint custody of his son.
Then comes Veeck Demolition Night, when a cop in Fort Lauderdale pulls him over and pours him into a cab instead of a jail cell. The bleary glimpse he catches of himself, on his hands and knees clawing under sofa cushions and through underwear drawers for nickels and dimes as the cabbie waits in Mike's town house, is so degrading that the next day he weaves on his bike to the local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter, then stands outside paralyzed for hours until an old woman named Mary comes out and reels him in.
One hundred fifty AA meetings in the next 90 days, 100 hours of bike-riding a week--they help, but it's really baseball that makes the shadow go away. Baseball, ringing him up out of the clear blue in 1989 after a New York lawyer named Marvin Goldklang buys a wreck of a minor league franchise named the Miami Miracle and bumps into Baltimore Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, who tells him, "If you're crazy enough to buy the Miami Miracle, you're crazy enough to hire Mike Veeck." So Goldklang does. Mike unleashes a decade of pent-up promotion, the franchise moves to Fort Myers and it becomes, financially, its nickname: a Miracle.
No. It's really Libby Matthews, a plucky pharmacist's assistant who shows up in his life the same year that baseball does, who makes the shadow go away.
No. It's really the firecracker they produce together, blue-eyed Bec.
No. The shadow doesn't go away. It just gets swallowed by a deeper, darker one.