Max Duncan shifted from one foot to the other, squinting into the sun in the right field of Jacob Makowski Memorial baseball field. The batters in a slow unending progression moved toward the batter’s box. The infield celebrities, as if on cue, began in unison to chant their pre-rehearsed banter, “Batter, Hey Batter.” Everyone slipped into their assigned positions.
Robbie Wilson, shortstop, crouched low, pounding his fist into his glove. Alex Nordeen, first base, chewed his gum a little faster. Albert B. Makan, in centerfield, picked his nose, much to the chagrin of his parents who sat in the parents' bleachers.
The batter, a chubby boy, who kept pulling on his spotlessly clean baseball pants, stood looking at the outfielders with thoughts of his baseball heroes racing through his mind.
Momentarily forgetting that he only had one hit all season, a weak ball down to the waiting glove of third baseman. Joey Maxwell slowly stepped into the batter’s box, his eyes glued on the pitcher. This time it would be different, he thought, the words of his father running through his mind, “Don’t rest the bat on your shoulder, watch the pitcher, and watch the ball.” He turned quickly, one last glance at the bleachers, his father sitting there, watching. A knot formed in Joey’s stomach.
“Strike one” the umpire’s voice cut through the park bringing on a new chorus from the infielders “No batter, Come on Larry another one, No batter.” The pitcher stood up straight, threw his shoulders back, looked at the batter; a little smile began to inch its way across his face.
Larry Boden the pitcher had carried the game to the top of the ninth inning, his team down by one run. There were two outs with Joey Maxwell at the plate. As Larry looked at Joey, he knew that he had him.
“Strike two,” Again the umpire’s voice echoed through the park. Another round of chants from the infielders; Joey began to feel the knot in his stomach grow. Inside a voice grew in its intensity, why am I here? I hate baseball.
The pitcher leaned forward, looking at the batter. Turning his head, Larry gave a nod to the first baseman, who nodded in return. Confidence building, one more strike and the batter would be out. Joey lifted his bat off his shoulders, gave the pitcher his most confident stare, while inside, his subconscious character shook his head and covered his eyes. Slowly the bat fell back to rest on his shoulder.
The wind up the ball sailed in toward the batter, unerring dead on its mark; the pitcher’s eye is good. The batter watches, readied himself, swung, whoosh the bat sliced through the air.
“Strike three." The umpire once again announced to the world that Joey Maxwell had failed again.
The outfielders started running toward their dugout. Joey grabbed his glove and sauntered off toward right field, his shoulders slumped. Head down, he walked to his position in right field. Standing alone out in the right field, Joey looked toward the bleachers. He watched his father sitting with arms crossed and shaking his head.
The first batter moved toward the batter’s box. Everybody got ready. The pitcher, a tall gangly boy went through his wind-up. The crack of a baseball hitting the wooden bat echoed through the field. Joey tensed as the ball was hit to center field. Ralph Pearson ran using his long legs, dove for the ball and came up with a glove full of grass. The ball bounced and rolled to a stop. Ralph jumped to his feet and threw it to second base. The batter ran toward third and slid in on his stomach just before the ball hit the third baseman’s waiting glove. Some of the parents in the bleachers jumped to their feet and cheered as the third base umpire signaled safe. The teammates started jumping up and down, slapping each other on the back; only one run separated the two teams with a runner on third and no outs. It looked good for at least a tie game.
The next batter took advantage of the pitcher’s wild pitches and took first base. The next batter took his place in the batter’s box; he hit a Texas leaguer over the top of the second baseman. Albert, the centerfielder was busy kicking the heads off dandelions when the ball fell between the second baseman and Albert, unaware of what was going on until the left fielder was shouting and waving his arms, attempting to get Albert’s attention. The coach threw his clipboard to the ground. The batter strutted to first base as his teammate made it to second. The bases loaded and no outs. The pitcher regained his confidence and the next batter struck out.
Inside Joey’s head, the event changed to fit his fantasy. Joey Maxwell saw himself sliding into third base and his teammates cheering, and the look on his father’s face as he turned to those parents sitting around him, saying, “Yea that’s my boy.”
The crack of the bat brought Joey back into the game. A little pop fly to the short stop put the game one step closer to the finish. The batters paraded up to the batters’ box and did their best. The two runs needed were now on base, their best hitter approaching homeplate. Mike Pratt, big for his age, already a legend among the boys of little league, adjusted his hat, bent down to pick up some dirt and rubbed it on his hands. Taking the bat and hitting the soles of his well-worn shoes, he looked out at the right field and smiled. Joey Maxwell shifted from one foot to the other. Mike smiled.
Rudy Mason, the pitcher swallowed a couple of times and chewed a little harder on his gum. The pitch thrown and the batter smiling as the ball bounced in the dirt in front of homeplate. “Ball one,” the umpire roared, knowing that his job was almost over, beginning to think about going home for dinner. The pitcher turned the ball over in his hand as the first baseman started the infielders, "Hey batter, Hey batter, no batter," in a singsong chorus.
Joey watched the scene from his right field position, almost detached like watching the game on TV. He moved back playing deep, watching, hoping the ball didn't come his way.
Thinking back, Joey remembered other moments of humiliation balls that had dropped out of his glove; tripping over his own feet in his attempt to run after the ball, running into the center fielder.
The crack of the bat and the ball took off on its flight, spinning like a miniature satellite sailing toward right field fence. Joey swallowed, trying not to throw up as he kept moving back. Bumping into the fence, he put his baseball glove up to shield his eyes from the sun. He stared toward the sky.
The bleachers erupted into pandemonium. Joey brought his glove down. There in the center was the white baseball. With both hands he held onto it with all his might. A smile spread across his face that could only be matched by the smile on his father’s face from the bleachers.
The center fielder ran across the field, yelling “Joey how did you do that, great catch!” “I just closed my eyes and put my glove up," Joey mumbled as his mind’s fantasy now began to play into reality. Joey the one-handed hero. Joey held the baseball all the way home. As his father drove, Joey’s mind replayed the scene over and over again. Maybe baseball was not so bad.
Backgrounds by Marie
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