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Nathan Leslie

The Pinch Hitter

He's beyond his prime, thirty-nine, eighteen years in the game, a part-timer for the past few. When he's not spot-starting, he's riding the pine. Old and wise to the game, almost another coach. The rookies look up to him.

The only reason he's not retired: pinch hitting. Mr. Clutch. Mr. I-can-wake-up-from- a-two-hour-nap-and- still-drill-a-double-down- the-third-base-line-to-score-the-tying-run. Third all time on the pinch hit list. Not that anyone cares. Not that anyone notices.

In the eighth, score tied, man on second, the coach points to him, and the pinch hitter is up, in the on-deck circle with the weighted bat, smoothing pine tar on the handle of his Mizudo. He tightens his batting gloves, walks to the plate. A big burly reliever stands on the mound, with a tattooed forearm, earrings, and orange hair.

Each time the pinch hitter walks to the plate, for a brief moment, a split second, he sees a vision. A crane flies slowly over a dusty road, over a line of birch trees, over a bog, and swoops downwards to a vast lake, the sun nearly blinding. The image just visits him whether he wants it to or not. Then he takes a practice swing, and is ready.

The first two pitches are high and tight, backing him off. Then a called strike at the knees. The reliever really leans back for the fourth pitch, but pulls a change-up. The pinch hitter sees it coming, times it, lines it right back at the pitcher and past his snapping glove, the ball skimming through the infield. The runner rounds third, heading home, and the throw skips in to the catcher, one bounce, two bounces, and to him. But the runner slides wide, around the tag, hand just in on the back corner of the plate. Run in.

The pinch hitter stands on second, hands on hips. The runner points at him, an acknowledgement of success. The crane stands knee-deep in water, feeling the cool water lap around him.

©2003 by Nathan Leslie

Nathan Leslie's first book of stories, Rants and Raves, was published early 2003. He also has a new short story collection, A Cold Glass of Milk, published in October by Uccelli Press. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2002, and his fiction and poetry has or will appear in over ninety publications, including Gulf Stream, StorySouth, Amherst Review, Wascana Review, Red River Review, X-Connect, Fiction International, Adirondack Review, The Crab Creek Review, Fodderwing, The Sulphur River Literary Review, 3 A.M., Orchid, and Daybreak. Nathan completed his MFA at the University of Maryland in 2000. See more of his work at his Web site.

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