Marshal dropped the fastball sign for the two-oh pitch. I took the sign, checked the runner on first. The wind-up. The pitch. Strike one looking. Marshal tossed the ball back to me with faint cheers from the crowd. Glaring in, I waited for the next pitch- another fastball. Checked the runner on first again. The wind-up. The pitch. Swung on strike two.
Marshal flashed the slider sign, low and away. I took it. A double play is needed but a strikeout wouldn’t hurt. Checking the runner on first, I wound up for the pitch. The ball sailed off my fingertips towards home plate but instead of it going low the ball lifted to chest high.
The batter connected but shattered his bat with the ball bouncing on the grass along the third base line. It was scooped up by the third baseman and then tossed to second for the first out followed by a throw to first for the second.
Times like these I’m glad our school’s league decided to opt for wooden bats rather than aluminum like the lot of this state.
End of inning. Two more, and it would be an official game. The scoreboard blinked a zero on the opposing side with a one for us. My last two starts began this way but resulted in back-to-back L’s. My record so far is three and two.
I deserved the losses. My head has not been focusing on the game, regardless of how hard I tried.
Charity was sitting in her usual spot in the bleachers. Out of fear she was already “showing” instead of standing up to cheer she remained seated but yelled just as loud. Walking back to the dugout I flashed a half smile her way. She did the same. The smile said “I know things are difficult but things will get better, bubbie. I love you.”
Her eyes, on the other hand, said “I’m so scared bubbie. Please don’t leave me.”
I haven’t seen much of Charity the last couple of weeks, not since she broke the news to her father who then blew off some steam by giving me an earful. He eventually calmed himself long enough to hear me say that my parents wanted to meet for dinner to discuss the matter. “When a cool down period in the case comes I can make time.” He said.
The case that’s been keeping him so occupied involved a double murder in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. It isn’t his jurisdiction but the local precinct asked him to aide in the case due to similarities from an old case of his back when he was in uniform. Only this time rather than it being a case detailing only brutal rape, murder had been added to the assailants modis operandi.
One of the victims happened to be a young girl Charity’s age- she also happened to be carrying a six-month old.
In the seventh inning Marshal drove Todd in with a single to left-center who then scored on a wild pitch. With the score now three-zip I asked Coach Tilden to take me out. To my surprise he didn’t put up a fight. The bullpen did its job; my record improved to four-two. Least my ERA was now hovering around the low three point oh mark.
“Good game, gentlemen. Liked the hustle out there. Nice way to close out the first half of the season. Shower, dress, and head on home. I’ll see you bright and early day after tomorrow. Davenport, a word.”
Closing my locker I followed Coach Tilden into his office where he shut the door behind me. “Have a seat, son.” I sat down in the chair opposite his desk.
Sitting behind the desk Coach Tilden sat back in the chair and looked me in the eyes. “Everything alright, Davenport. Any trouble at home?”
I shook my head. “Nope. Home life is fine.”
“What about in your personal life? You and that girl who’s always cheering you on having problems?”
“We’re teenagers, coach. Everything becomes a problem eventually.”
He laughed. “Yea. I remember being that age. Long time ago. I won’t bore you with the details, though.”
“If nothing is wrong then what’s been affecting your game? You’re my best pitcher, Davenport- I won’t admit that outside of this room so don’t try to make me- and I’ve got to protect you. You’re a real leader out there on the field, the kind of guy your teammates can depend on. If you’re not a hundred percent then neither are they. So if something is bothering you I want you to take care of it. For the sake of your future.”
With a stern finger pointed at me he said, “got it?”
I shook my head. I’d like to talk to you coach, really. But I’m sure you’ve heard my story a thousand times over the years, so I’ll spare you.
That’s what I’d like to say. Instead, my lips moved to the tune of “I get it, coach. It’s probably because I heard a rumor that some scouts have been in the stands lately. Guess I’ve got a prolonged case of the jitters.”
“Well if that’s it then I can understand. I’d tell you not to think about it but I’m sure you’ve tried that on your own.”
Coach Tilden stood up, walked around his desk, and stood in front of me with an outstretched hand. Shaking it as I got up I said, “if they’re still there I’ll do my best to put them out of my mind. Thanks for your concern, coach.”
Leaving the office, I was spooked by Todd who happened to be right outside the door. “Nice line you fed him. So what’s really on your mind?”
“Nosy much?” I said while walking away.
Looking over my shoulder as Todd followed close behind I said, “And nothing is on my mind. That was the truth.”
“Bro, I know you. Something is definitely wrong.”
“No there isn’t.”
“Is Charity cheating on you?”
“Catch your parents having sex?”
“It’s a very traumatizing experience.”
The locker room was quiet save for a couple showerheads spraying hot water. Turning the combination lock to my locker I opened it, quickly changed, and attempted to hurry out the door. All with Todd egging me on.
“What do you want me to say? I’m just having shitty starts lately. That’s it. We all have shitty games. Least they’re in the beginning versus during the playoff run.”
“You don’t have shitty games. You’ve never had shitty games. You’ll make it to AAA and maybe have, like, one.”
“I’m not perfect, Todd. Shit. It’s pressure like that that’s fucking with my head.”
Opening the door that led to the field the first thing I saw was Charity leaning against the fence. She wasn’t alone. Novak was talking to her. As I got closer it seemed as though Charity was cowering away from him, almost as if she were scared.
“Hey.” I said, walking over to Charity while slipping an arm around her shoulder, kissing her forehead. “You waited for me.”
“Thought we’d get something to eat.”
“What would you like?”
Turning to Novak I said, “what’s up?”
“Nothing man. Just chatting it up with your girlfriend.” I could feel Charity press into me as Novak spoke.
“She’s great. I can see why you picked her.”
“She’s not an accessory. I didn’t ‘pick’ her. There’s a thing called mutual respect. Quite common in cases of two people who share the same emotions for one another.”
“Whatever man. Just don’t bring this lovey dovey stuff onto the field.”
“Worry about your own game, Novak. Last I checked you’ve lost your last three starts- two being blowouts.”
With a finger pointed at my chest Novak said, “watch yourself.” Then looking at Charity he said, “good talking to you again” then walked away.
“I hate that guy.” Charity said half a block from the field. I could feel her shivering under my arm. Couldn’t be from the cold- she has on three layers.
What could it be…?