Short Fiction Friday: "Jesus at the Bat" (TQP0024)
For my first foray into fiction with Threat Quality I have composed a fable. It is a fusion of modern ideas and images and classical themes and modalities. There is also a valuable moral at the end. Its title is “Jesus at the Bat”. I hope you enjoy.
Calvin knew that the pitch was just too damn slow. Not only could he feel the baseball’s impotence as it lay in his glove, he was even able to anticipate its disastrous trajectory out of his arm and into an immediate laser course right back at his eye. Every face in the Crawdad dugout turned to George “Dutch” Van Buren. Dutch could see that Calvin was getting tired. All season long Calvin had sworn up and down that the cheering didn’t effect him, and mostly he was telling the truth. But tonight he was quickly noticing a particular screech about the fans inside Garrison Park. They did not have much to screech about all evening long with the River Men trailing the Crawdads 6-1 but screech they did none the less. After every triumph, no matter how minor, the fans would erupt in jubilant celebration. Every mistake that Calvin made, every instant in which Calvin lost the slightest bit of ground in the game seemed to trigger this shrill alarm from the bleachers. This last one was particularly hard to take. The cheers came just as he deftly ducked out of the path of his own lethal fast ball which made him feel like he was some kind of matador playing before a crowd that was rooting for the bull. The screech grew louder when the ball hopped strangely between the center fielder’s legs turning a strongly hit single into a stand-up triple. It was only two hours into the game but Calvin could feel inside of him that he was beginning to foster a deep contempt for River Men fans.
Dutch gave no sign. Anderson was warming up in the bull pen but he could see that he would have to wait one more batter. “Well, Jim it looks like Dutch Van Buren is gonna give Calvin another shot here to close out the 7th inning,” came a voice from a child’s transistor radio in the third row. Calvin had been listening to it all game long. It was from a local broadcast and Calvin had become all too aware of the subtle ways in which the broadcasters had cast an editorial light against him and his teammates’ performances over the course of their three game series in Garrison.
“That’s right Dave, and I kind of think that’s the right decision. If he takes him out now they won’t be able to pinch hit for him in the 8th without pulling a fresh reliever.”
It wasn’t true, but Calvin couldn’t help believing it all the same. He momentarily wished distantly that he was back home where the broadcast would invigorate him rather than weary him. Hopelessly, he tried to listen for a Henry Sherman broadcast. who he imagined would be saying something like, “This might be it for Ray Calvin who has pitched a beauty tonight for the Crawdads. The Crawdads tonight are on the verge of completing their three game sweep of The River Men and pulling into within one game of first place against Salem.” The truth was that Dutch wanted Calvin to get himself out of the seventh inning. He had pitched an excellent game and he wanted to see it punctuated on a successful note which is why he would leave him in to face one more batter.
The was a conspicuous pause with no movement out of The River Men dugout that was broken by an announcement that boomed out of the broadcaster’s booth. “Now Pinch hitting for Duke Clifford…Jesus.” Not only did the screech in the bleachers reach a pitch than it had not reached the entire not long, it did not die out. It was endless, perpetual and showing positively no signs of losing energy. Jesus had become a fan favorite ever since he arrived in Garrison City just before the trade deadline last August. They had become one of the most dangerous teams since Jesus signed on with them. They had not by any stretch become legitimate pennant contenders, but the River Men had been enjoying a late season surge that had shot them from sixth place to a tie for third in just two months, leaving a scorched trail of post season spoilers in their wake.
Dutch did not flinch. Calvin waited to deliver his first pitch, offering Dutch every possible opportunity to call time out and put in a fresh arm against Jesus. But after a few moments it was all too clear to Calvin that Dutch was leaving it up to him to get out of the inning undamaged. There was a gleam in Jesus’s eye that crept through his long hair which he had tucked neatly in his batting helmet which somehow reflected to Calvin the weight of the entire season. It would be the first time all season that he got within striking distance of their rival Salem. He was trying not to remember that they would host Salem in the series immediately following tonight’s game. Since back at home Crawdad fans had undoubtedly already declared the Crawdads winners tonight, it would surly cast a crippling pall over next week’s make or break series. The last thing Calvin needed tonight was to allow a late-game rally. He looked to his catcher for a signal. They both knew what had to be done.
Calvin reached back with everything he had. He did not know how much he had left but he was going to give Jesus everything. The ball rifled across home pate and then thundered into the catcher’s glove.
“Low. Ball 1,” the umpire called casually, in stark contrast to the boisterous clamor from the throngs in attendance.
After an inaudible snort Calvin cooly raised his glove for the catcher to lob the ball back to him. Where do you want it Jesus? He wondered to himself firing the ball past Jesus a second time.
“Ball 2,” the umpire called.
Calvin thought that he might try and tease Jesus a little, perhaps goad him into making a costly mistake. He knew it was naive but he also knew that he liked the high. The trouble is that he was hitting them too. So far, Jesus had been 9 for 14 with two home runs against left-handers with runners in scoring position. Calvin realized what a risky game he was playing during his wind up, a game which had suddenly become equally risky for Jesus who narrowly dodged and errant ball from striking him in the shoulder.
“Ball three,” coughed the umpire again. The crowd was breathless for a second but reached their highest pitch yet the moment Jesus determinedly resumed his stance.
Calvin shook his head at the sign for his catcher. Shook it twice more before finally getting the signal that he wanted. For just an instant, Jesus reached out with his bat as the ball screamed with hundred-mile-an-hour fury into the catchers glove.
“Outside! Ball 4,” called the umpire.
The catcher pointed in appeal to the first base umpire who signaled that it was not a swing. For a short time nothing happened. It seemed that all at once the energy had been suddenly drained from the crowd. But the volume returned to the stadium as Jesus gently handed his bat to the young bat boy and trotted off to first base.
Jesus was one of the best base runners in the league, always among the league leaders in stolen bases, but this did not matter. On his very first pitch, Calvin would jam the batter in the inside corner, causing him to pop out to the first basemen, and ending the inning. Anderson would close out the Crawdad’s eventual 11-3 victory, and Jesus would not receive another at bat.
The moral of the story is, if you are ever trying to protect a lead in the middle of a hotly-contested pennant race and you find yourself facing Jesus, probably the smartest thing to do is just pitch around him.