Friday, March 7, 2014

Billy Saddle, the Baseball Novel, Chapter Twenty-Five: The DroppenPop

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 For a victory of such epic proportions, the standard pizza party will not suffice, so Run Like Hell extends its celebration to the jazz trio’s Labor Day performance. The official dress code is suit, tie and team T-shirt.
David indulges in a steak dinner with his family as Isaiah warms up the crowd. The importance of the occasion is punctuated by the presence of his wife, although her eyes keep wandering toward the door, like a wild creature in a cage.
Being underage, the boys will have to stay in the dining area, but their table affords an excellent backstage view. Derek has already made his contribution: a stack of statistical printouts, including individual player profiles, and a collage of photos on a posterboard display. The star attraction is a seven-shot sequence illustrating Billy’s already-legendary play. Noting the batter’s previous tendencies (a single and two flies, all to right), Derek trained his lens on Billy and kept his finger on the rapid-fire from setup to drop to desperation throw.
David has been scouring his brain, trying to come up with a nickname as catchy as the Grand Fool Double. The Bobble Rocket. The Cursebuster. The DroppenPop.
 “Yo Dad!”
Pablo’s pointing stageward.
Isaiah’s wearing a cantankerous grin, playing the Washington Post March. David ditches his dessert and reports for work. As he and Billy take their spots, the team begins to chant.
“Run Like Hell! Run Like Hell! Run Like Hell!”
Billy turns on his mic. “All right, you savages. Settle down. For those innocent visitors among us, Run Like Hell is the name of a softball team that recently won the Ocean Shores championship.”
The team roars.
“We’ll get the rest of you some dance music, but first we will attempt to appease this passel of raging jocks by playing a ditty commonly associated with the sport. A one-two-three one-two-three…”
The trio has worked this out ahead of time. Stealing a Gene Kelly Muppet Show gag involving “Singin’ in the Rain,” Isaiah cranks up a chunky three-time and Billy teases the crowd with every other waltz in the book: “A Bicycle Built for Two,” “In the Good Ol’ Summertime”…
“Oh, that’s not it? How about this one…”
“Molly Malone,” the secretly apropos “Tennessee Waltz,” even Verdi’s “La donna è mobilé.”
“Oh! Okay. This one for sure.”
And, finally, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The team gives it three hearty sing-alongs, Billy cuts them off, and Oscar yells “Play ball!”
David is suffering equal parts anxiety and guilt about just how much he’s getting away with. Elena gives him a wave at ten and heads home – or perhaps to the 24-hour gym that seems to have no effect on her physical condition. Derek and Pablo disappear to the pizza parlor (where, let’s face it, Pablo can have all the beer he wants). Most of the team heads off by midnight, most of the tourists by one, and soon they’re on to their final song, “Funny Valentine.” David abandons his post and heads for Abbey’s booth, where she’s chatting with a remarkable-looking woman: delicate librarian features, porcelain skin and a head of surprisingly kinky black hair.
“Excuse me,” he says. “May I steal your friend for a dance?”
The woman smiles – even her teeth are small, like a doll’s – and says, “By all means.”
Most of the dancing dilemma was solved by Abbey’s natural grace. David takes his left hand and drops it to her waist, and uses his right hand for spins. This cuts down on his options, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Abbey is dressed for the occasion, a frilly purple gown that is just about as close as Ocean Shores will ever come to Hollywood. He plants a kiss on the side of her neck.
“So. Who’s the gal-pal?”
“My shrink.”
“You know her?”
“I send her checks.”
“She does great work.”
Abbey bats her eyes. David wasn’t aware that she could do that. But he likes it tremendously.
“Mister Historian…”
“Miz Poet.”
“You might find it interesting to note that my uncle is getting entirely too much credit for that play. I mean, excuse me but weren’t you the one who hurled himself halfway across the diamond to make the putout?”
David is near to laughing but just smiles instead. “You enjoyed that?”
She bats her eyes again, setting off a hazel spark in her irises. “It was thrilling. I wanted to drag you into the bushes and screw your brains out.”
David’s knees buckle, as if Greg Maddux has just dropped a curveball over the inside corner.
“But then,” says Abbey, “I often want to do that.”
David feels his face growing hot. “I’m sorry. What was the question?”
“Credit! You deserve equal credit.”
“Well, honey. It’s like Lewis and Clark.”
“Oh my god! You are not going to drag Lewis and Clark into a softball game.”
“I am. On the journey itself, they were absolute equals. But Lewis gets more historical credit because it was his vision - his remarkable store of knowledge, his friendship with Jefferson - that made the whole thing possible. Somewhere deep in his muscle memory, Billy saw the possibility of that play and set it into motion. I get credit for reacting, for a pretty fucking awesome display of self-sacrifice, but the vision, that was Billy’s.”
Billy rounds out the song, but Isaiah continues into another solo.
“Another example. It was my vision that the band would continue this song. Reading my thoughts and seeing me dancing with a gorgeous hunk of woman, my pianist has just brilliantly brought this idea to life.”
Abbey looks at her uncle, eyes closed as he stirs the snare.
“I’ve never seen him so alive. I call it the Lazarus Play.”
“He was dead. The team was dead. One throw, one catch. No longer dead.”
“So your uncle is the messiah.”
“You got a problem with that?”
“Absolutely not.”
David laughs and lowers Abbey into a dip.

Photo by MJV

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