Arrivederci, Raffy

the curse has been lifted

April 03, 2006|By RICK MAESE

TURIN, ITALY — TURIN, Italy-- --I clutched the baseball jersey in my hand and looked at the manhole cover near my feet. All around me, cars were zipping by without a second thought to what I was doing, how I was altering the course of history, how I was saving the Orioles' franchise from ruin.

I paused for a bit and let it all sink in. The rain was still coming down, rolling off my head and finding the cracks in the ground. These cracks formed small streams, and they all funneled to the same place just a few inches from my soaked feet - the Gates of Hell.

I'd arrived here more than two hours earlier and met a local woman named Harinella Caligaris. I hired her to be my guide, to teach me about the powerful white and black magic forces that converge on Turin. She promised to tell me all about devils and witches and free masons.

"Do you know anything about curses?" I asked.

She shook her head.

"What about baseball?"

Nothing.

See, I knew about baseball but only a bit about curses. History shows that baseball enjoys an undeniable cause-and-effect relationship with curses. Challenge the integrity of the game - a curse upon your clubhouse. Throw the World Series? Dump the Bambino? Kick a bartender and his billy goat out of Wrigley Field? All offenses worthy of a curse.

So clearly last year when Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids, he was damaging more than his legacy. He endangered the Orioles' indefinite future. I had pondered this unavoidable reality for several months before all the pieces began to come together. A curse was on its way and a pre-emptive strike was the only hope.

A few days before leaving Baltimore for Italy, I happened upon a sporting goods store. On one rack hung a single Orioles jersey, a big "25" stitched on the back and "Palmeiro" stretching across the shoulders like a dark rainbow. The jersey was marked down 75 percent. I plopped $30 on the counter and could already feel the dark forces cringing at the looming battle.

A couple of weeks later, I was meeting Harinella, a certified expert in the storied magic of Turin. At least that's what she told me. I had contacted some experts back in the United States, and they were unaware of Turin's relationship with magic. I suspect these experts were mostly Red Sox fans who were trying to sabotage my plan, because Harinella sure sounded convincing.

She explained that Turin is uniquely situated in the universe, occupying a corner on the triangle of black magic, along with London and San Francisco, and a spot on the triangle of white magic, with Prague and Lyon, France. For my purposes, it made Turin the obvious spot to reverse Raffy's curse.

Turin, it turns out, was born on the wrong side of a region and the wrong side of a river. Because it's on the west, where the sun sets, it's evil, they say. Also, the city is located on the 45th parallel, which also makes it evil, they say. That's right - the 45th parallel. I don't need to remind you that in 1987, Palmeiro appeared in exactly 45 road games. Spooky, I know.

Harinella walked me through the city streets. She spoke in this way that made everything sound mysterious. "Turin is a city of contrasts," she said, and it really was an eerie night. As soon as the sun set, the rain began to fall. The water collected on the streets, and Turin's colorful neon signs - "Cafe" and "Pizzeria" - reflected in the puddles, which seemed to make our feet glow as we traveled into the city's darkest corners.

My guide showed me where Turin staged executions each Sunday after Mass. She explained that the locals used to rent out their balconies for execution-viewing. It reminded me of the buildings outside Wrigley Field.

Then Harinella showed me where soldiers died from battles - "a carpet of bodies" - and the devils and demons that adorned the banks lining our path. We visited the Holy Shroud of Turin, the sacred garment that believers say was wrapped around Jesus after his crucifixion. And not far from that, we came upon the epicenter of white magic.

Given my inexperience with magic, I wasn't sure exactly whether the white or black end of the spectrum held the most hope for reversing the curse. So I needed to visit both. We stopped at the Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio, a beautiful and imposing church, the only one situated on the east side of the river. Some believe the Holy Grail is buried deep down below.

I asked Harinella for a couple of seconds alone. I stood at the base of the church and set a piece of paper on the ground. It was Palmeiro's bio, printed from MLB.com.

I read from another sheet of paper, also printed from the Internet. The spell required a lemon, so I dabbled some lemonade on the paper earlier in the day.

Let this lemon do its task

Its cleansing power I do ask

As this lemon dries in air

Free us from this dark despair

We wish no ill, nor wish him pain

We wish only to be free again.

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