My father tossed a ball into the air and smacked a shot toward my third base side. I moved fluidly to my right and backhanded it, skidded to a stop, turned and fired. The throw was just beyond the reach of my little brother standing listlessly at first looking unconcerned. I moaned in disgust, “Come on, you could have made that play!”
“Throw was a little high,” my father said, looking at me from beneath the brim of a beat-up Mets cap. “Alright Tim, start packing it in.”
At that my brother ran to the fence behind him to pick up the balls he had missed, and dropped them into a bucket. Then he circled to the outfield grabbing everything my father had gotten by me.
“You and me have a little business to finish: first game of the season,” my father said to me smiling broadly as Tim placed the bucket brimming over with baseballs next to the pitcher’s mound.
It was a game we had played every time he’d brought me out to practice since I was nine. The scenario was always the same, the same one every baseball obsessed boy ran through his head a million times a day: World Series, bases-loaded, two out in the bottom of the ninth, down by three, last at bat. I was always the pitcher; we played by home-run derby rules: it was either a home-run or an out. In the six years since we started he was probably batting around .875 with 95 home-runs and 380 RBI’s, give or take a few. Any time I ever got him out it was a long fly that he got under by an inch. I’d keep it low hoping he’d ground out or trying to make him chase, but he never did, and walks were unacceptable. One time I decided I wasn’t go to let him beat me so I tried to walk him. With three balls I tossed one high and away and he stepped across the plate to catch it and threw it back to me. “Stop being a smart-ass and play the game!” he said glaring at me. I had never seen him that angry before so I decided I was better off throwing it over and being done with it.
He took his stance at the plate waggling the bat over his head, doing his best Strawberry impression. I took the mound resigned, scuffed my cleat in a divot in the dirt and toed the rubber. I loved to go into a full wind-up just to piss my father off, he always told me my mechanics were shit and I should pitch from the stretch until I was a little more coordinated.
I wound up and let it fly. The ball felt light as it jumped from my hand. One thing about being a pitcher that only other pitchers can truly understand: you never really know if you have it until you reach back and throw that first real pitch. The pitch was belt high and on the outside corner and he whiffed, I could imagine the snap of leather as though there was a catcher behind the plate, and I knew I had it.
“Whoa, looks like you added some speed on your fastball this winter, I wasn’t expecting that,” he said smugly, seeming unimpressed. He stepped out of the box for a second, spit and then stepped to the plate again. I was tempted to throw one up and in, brush him back, but if I hit him I’d be in real trouble.
I took a breath and wound-up, driving off the rubber, reaching back with everything I had and let it fly again. This time he was a little more prepared and smacked it right on the barrel of the bat. You could tell by the sound that he had caught all of it. It was one of those swings that sings through you; it’s what I imagine a fighter feels when he lands a perfect body punch that drops his opponent. I turned to watch it and realized it was a bit wide, just foul over the left field fence and into the parking lot.
“Guess I overestimated your speed,” my father said smiling sardonically.
He stood impatiently as I stepped off the mound for a moment. I grabbed a ball from the bucket and stepped back as he waited, never leaving the batter’s box.
“Come on let’s go!” he shouted.
I rolled the ball in my hand positioning it in my mitt and ran my fingers over the seams. I looked intently at the plate like I was waiting on a sign and changed my grip. I had been working on a few pitches with my friend Phil and figured it was now or never. It had to be perfect, because I still had the element of surprise, but after today that would be out the window. I hadn’t learned to control my curveball and the knuckler I had experimented with didn’t quite knuckle, but I’d had some success with the split-finger fastball.
I looked at him, right through him, and made my move toward the plate. The pitch felt good as it left my hand, it was coming in waist-high over the center of the plate. My father lifted his left leg pushing his weight forward, looking to really drive the ball, but just as he swung the bottom dropped out. He looked behind him incredulous. I wanted to jump up like I had just struck him out to win the World Series, but I was somehow able to control myself with the exception of the huge grin I couldn’t wipe off my face.
“Okay, one more at bat!” he yelled. “Get back on the mound!”
I had already turned and started walking toward the car. I knew if I looked back I was lost. I closed my eyes and shut out his voice at my back and kept moving.
About the Author: Peter Piliere is a writer living in Austin, Texas. His work has appeared in The MacGuffin. You can follow him on Twitter @peterpiliere1.
Story Song: "Bowl of Oranges" by Bright Eyes
Photo Credit: Leesa Cross-Smith