Part one -Shark Bait

 

The shame is driving me crazy.

I’m Joshua Wilson. Call me Josh. What else? My coach? He calls me Wilson, usually spitting words like he just sucked on a lemon. I get paid to play baseball—getting paid to do what I love. I worship the game. It’s more than that. Baseball is hardwired in my DNA.

But this story is about yesterday.

I play in the minors. The Midwest League in August means hot—I’m talking Iowa, corn growin’ hot. It was a day game and wicked scorching without clouds. Sunglasses were no help in the relentless glare.

“You’re up Wilson,” the coach yelled as if I didn’t know. Heck, I was standing in the on-deck circle after all. I knocked the doughnut off the bat and moseyed to the plate as if in slow-motion. Nobody was in a hurry in this heat.

Switching my bat from one hand to the other, then back, I started my usual at-bat ritual. First, I dropped the resin bag.

Droplets of sweat gathered around the neck of my shirt. I resisted the urge to pull it away with my hand. That would have disturbed my routine.

Standing at the plate, I stared down the third base line. Once again, the damned sweat. I was distracted by a bead of moisture that started slithering down the left side of my nose. It was ticklish in an exquisite way. I didn’t try to brush it away.

I stepped back and knocked on my shoes with the bat to dislodge any lingering dirt. Then I turned back and tapped home plate precisely three times.

I flexed my arms and reached up to adjust my cap when I heard the Ump whisper, “any time now, Wilson. Let us know when you’re ready.” His sarcasm wilted in the heat.

I had time for one more look at third base. Trickles of perspiration blurred my vision. Coach stood in the third base box waving his arms like a windmill spinning out of control. That man sure loves his signals.

What is it? I asked myself. What did his sign mean? No, that doesn’t make any sense. Salty beads made me squint. I tried to pretend I didn’t know what he was signaling. But—I did.

Final inning. We had a man on second, only one out. We needed a run to tie, and he just gave me the bunt sign. It doesn’t make any sense. Not if you love and respect the game. I’m his power hitter, and he’s giving me the bunt sign?  It was all I could do not to laugh.

Turning back, I nodded to the Ump.

“Play ball.” He managed to bellow, even in this heat. I heard him mutter something that wasn’t polite.

The first pitch was high and wide. Ball one. It looked like the pitcher was throwing a twenty-pound lead weight.

The second pitch flashed by like a rocket. He still has some stuff left, I realized. The ball made a solid thud when it hit the catcher’s mitt. One ball. One strike.

I grinned. The next pitch was going to be another fastball. I was sure.

I squinted and opened my eyes. My vision cleared. I saw the ball leaving the pitcher’s hand—the stitching clear as day—as it spiraled towards me. My mind calculated the trajectory, and muscle memory kicked in. I wasn’t going to bunt.

My shoulders and arms powered into the swing. My bat made solid contact. I knew from the sound I would be taking a victory lap around the bases.

The two hundred or so fans gave a heat-induced halfhearted cheer.

Rounding second base, I saw the coach’s face. He burned vivid crimson. It wasn’t the color of a sunburn. Turning the corner at third base, I heard him yell, spittle spraying. “What the fuck are you doing? I gave you the fucking bunt!”

It was impossible to ignore him, and I really didn’t try. He followed me to the plate. “You just got us killed. You know that. You just got us killed. You just” spit flying, “got us killed—”

Stepping on home plate, I turned to him, wordless.

I love the game and wouldn’t dishonor it—even if it killed me.

Like I said earlier this is a story about yesterday. You see, it didn’t quite turn out to be a home run.

I wish it had. I wish I had the courage.

Instead, I dishonored the game.

I bunted.

The catcher grunted his surprise as he ran to pick up the ball. It was an easy double play.  We lost the game just like we were supposed to.

The shame is driving me crazy.

 

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