Monday, February 10, 2014

Billy Saddle, a Baseball Novel, Chapter Four: Red Man

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David stares at home plate, a Milky Way of scars and scratches. The umpire finishes his sweeping and stands up. “Real sorry about this – recent events and all – but I gotta start the clock, David. Y’got five minutes to come up with that eighth man.”
            “I understand. Just wish I knew where Georgie was.”
            David wanders down the line. His players are warming up, heads on a swivel, looking for a savior. He peers into the spruce forest beyond the bleachers and catches a flash of red.
            “Hey! Guy in the cap!”
            The man slows to a halt and looks in David’s direction. Still wearing denim, still with the Bavarian hat.
            “We need another guy or we have to forfeit.”
            The man squints and blinks. “I don’t know…”
            “You don’t have to do a thing. If you just stand out there, you’ve already saved us.”
            The man studies his boot-tops, then stares into the outfield. He licks his lips and scratches an ear.
            “Right field okay?”
            “Right field’s perfect. Hey! Anybody got an extra glove?”
            Oscar offers a beat-up Rawlings. They go with the standard eight-man defense, leaving second base open and trusting David to pitch for the inside corner. Naturally, his first attempt drifts over the plate, and the batter lifts a lazy fly to right. Merzy’s fast, but there’s now way he’s going to get there. Their new recruit is frozen, gazing skyward as if he’s just spotted an interesting bird. David realizes he doesn’t even know the guy’s name, so he’s left to watch in a silent panic.
            The man flips his hand into the air. The ball lands with a smack. He takes it out and studies it, looking for secret messages, then chucks it to the second baseman who isn’t there. It rolls to David’s feet. Merzy jogs by and slaps the man on the back. He flinches.
            After the third out, the man walks directly across the foul line and sits on a tree stump. Oscar comes over to confer with David.
            “You see the way he threw up his glove like that?”
            “Yeah,” says David. “He’s a player.”
            “Shall I invite him to join us in the dugout?”
            “Nah. Probably won’t bat till next inning.”
            “O ye of little faith.”
            “Well if you bozos would line up a few hits…”
            The following inning, someone laces a ball down the right field line, and the legend of Red Man grows. He races to the line, plants a foot and spins, hurling a one-hopper to second. The batter rounds first and stays there, shaking his head. At the end of the inning, Red Man strolls to the rack and picks out a bat.
            “You’re up third,” says David.
            His eyes are bullets of steel blue.
            “I guess you’ve played this game before.”
            He wraps his fingers around the handle and flexes his wrists.
            “Tell you the truth, I can’t remember.”
            The first two batters manage to wind up on second and third. Red Man stands in, leans his bat against his shoulder and watches four pitches go by, two strikes, two balls. David is tempted to call time and remind him that it’s okay to take a swing, but decides that it really doesn’t matter. The next pitch is about to drift by for strike three when Red Man punches at it, slapping a grounder into right. Both runners score. He stands on first, arms folded, as if nothing could be more natural.
            They lose the game – ten-on-eight being a pretty hefty advantage – but they do manage to fight off the ten-run mercy rule. With condolences added to the mix, the pitching-mound handshakes take longer than usual. When David returns to the bench, he finds Oscar’s old glove dangling from the bat rack. Red Man is nowhere in sight.

Photo by MJV

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