fiction by Jason Edwards
The Skipper hadn’t said a word yet. Pacing in front of the boys, in his baseball pants, a size too small. His baseball shirt a size too big and his nylon manager’s jacket, against the cold March air. His grey mustache, big enough to hide his mouth, stained in places with tobacco. Pacing back and forth, looking at these men, these grown men with their salaries and their agents and their endorsements and their fans. All of them in their uniforms too, some of them shivering, most of them scowling, casting glances around at each other or the gray sky or the sunflower seed shells all over the dugout floor or the splatters of ‘bacco juice or the skip, pacing back and forth. Wad in the skip’s cheek as big as a golf ball or maybe a cantaloupe or even a pluot. The skip spat another spit of ‘bacco juice into the dirt, even though the floor of the dugout was concrete, and even so it made a ding like he’d hit a spittoon. A big fancy brass one. “So what I’m saying,” the skipper said “is you got to put the bat on the ball.”
The boys looked at each other, frowning. Behind the skip, the assistant manager stood there, stoic, with his clipboard and his sweatshirt and his big ass whistle, which had not been blown once in ten years of assistant managering.
“I ain’t one for speeches,” the skip said. “Words ain’t what I do.” He spat again, ding. “But I know one thing. One word that pretty much sums up this stupid game.” He stopped, suddenly, and somehow peered at every single one of them in the eye. “You put the bat on the ball.”
Some of them nodded. Some of them rolled their eyes. Some of them secretly fondled their smart phones in the pockets of their nylon team jackets.
One them looked up. “It’s Gregory.”
“Same thing. You put the bat on the ball?”
Gregory frowned, looked around, got no support from the other boys. “I’m a pitcher.”
The skip paused for a moment, chewing furiously. “Did I stutter?” Spit, ding.
“This is the AL, skip.”
The skip nodded. “If I wanted sass, I’d go watch a movie in a negro theater. Answer muh question.”
Gregory tried not to smile, succeeded “That’s… that’s racist.”
The skip just shook his head. “Sparky, am I holding a ticket stub?”
The assistant manager checked his clipboard. “No skip.”
“Just checking.” He went back to pacing. “You put the bat on the ball.”
Murmurs, knuckle- cracks, the slick and slither of nylon jackets elbowing each other in the frosty dugout.
The skip spat again, nearly hitting one boy in the shoe, who nevertheless dodged it. “You, what’s your name, Rodriguez.”
The skip nodded. “Where you from, Rodriguez.”
“The Dominican Republic.”
Spit, ding. “No, before that.”
“Uh, Santo Domingo?”
“No, before that.”
The skip nodded, scowled, stopped pacing, stuffed a little more chew into his cheek, took up pacing again. “They play ball there, Rodriguez?”
Rodriguez smiled. “That’s all they do, skip.”
“Do they put the bat on the a ball?”
Pause. “That’s all they do.”
“Write that down, Sparky.” Spit, ding.
Sparky wrote it down.
The boys were silent, watching the manager. The cold March air was getting colder. The view from the dugout was gray misty sky. Some of them thought about their wives, their kids, the small-town parade if they ever made it back home. Apple pie and sitting onna bale of hay, gingham dresses and a coy little wink, curly blonde hair and the way she smelled in the spring-time sun, her hand so frail and smooth taking his and leading him ‘round back of the clapboard church, the doors of the old hand-dug cellar yawning open, down into the cool darkness, the way she put those leather straps on his wrists and ankles, cutting his clothes away with a rusty knife and forcing the dog collar on him and whipping him until he cried for his mommy and his body failed him and he hung there in chains and the terrible stink of his own fear.
Spit, ding. “Sparky, what’s the team ERA?”
The assistant manager checked his clipboard. “2.32.”
The skip nodded. “Not bad, not bad. How many Ks we getting per game.”
“Uh, about ten.”
“Not bad, not bad.”
“We were number one in the league last year,” a voice said from the back.
The skip stopped, a statue. “Whaju say boy?”
The crowd of nylon team jackets parted to reveal a shorter-than average little runt of a man, head bowed, poking at a cell phone like he was a five year old kid and the phone was a dead bird. Probably a god damned short stop.
“We had the lowest runs-against last year, Manless got the Golden Glove, we had only 55 errors, which broke all the records.”
The skip started to spit, but couldn’t. “Whaju say, boy?”
The kid finally looked up. “You asked what our ERA was and then said ‘Not bad.’”
The skip folded his arms, leaned back, peered at the kid. “Gonna have to try harder, boy, I didn’t go to no college.”
“You said ‘not bad’ like it could be better. I couldn’t be better. It was already the best. We’re number one in, like, seven categories.” The boy looked nervous, real nervous, and had to swallow a few times. “So back off,” he managed, in a small voice, the kind short-stops use.
Around him, the rest of the team was utterly silent. Utterly still, and yet edging away from him as much as possible.
The skip slowly extended an arm, pointing at the field “That look like the sorta place where seven categories wins balls games,” spit, ding, “boy?”
“Well, sort of, I mean-”
“When you go out there today, you gonna wave seven categories in the other team’s face, hope they just give up and go home to their kids and their nintendos, boy?”
“Today? It’s the middle of March!”
The skip put his hands on his hips, legs wide for balance, leaned back and looked up at the sky , chewing noisily, and muttered “Well goddamn.” He spat, looked at the boy. “You some kind of genius? Is that what I’m dealing with here today, son? A bona-fide genius?”
The kid shrugged. The rest of the team remained invisible.
“Yep, what I figgered. This kid’s a genius. Write that down; Sparky, Rodriguez here is a genius.”
Sparky wrote it down.
“Uh, my name’s Cordry.”
Spit, ding. “Alright then. We’ll do it the college way. Now.” Chew, peer, chew, eyes narrow, chew some more. “What’s this game called?”
The kid scowled the scowl of a four-year-old forced to sit there until he ate his peas. “Baseball.”
The skip nodded. “What’s the last part?”
“Ball,” the kid said, still frowning.
“What’s the first part?”
The kid puffed a sigh, barely controlled an eye-roll. “Base.”
“Is the e silent, you college- goin’ sumbitch?”
“Yes?” Around him, the team started becoming visible again, edging a bit closer.
“So what’s after S in the alphabet.”
Counts on his fingers. “T.” Teammates started looking at each other, eyes wide, grins slowly emerging. The gray March sky seeming not so gray, not so March.
“So what’s that make with a silent e?”
Pause, big grin, “Bat!” A few giggles, a couple of chortles from the team. A “yeah” and a “you tell ‘im!”
“So what’s that all together?”
“Bat-ball!” The team jumps to their feet, tackling the kid, as if they stadium wasn’t empty but full of roaring fans and the kid returning from a grand-slam homerun in the top of the eighth, putting them up by three and that much closer to only one game back, just one game back and they’d be looking at a possible division win for the first time in a decade, rolling all over each other in the dug out while the fans go nuts and the PA blares their theme song, this crazy group of guys rolling around in their nylon team jackets smeared and splattered with tobacco juice and field dirt and broken sunflower seeds, the sweat and tears of 155 stupid games in the hottest summer on record and all that hard work finally starting to pay off, rolling around in the frigid dugout in the middle of march and wind whipping, ignored by all of them, around the utterly empty stadium.
The skipper stood there, looking at them, nodding his head like a general nods at a battlefield strewn with dead bodies. “Now, that’s called the Socrates way.” Chew, spit, ding. “You put the bat on the ball.”