by JC Isabell
A "fondling details" piece.
| Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois, 1987. The bright stadium lights seemed to shine only on you and the pitcher. With every step you take, the more dust gravel is kicked up behind you, plumes of orange filling the air, following you like a cloud trail. The scent of the air, however, was a mixture of your own sweat, roasted almonds, and classic Ballpark hot dogs. What used to be your clean pair of white and blue striped baseball slacks now reflect the typical baseball attire: coated in bright green streaks from the outfield grass and smothered in the same bright copper color dirt that covers the infield, and the same goes for your once shirt and your worn-out cleats. You’re positive you are as grimy as your uniform, but you wouldn’t have it any other way: baseball was all about getting down and dirty. You turn your head and smile, the bleachers filled with bright blues and pristine whites, the occasional red splotch among the crowd, everyone here for their pure, blissful love of baseball.You know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in those stands, and just as many noises coming from them. Vendors, trying to make their dime, announcers giving feedback on the game’s highlights and players, children cheering while their parents suck down another cold one. Your favorite part of them all is the shouts: some cheering you on, some rooting for your failure, but at the moment, you can’t hear them. The only two people that you know are there are you and Joe “The Man” Mancini-Gomez, standing 60 feet and 6 inches away at the pitcher's mound, far from the home plate you’re approaching. You swear he could hear your heartbeat as if he were right next to you, like it thumps in his ears the way it does in yours. It’s like your entire life has come down to this moment, and you’re determined to make it count.
The score is 7-6, not in your favor, bottom of the 9th, and two outs, as if the scenario were out of a movie. The game had started at 8:10 at night, and you are almost certain it’s at least midnight. The Chicago Cubs are facing the Los Angeles Angels in the seventh and final game before one team gets to face off with Houston Astros in the World Series, and fate has chosen you to be the decider. The Cubs can win it if you can hit a home run, Leo Johnson eagerly waiting for a hit to send him flying home, winning you and your team the game. Just a swift hit, and you win.
If only it were that easy.
Your feet feel like anvils as you make your way to home, never breaking your gaze with The Man, his serious brown eyes meeting yours, a suspenseful depth linking you two together. On the mount, he seemed to be 8 feet tall, when in reality, he’s about 5 foot 10, a whole foot shorter than you, yet he stands with more intimidation than you have ever known or ever will know. His red jersey seems almost cleaner than when the game started, his cap straight and sitting on his buzz cut head, and his crimson socks running up to his knees. The Man was the epitome of baseball players in every sense: in looks, passion, and most importantly, skill. Your team hadn’t been able to hit off of him since he was brought out during the 8th inning, and it gave the Angels enough time to catch up to your team and tie, as if he planned it to come down to you two all along. His mouth twists into a smile beneath his thick mustache as if he were about to eat you alive. Nothing else mattered in the game before now.
You nod at the umpire and catcher as you take your place at the plate, leveling your toes with the points of the five-sided slab, bending your knees and giving your oak bat a few practice swings before you’re finally ready to take on The Man. He leans forward, shaking his head at his catcher who throws different hand signals for different pitches, until they finally reach an agreement. He stands straight up, his hand gripping the ball within his umber mitt, and in the blink of an eye, whips it in a perfect curve. It almost clips your nose, but you somehow stumbled backwards before it could hit you. He laughs as you almost fell on your behind, and the ump rules it as Ball 1. The catcher tosses it back to him as you regain your composure and go back up to the plate, taking deep breaths as you await the next pitch. The second one The Man throws is a slick sinker, seeming to be level with your gut, but dips down below your knees as soon as you take a swing, becoming your first strike. Everyone around you must be booing and cursing at you, but you’re too focused. This next pitch is all yours.
The Man pitches you the quickest fastball you’ve ever seen, and with one swing of your bat, you make contact, your hands stinging, and you run like the wind. As you run, you picture it: your teammates, hoisting you on their shoulders, Gatorade and water coolers dumped on your coaches, a sweet victory before the biggest game of your life. It’s only until after you round first base you notice that no one has moved, everyone watching the replay of an incredible sight to see: After you hit the ball, it went straight back to where it came from, hitting Joe Mancini-Gomez square in the face, knocking him to the ground and knocking his smug little face out cold. Almost simultaneously, the infield players seem to run to him, but everyone is quick to realize they’re scrambling for the ball as they crash into each other, groans coming from all of them, but most loudly The Man. You holler to Leo Johnson on 2nd base to move his feet as you fast approach him, the field feeling more like a circus than a baseball game. You hear the crowd going wild as your feet brush the bases, gaining more and more speed as you get closer to home. You can see your vision more and more clearly: the cheers, the publicity deals, the World Series, even the All-Stars. You close your eyes as if you were running in slow motion, you fist held in the air as you leave 3rd, when you collide with someone. You fall back, and look up: The Man stands before you, his bare hand holding his nose as it oozes thick red blood all over him, and his mitt holding the ball you beamed him with, tagging you. Everything goes silent once again, and your dreams are but a wishful memory.
You’ve lost, and The Man has won.