It was the bottom of the sixth inning on a Tuesday afternoon, and Johnny Shelburn stepped to the plate with the bases empty and two men out.
Sacks, his teammates called him. He played first base.
He took a strike. A little high for his taste. The Larranega Heights pitcher was a lefty. He moved his next fastball a few inches farther outside, high again. One and one. Then he hummed a curve, and Sacks was looking fastball. Stee-rike two! Sacks choked up to protect the plate, but the fourth pitch was in the dirt, and the count was even.
Why would a town name itself Larranega Heights? What an unwieldy name. The shirts had “HEIGHTS” stitched in script, “H-E-I-G” on one side of the buttons and “H-T-S” on the other. Why couldn’t they name the town for Larranega’s first name? Bob’s Heights, maybe. Maybe Larranega’s first name was … Pemberton or something. Maybe that was why they went with Larranega. Another question: Were there actual heights? Sacks hadn’t noticed any when they played there.
The thoughts that wandered through a kid’s mind on a two-and-two count.
With mind occupied, Sacks could only keep it simple. He was looking fastball again and got it. It wasn’t that fast, but it was on the outside part of the plate again, and he hit it “where it was pitched.” Solidly. A feeling of pure pleasure matched by few others. The ball started out tracking to right-center field, on a low trajectory. Then it started to slice at an alarming rate, toward the foul line in the corner. The Larranega Heights right fielder — What was their nickname? Oh, yeah. Green Dragons. Another name too big for uniforms. — dove for the ball. Then it bounced right off his forehead, and the kid’s head must have been hard, because it looked as if the ball had been drop-kicked. It hit the green plywood wall, which was unpadded, and skittered around the wall’s edge like a hockey puck around the boards.
Sacks wasn’t particularly fast, but he was digging, and it looked like Beggs Hatfield was going to stop him at third, but then the relay through, from the center fielder, was off-line, and even though the shortstop caught it, he was on the dead run away from the play, and Beggs waved Sacks around third, and the shortstop had to get himself stopped and planted, and then his desperate heave wasn’t close. Sacks scored the go-ahead run, standing up, or, rather, running across, the plate.
It was Sacks’ only inside-the-park home run, and one of only three he hit that year, but Ronnie Brodrick retired the Green Dragons in order, and when Sacks closed his scoop on the final out, a foul pop over near the dugout, that’s when he realized life was never going to be better than this.
When the right fielder from Larranega Heights shook hands with him, Sacks couldn’t help but notice that he had an imprint of the ball’s laces above his right eyebrow.
Johnny Shelburn was right. Life never got better than the feeling he had that day. He was a bit more melancholy as he sat in a lawn chair down the third-base line of the same diamond where he had played forty years earlier.
It was popular now to say that times had been simpler then, and, of course, they had. It was before the knee surgeries. And the divorce. And the daughter caught in the middle who wound up dropping out of school in another state. The last time they’d talked had been the day she called to tell him she’d finally gotten her GED.
It was before January 4, 2013, when he’d been called into a meeting and informed that his last day, after sixteen and a half years on the job, would be January 4, 2013. Of course, he got a modest severance package and excellent directions on how to apply for unemployment.
Sons of bitches.
The home run, though, was why he frequently wandered over to the old field, still in use but with padded fences now instead of the old plywood walls. Sometimes an old friend would stop by, but mostly he watched the games by himself, and sat up his chair down beyond the dugout, with the bullpen directly in front of him, and the reason he sat there, to tell the truth, was that, if someone was going to come visit, they were going to have to walk a ways. It was a good way to limit contact to those he didn’t mind seeing.
Sacks. He never thought of the old nickname except when he was watching the lads play. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been called it. Maybe it was his grandfather, who’d only been dead for twenty-nine years.
He didn’t like to talk about old times. He just liked to think about them.
My new novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is available for advance order now: http://www.amazon.com/Forgive-Our-Trespasses-Monte-Dutton-ebook/dp/B0192I3Q1K/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1458228862&sr=1-1&keywords=Monte+Dutton+Forgive+Us+Our+Trespasses
Forgive Us Our Trespasses will be available for download on March 29. It’s a crime novel about corruption and patronage in a small town. The tale unfolds across two generations at the same time.
As you may have noticed, I use these blogs as a promotional tool for my novels. One, Crazy of Natural Causes, has been out since late July of 2015. If you haven’t read it, I’d appreciate you considering it. It’s a freewheeling fable on the absurdity of life.
Crazy and Trespasses are my third and fourth novels. The Audacity of Dope was published in 2011, The Intangibles in 2013. I’m working on a fifth, Cowboys Come Home. Most of my books can be examined and purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1
My nonfiction, much of which involves sports, is on display here: http://montedutton.com/
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