Fiction   Essays   Poetry  The Ten On Baseball Chapbooks In Memory

Craig Terlson

On a Wire

Seger blasted over the engine drone -- we were just young and restless and bored. Add stoned to the list, and he would have nailed our team, the Black Sox. Not a player, save me, knew of the famous Sox, the guys who chucked the series. Our Sox had grown up playing hardball, scrub ball, knocking around the school parking lot ball, but they didn't know the game that way. History was just some bullshit class they cut in high school. A couple of us were failing some first year courses at U of R, the rest were pumping gas or sleeping through nowhere jobs. Skills-wise, Jerry on first was a pretty good hitter but couldn't field for shit. Skinner thought he was good. Sometimes I think the girls were along because of how they filled out their cutoffs but that seemed a bit harsh. I did see Carol catch a long fly once -- surprised the hell out of her.

Long bands of gold and green whipped by, the road straighter than a ninety-miler, a long cloud stretched a bony finger toward Reston. We were headed to a three-day tourney a couple of hundred miles away. Prize money was a joke, but none of us expected to win any of it, well, except maybe for Skinner, but he was dreaming. At the start of the season the Sox had asked me to join after a long beer pounding session at the Royal. They knew I'd played for the Sixty-Sixers for few seasons, one of the weaker players on a team of head up their butt anal-izers. Skinner was right to call them that. Tired of the pressure and the scowls I gathered if I missed the easy double play or bobbled a line drive, I said sure, why not. I remembered playing the Sox, we demolished them, but they had a helluva lot more fun that we ever did.

It was Skinner's parents' Winnebago and his idea for the road trip.

"We'll blow these guys out of the park."

"Skin, a lot of those farm boys can pitch ball."

"Yeah, but they don't have what we have," Jerry said.

"Attitude?" Frank the dishwasher asked.

"No." Jerry fired up a fat doobie and took a hit. "A big bag of dope."

This was going to be embarrassing.

That afternoon I found out that I had called it wrong. Humiliating would have been a better word. It didn't help that the guys we played in the first round were the local favorites. They had the requisite three girls, but two of them were the best on the team. All of them hit, fielded, and ran like triple A players. Goony farm boys with ripped biceps from throwing bales, and muscles on muscles that stretched their faded orange Sandy's Motors uniforms. We were cooked before the first pitch. Added to that was the two-four that the sponsors gave every team. I don't know how many Lloyd our centre fielder chugged before we hit the field but I questioned if he knew which sport he was playing.

Our dugout was a haze. Needle joints were passed up and down the line. Thankfully, we had brought backup when the sponsored beers ran out. I hit the cycle and made a couple of diving catches, but one semi-sober shortstop can only do so much.

I heard a couple of yokels yakking it up on the hood of a white half-ton after the game.

"Bunch of city bums. I figured they made the drive out as ringers, clean us out."

"You'd heard of them?"

"Are you kidding? No. And you can see why."

"You see the girl out in left -- I tell you I'd like to -- "

They stopped talking when I walked by. I heard the burst of laughter as the porta-potty door slammed.

Our B-side game was noon the next day. Like the seasoned pros we were, everyone showed up with hangovers from hell. The sun climbed up behind a barn in the distance, burning like a lit cigarette against a pale sky that screamed heat. The guys who kicked our asses slaughtered another team and jogged off the field after seven innings. When I was on the Sixers we'd never throw in the towel until the last pitch. We'd grind it out whether it was 2-1 or 20-1.

The top of the ninth it looked like we would be packing into the Winnebago early. It wasn't as bad as yesterday's game, but we were still down 6-3. We were in the field, they had runners on first and third, nobody out. Some big goon called Bucky was at the plate. He drove one at my skull and I nabbed it out of sheer instinct, caught the guy on first with his pants down and fired over to Jerry. Jerry dropped it, laughed a stoner's laugh and picked it up before the runner made it back. In the confusion, the long-legged blonde on third tagged and peeled home. I yelled at Jerry and he tossed the ball underhand to me. I lunged at the floater, grabbed it barehanded and pivoted. By some miracle from above, Skinner caught it and tagged the runner in a cloud of dust and last night's sweat. He grinned and pointed at me.

"Who's da' man?"

Skinner went behind our dugout to bring up this morning's free pancake breakfast before our pep speech.

"Rally time guys."

And that was it. We twisted our caps and waited for the inevitable. Out of beer and pot, we had to pool our money for a few lukewarm cokes. The team looked gray, like a sketched version of the original Black Sox. The only difference was that we had no talent to speak of, and the second baseman was chucking into his hat. Tammy had her shoes off, though.

I drifted off -- watched some birds line up on the telephone wire. The bleachers were half-full, young families with squirmy kids, a bunch of farmers with their Harvester hats, a few of the other teams scattered in the crowd. I figured I'd have to leave the Sox after this game, probably just stop playing altogether. Rivers of sweat ran down my neck and a layer of dust enveloped me. I must have had one of those micro-sleeps, or maybe I just found those birds fascinating, the way they lined up, all sleek and shiny like the black keys on a piano. They whistled and chirped, then someone down the line would answer, not the same song but it was in the neighbourhood.

"Shuster! You in this or what?"

Skinner was shouting at me. Somehow Jerry had ended up on third, Carol on Second and Frank the dishwasher was on first. How the hell did that happen? I gave my head a shake that almost took my neck of its hinges.

A radio somewhere blasted "Spirit in the Sky." I was trying to trace the source when the first breaking ball cut a corner of the plate.

"Ah c'mon!" Jerry yelled over from third.

"Slam it Shussie!"

Skinner was either giving me signs from behind Jerry or something was biting him.

I almost pulled my arms out of their sockets swinging at the next one.

"Nice breeze," sang the catcher.

All right, I needed some focus. Stare this yokel down. I could do this. He threw a brushback and a slider into the dirt, my chest going piss-shiver tight each time. I imagined him getting hit in the head with a bale. Then, a heater, right down the pipes. As I moved through my swing, every part of body connected with the scarred Rawlings, I swear I could feel the stitching. It was a rocket. Harvester hats hit the air, kids ran on the field -- I guess that's what they do out here.

It didn't matter to me when we lost the afternoon game by nine runs. Rounding third I looked up to my feathered friends. Not one of them had left, taking in the whole spectacle, adding their chirps to the roar, making the heat feel a few degrees cooler, and my future with the Sox a candlelight brighter.

©2009 by Craig Terlson

Craig Terlson's fiction has appeared in Carve, Hobart, Bound Off, Smokelong Quarterly, and others. Wigleaf named his story, "Night Birds" one of the top 50 online stories of 2007. He is currently working on two novels at the same time, which he is not sure is a good idea.

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