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A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2007, vol 3 no 2

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Garry Eaton

 

Saturday's Hero

                     seventh inning stretch…
                                  the ex walks by
                                          with the new boyfriend

In the bottom of the ninth, our last at bat, we’re in a classic, clutch situation. With two out, and trailing by two, we have runners on second and third. A double will tie it, and a homer will win–and winner takes all. But fat chance! I’m up, and I haven’t hit a homer since Little League. Besides, I’m tired, having pitched to about fifty batters since lunch. But we’ve got nobody to pinch hit, having used all our players today, so stepping into the batter’s box, I tell myself I have plenty of good excuses if I fan. At least nobody will be surprised. And if I come through with any kind of a hit, or even draw a walk, it’ll be seen as a bonus. Can’t lose–not really. So relax!

I whiff on the first pitch. Too eager. Likewise on the second. This provokes the drunk in the stands to laugh hysterically, and to bawl out for the hundredth time today the old cliché about “swinging like a rusty gate.” Then a series of gigantic “boooo”s from what must be THE biggest set of lungs north of the 49th.  The opposing catcher, a spry farm boy and a merciless heckler, fond of irony, asks his pitcher, a guy as big as a grain elevator, to “please take it easy! After all, he’s such a little feller!” The unintended pun on the name of a hero of mine, the great Bob Feller, like most pitchers a notoriously weak hitter, comes to me like a gift! Suddenly my mood changes, my mind clears, and I focus in…I am alone…waiting. The pitcher, sensing the tension, waits a moment too, and then delivers his third pitch, a nice, fat fastball, exactly where I like them, low on the inside. I hitch my swing, to avoid hitting it foul, and then pick it out of the air with my best cut, and smack it high toward left field. We’re off! But the soft feel of the bat tells me. Alas, I haven’t hit it well. Glancing up on the way to first, I can see the ball floating uncertainly, a long, high pop-up that hangs there, hesitating before it decides how far to go or where to fall. Suddenly, all eyes are fixed on its flight…                     

                                       twilight double header..
                                                       a huge fly ball
                                                                   or is it…the moon?

This is small town tournament baseball, Alberta style, played by farm boys with a few weekends to spare before harvest begins, by roughnecks recruited during breaks from the oil rigs, by clerks from short, dusty main streets. They unpack spikes and gloves a few times a summer for some semi-serious competition, and after collecting enough to make up a purse for the winners, travel with wives and girlfriends to various surrounding towns hosting tournaments. Fans and spectators climb the bleachers in a holiday mood. Some bring picnic baskets. Others stay in the comfort of their cars lining the outfield, to drink beer and relax while perusing the action. And every play, good or bad, and plenty of them are bad, is applauded or jeered with long blasts from a veritable orchestra of car horns.

After today started cool and rainy, a steady, warm wind began to blow, clearing the sky by game time, and then turning gusty in the late innings, blowing dust across the field from behind home plate. Thus it is that as I run to first a faint hope is rising in my mind. That nagging wind that’s worked against my pitching arm most of the day might turn into a friend after all! And not long before I’ve rounded first for second, the thing is decided. What started life as a poorly hit fly ball, and an easy out on a normal day, has been floated by benign design of zephyr far beyond its wildest dreams, out over the snow fence marking the left field boundary, and right into the back seat of an open convertible parked there, with a notable looking blonde sitting at the wheel. A home run! We win! $50 dollars each!  

Crossing home plate amid the blaring horns, greeted by my happy teammates and the excited crowd, I see that the money doesn’t matter much. For small town heroes, and real baseball fans, it’s primarily about the bragging rights, after all. At the dance that night, when the blonde from the convertible, who also turns out to be the town mayor’s daughter, approaches me with congratulations, she ignores my inconvenient humility. That the wind helped me with the big hit today is as inconsequential to her as the fact that wind probably also helped Nelson to victory at Trafalgar, or speeded Lindbergh on his way to France. Whatever its influence, like them I’m hero of the day.

As we dance, she coyly tells me she has no intention of giving back the baseball, her souvenir, but she’s willing to trade something for it. And she slips me her Edmonton telephone number! “Just in case, “she murmurs, “you’re ever in the city.”                                   

                                      across the dance floor
                                               the ex......
                                               I ignore her glances