Silver Slugger: the Sixth GamebyNigel Debonnaire©
Mary Catherine McMillian sat in owner's box in the eighth inning of the Sixth Game. Her boys fought hard during this championship series; they won the first two games at home, lost three on the road, and now they were poised to claim the Sixth Game at home. If they made it to Game Seven, anything could happen. But they were three outs away, after her team finished hitting in this inning, and had a two run lead to protect. Another run or two would be nice: no cushion was big enough.
Her friend, Clara Plaisance sat next to her, dressed as her hostess in a grey business suit with a silk white blouse with a frilly collar. Clara was her main consultant, closer than her General Manager, and the only other person permitted in the owner's box beside her daughter Wanda. She looked down over the bleachers and found the box for player's wives and girlfriends. "Wanda seems to enjoy being a player's girlfriend," Clara said while sipping a margarita.
M.C. looked through her binculars at her daughter, sitting in the field box behind home plate wearing a sundress and flipflops next to her friend Karen, dressed in a blue top and red shorts. "Wanda's playing the part all right, though I wish that bull-dyke Karen would get lost. Rocky's a sweet kid and he deserves a woman who's focused on him alone." Rocky Bridges, the starting left fielder, was her boyfriend.
"They do seem to be close."
"I worry it's the Three Amigos more than anything else. They're always hanging out as a threesome"
"Just wait, M. C. You never know with kids. They may be having some threesomes in the bedroom." M.C. snorted in disgust.
Rocky Bridges strode to the plate in the bottom of the 8th, facing the other side's top reliever with two out. Three pitches later he deposited a fastball over the centerfield fence to increase the lead to 5-2. The women jumped to their feet to watch the drive and applaud. "That's my boy," M. C. said, "That's my boy. I kept him when they wanted him sent down and I was fucking right."
"Damn straight," Clara added. Looking down the foul line, she wondered: "Isn't Mutt getting Manny ready to pitch the 9th?" The home bullpen was library quiet.
"Doesn't seem like it," M. C. replied. "The bullpen's been worn out this series; he may hope Dober can get three more outs."
Clara pushed an imaginary hair from her immaculate coif away from her face. "That's not completely crazy, which would be a switch for Mutt. Dober used to lead the league in complete games, although that was another generation. However, I wouldn't leave him out there without backup when the season's on the line." They settled down to sip their drinks and watch the next at bat.
The bottom of the 8th ended and Dober took the mound for his warmups. "One more inning," he said under his breath, "One more inning." He started his warm ups slowly, the first a gentle lob, before letting it go gradually over the next 7 pitches. Looking in the stands as the ball whipped around the infield after the last warmup, he spotted Rocky Bridges' girls in the stands. He had an instinct: both Wanda and her friend Karen were pregnant. The look in the eyes and the very slight blush in their faces told him. It was a party trick that fried people's minds over the years, perplexing his teammates and embarrassing their wives and girlfriends. Karen was an extremely heavy woman with a thick face and short hair that Dober couldn't imagine getting a date. "Rocky must be some stud," he muttered to himself.
The catcher came out to talk before the first hitter. "You all right, Dober?"
"Sure, Bill. Three outs, right?"
"Right. You know what you want to do?"
The first batter strode to the plate and Bill Brixton sauntered in his armor to crouch behind him. The umpire looked at the hill and pointed; John Wesley Hardin, better known as Dober, entered an ethereal state.of focus.
Left hand pull hitter–little crouch–dead pull hitter, first pitch fastball–three fingers down, shaken off, arm hurts too much to throw a curve–cotton candy for sale behind the plate, too late for beer--nod, wind, stretch–weight shift, ball zipping past his ear, bouncing into fielding position–Herb Score fear–ball–what the fuck is wrong with that bastard, that was a strike three innings ago–lights in the owner's box--one finger, nod–nod, wind, stretch–weight shift–fastball on the fists, blooped to short–easy catch–one down.
The ball went around the infield, and returned to him via third base. Mopping his brow, he looked in the visitor's dugout. A rare night for his family: his son started for the other side; the first time in baseball at any level. There were more pictures than usual before the game, lots of posing. Frankie was a good boy, talented, and he'd probably make the Show during Spring Training. Dober remembered his first Spring Training: the anxiety, the hard work, the reckless, anonymous fun. He envied his son's future for a moment.
Right hand hitter–slap hitter, used the whole field–infield shift, short and second–girl in the back flashing right field, stop you bitch–hold the ball–damn girl distracting my fielder–two fingers, nod–wind, stretch–split finger, ball one–shit, missed that one–crack of ball hitting leather and stinging his left hand–nod, wind, stretch–weight shift–change up in the dirt–damn, my shoulder hurts–return–gotta get this in–nod, wind stretch–weight shift–line drive up the middle, reach and duck–through the infield–centerfielder getting it back in–runner stops at first–shit,shit,shit,shit.
Texas Joe Finnerty trotted over from first base for a visit. "Whad'ya wanna do, John?" Texas Joe as scrupulously polite kid from Austin who was borderline for promotion, and refused to call anyone by a nickname, even though he answered to dozens. "Wanna keep 'im close?"
"No, Joe. Let him go. Play your usual position; he can steal all three bases and it won't matter. I gotta get two more batters out."
As Texas Joe returned, Dober pawed the dirt behind the mound with his spikes. A twinge sizzled through his body from his right shoulder to his spine and down his legs. He fought an urge to rub it, dared not share a sign of weakness at this point of the game.
He remembered a line from the Dan Quisenberry poem "Time to Quit.". Dan was a major league pitcher who wrote about his last year: "a doberman gnaws my shoulder/with each toss". Chuckling, he thought about how ironic it was: he got his nickname for his tenacity on the mound, worrying hitter with the tenacity of a Doberman, and now it described the feeling in his pitching shoulder and elbow. Just like Quiz, he thought with a wince.
In the owners' box, M. C. leaned forward and Clara went to fix another Margarita on the rocks. "Make mine a double Scotch, Clara," M. C. said quavering.
"Sure, M. C. You think Mutt's going to stay with Dober?"
"The bullpen's starting to move around. Yeah, he'll probably get Manny up if this guy gets on. The tying run's still on deck."
They watched Dober take the rubber and stare in with laser eyes, holding the ball. The batter returned his gaze with arrogance and cockiness. "Didya see the lump in Dober's pants?" Clara said out of the blue.
"What?" M. C. replied. Dober stepped off the mound, and all relaxed.
"Dober's got a huge bulge under his belt. Like he's got two pairs of socks stuffed in there. You ever get into that?"
M. C. looked at it through her binoculars. "No, I don't--think so. But a nice thought." Her face creased in a smirk.
"His boy had a big pair of pants as well." Clara said, handing her friend a drink.
"His boy isn't on my team," she sniffed. "And he got run out of the game in the fourth inning."
Clara licked her lips. "Almost makes you forget there's a game's going on."
"You're sick, Clara."
The hitter's attitude was rubbing Dober the wrong way. The young man with bulging biceps and an arrogant smile was a hotshot in this league, but he's failed to stick three times in the Big Leagues. Bill the catcher looked up at him, then back at his pitcher and shrugged his shoulders.
Crouching, one foot on the rubber–hate that damn smile–coming to the set position–stop dancing at first, you little prick, you don't matter–fist means your choice–hell, it's my last game, let's do it old school--nod, wind, stretch–weight shift–fastball two inches away from his shoulder–damn sissy, flopping back like that–almost moved into it–umpire holding up his hand in warning, Bill getting between him and the plate–disbelief in his eyes as he gets up, a little fear–you deserved it, you little prick.
Clara jumped up from her seat: "What the hell was that all about? He threw at him. Why did he throw at him?"
The replay flickered by; M. C. followed it closely. "Dober's got balls. The pitch wasn't that close. This kid's a wuss after all. I love it; that's old school. Get him, Dober. Sic 'em!"
At the rubber again–smile gone from the bastard's face, not swinging as hard–chick upstairs can't keep her top on–lean back, wait–runner dancing at first, go ahead you little prick, run–two fingers, not the splitter Bill, shake off–one finger, curve, another shake–three fingers, fastball, another shake–four fingers, changeup, nod–wind, stretch, weight shift–ball zipping past his ear–big swing, all air, falling forward–ball saunters by–strike one, stupid.
"This is a master at work," M. C. bellowed, "Get'im, Dober. You got this guy, c'mon. Give me a pennant and I'll give you the ride of your long life."
Clara and M. C. watched as Dober ran the count to 2 and 2, then the hitter fouled off several pitches. Dober winced noticeably after every pitch, more and more, but refused to back off. "Is he hurt?" Clara asked. "Is he going to come out? It looks like his arm's going to fall off."
"No," M. C. said flatly. "He will keep throwing pitches until one of them gives up. And I'll be the kid, not Dober."
The bullpen was standing, motionlessly watching the duel. The runner at first stopped his dancing, uncovered as a distraction and ignored. The third base coach went through useless signals and clapped his hands; the hitter had to get on base somehow. The fans were clapping rhythmically during the pauses, trying to pass their energy and will to Dober, to keep him going.
Crouch, stare–kid's a little bent out of shape, can't handle the tension–one strike and he's gone–damn, damn, damn doberman, gnawing on my shoulder–two fingers, low and outside, nod–wind, stretch, weight shift, whizzing past ear–awkward swing, reaching, dull contact–soft grounder to short–Phil's a pro, takes his time quickly–toss to second, pivot–Jerry's calm; he's done it a thousand times–runner eating dirt to get out of the way, nowhere close to second–race to first, no contest–Texas Joe cradles it two seconds before the foot hits the base–it's over, it's over, thank God, thank God, thank God, thank God, thank God!
The voice of God announced the final score as the batter continued down the first base line into the outfield, and Dober's teammates gather to pound his back and hug him in celebration. They jostled his painful arm and shoulder, but he didn't care. It was a last game win, keeping his team alive for a shot at the championship. He did his job; not bad for a 45 year old man who started pitching before most of his teammates and adversaries were in diapers.
Clara and M.C. celebrated their victory alone in the box. "One more game," Clara said, clasping M. C. close and kissing her full on the lips.
"Yes," M. C. said after disengaging.
They broke their embrace and finished their drinks. "Another?" Clara inquired coquettishly.
"No. Need to cap this off another way."
Clara smiled and started unbuttoning her blouse. "I thought you'd never ask."
M. C. laid her hand on Clara's cheek. "No, Sweetness. I'm going downstairs."
"Going to find out if Dober really has the biggest dick on your team?" M. C. smiled and her friend responded: "Need any help?"
M. C. shook her head. "I think I can still handle a big bat by myself, even a really big one. It's been a great season, and I'm in training."
Clara pouted. "Well, if you need relief early, you know where I live. I'll be warming up in the pen."
M. C. smiled sweetly and kissed her cheek, patting it. "Of course."
Mutt DeMedici sat at a table placidly, sipping beer with his winning pitcher. Dober's right shoulder had an icebag strapped on it, and another was fixed to his right elbow; he was used to drinking left handed after a game. The other boys were in a good mood, confident but restrained, remembering they had another night's work to reach their goal of a pennant. Wanda and Karen arrived arm in arm to pick up Rocky, leering at his wet, towel wrapped body, trading barbs with the other players. Other wives and girlfriends were wandering in; fortunately everybody except Rocky, Dober and Mutt were already showered and dressed.
"Well, Dober, thanks," Mutt started out of the blue. "You still got it."
"You're welcome, Mutt. I've had it; this is it. I don't need it anymore. As of now, I'm retired."
Mutt shook his head. "You gotta be here tomorrow, Dober."
"Oh, I will be, but you don't need a clod footed pinch runner, or a strike out king at the plate in a DH league. Tonight were the very last drops of blood from this turnip. It was great making history with Frankie, but this was one of a kind. Now we've got something in common with the Griffeys." He took a long draw from his beer. "It was a great season with you and the boys. We're about to win it all. This is the way to go out. Thanks, Mutt."
Mutt chuckled. "You remember how many times you struck me out?"
"13, all in the Sally League. We were both 19 years old, a lifetime ago. You stalled out in AAA."
"And you went to the Show a year and a half later. 23 years in the Bigs, 8 All Star Teams, third in the Cy Young race five times, six 20 game win seasons, fourth, no, fifth on the All Time Strikeout list. . ."
"Ten years wandering from team to team after the team I loved dumped me, ending my Big League career with my one appearance in the World Series: one inning of garbage relief to finish the last game on the losing end of a sweep."
They sipped their beers and watched the players drift away. Rocky managed to dress himself and bounded out with his women. "I appreciate you coming along for the ride this year," Mutt said. "You could have stayed at home."
Dober shrugged his shoulders. "I just painted my apartment and got tired of watching the paint dry. You needed a warm body."
"You won some big games for us, including this one. I know how much it cost you, how much you hurt. Thanks."
All quiet in the home locker room, and two old players finished their beer. "By the way," Mutt said, "You're the Silver Slugger tonight."
"You know what I'm talking about, Dober. That little reward management hands out for great performances. Down the special hallway. Enjoy."
Dober threw him a sneer and finished his beer. Standing up slowly, he winced as his back popped and his knees creaked. He took a fresh beer and sauntered to the special door. Mutt went back to his office with a fresh beer, and prepared to make up his lineup card for Game 7.
The descending hallway continued the theme of the team colors. The corridor ended with a wall, a video monitor at chest level playing a clip of a woman giving a well endowed man oral sex.
Dober frowned and sipped his beer.
On his left there was a hole in the wall at waist height, covered with a black cloth on the inside. The video played out, and was replaced by a text message screen. Hello, Silver Slugger.
"Hello. I'm not a slugger, by the way. I'm a pitcher, I work hard for what I get."
That was the greatest game I've ever seen from a pitcher.
"Thanks, Kat. We needed the win. And you're wrong."
We absolutely need this win. And you got it for us, giving the boys in the 'Pen a deserved rest. Tomorrow we can win the Series.
"Yup. Just doing my job."
What did you just say, a moment ago? You don't believe me? This isn't the greatest pitched game I ever saw? Never mind. Now for your bonus. You know what to do with the wall, don't you?
Well, present yourself and get what's coming to you!"
A pause. There was confusion on the other side. Did you just say no?
"I did. My arm hurts like hell and I'm tired. Got no time for stupid games, Kat."
But I want to make you feel good.
"Thanks. Got what I need right here. Ice on the arm, and beer to drink."
Don't you want a fantastic blow job?
"Not right now, thanks. Not this way."
I can go farther.
"I know. Believe me, I know."
"Rocky is my friend."
Shit. Does everybody know now?
"Nope. I don't like gossiping; I'm not a woman. The only guys who know about this have come down here, other'n me. Your secret's still safe, Kat."
That's one way to put it. Still, I can go farther. I can fuck you any way you want.
"I know, Kat. I remember. Yes, I remember it well." There was a long pause, and deep breathing from the other side. "You know I know, Kat. Just after the greatest game you ever saw pitched. Surely you remember."
A woman's voice came through the hole. "Remember what?"
"A Perfect game. Champaign, Illinois, 26 years ago."
A pause, and then a command. "Come up to the Owner's box."
"Why?" He drew out the monosyllable to tease her.
"Because you're my employee and I told you to." she spat out quickly. "The attendant will let you in. We have to talk."
"Fine with me."
It took Dober a while to return through the clubhouse and the stadium to the owner's box door; it wasn't easy to find on purpose. The attendant let him in without a word and after riding up a small elevator, he walked down a hallway to a plush box overlooking the third base line. Someone sat on a couch facing the field as he entered, the only light coming through the plate glass window from the park's security lights.
He sipped his beer and waited. A voice usually confident spoke with uncertainty. "You have to remind me. I used to live near Lincoln Park in Chicago 26 years ago."
"You were a music teacher in a High School on the North Side. You had the bands, all the bands, including the pep band."
"Yes. I'd almost forgotten."
"At the end of the school year you took your pep band to the Illinois High School baseball championships in Champaign. University of Illinois stadium, weather was hot for May. Your school won it all."
"They did. We had a great time, I let the kids have some fun, and we came home with a trophy."
"Yes. Remember the final game? Remember it?"
"It was a perfect game. 27 batters up and 27 batters retired. We won it all on a perfect game."
"Who was the pitcher?"
A long pause, an uncomfortable silence. Dober sipped his beer, and waited patiently. At last the answer came. "It must have been you," came a whisper.
Dober could almost hear the wheels turning in her head. Slowly, the realization dawned. "You, you, ah, ah, John Wesley Hardin."
"Named after a Western gunslinger."
"You pitched that perfect game."
"After the bus ride home, you waited for me. You were so happy we won, and you asked me over to your place. You had a little apartment off Lincoln Park, third floor walkup, no air conditioning, sparse."
Another pause and an intake of breath. "We made love that night," she whispered.
"We made love that night, the next day, the next night and the day after. When I got home Sunday night, my Methodist minister dad gave me holy hell for missing church. I didn't care; I found the girl of my dreams. I came straight back to you."
Her eyes looked down as she tried to remember. "It was so long ago."
"You lost track of me. We were together three weeks. Fantastic sex, night after night, and every day we wandered through paradise beside the Lake. You said it was alright, a student fucking a teacher, since I graduated just before the playoffs. I was drafted by the Red Sox, and went off to play minor league ball, then fall instructional league. By the time I got back home, you'd moved."