David A. Schwinghammer
· Soldier's Gap
· Mengele's Double, Chapter 9
· Seminary Boy, a memoir
· Fisher of Men, Chapter Nine
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Nine
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 8
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Eight
· Mengele's Double, Chapter Eight
· Bereavement Blues
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 7
· A Beautiful Mind, book review
· Another Planet, book review
· The Three Stooges, book review
· The God Particle
· Empire of Sin, book review
· Science at the Edge, book review
· Obama, a Modern Caesar?
· Americans Need to Pull Together
· Voices of the French Revolution, book review
· Great American Scandals
· Widow's Peak
· Alumni Game
· Girls Who Wear Glasses
· The Do Drop Inn
· Ode to Neve Campbell
· Jacks or Better 101
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A sad sack left-hander gets his first chance to pitch in a play-off game.
Odyssey of a Southpaw
Seth Majors stuttered. He’d been told this was the result of Nana Majors’s meddling when he’d begun kindergarten. Nana had been a one-room schoolteacher, and back in her day, it had been SOP to break left-handers of their sinister ways. She’d cited the bolt action on a rifle, the can opener, the gear shift on an automobile, and learning the Palmer cursive method as reasons to switch to his right hand. “If you don’t, you won’t be able to manipulate a scissors; they’re right-handed, you know, and that’ll be important when you graduate to first grade. And, besides,” the tiny woman with eerie cobalt eyes said, “Only one in ten people are left-handers; yet fully fifty percent of all your remedial readers swing from that side of the plate.”
She’d been weaning Seth of his left hand for fully a year before his other grandmother, Nana Hogendorn, found out. Grandma Hogendorn lived on a farm up near Tower, Minnesota, and didn’t get to see her only grandson as often as Nana Majors. She and Nana Majors were in stiff competition for their grandson’s love, Grandma Hogendorn buying him his first two-wheeler, Nana Majors his first baseball glove. Grandma Hogendorn was odds-on a better cook, though, sending him chocolate chip cookies fit for the gods. She was also twice the size of Grandma Majors, “As big as a goddamn Clydesdale,” Nana Majors would say.
Nana Hogendorn was also left-handed and she’d done extensive research on the matter, citing THE LEFT-HANDER’S HANDBOOK by James T. deKay. “Did you know some of the greatest people who ever lived were lefties,” she said. “Michelangelo, Charlemagne, Judy Garland, not to mention Norman Schwarzkopf.” She’d gone on to argue that since the right side of the brain controlled the left hand and the right side was more creative, left-handers were better problem solvers. “There’s no doubt about it,” she chortled. “Lefties are superior to right-handers.”
And so Seth’s parents had sided with Nana Hogendorn. But Grandma Majors had been right about that remedial reading thing. Seth didn’t do well in school at all. His special education teacher said it was because of the way the English language was printed on the page, from left to right, not the normal way for a sinistral to look at things.
The baseball field was Seth’s salvation. They welcomed left-handers there, left-handed pitchers especially, and that was what Seth wanted to be, a southpaw pitcher. The greatest player who ever lived had been a left-handed hurler before he’d switched to the outfield, where he could play every day taking advantage of his awesome power. Babe Ruth had won ninety-four games as a port-sider, going 23-12 and 24-13 during two of five seasons, with a perfect 3-0 record in the World Series.
But Seth was no Babe Ruth. He couldn’t hit or field worth a lick, and in high school baseball you can only pitch once a week or so. The rest of the time he played right field for the Rockville Robins, when he played at all.
The Rockville Robins fans, five hundred strong, were aligned along the left field foul lines, some of them with their faces painted blue and white as well as their hair. They rang their cowbells when the Robins got a hit, couldn’t forget the cowbells; no one would ever know you were from the country if you left the cowbells to home. The game was being televised via the public access station back in Rockville, and the fans were hooting and waving signs at the cameras. Along the right field line, the Fridley supporters, arrayed in Yankee pinstripes, were much more interested in Seth. They’d picked up on the name “Beanpole” they’d heard some of his teammates call him as they took the field; Seth was 6'3" and weighted 120 pounds and the Addison twins never let him forget that he bore an amazing resemblance to the homeliest player in the major leagues, Randy Johnson, the great strike-out artist who pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“Hey, Beanpole,” one of the Fridley fans screamed. “You’re so ugly, you have to sneak up on a glass of water to get a drink.” This clever gibe provoked a contest of sorts to see who among them could come up with the snappiest taunt. “You’re so ugly your mama had to tie a porkchop to your neck to get the dog to play with you,” another squawked.
Seth tried to block them out; he had been standing in right field for what seemed like a year, thinking about what he would do if a ball was hit his way, when he heard what sounded like a rifle shot. He quickly realized this was the sound of Louisville Slugger slapping horsehide. Blinded by the sun, he could not pick up the ball at first, but then remembered to flip down his shades and stand at an angle. The ball arched high into the blue sky, climbing like a rocket, then, reaching its apex, it began to plummet downward, so big he could count the red stitches. “If you drop that goddamn ball, Beanpole, you’re a dead man,” Timmy Addison yelled from second, where he was positioned to take the relay throw. Timmy and his twin brother Jimmy were a year older than Seth. They’d been playground dictators ever since elementary school.
Seth had misjudged the ball a bit, so he had to leap to snag it in the webbing of his glove, a “snow cone” in baseball parlance. The bench gasped in audible relief as he lobbed the ball in toward Timmy Addison on the bounce. The coach had stationed Seth in right field to keep him out of trouble. There weren’t that many left-handed hitters on the Fridley Giants and those that were would never be able to pull Thor Blaisdale’s heater.
When the next batter, the Giants’ carrottop shortstop, stepped up to the plate, Seth went back to worrying. What would he do when he came to bat the next inning? Seth had already struck out twice and if he whiffed again, he’d have to wear the “spastic’s sombrero” to school tomorrow. “I can’t play right field,” he’d told Coach Flynn when he’d seen his name in the lineup. “I’m a pitcher.”
Porter Flynn, a shop teacher who’d been on the job since the Louisiana Purchase, said, “Look, Seth; you’ve got a batting practice fastball and a curve you can’t get over the plate. It’s right field or ride the pine.”
Seth would’ve preferred the pine. Flynn would pick the region finals to play him in the field. The regular right fielder, Dusty Alvarez, had ruptured the ligaments in his ankle during districts so he guessed Coach had little alternative with only fifteen guys on the team, five of whom were even more inept than Seth. If the Robins won the game, they’d go to State. Thank God they had the best pitcher in Minnesota, fireballer Thor Blaisdale.
In the seventh inning, Thor walked the first three batters and hit the fourth and suddenly the score was 4-4. The only other starting pitcher the Robins had was Billy Ryan and he’d thrown the day before. Coach Flynn doffed his cap and waved toward Seth in right field. “Holy shit! He’s going to put me in.”
When Seth arrived at the mound, Coach Flynn, who had such a ponderous gut he had to wear suspenders with his uniform, said, “Looks like it’s your game to win or lose, young fella. Thor’s got a blister the size of an ostrich egg.”
“Can’t we just get the trainer to pop the damn thing,” Thor said. He was a huge, broad-shouldered fifteen-year-old who coulda played John Wayne’s little brother in one of those war movies. “Come on, Coach. I’ll get his next guy; he’s a banjo hitter.”
Flynn spit tobacco toward Thor’s spikes. “In case you forgot, I’m the coach around here and I don’t need any snot-nosed kid telling me I gotta keep him in when he can’t get the gotdamn ball over the plate. Now get over there and play first; tell Rogers I said to play right.” Thor loped toward first, leaving Coach, Seth and Timmy Addison, who’d ambled in from his position at second, alone on the mound.
Coach hadn’t shaved today, his gray beard stained brown with tobacco juice. Principal Insley, sitting in the first row of the first base stands, scowled at the Coach who was flouting his “no smokeless tobacco” policy. Principal Insley, a former English teacher who sported a wild mane of hair like Mark Twain, hated sports and had been trying to force Coach Flynn into retirement for years. Rumor had it Coach Flynn was diddling Insley’s wife Amanda. Lucky for Flynn, Superintendent Blaisdale, Thor’s father and a former second-string quarterback at the “U”, was a staunch Flynn supporter.
Coach Flynn put his arm around Seth’s shoulder, the first time he’d ever shown him any affection. “This umpire will give you the outside corner,” he said. “I want you to get two strikes on him, then tho that jug-eared curve of yours at his head. The kid’ll step in the bucket sure as hell and the ball will break over the inside corner for strike three. You got that, son?”
“I don’t think he can handle it, coach,” Timmy Addison, said. “Better let me pitch.” When Seth had entered high school he’d thought the playground harassment was a thing of the past, but no, Timmy had been there Timmy-on-the-Spot when it was time for freshman initiation. He and his jock friends had hung Seth from the third floor window until he’d agreed to wash and wax Timmy’s Mustang convertible. Seth hated Timmy Addison almost as much as he hated special ed. And to make matters worse, Jimmy Addison and Seth were sweet on the same girl. For some unknown reason Melissa Longley preferred Seth. Maybe it was because they were both in remedial reading and Seth helped her with her homework. There she was, hanging over the rope along the left field foul line waving a placard that said, “Hit a home run, Seth.” She knew next to nothing about baseball.
“If I thought you were the man for the job, I would’ve asked you to pitch,” Flynn said to Timmy. “Besides, the last time I let you tho you gave up a gotdamn grand slam.”
Timmy hung his head, then shot Seth a malevolent look out of the corner of his eye. Win or lose, Seth would be getting a toilet bowl shampoo after the game.”
“You know what to do?” Coach Flynn said to Seth.
“F-fastballs on the outside corner, then t-throw the curve h-high and inside,” Seth said.
Coach Flynn waddled off the field and as he turned to clap his hands, offering Seth some encouragement, a tomato hit him in the back of the head, followed by a flood of abuse coming from behind the Rockville dugout, where Thor’s uncles and aunts were ensconced. “Blockhead!” they yelled. “That fairy can’t pitch; we want Thor!” Superintendent Blaisdale, who was sitting a few rows over, turned several shades of red.
Out on the mound, Seth took a deep breath. He’d never thrown his curve in a big game before. Because of an injury to the pitcher, he had all the time he wanted to warm up, within reason. His first warm-up pitch bounced at Angel Domingus’s feet. His second hit the backstop. Angel, a Paraguayan exchange student who was the best athlete on the team, trotted out to the mound. “We play catch, Amigo. Pretend hitter he no there. Nice and easy. No try too hard.” He swatted Seth on the rump and trotted back behind the plate. Seth settled down, pretending Angel was his father and the plate was the inner tube his old man had used to teach him the strike zone.
Carrottop was up again, the shortstop who’d earlier hit a mammoth home run to dead center field. Angel removed his catcher’s mask and mouthed the words “nice and easy.” Carrottop, who was crowding the plate, fouled off two of Seth’s lame fastballs, then Seth did just like the coach said. When Seth started the yakker way inside, the little redhead’s eyes bugged out like Steppin’ Fetchit’s in a haunted house, and sure enough, the pellet dropped down over the inside corner, just as it always had during his practice sessions with his dad, the umpire yowling, “UUUURRGGGH,” for strike three. Seth felt like crying; his dad should be here to see this, but he was a long-haul truck driver and was probably speeding through Colorado right now with a load of refrigerators.
When Seth came up to bat, he could already feel the shame he’d experience wearing the “spastic sombrero” tomorrow at school. Figured he might as well bunt since he’d never get around on the Fridley pitcher’s fastball, which he threw ninety-eight percent of the time, so he dropped down a drag bunt between the pitcher and the first basemen, both of whom went after the ball. Seth went to second when the pitcher threw the ball at the bag with nobody covering. Timmy Addison hit a can of corn to the center fielder to end the inning, breaking his bat over his knee when the ball smacked into the outfielder’s glove.
In the eighth inning Seth’s fastball began to sink, logical since anybody who followed baseball knew that the more tired a pitcher was the more the ball sunk and Seth was pooped from all the stress and strain from the previous inning. The Giants went down one-two-three. When he got back to the dugout, Coach Flynn patted him on the back. “Didn’t think you had it in you, kid. Next inning I want you to get two outs then plunk the next batter with the yakker. That way we’ll have them all steppin’ in the bucket when you tho the curve.
Between innings Principal Insley motioned Coach Flynn over to the grandstand, where they got into a shoving match over Insley’s insistence that Flynn play the other benchwarmers. “Do you want us to frickin’ lose?” Flynn yelled.
“Watch your language,” Insley retorted. “They have as much right to play as the next person.”
“They’re lucky I frickin’ let them scrimmage with the team,” Flynn said.
“This is going on your next written evaluation.”
“You know where you can stick your–-“
At that point Superintendent Blaisdale elbowed his way between them, telling Insley to, “Get your ass back where it belongs.”
In the ninth, Seth got the first two batters with the sinker, then took a deep breath and threw the curve way inside, trying to hit the Giants’ big first baseball, a towheaded farm kid, in the hip. The bruiser stepped back out of the way and popped the ball up. Angel, expecting the bean ball, spun his wheels, then fell flat on his face. Seth froze, enduring the flood of profanity coming from Coach Flynn’s corner of the bench and the Addison twins behind him, then made a last-second dash towards the ball. This time the ball caromed off his glove into the dugout and the farm boy was standing on second, looking like he’d just won the lottery. Seth was definitely rattled and walked the next two, loading the bases once again. When the next Giant tattooed the ball toward the hole between second and third; out of nowhere Jimmy Addison made a sprawling catch to end the inning. “Don’t do that again, Beanpole,” Jimmy said on his way by. “If you lose this game, I’m gonna geld yah.”
The Giant pitcher seemed to be getting better as the game progressed. He whiffed the side in nine pitches and left the mound strutting like a peacock, the kind of behavior that would get you hit in the head if this was the major leagues.
Between innings Coach Flynn came out to talk to Seth. “How yah feel kid?” he drawled. Coach employed a Southern accent despite the fact that he was from South St. Paul. He’d seen Bull Durham one too many times and thought all managers talked like that. “If you’re tired, I guess I could put Timmy in. He’s got a little tail on his fastball that might give ‘em some trouble.”
Seth was tempted to hand him the ball. He’d be a hero for going this long, but for some stupid reason he shook his head no. Meanwhile, Principal Insley had somehow managed to dodge Superintendent Blaisdale and had walked out onto the field and come up behind Coach Flynn, his white mane blowing in the breeze like a spinnaker. “Ah, Coach,” he said. “I know this is an important game and everything, but don’t you think we ought to call it and come back tomorrow. It’s starting to rain.”
The Coach pirouetted like Fred Astaire. “Can’t do that, Insley. The tournament starts Tuesday. I’d be in the same gotdamn shape I’m in today. No gotdamn pitchers.”
“Don’t take that tone with me, Flynn,” Insley snarled. “He was a good six inches taller than Flynn and liked to look down his nose at the shop teacher. “You’ve got one more inning to get this thing over with or I’m calling it.” At that, he walked off the field, swaggering like Roger Clemens after a shutout.
“Stupid son of bitch,” the Coach said. “One of these days I’m’na clean his clock for him.”
The rain began to pick up, which proved to be an advantage; Seth’s fastball was now a natural spitter and he got the first two hitters easily, but since he’d never pitched longer than an inning all year, his arm had begun to throb. Seth felt like Odysseus; it seemed like he’d been out here twenty years at least. Maybe he should just groove one to the carrottop shortstop who kept calling him “Rubberarm” and end it all. Black clouds were moving in from the west and the fans on that side of the field had unfurled umbrellas that covered all of the colors in the spectrum. Yellow, blue, green, red, and the occasional plaid which, with the purple clouds, made a pretty picture.
Seth hadn’t really meant what he’d said about grooving one to the shortstop, but the redhead scorched one out to right field tearing the glove off Rogers’s hand as he tried to field it. The redhead took a long lead. Angel gave Seth the sign to throw the ball over to first, just to keep the kid honest. Thing is, Seth had never ever done that in a real game, even though he was a left-hander more attuned to the pick-off than righties. He tried to keep his eyes on Angel and make sure he came to a set position not making a move toward the plate before he threw the ball, then he lobbed one over there, just for the heck of it, and the redhead picked that time to go to second. They were out of the inning.
Thor Blaisdale bashed the Giants’ pitcher’s heater in the top of the tenth, barely missing a home run when the ball hit the top of fence in left field ricocheting out to center. Flynn, who’d been coaching third, had to tackle Thor to keep him from going for an inside the park homer. Nobody out and Seth was up. Flynn took him aside. “Do you think you can lay down another bunt like the last one?”
Seth was about to tell him he thought he’d been lucky when the umpire and Principal Insley interrupted. “Sorry, Coach,” the ump, a former newspaper columnist from the Star Tribune whose picture everyone recognized, said. “We’re gonna have to stop this and finish up tomorrow morning. We don’t want any of these kids to get hurt.”
The rules called for the game to resume at the top of the inning. Thor’s triple would not count. Coach Flynn went ballistic, spraying the umpire with spittle. “How much did they pay you to make sure we lost, asshole?”
Insley then made the mistake of shoving the umpire aside. “I’ve always thought you were a poor model of sportsmanship for our players, but this is the worst display–-“
The coach looked up in the sky. A smudge of blue sky was showing through the clouds and a rainbow was beginning to form in the west. “Look, it’s stopped raining.”
“The field is in horrible shape,” Insley said. “We can’t take the chance.”
“You stay out of this. What do you think, ump?”
“It doesn’t matter what he thinks; I’ve consulted with the superintendent and we feel–-“
Flynn’s breathing began to sound raspy and his face had turned an ugly plum color. “You can’t stand to see the team win because I might get a little bit of credit. This is because of Amanda, isn’t it?”
Now there were two deranged men on the field and another hurrying over from the opposing dugout in “high dudgeon” as Mr. Insley was inclined to say during one of his assembly speeches. “And what does Amanda have to do with this?” Insley spat.
“You really are the world’s biggest boob, aren’t you?” Flynn said.
Seth would testify later that Insley threw the first punch. Coach Flynn followed up with a pretty right cross that chipped one of Insley teeth, then landed a rabbit punch behind his ear. Insley tried to tie the Coach up in a clinch but the Flynner tripped him and soon the two were rolling around in the mud. The Fridley manager and the umpire tried to break it up but became entangled and fell in the soup themselves. Superintendent Blaisdale managed to drag Insley, whom he’d never liked, out of the pile and pin his arms behind his back. Unfortunately, that left Flynn free to bang Insley about the head and shoulders, resulting in two of the prettiest black eyes Seth had ever seen.
When the umpire got his feet under him, he ejected both Flynn and Insley, apparently forgetting he’d already called the game, and forfeited the contest to Fridley.
After showering, Timmy Addison and Seth sat next to each other on a bench, drying off. “Have you ever seen anything like that?” Timmy said.
“N-not since our last f-family reunion out at Clear Lake,” Seth said.
“Adults really take the cake, don’t they? We had that damn game won and they go and screw it up. Always preaching at us about teamwork and loyalty. Bunch of hypocrites is what they are.”
“You can s-say that again,” Seth said.
Timmy reached inside his gym bag and came out with two Budweisers. He popped the tops and handed one to Seth. “That was some game you pitched today, Beaner.”
“Should we be d-doing this?” Seth said. “We could get
s-suspended from the t-team.”
Timmy just grinned at him and winked. “I’m a senior. I enlisted in the marines last week. What are they gonna do to me?”
“Not m-much, I guess,” Seth said. “Do you think they’ll
f-fire Coach F-flynn?”
“Doesn’t matter. He was gonna divorce his wife and run off with that tootsie anyway. Told me hisself.”
“Can’t b-believe a s-sophisticated lady like Amanda Insley would want anything to d-do with Coach.”
“I can; the coach’s hung like Secretariat. Speaking of which, you ever get into Melissa’s drawers?”
“Nah, we’re just f-friends. I help her with her homework; I think she’s got a t-thing for you.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why she won’t answer the phone when I call her up for a date.”
“She’s just b-bashful; you gotta be p-persistent.”
“You know what, Majors; you’re all right. And to think I used to beat you up on the playground. What was I thinking?”
“I d-don’t know. What were you t-thinking?”
If you enjoyed this short story, you might want to try Dave Schwinghammer's humorous novel, SOLDIER'S GAP, available on Amazon.com.
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David A. Schwinghammer