Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Slammer – An Ever Growing Web Novel – Chapter 2.5

Tug has always believed that catchers bat last, it was the way he did it in his day, and it is going to be how his team does it now. The way this game is going already, both pitchers are throwing a shutout, and Lily grabs her bat and starts walking towards the exit from the dugout, so that she can take her place in the on-deck circle for her first major league at bat. The hand that grabs her as she is walking by belongs to Jack, as he says to her, “Ok you have to take care of your pitcher Lily, and you of all people should know that. Don’t leave me hanging into the eighth inning with a zero zero tie going ok?” and then he gives her a wink, to signify the understanding that he hopes she has.

“Nothing like a little more pressure Jack, thank you,” she says to him as she winks back. She looks down to the end of the dugout where her brother sits staring out at the field, and as usual she tries to figure out what he is looking at, but as she does, she see’s Jack go back over to sit next to him and ramble on, as Jay ignores him. Looking at Tug she adds, “Should I just throw up again?” which earns her a shrug.

The long walk to the on deck circle that is barely twenty feet from the dugout is enough to make your entire life flash before your eyes, but as Lily swings her bat on the way she gets a smile thinking that the walk into the batters box might actually start her thinking about her demise instead. The crowd got louder the second they saw her step out of the dugout and it was kinda obvious as her long blonde hair stuck out of the back of her hat and wafted back and forth as she walked who she was. It’s not like every person in the crowd didn’t have her timed on their score card anyway, because this is Fenway Park, and yes, everyone still keeps a score card here.

Now as she is standing in the on deck circle Lily takes her customary warm up swings, and her mind wanders back to the dugout as she see’s Jack still talking away to her brother, all animated and waving his hands as he is explaining things to him that are obviously important. She gets a smile for a moment as she notices Jack’s seemingly endless attention span, as he just pretends that Jay hears everything he says. She finally here’s the umpire yelling “Stteeeerrrrrrrriiiiiiiike Three!” and realizes that it is her cue to get into the batters box. “Here goes nothing,” she actually says out loud if willing herself onward towards the plate. This is now officially the twentieth or so “longest walks of her life” that she has taken in the last couple of weeks. Looking back she doesn’t even remember when it had gone from, “catching a game on a whim in the independent league” to the whole enchilada of “walking out onto the field in the oldest park in baseball” and worse yet, “as the most rabid fans in baseball are screaming all around her,” and the concept of what comes next is the furthest thing from her mind.

Lily’s approach to the batters box is quite timid, she hasn’t been on her game all day, and she is thanking God that Jack has covered for her all along, but she is finally walking out there alone, and the crowd sounds like a rock concert. Every last one of the people making a racket is here for Lily, and she knows it too. Most of it is rather flattering, but a stray sexist pig, or person hopelessly lost in the eighteen hundreds gets their opinion through the screaming of “We love you Lily!” Her foot gets to the batters box, and as she has always done the first time she walks into any given batters box, she sweeps her foot along the chalk marring it for good luck.

The catcher for the other team apparently falls into the eighteen hundreds club, or his jealousy of her popularity, and his own short comings gets the best of him, as he makes the first off color comment that comes to his mind, “You might have trouble with the little balls sweetheart, cuz this isn’t softball,” and then he chuckles to himself as if he made a brilliant observation, so now he is ready to go out on tour with Comedy Central.

Lily immediately raises her hand, and calls time, and then recoils over in laughter. The umpire asks her if she is ok, and she stands up strait again to look the umpire in the face and say, “I don’t know if I can go on, this guy’s almost as funny as his batting average. Can you imagine what the city of Toronto is going to do to this moron when they realize that his .118 batting average doesn’t even cover for the fact that he is the only catcher that makes less than ME!” and she starts a fake recoil again, as the catcher at the plate stands up looking furious.

The umpire immediately takes control of the situation, “Ok, you squat back down, you asked for that, and as for you miss I am watching enough theatrics by you being here alone, please don’t make it any worse. Hit the ball and shut him up that way,” the umpire looks down to see that the catcher is in place, and then looks back to Lily who took her gentle warning to be what it was, the only one she’s getting, and starts her slow warm up swings in the box.

She couldn’t help herself after the first shake off, to say rather quietly, “Jack is famous for protecting his batters dude,” and surprisingly enough, the next pitch got a nod. The umpire didn’t say a word, but you can tell that if Lily had been looking at him she would have received a wink.

The pitcher on the mound is one of those ones that the average color commentator would call a “crafty veteran” which happens to be codename for what Lily always called a “junk dealer” and as a certified fastball hitter, these guys always gave her the most trouble. He’s a bit over the hill and never really commanded a fast ball like Jack did, and probably never would have been able to hit Jay’s slowest pitch, but what he does have is wonderful accuracy, and the ability to make people miss by getting the ball to do some pretty obscene things. In his day he would have been considered an artist with great “stuff” but now he is just a “crafty veteran” and still has the leg up on Lily. You’d never be able to tell though looking at Lily, she is almost as stone faced as her brother on the mound when she is in the box, and worse yet for any pitcher, she is completely dangerous when she is in the zone. She would have rather faced a “blazing kid” then a “crafty veteran” because a “crafty veteran” is going to take her damn seriously regardless of who, she happens to be.

The pitcher brings his glove to his chest, to signify that he is about to go into his wind up. Lily did watch the film on him, so she knows that his breaking point with the ball will be about three quarters, but he drags his knee on the ground as he throws himself as far into the pitch as possible for that extra two or three miles per hour. Lily has always admired the “skinned knee” pitchers, which is her analogy for guys who pitch with so much heart that they often tear out the knee of their uniform getting into a pitch and dragging it across the dirt all day will do that. It’s only the end of the third and she can see the knee starting to wear a small hole, but he is facing a legend after all and so far matching him pretty well. Lily notes the absolute seriousness in his face, because he isn’t taking her lightly at all, which she finds to be a compliment.

Lily hunches down a bit so that she can concentrate a little better, as the pitcher slowly raises his arms from his chest to signify the process of the wind up, like a crane his arms lift towards the sky and Lily does her best not to follow the glove. “Follow the ball” she repeats over and over in her mind, and it happens to be escorted back behind the pitcher at this moment, so that he can get the maximum stretch required to juice it, as best he can over the plate. Lily’s mind tries to clear out all of the thoughts that are flying through it. Will it be in, or out? Will it drop hard, or rise quickly? The respect that she has for this man is almost as proper as his for her; the difference is that he thinks she won’t hit this pitch that finally starts inward toward the plate as his whole body recoils to launch the ball toward its place in the catcher’s mitt. Lily mouths the words “Thee Quarters” as she spy’s that very spot and the ball is now out of its cradle inside the pitchers hand and coming at her. “Never take your eye off of the ball and your hands will naturally take you to the point that your eye tells it to,” is the last thing that her mind tells her, as her father always had.

CRACK!!!! The sound rings out through the whole ballpark. It was the perfect pitch. It rode in and it dropped really hard outward, and no man in the major leagues could have hit that ball with the force that Lily tagged it, and actually no man did. The ball is sailing upward and everyone in the park stands up, and the collective “Ooooooo” of the crowd as the first pitch that Lily ever saw in an actual Red Sox uniform, as perfect as it was, and as beguiling as it would have been to most, was nothing more than the first home run of Lily’s major league career, and it isn’t a cheapie either. The ball finally sails over the green monster, clearing it by at the very least 50 feet, and it’s easily going to break a window on the other side of Lansdown Street. The crowd erupts into frenzy as Lily again doesn’t just make history; she makes sure that it isn’t upstaged to easily later.

On Lily’s trot around the bases, she looks toward the dugout and see’s everyone in the dugout standing and applauding her except for one person, sitting in the corner with his hands clasped together and his elbows on his knees, staring at the floor. At that very moment she almost felt like crying as her only living relative totally missed another wonderful moment in her life. … to be continued