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Sneak peek at Fred’s novel-in-progress “Slow Pitch” about an adult softball league (Check out his other novels at fredforyourhead.com)

January 10, 2012

Spring training
Chapter One

The sun slowly arched above the Hall of Fame Bar and Grill softball team’s first practice of year. The ten men in their thirties and early forties thawing out the frozen boys who hibernated within them all winter. When they stepped on the Kings Highway Traffic Circle ballfield, the team’s abysmal finish in the Fairfield Slow-Pitch Adult League vanished and they once again believed they could they could tap the magic inside them to become winners. It wasn’t exactly baseball weather yet. The spring breeze had separate patches of warmth and chilliness that didn’t mix. The weather was too warm for bluejeans and a sweatshirt, but too cool for shorts and a tee shirt. The cold ground was too hard for spikes, but too damp for sneakers

“Let’s do some laps. Wind sprints. We’re going all the way this year,” jokingly said Famer managers Googi, a sawed-off, five-foot four-inch man who dumped a gunny sack of clanging aluminum bats by the misshaped cyclone fence backstop.

Mealy rummaged through the bats and said, “Where’s my Ball Buster?”

“She’s sending out your wedding invitations,” said Dart Wise, who smirked and tucked his shoulder length hair into his red bandana.

“Ease up on those darts,” said Mealy, smiling as he pantomimed reaching into his back to pull out an imaginary projectile flicked by Dart.

“The Dart gets off a good one,” said Googie, putting his car keys and wallet into his cowboy boots.

“That’s what she said,” added Slide Williams, who stood on one leg and stretched the other behind his butt and resembled an out of shape and hungover egret.

“I bought the most important piece of equipment,” said Sully, placing a cooler filled with beer by the dugout, which was a sagging wooden plank bench positioned ten-feet back from the third baseline near a three-tiered section of rusted bleachers placed in front of a children’s playground.

The Famers were wearing different team shirts from their previous seasons over their sweatshirts.

“Hey, where’s Moose?”

A distant police siren was coming from the highway. A speeding motorcycle roared around the traffic circle. The rider turned into the field’s parking lot and hid between two cars.
A few seconds later a police car with a siren going shot by. The helmeted rider waited until the patrol car was out of sight. He stood up in full body armor that made him look like a multi-shelled dinosaur with a smooth lined belly and shelled chest. He took off his helmet.

“There’s Moose,” said Jolter.

“That’s an entrance!” added Wild Will.

“Watch this,” said Slide who threw the ball at Moose’s chest. The ball hit the body armor and harmlessly bounced off him. “He’s Ironman.”

Moose Conklin peeled off his body armor. Although it was cold, Moose wore a T-shirt. He was a muscular guy in his late twenties, his defined biceps looked like they were bound together with piano wire. He spit between his teeth. He lit a cigarette. He had oil and grease under his fingernails.

“You know it’s getting near opening day when Wynne puts up new flags,” said Slide Williams.

The Famers looked at the Major League Pennants flapping from the roof of Hall of Fame Bar & Grill. The building was a miniature replica of a baseball stadium. The flashing neon tube light in front of the building had a bat hitting a ball into a glove and flashed ‘The bar that Wynne Built’ and below it in blue neon: ‘Steak Seafood Chops Cocktails Pizza’

“Is that Wynne?” asked Rose, who was new to the team.

Wynne stood underneath the baseball cap entrance to his bar. He was hungover in a pin-striped business suit, a party-hat cone on his head. He was in his mid-fifties and his athletic physique eroded into a shifty beer mass, but the power still circulated through his body.
Rose, like any kid who ever placed a bat on his shoulder years ago knew Wynne Blasingame. When Wynne was a rookie he had amazing speed and hit with power on both sides of the plate. He could have been the greatest player in the game, but when he was fielding a fly ball his spikes got snagged in a drain and blew his left knee out. Wynne was never the same player after that. But throughout his 17-year career, Wynne played hurt and gave it his all. Growing up, Rose was no different than the many kids who only wanted to play his center field and imitate his patented basket catch? Wynne stayed in the game too long. He struck out trying to hit home runs, made embarrassing fielding errors, and finished with a lifetime average of .299.

“Yo Wynne,” shouted Jolter. “You going to play for us this year? You’re on the roster. We can use you as our designated hitter.”

Wynne laughed, made a few third-base coach-like signals and limped into the sulky darkness of the bar.

“Does Wynne ever come out and take a few swings?” asked Rose.

“He won’t bat, not even for fun,” said Chipper.

The Famers stood on the brown and wiry infield grass, formed two lines opposite each other, and threw softballs back and forth to loosen up their arms. The slow and fast arc of the balls seemed to link them together in a necklace of rhythm that brought them closer to each other. The team was reconnecting. They talked about utility bills, movies, bimbos, the upcoming season, wives and former girlfriends, major league trades, weight gains and lost hair, directions to good restaurants, alcoholic binges from last season, taxes, and down played how they got screwed at work.

The Famers rolled their balls to the pitcher’s mound and took their positions for practice. The field was in terrible shape. The mound’s rubber was bordered by deep ruts and various parts of the infield had deep gouges from idiots who did doughnuts with motorcycles on it, as well as shattered glass and beer caps grounded in the dirt. The batter’s box was gutted with deep pockets, as if the ground was stretched out from supporting the weight of the players from the previous year.

Slide went to third base, Moose in left field. Wild Will took first because he was too fat to play anywhere else. Chipper at shortstop. Buddy went to center. Sully took the mound. Jolter went to catch. And the rest indifferently milled in the outfield, but no one was in right field.
Rose drifted into the outfield. He noticed the Famers were wearing team shirts from different seasons over their sweatshirts. These guys had been together a long time. When they were talking about their lives, he couldn’t join in. He was the only one who wasn’t wearing a baseball T-shirt from some previous season. He didn’t have baseball spikes. His glove was twenty years old. He was on the Famer team because he was related to Googi’s boss at work, who asked Googi to get him in the line-up. But they seemed pretty cool and friendly and he wanted to be one of them.

“Money talks, nobody walks,” said Sully, standing on A car screeched into the parking lot and a horn honked “Da da da DA da DA!” followed by a computer voice that said, “Charge!”
“The Hall of Shamers, chortled Chrome Dome who got out of the car with his accomplice, Dave The Rave. They swiveled their upper bodies, and extended their arms out to compensate for their lack of height by covering more width. The duo was clearly on some kind of mission. They wore navy blue caps with stars and stripes. The two were in their thirties and dressed in authentic replicas of major league baseball uniforms with team color taping of red, white and blue along the button-front shirt and sleeves. These polyester double-knit jerseys with their names and numbers on the back. Long white pants with pinstripes of red, white, and blue, and stirrup socks and black spikes. They could pass for professional ballplayers, with one key exception, there weren’t any major league teams whose jerseys with raised tackle twill lettering had an embroidered logo of “Sporty’s All Stars.”

Jolter muttered, “What movie are they starring in?”

“Rump Riders,” grunted Slide.

“Can you believe it? They wear dress uniforms to practice,” said Buddy, looking down and yanking up a wad of grass.

The two All Stars walked onto the field and stood in front of Buddy at second base. The Famers pulled in and formed a half circle around Chrome and Rave.

Chrome Dome was five-feet of mean, and one-inch of self-loathing. The welt of a simian shelf stretched across his brow. He looked like a monstrous baby on steroids. He didn’t have a single hair on his heavily muscles flesh. His biceps seemed to be wrestling against each other. The moles on his forehead looked like rivets. His nose was hooked and broken.

Dave The Rave was tall and heavily muscled. He wore oval sunglasses with reflecting lenses and white pimple medication on his nose.. His face didn’t have a complexion­—it had a terrain. Severe acne pummeled his skin to the desired thickness of percolating lava. His thick styled hair looked like a beaver that had burrowed in to his skull, ate his brain, and was peering out through Rave’s eyeholes.

Mealy said, “So what have we done right to deserve the uninspired sunshine of your presence?”

Dave The Rave snickered and pointed to the adjoining and small baseball field, “You guys are here early. Little League try outs aren’t until next week.”

“Antagonize,” said Chrome, giving his crony a high five.

“All Business!” said The Rave.

“Be a Star!” said Chrome, smiling. His lips pursed out and formed pink puffy buds of an approaching tiny fist.

“You know, you two almost look like baseball players in those uniforms,” said Dart. “How much is the rental for those costumes?”

“Funny guy,” grunted Chrome Dome, stiffening.

Dave The Rave lightly touched the rim of his cap, tapped the reflective sunglasses on the bridge of his pimple-lotion covered nose and snorted, “Yeah, a real King of Comedy.”

“Are you guys on steroids or hemorrhoids?” said Dart

Rave stared at Dart, started to open his mouth, then closed it.

“That’s what I like about you Rave, you’re always at a loss for words,” said Dart.

Chrome advanced to Dart, flexed his right arm up, made a fist and growled, “You see this arm? A lot of people have got an education from this arm.”

“Yeah, special education,” said Dart, holding his ground—he knew Chrome was just a bully.

Sully protectively stood in between of Dart and Chrome and calmly said, “You got a complaint, Chrome?” Sully was a burly guy insulated with a puffy layer of beer fat he wore proudly. He had red hair and pale white skin.

A reluctant Chrome timidly took a step back. He remembered working one summer at a warehouse job with Sully, who made a five-dollar bet that he could jump off the fifteen-foot drop from the loading dock, land on his head and not get hurt. Sully jumped, landed on his head, got up and said, “See nothing happened.”

Chrome haltingly said, “I’m a lover not a fighter.”

Rave smiled and said, “We just came over to pay our respects to Buddy, our former teammate. “You leave us, the All Stars, who have won the leaguer championship for ten years to play with these basement-dwelling mascots?”

“It’s not like you own me, Rave” said Buddy, spitting in the grass.

“We don’t forgive, Buddy,” said Chrome, sharply rapping his knuckles on the wooden bench. “I just want you to know there’s no going back You’ve been give official notice.”

“I’ve passed kidney stones so I guess I can pass you too,” said Buddy, looking away.

No one said anything.

A young teenage girl rode a bike around the traffic circle.

“She can be used again,” said Chrome.

“Old enough to bleed old enough to be butchered,” added Rave.

“It’s really hard to believe both you guys who have such great insights into women have been divorced so many times,” said Mealy.

“We’re done here,” said Rave who lightly touched his cap, as if he was dismissing the Famers. “All business.”

“Be a Star,” said Chrome, high-fiving Rave,

“Where you going after this? To shoot rats at the dump?” said Dart.

“Funny guy,” said Chrome, narrowing his eyes and leaving.

The two All Stars walked back to Chrome’s convertible. Its license plate said “Cretin.” They put on black warm up jackets with the team logo of a ball surrounded by red, white, and blue stars in contrast piping, team color stripes on the sleeves, along with rib-knit collar and cuffs. They climbed into the car. Chrome hit the gas. The tires squealed like he ran over a puppy.

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