I'm back at my computer again...Hopefully for good. I don't like hospitals much. Clearly, I haven't yet been able to keep up with my postings, let alone visit your sites...But I will.
I have found an interesting thing has happened to my writing while I've been under the weather. My handwriting has become kind of dyslexic. Words are coming out backwards, out of order and just generally weird. New letter forms are appearing...Seriously. Odd little bunny eared scrawls are Ws. Sometimes. Clever, new and seemingly meaningless punctuation shows up, poof. I started outlining a new novella length piece yesterday, and had to go back and language check the danr thing before closing the notebook, for fear that the text would read like Urdu the next day. My typing isn't much better but then, it never was. At least there's spellcheck.
So, here's a story for Spring. Stu, you remember this one...two weeks...pitchers and catchers, right?
Most visitors’ dugouts in the Blue Water League have a place where Meachum can feel comfortable. He likes to sit in a corner where he can slouch against two walls. He likes wooden benches. He likes it dark. Here, at Huron Park, the bench is aluminum and he squints against the halogen brightness. Lots of managers are pacers or standers or leaners. Meachum sits, his voice sharp enough to cut the crowd noise and find his batter’s ear.
“Come on, ‘berto, pick him up!” Roberto Greenstreet, his tank of a catcher, sways at the plate, the bat light in his hands. Nobody out and Davis is on first. One and two on Greenstreet. The Huron Bay pitcher jams one high and inside, Greenstreet twists away and the ball nicks his bat, squibbing like a bottle rocket sixty feet toward first. The first baseman misjudges and charges the pop fly, grabs the ball on its first bounce and with surprising grace, he whirls and tags the runner. He’s so pleased with himself, he forgets to throw to second, missing a likely double play. Double A ball is like that.
Meachum sighs. It’s only the second week of May and already his Jets are two and seven. He guesses this Thursday crowd to be about twenty-five hundred. This is the Huron Bay Clippers’ second season in the League and they are drawing well. The Jets have been in Wyandotte since the middle eighties and they can’t pull two thousand on a Saturday. A couple of winning seasons could fix that. A title run could fill Jet’s Park. I can give it another few years, thinks Meachum. Or I could leave in September. There’s the IRA and the pension. I could leave. Meachum is fifty-five. There’s some talent on this team, though. A little, at least. There’s Kimbe’ Reese.
“Reese,” calls Meachum. A tall, black, willow-switch of an eighteen-year-old looks up as he walks to the on-deck circle.
“If Scuddy gets on, you just have to make contact. Put it in play.” Reese doesn’t nod, but he understands. “You hear me? Just put the ball in play.”
Kimbe’ Reese takes a few steps toward the dugout, turns to spit at the pitcher, turns back and says, “I can break it.”
“One run, Kimbe’. One run. Put the ball in play, poke it into right. One run.”
Reese raps the rubber weight from the end of his bat, takes a sweet, hard, singing cut at the air and says, “Three runs. Quick. Break that fucker’s heart.”
Scuddy walks. One out. Reese steps to the batter’s box, scuffing sand, tugging his batting glove on with his teeth. He stands in, takes three practice swings and then glaces back at the umpire. Time has been called. The Clipper’s catcher trots out to the mound. Two infielders join him.
For Meachum it’s always been baseball. He played mostly Double A ball but for all of the sixty-seven season he played Triple A. And for two weeks, when God loved him particularly well, he’d been called up to the Phillies. Never mind that more than half of the Phillies’ pitching staff was down with the flu. He’d been to The Bigs. Pitched middle relief in three games. Almost had a win. He told Miriam that when he died he wanted her to tear his page out of the Baseball Encyclopedia and bury it with him. He had also wanted his major league stats on his tombstone but she told him he’d have to settle for, “Beloved Husband.”
Hurley, the third base coach, is giving signs. He finishes with two slaps to his rump and two fingers to his temple. It means, “Don’t be a butt head.”
The pitcher sets. Reese holds the bat high and as the pitcher comes over the top, he coils back, moving the bat less than two inches, and Meachum can almost hear the click, like the cocking of a gun. Curve ball; ball one.
The next pitch is a blur and the swing of the bat is a blur and they meet with a hard thack that fills the air. The ball streams up and out toward right center field. Meachum leans forward on the aluminum and watches, judging the arc, guessing the power. It might go. It might fly for days. The arc peaks, the ball slows a single-star constellation against the night sky. It starts to fall. The center fielder got a late break, but he’s not digging hard to meet the ball…he’s running just fast enough to watch it if it goes out or catch it if it’s short. Meachum knows. Reese put three hundred twenty feet of power into that swing. He needed three twenty-five. The center fielder brakes and stretches out a lazy arm. As clearly as with field glasses Meachum watches as the ball meets the fingers of the glove. He sees the leather flop backwards, as though there were nothing in it; no fingers in the glove, no bones in the hand. The ball bumps the mans’ left thigh and drops off to the left. Reese trots in to third surpressing a grin, trying to be cool, not knowing how close he was to being out. Meachum settles back. Two innings later they loose the game. Two hours later they are at their rooms.
Motel restaurant fish and chips rumble his stomach. He’s changed to khakis and a polo shirt. He can’t remember if he’s locked the bus.
Meachum thinks, I should have called Miriam…it’s too late now, she’d be asleep. She spent the day waiting for the results of the biopsy. And taking the grand kids to soccer practice…not even baseball. He wonders how his sons see him. They wear their suits and ties and go to their offices every day, while he wears short pants and knee socks and goes to the ball park four nights a week to watch old boys and young men play. At fifty-five. He could leave in September. Even owning twenty per-cent of the Jets doesn’t seem like a serious occupation. But I was there, Meachum thinks. Thirty thousand people watched me wear that red cap and kick my leg high and blow a fastball by Willie Stargell.
The bus was tired when Greyhound sold it. It is exhausted now. Meachum opens the door, flips on the lights and sits in the driver’s seat. Five hundred and sixty thousand miles. Yeah, thinks Meachum, but they’re highway miles, and he laughs out loud. He checks for leftover, smoldering cigarette butts and steps down, double checking the door lock.
The baggage door on the side looks slightly ajar. He opens it to slam it tight and a loose ball falls from the lips of an equipment bag and rolls out, bouncing on the blacktop, stopping in the grass by a phone pole. Meachum flips the ball lightly and walks the edge of the parking lot. It’s nearly midnight. He stops at thirty paces. When he was a boy he’d pace thirty steps from the strike-zone box he’d painted on the barn wall and pitch until dark.
He turns now, facing the phone pole. He brings the ball to his waist and turns to check the runner at second. Looking in to the plate, Walker, his old catcher in Triple A, gives him the sign. He gives a quick look to second and back to the plate. Miriam, in the crouch holds one finger down and gives it a waggle. She calls out, “Bring it home, Mac.” He starts his wind-up, loose and young, his arm new and easy as it whips down, the ball like a thing with no weight flies on a line, smacking the pole two feet up from the grass. Meachum retrieves it from the weeds, checks the bus doors and goes in to make a late call to Miriam. He’ll ask about the biopsy. They’ll talk about September.