A little more fiction

The hitter

It was the bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded when Eddy stepped to the plate. He couldn’t believe this moment had really come – the perfect moment, the perfect baseball cliché. The game was on the line, heroics were in order. And he was ready – never been readier – to be that hero.

He strode into the batter’s box, stopping to kick at the dirt near the plate with his right cleat. He moved with the easy grace and insouciance of a natural athlete, a player who has never doubted his own gifts. His legs were like tree trunks. His broad shoulders tapered down to a narrow waist and hips, forming a perfect “V” that turned the heads of men and women alike.

Eddy turned and spit a stream of tobacco juice, then tightened his batting gloves, touched his helmet, and held his open palm to the umpire to signal he wanted time. He was in control of this moment, and he wanted everyone to know it. Especially the pitcher.

His hand still raised, Eddy at last turned to glare at the pitcher, a rangy redhead who had come unraveled during this decisive inning. The redhead had pitched a brilliant game until now – in fact, the whole contest had been a duel between him and the pitcher on Eddy’s team. In nine innings, only one player had crossed the plate:  the other team managed to eke out a run on a couple of errors in the sixth. This was unusual in a high-school baseball game, but these were not ordinary teams. One would be crowned state champions today.

Eddy gripped the bat, waving it gently in the air as he settled in for the first pitch. More than one spectator found the motion of the bat mesmerizing, like that of a cobra readying itself before a strike. Eddy was as locked in as he’d ever been, every corpuscle of his 17-year-old body focused on the white orb in the pitcher’s hand. This was his moment, the task he’d been groomed for. He would not fail.

The pitcher stared toward home, sizing up the hitter. He put his foot on the rubber, stood absolutely still for a moment, then suddenly whipped his arm sideways and strode forward, firing the ball toward home plate. Eddy watched the pitch fly past him and into the catcher’s outstretched mitt. Ball one.

Eddy stood in the box, the bat resting on his shoulder, staring again at the pitcher as if to say, “Is that all you got?” The redhead walked slowly back to the mound and kicked at the dirt. Eddy could see his shoulders rise and fall as he took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.

Once again, Eddy gripped the bat and readied himself for the pitch. The redhead stretched, then fired – a perfect fastball that split the plate and smacked into the catcher’s mitt with a resounding slap and a puff of dust. Strike one.

The crowd rose to its feet. This was the battle they’d come to see, the only battle that now mattered. If Eddy got a base hit, his team would win, or at least tie. If he made an out, the game was over. Hero or goat, there was no in-between.

Everybody in the park was nervous, except for Eddy. There was no way he could fail – it just wasn’t an option. He stood coolly in the batter’s box, waving his bat, imagining how it was going to feel to smack that ball and watch it fly away, smaller and smaller, until it fell over the fence. He could taste it, smell it, hear it, feel it. It was already a part of him.

The pitcher stretched, then whipped his body forward like a slingshot. Eddy swung, his hips pivoting and shoulders opening up as he met the ball with a resounding crack! He dropped the bat and stood in the box, watching, as the ball flew skyward, up and up and up, heading toward the fence. He raised his arms into the air and began trotting toward first, exulting in the fact that he had done it! A grand slam home run – the perfect ending to the perfect game. The championship was theirs!

And then, at the last moment, inexplicably… the ball hooked foul. The crowd, which had been holding its breath, let out a collective groan. How had the ball hooked that far to the left? It had looked like a home run until the absolute final moment, missing the foul pole by just a couple of inches. It was as if the earth had turned at just the wrong moment, robbing Eddy of his finest moment, his birthright.

Eddy stopped halfway up the first-base line, staring into left field in confusion. The ball had hooked so suddenly, so completely, that it took him a moment to realize he was expected back in the batter’s box and the game was continuing. He walked back toward home plate, picked up his bat, looked again toward left field – what just happened there? – and stood uncertainly outside the box.

If only he’d swung and missed! Or the pitcher had thrown ball two! Anything would have been better than what had just happened. Eddy had been so certain he’d hit a home run – so certain he had won the game! – that his whole sense of reality was rocked. Thirty seconds earlier, he had no doubt that he would be the hero today. Now, he wasn’t sure.

He stood watching the pitcher, who was staring intently back at him. The dynamic had changed – not only had the redhead escaped disaster, but he had two strikes on Eddy. It was a pitcher’s count, one ball and two strikes, and he could throw junk for the next two pitches if he wanted. Eddy could wave his cobra bat all he liked – the redhead had the upper hand now, and he knew it.

Eddy stepped into the batter’s box, tapped home plate with his bat, then cocked it behind his head. He stood stock-still, his muscles tense, his heart pounding, as the pitcher went into his stretch. The crowd was on its feet, screaming, clapping hands and stomping the bleachers. Pandemonium.

And then, slow motion. The pitcher reared back and slung the ball sidearm toward the plate. It sailed gently toward home as Eddy watched in a daze, his body frozen, the ball looking as tiny as an aspirin shot out of a gun. Where was it going? Would it be a ball or a strike? Should he swing?

Momentarily paralyzed, Eddy snapped back to consciousness only at the sound of the ball smacking into the catcher’s mitt. It echoed like cannon fire. But even louder was the umpire’s cry:  Steeeeerike three!

Just like that, it was over. Eddy stood, dumbfounded, his bat at his side. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen! This was not the right outcome at all! He looked out at the field, where the opposing players were jumping into a giant pile at the pitcher’s mound, all limbs and grins and shouts. He watched as they slapped each other’s backs, hugged, wept. He couldn’t move. All those thousands of hours swinging at pitch after pitch in the backyard, all those hopes. All those expectations. Dashed.

Then, of course, Eddy woke up. His face was slick with sweat, his mouth dry, his heart fluttering. It was a dream! Just a dream! Yes, yes – Eddy had hit the winning home run. He had been the hero. He looked across the room and saw the state championship trophy sitting exactly where it had been yesterday. Exactly where his teammates had put it for him.

Then he saw the bouquets of flowers, and the cards. And he realized he couldn’t see anything else, because he couldn’t move his head. And then he remembered. The celebration. The car. The tree. And now he was in the hospital, his head shaved and clamped into a metal contraption. And he remembered the doctor’s words, that he might not walk again.

And even as the tears began to come again, a smile flitted across Eddy’s face. Because he had done it. He had hit that home run. He had won. And he realized, with a strange sense of wonderment, that he wouldn’t trade this reality for the reality of that terrible dream. No matter what happened, he would always have that trophy. And now he could rest.


3 responses to “A little more fiction”

  1. FPS says:

    (I already told you I liked it but also I am picturing Eddy as looking like Scott Porter.)

  2. J-Man says:

    I rather think that he would have preferred the dream to the reality. Or at least, I would have. Perhaps that’s why I’m not an athlete….

  3. Tim says:

    Oh no! Poor Eddy. I’m glad he hit the homer, even if he was a little cocky, but nooooo!