Skip to content

Preview of my upcoming novel and eBook “Slow Pitch” – a team of old farts ride to glory

April 13, 2015

Spring Training

THE SUN SLOWLY ARCED OVER at the partially prestigious Kings Highway Traffic Circle ballfield. At best, the first season practice was a soft opening day for the Hall of Fame Bar and Grill softball team. April was like the players, slowly arriving, middle-aged, out-of-shape, but not played-out yet. Spring’s upwelling brisk promise slightly defrosted the restless frozen boys hibernated within the alleged men-in-progress. It wasn’t ideal baseball weather. The air was conflicted. Warm breezes softened the edge of the drifting cold floes. It was too hot for jeans and a jacket. And definitely too chilly for shorts and a T-shirt. The field too hard for spikes. Too damp for sneakers. The Famers reporting for spring training wore old team jerseys from eight previous losing seasons in different fading colors with cracked letters and numbers peeling off them. The brims of the caps were folded, and bore stained badges of tomato sauce and beer from post-game brews and pizzas at the grill.

The first arrivals sat on the splintered paint-peeling wood planks on the four-tiered rusted bleachers along the third baseline. Other Famers stood and stretched in foul territory and waited for the rest of the team, Chip, Bob-O, Googi, Herr Putz, Jolter, Ace and Dart. With the exception of Dart, who was in his twenties, the Famer roster was in their late thirties and early forties. Many of their energetic drives dwindled over the years, but they hadn’t lost the urge to hit, run or catch a ball. The guys rarely got together as a group until they played together. In the off-season, life, work and family scattered them. But they had bonds from years of hanging out at bars, watching Monday night football at each other’s places, dating and marrying sisters or their sister’s friends, going to ball games and rock concerts, did dump runs, watched each other’s pets when someone left on vacation, took turns giving kids rides, installing each other’s plasma TV screens, turning thirty and forty surprise birthdays, helping with home improvements or moving one another into new apartments, condos, or homes.

“He’s big and he’s bad, he’s bad and he’s big, he’s big bad Herr Putz,” said Bob-O, sucking in his gut as he bent over and tied his spikes. Bob-O had grown up in Fairfield. He had his circle of friends in the Fire Department and the guys on the team. He was a public servant, who pretty much liked everybody except the general public.

“We’re going all the way this year,” said Putz, a sawed-off, five-foot four-inch man, who was the Famer’s manager. He shook a duffle bag and dumped out clanging aluminum bats and last season’s deeply soiled and lopsided softballs, which warply wobbled and rested against the bent rusted wire-mesh fence backstop.

“Yeah, going all the way: straight to the bottom,” indifferently said Ace, who had a way of dehydrating the moment with stats. “Numbers don’t lie. Do the math: eight seasons. Eight last-place finishes. Go figure. We’ve been in the basement so long, we resurfaced it, put in linoleum tiles on the floor, and brought in a ping pong and pool table so we have something else to play while they’re losing.”

Slide added, “It’s like Putz took our team into my bank and signed a reverse mortgage.”

“Maybe we need a change in management,” piped Googi, who never missed an opening for a demeaning crack on Putz’s management skills and attempted to pass the remark off as a joke. “I’m just saying.”

“Like that’s going to happen,” sternly said Putz, chipping a brief hard glare. “No one’s forcing you to be here.” He snorted. “Case closed.”

Ray Holtz was dubbed Herr Putz because he judged the team on a standard he never applied to himself. Many times he benched better players for half the game, while he played entire games, consistently made errors at second, and was so bad at the plate he had an unearned-run batting average. Over many seasons, Putz hampered the team’s chances to improve by turning left, left center, right, and right center from outfield positions into political openings where he plugged-in his co-workers to gain points with his boss at Auto World.

Googi glanced over his shoulder. He spotted Moose approaching them and said, “I don’t care what you say about Moose. I still think Moose is a great guy.” He turned to Moose and said, “Oh, hey Moose didn’t see you coming.”

“Money talks nobody walks,” proclaimed Moose, smiling at Googi’s well-worn but comfortably frayed routine. Moose was a burly man with red hair and pale white skin. He sat on the bleachers and put his car keys, wallet and cell phone in his cowboy boots, and reached for his spikes. A hangover had him in a headlock. He grunted. “I feel a little folded over and crisp.”

Ace rummaged through the bats looking at their brand names. “Where’s my ‘Ball Buster’?”

The cell phone vibrated in his pocket.

“That’s probably her now,” said Dart, a wiry guy who had large black-framed glasses, and wood-burl thick hair.

“Zinga!”

“Ooooooh, good one,” said Ace, smiling and slowly pulled out an imaginary projectile from his back that represented Dart’s slam. “Ease up on those darts.”

“Livin’ the dream,” said Dart. “Just enjoying the high of being me.”

“Not much of a view from up there.”

“It’s scenic, depending.”

Dart was like a barn swallow, he could run at something then playfully avert a collision at the last second, looking cool and funny, and at the same time, making whatever tried to run him over look stupid and powerless.

“I don’t think you got all of it, Ace,” said Bob-O, who came over and pantomimed prying out the remaining imaginary shrapnel. “That’s going to leave a mark.”

“And a stain,” said Googi, adjusting his sweatband to keep his thinning long hair meticulously layered in place to conceal his bald spot. “I’m just saying.” He added, “I don’t bring my cell phone to games or the bar.”

“No argument, The Kid says, ‘Bringing a cell phone here is kinda douche, Ace,’ ” said Chip his gut slightly pinching the edge of his belt buckle. “The Kid leaves his in the car. When I’m out here, I’m out here. If the office or anyone tries to reach me, I say the cell reception was bad.”

“Works for me,” said Slide, stuffing a pink shredded heap of Big League Chew bubble gum in his mouth.

“A teachable moment,” said Jolter, who was new to the team. He was a likable guy who perpetually wore a tucked-in smile and beamed out glistening admiration in his eyes because he looked for the best in people. It’s why he was such a popular high school teacher. He took everyone as they came. No false entered his true. And, if you had a problem with that, well, it was all on you. He had known these guys since grade school.

“Eh, you know,” asked Bob-O, tilting back his Fairfield Fire Department cap. “You going to answer your phone, Slide?”

“And ruin my day?”

“Why not? You ruined ours by showing up,” said Dart.

“Zinga!”

“Ooooh.”

“When I don‘t answer, I stay and play,” said Ace, relieved when the phone stopped vibrating. “If I do, and talk to the War Department and she assigns me some task, like taking her divorced older sister’s grandchildren to pre-school, then I’m SOL.”

“Ka-yikes,” said Dart. “Glad I’m not married.”

“I escaped,” said Bob-O. “It cost me.”

Googi said, “Hey man, it’s no bad. Outside of TeeDee gaining weight on every diet she takes on no complaints. Never understood the logic of diets that say you can lose weight by eating. It’s the eating that’s the problem.”

“My wife’s into buying new hats every friggin’ week,” said Slide, with an edge. “Midge says it’s her money, but it all comes out of the same pot.”

“The Kid’s days are numbered, I’ll be grabbed by my the short hairs and walking down the aisle in the post-season.” He smiled and shrugged. “But I’ll still be the same lovable guy.”

“That’ll change,” said Ace. “Marriage: win your argument lose your day.”

Slide said, “No different than work: win your argument with the boss, lose your paycheck.”

“A teachable moment,” said Jolter.

“Eh, you know.”

“Happy wife, happy life, ” said Putz. “Case closed.”

“Yeah, have you noticed, they’re the ones who tell you that,” Moose said. “When you’re married, women are always under the impression if they’re happy than you’re happy.”

“Moose when it comes to women, you have more X’s than an algebra book,” chirped Dart.

“Zinga!”

“I’m just conversating,” said Moose, who stood on one leg and stretched the other behind his butt. He resembled a hungover bloated heron. He groaned. “I’m still hurtin’ from last night. Why do we have to have our first practice so early?”

“It’s one in the afternoon,” said Herr Putz.

“That’s what I said,” added Moose, who stretched and farted. “Chili dog with onions.” He paused. “Does air have lumps?”

“Jolt did you get a waiver from the All Stars to be with us?” said Bob-O.

“Nobody on the All Stars is speaking to me,” said Jolter.

Moose asked, “They ostrich-zied you? For quitting?”

“I’m blackballed. They can’t believe I left their first place team to play with you guys.”

Moose definitively grunted. “Assholes.”

Some people carefully comb through the dumpster behind the backstory of a person’s life to find the black box that unravels their psychological reasons behind their shortcomings. Moose didn’t go there. You were either a “stand-up guy” or an “asshole.”

“Hey, where’s Fish?”

A distant police siren rose from the highway.

“That’s him now,” said Bob-O.

A speeding Harley’s baffle-poked exhaust pipes roared around ballfield’s traffic circle. The biker sharply cut into the field’s parking lot and hid between Bob-O’s pick-up and Chip’s Camero. A police car with flashing lights wrapped around the circle and spun off in pursuit onto the I-95 turnpike entrance ramp toward Bridgeport.

The crouching helmeted rider popped his head out. Fish was dressed in a black one-piece, zip-up, impact-absorbing foam molded body suit with a double-closure kidney belt and elbow cups that made him look like a multi-shelled Transformer action figure.

“What an entrance!” said Jolter, awed.

“Typical musician,” snapped Ace, unimpressed.

“He’s big and he’s bad, he’s bad and he’s big, he’s big bad Fish.”

“The Kid says, ‘Watch this,’ ” said Chip heaving a ball at Fish. It harmlessly bounced off his body armor. “Nothing touches him.”

“Yeah, including listening to people. In his thirties, married and still hiding from cops,” said Ace, who was in his forties, and had recently being laid off after nearly twenty years on a newspaper and still suffering from the after-effects of his journalism career: firing snap moral judgments. Back then, cynical quips and incisive insights into others came with the territory. Now, it came across as rude.

“Can’t prove it by me,” said Fish, unsnapping his outfit. There wasn’t much of a difference between the muscular-shape of the body armor and his build. His defined biceps looked like they were bound with piano wire. He spit between his teeth. He lit a cigarette. He had oil and grease under his fingernails. He walked over, smacking the ball in his glove and joined the team. “I’m like Jesus, never a hero in your own home town.”

“How’s that working for ya?” said Ace.

Fish fired back. “At least I’m working?”

“Zinga.”

“I’m good with that,” said Ace, then lied, “No worries.”

“What’s this coming?” asked Googi, jutting his chin at the parking lot.

An enormous man got out of a Toyota Prius. He was in his thirties, just under six feet, tipped the scales at two-hundred-and-sixty pounds and not one ounce resembled muscle. He wore bent gold-rimmed square glasses with thick lenses. He opened the trunk, took out a large cooler, and carried it through the children’s playground to the bleachers.

“That’s Big Lou,” said Herr Putz. “My boss’s brother-in-law. New addition.” He lowered his voice. “He’s married but the boss thinks Lou’s a little light in the loafers.”

“Whattafaha,” said Slide, who couldn’t be understood because of the a wad of gum in his mouth, which looked like it was a live bait trying to escape from his rapidly chomping jaws.

Googi disapprovingly muttered to Chip, “Putz keeps playing office politics with our roster. We’re still stuck with Duke, Chaz and Loopy who sucked last year, and now we have another goon in the line-up.” He huffed, “I’m just saying.”

Slide lowered his voice and agreed, “Doesn’t work for me.” He paused. “At least Jolter is a welcome addition from the All Stars.”

“I brought beer,” said Big Lou in a slightly feminine tone, placing a large ice-rattling cooler on the bleachers. He was out of breath and smiling. He wore new everything: sweatshirt, jeans, spikes, cap, and glove.

“Money talks nobody walks,” said Moose. His hand ached from the cold ice as reached for a can in the cooler. “Beer is the most important team-building block of spring training.”

“There are so few of us left,” warmly said Big Lou and affectionately squeezed Moose’s shoulder.

Moose shrugged off Lou’s hand and said, “I don’t like to be touched.”

“No offense,” said Big Lou, upset. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“None taken — yet,” replied Moose, draining the beer and belching.

Slide blew a bubble that could have been his cheek’s inner tube, it broke, covered his mouth and muffled his words, “Mawhumpwha.”

“There’s Wynne,” said Googi, nodding at the bar across the parking lot. “You know it’s getting near opening day when Wynne puts up new pennants. He’s out checking them.”

Wynne limped as he inspected the Major League pennants flapping across the roof of Hall of Fame Bar & Grill. He was a stocky man in his late fifties, wearing a blazer, white turtleneck, pressed slacks and loafers.

The bar was a shrunken replica of a baseball stadium. A blue flashing neon tubular lighting system had a bat hitting a ball into a glove and flashed “The Bar Wynne Built: ‘Steak. Cocktails. Pizza.”

“When I was in Little League I idolized him wanted his number, some other kid beat me to it,” said Googi. “The guy hustled. That injury in right field cut his career short, if it didn’t happen. Wynne wouldn’t have had to hang it up, and by now he’d be in the real Hall of Fame not a bar.”

Bob-O shouted, “He’s big and he’s bad, he’s bad and he’s big, he’s big bad Hall of Fame Major League ball player Wynne Blasingame.”

“Yo rook, coming your way!” shouted Fish, throwing the softball.

Wynne neatly caught the ball on a bounce, and casually flicked it back in one smooth motion.

The ball hissed, and smacked in to Fish’s mitt. He dropped the ball and withdrew his stinging hand from the glove.

“Still got it,” said Wynne, holding out his palm and blowing on it, as if to cool it off.

“You playing for us this year?” hopefully asked Googi.

“You’re an honorary teammate on our roster.”

“We could use you as a DH,” said Ace.

“That’s my only team, flying up there,” said Wynne. He pointed at the pennant of the major league team he played for in the World Series. “Besides, I wouldn’t want you huckleberries to show me up.”

Wynne made a few third-base coach-like signals and slightly hobbled under the baseball cap awning and faded into the bar’s sulky darkness.

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

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

“Why not?” said Slide. “He’s no different than us guys now.”

“Yeah he is. Wynne’s been in the Bigs. He’s done something with his life,” said Googi. “I’m just saying.”

“Case closed.”

“Can’t prove it by me.”

“Livin’ the dream.”

“Teachable moment.”

“Money talks nobody walks.”

“No argument.”

“Go figure.”

“Eh, you know.”

Advertisements
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: