©1997 A.D. Sullivan
The Iron Yankee
Turning It Around
Losers and Winners
The Iron Yankee
We wear you, your name and number,
pin stripes like a prisoner's,
your flickering grin flickering out
in an airplane over Ohio.
I heard the news in Virginia
at a truck stop's cheap motel,
me, sleeping on the floor
like a hippie again
as you went up in flames.
I cursed George Steinbrenner
for refusing to trade you to Cleveland
(though I would have cursed him if he had),
you, the last real remnant
of the early 70s teams
before free-agency ruined the game,
You, the mug I saw when I closed my eyes
or tuned to the TV.
To me, you were baseball,
chewing steel instead of tobacco,
giving us hope with every swing of the bat.
We wear you, your name and number, and miss you immensely.
Turning It Around
Oct. 25, 1996
I don't know if the Yankees will win the World Series or not. After five games, anyone who predicts something like that is a fool. But I know the team has proven something to people and shed the sense of shame its members felt when swept for the first two games in New York by the Atlanta Braves.
Like many Yankee fans, I watched in horror as Andy Peditt get belted for seven runs in the first three innings of the first game. We knew Atlanta's reputation for great pitching (some sports writers calling their five starters the greatest collection in baseball history,) but Peditt was the Yankees' star, a man who had won 21 games this year and proven to us (as well as to the rest of the American League) that he could win.
This pounding was not the only thing that bothered us -- it was the way Atlanta went about it, and the smug expression they word, that southern, middle-American arrogance we had seen two decades earlier when the Cincinnati Reds swept our team. Atlanta players seemed to say they intended to repeat what the Big Red Machine had done to us in the 1976 World Series.
Indeed, Atlanta this year very much resembled the Reds of the early 1970s, winning more games than anyone in this decade as the Reds had in theirs. In 1976, we Yankee fans made the fatal mistake of believing our team's momentum would carry over into the World Series, and it did not. The Yankees went to Cincinnati for the first two games, were crushed, and then came scrambling back to New York only to lose two games here, breaking our hearts.
We knew our team was better than that. But Cincinnati treated us as if we were insignificant gnats, which they only needed to sweep out of their way in order to collect their World Series rings. In many ways, we never got over that humiliation, despite the fact that our team went on to win the next two World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers had more respect for us. They had come from New York originally, and still played out of a big city, lacking that Middle American hatred for big cities that teams like Cincinnati and Atlanta had -- even though both Cincinnati and Atlanta might be seen as big cities themselves. While beating the Dodgers pleased us, it never made up for the 1976 slight by Cincinnati. We ached to get even, and never got a chance. Even though our team managed to get into one World Series in the 1980s, it wasn't until this year, 1996, that we began to taste revenge, coming back full circle to a team most critics claimed our team couldn't beat, a team so smug we felt the rage we felt in 1976.
This wasn't just a battle between two teams, it was a judgment on a way of life: their new order vs. the established traditions of older cities. They weren't just saying they could beat us in a fair competition, but claimed that all we stood for needed to be eradicated from the earth.
And we felt again as we had when the Reds said as much, and the national press asked them how many games they would need to dispatch us -- these braves crowned in the 1990s the way the Reds were in the 1970s as the undisputed champions of the world. And they, carrying their bats into Yankee Stadium did indeed look invincible.
To be accurate, the 1996 Atlanta Braves had a great starting staff of pitchers with John Smultz ( who beat Peditt in that first game 12 to 1) may indeed be the greatest pitcher in baseball, so overwhelming as to strike terror in the hearts of any who dared confront him. The rest of the starters had numbers and talent to be greeted as the best (possibly) to ever play. But as important as starting pitching is, it is not the whole team, or in essence what the game of baseball is all about -- nor can this greatness make up for the flaw that exist elsewhere in that team. And in some ways, the Braves are not nearly as dominate as they or the national press implies (nor were the Reds in 1976, thought we never let ourselves see that, and therefore let the Reds beat us in our heads long before the last pitch was thrown or the last run scored.)
For all the hype, the starting pitch is the only great thing about the Braves (as were the hitters on the 1976 Reds) and the Braves have only one reliever who we can honestly call good. (In 1976, the Reds had one good starter, one good reliever and a hitting staff who scored so much it hardly mattered what its pitching staff did). Although the Braves came in with the attitude of sluggers, in truth, their hitters lacked punch to make up for the mistakes their defensive team might make.
Our Yankees -- for all their lack of home run power -- could keep up with it, blow for blow, and our Yankees (despite repeated injuries to its starting staff over the year) had three solid started and a phenomenal relief staff, one as good in their way as the Braves starters were.
But when the first game started last week and we saw those smug look on those Braves' faces, and saw their hitters smacking nearly every pitch our best pitchers could throw, we felt the humiliation of the 1976 World Series stir again in our hearts.
How dare we think New York could rise up and challenge the Midwest! Didn't we know that the Braves in the 1990s had won more games and taken more titles than any other team in baseball (as the Reds had in the early 1970s)?
And then, like the 1976 Yankees, our team seemed to wilt before that Atlanta arrogance. Not Peditt, of course. He was humiliated, but confused, too. He knew he had better stuff in his arm. He just couldn't make it work for him, and looked baffled when after two and half innings and seven runs, Joe Torre, the manager, took him out. And Peditt looked baffled when in the dugout, he watched the Braves continue to pound our Yankees, and their pitcher, continue to strike out Yankee hitters.
Yet even in this we could see his gaze as it studied the Braves' hitters, and we would see him already mapping out what he would do his next time out -- Peditt watching, not just during that game, but all the games that followed. Yet would he even get a chance or would he witness a sweep the way we did in 1976, a sweep that would deny him a second shot at the Braves?
The second game of the series seemed to indicate as much, as the boisterous, arrogant Braves staff paraded out onto the field, pitching and hitting as if they were the only profession baseball player in this year's World Series, while our staff crawled before them, pitchers issues balls that turned into runs, while our hitters sung meekly at the pitches issued by the Braves. We seemed defeated and we'd hardly even played two games. Unlike 1976, our Yankees started at home, lost at home, and faced the prospect of going to Atlanta where we all expected things to get even worse.
Then, David Cone climbed onto the pitching mound.
Cone -- now at the end of his career -- had been here before. He had won it all as a pitcher for the world champion 1986 NY Mets, that other New York team, and then a year later, arrogantly riled the LA Dodgers with his off-the-field remarks, setting up the Met's defeat in the playoffs. He had learned what it meant to win, and he had learned humility, and in what he himself called "the game of his life," he pitched our Yankees to a 5-2 victory, not only avoiding a sweet, but guaranteeing Peditt his second pitching slot in game five. Yet more importantly than either of these two things, Cone proved to us and to our team that Atlanta was not invincible.
The next day, however, our Yankees started the team's worst pitcher -- Kenny Rodgers, a man who had great talent, but no confidence, and by the third inning, had given up six unanswered runs. While we now knew the Braves could be beaten, no Yankee team had ever overcome a six run World Series deficit -- not the teams with Babe Ruth and Lou Gerig, not the teams with Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, not even the teams with Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson.
Yet, Cone's victory the day before, stirred up the memory of just how this 1996 team had won its own pennant. All year long, they had come back to win games. In fact, the team had come back during both sets of playoffs, beating Texas, and then Baltimore, and just as suddenly as that, our Yankees started scoring runs. They shaved three runs off the lead, then tied the game, and then went onto win the game 8-6 in extra innings.
The Atlanta players were stunned and they stared at our players in disbelief. The Yankees hadn't just tied the series two games to two, but had made sure the series would shift back to New York no matter which team won game five. The series would not finish in Atlanta as they had hoped, and this prospect appalled them. They hated New York, hated the three hour wait at Newark airport and the two hour rush hour traffic jam to get to the Bronx. But most of all, they hated us New York Fans, whose merciless taunting persisted even during the humiliating first two games.
The Braves could only imagine how much worse that taunting would be now that our team actually stood a chance of winning the series. At least, the Braves thought it would be a short visit, that they would visit the Bronx for one game, not two. They would get even with us fans by defeating the Yankees for the fourth victory right in front of us.
But the Braves had only won two games, and if they were to win the series with one victory in New York, they had to salvage the last home game there in Atlanta. Much of their confidence returned. John Smultz, who had beaten our Yankees was taking the mound for their side, facing Peditt, who they had already blasted out of the ball park in game one. The Braves were convinced they would repeat the feat in game five.
Smultz was stunning, outdoing his first performance so magnificently, our Yankees could hardly touch his pitches. Unfortunately for the brilliant pitcher, and the Braves team who depended upon him to win, Peditt was equally untouchable. He had come to this game with something to prove, and he proved it, matching Smultz pitch for pitch, batter for batter, inning for inning. And it wasn't Smultz who gave our Yankees the winning run, but an error upon which our Yankees capitalized -- giving Peditt just one run with which to work.
It was enough. Peditt made it hold up, despite the drumming he had received during game one.
I don't know who will win tomorrow's game, or if the series will go on to seven games, or who will win in the end. But for me, the Yankees already proved a point, making up for the humiliation we faced at the beginning of this series, and -- after 20 years -- settling a long needed score with the Midwest for that superior attitude we had to endure in 1976
Way to go, boys!
Losers and Winners
"I want Patty," Slimy Mulligan said, spreading his muddy sneakers as if expecting a fight. Patty moaned, shifting her own feet, half wishing she could skip back to the safety and warmth of school. It seemed insane to be running around outside in gym shorts. Even though the calendar said it was officially spring, it still looked like winter. The pine trees on Strawberry Hill attested to this, with green arms still cluttered with fluffs of white.
"Why her?" Slimy's team mates moaned. "Are you crazy? She can't play softball to save her life."
The answer, of course, was in Slimy's love-sick eyes. Patty tried to ignore them, stepping towards the first base side of the diamond, but could not avoid his voice.
"Shut up," he yelled at the others. "I know what I'm doing."
Even then, he glanced over at the other team and cringed, their mocking faces imitating the wall of sports awards in Auditorium, smugly grinning as they evaluated Slimy's team.
"You tell them, Slimy," they mocked. "You got a real talent for picking people."
The mistake, of course, was obvious, even to Patty. Slimy had picked his friends instead of those he knew could win, the collection of classroom misfits into which Patty had been adopted, looking back at her and their opposition with despair.
"It's too cold for softball," Patty said, half hoping Mr. Yaster would take the hint and send them back inside.
"What was that, Miss Mills?" Yaster asked, leaning closer to her with his huge pot-belly and the smell of tobacco, his disapproving eye poking over the rim of his glasses, waiting for her to repeat her remark.
"Nothing, Mr. Yaster," Patty said, shoulders slumping as she followed the others to their bench.
"Cheer up, Patty," Slimy said, wrapping one of his long and already mud-stained arms around her shoulder. "You're on a winning team."
She shook his arm off. "Actually, I'm not feeling all that well," she said, looking back towards the coach. "Maybe I should sit this one out?"
"You have a note from the nurse, Miss Mills?" Yaster asked.
"Then you're going to play like everyone else. This is all to keep you healthy, you know."
"I see," she said turning again to join her team, a billow of steam emitted with each angry breath. "He's freezing us to death for our health."
"Stop complaining, Patty," Nancy Willow yelled from the other side of the field, flexing her jogging muscles as the athletes around her flex batting stances and fielding positions. "You're not going to help anyone anyway."
"Babe Ruth couldn't help this team," she yelled back.
But the black-haired girl just shook her head, her shapely thin form a stark contrast to Patty's more stubby one-- like some strange comedy partnership, each partner hating the other deeply.
"But you are a star at stealing boys," Nancy said, this time without the humor, the words biting Patty as deeply as the cold.
"Grow up, Clara!" Patty yelled back, but her voice lacked the authority she would have liked.
"Be quiet both of you!" Yaster yelled. "This is still school whether we're in a class room or not."
"Yes, of course, Mr. Yaster," Nancy said sweetly, sending a more secretive glare at Patty before turning away.
Neither girl looked towards the single row of viewing stands, although both were aware of Saul being there. Patty had already painted the man in her mind from private glances of her own, his sandy hair and olive skin drab against the drab grey backdrop of winter sky, looking trim despite the stiff cast and crutches that hampered his comfort.
With an air of defiance, Patty turned and lifted her hand in a wave. Saul's pained face brightened as he waved back. Nancy's shoulders stiffened and she buried herself into a huddle of team mates.
Patty did the same with Slimy's huddle, though within this lot of pale-skinned and grim-faced children, little hope glowed. Grumpy Stevens grumbled the loudest, and from the nodding heads, seemed to articulate a common feeling.
"We're gonna get killed!" he said. "Couldn't you have picked at least one person with talent?"
"Don't be negative, Grumpy," Slimy said, with enough exuberance from the all, pacing back and forth in front of them like a television baseball manager.
"I was only stating the obvious," Grumpy said.
"Well, don't. How are we gonna play if we all have an attitude like that?"
"If only Saul was healthy," Dave Krinkle said, his long arms and legs mapped out in goose bumps. "Then we'd show them."
"Do they play baseball in Israel?" Patty asked, looking back towards the boy in the stands.
"Get him anyway," Grumpy suggested. "He'll still do better than any of us will."
"Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!" Slimy screamed.
Everyone looked up, even the other team.
"Face facts, buddy," Grumpy said. "We're not going to beat those macho idiots. Even Darrell Burns is no slouch and he's the worst they've got."
"But that's our advantage," Slimy said, grinning like a fool. "We've got spirit. This game doesn't mean anything to them."
"Oh? Then why are they pounding their gloves and staring at us, like they want us dead?"
"It's all an act. Inside they're just as scared of us as we are of them."
"Yeah, right," one of the others said. "Let's just get this over with. Gym's only an hour long."
Slimy touched Patty's arm. "You're batting clean-up," he said.
"Fourth," Grumpy said.
"That's baseball talk," Slimy explained.
"If only we knew how to play as well as you can talk it, we might stand a chance," Grumpy said, sitting himself down at the end of the bench, fists up under his chin as he stared at the pitcher's mound.
"More negative thinking!" Slimy shouted, "That's the thing that'll beat us." he glared, his own muscles taunt from a thousand walks in the woods, an animal's eyes shifting in his head and he glared at the others, as if studying something under another one of his grimy rocks.
"We can't let such thoughts stop us, men," he said, parading up and down in front the bench with a baseball bat over his shoulder.
"We're not all men, Slimy," one of the other girls said, "Not that you would notice."
Patty giggled. "He would if it was a lizard."
"Don't stir them up too much, slugger!" shouted Darrell from the other side, hands cupped around his mouth like a megaphone. "We don't know if we can take it."
The whole other bench howled.
"Look at that," Patty grumbled, "Even Clara's laughing. She should talk. She's the one that got Saul hurt."
"Now, now," warned Dave, "You shouldn't be like that. Not after you stole him from her."
Patty glared. "You, too!"
"Me, too, what?" the lanky boy asked, his face growing red. "What did I do?"
"Spreading that nasty rumor. I didn't steal anyone. That's Clara's talk. She couldn't keep him."
"Okay, Patty, okay," Dave said, "I was just trying to say you should be more gracious in your victory. He's your boyfriend now. You should be happy with having him."
"I am," Patty said, glumly, propping her chin up with her hands.
"So I see," Dave said.
Yaster yelled and waved their team onto the field.
"Ah," Slimy said, "See! things look up! We'll get to bat last."
But the cold face of the already defeated team glared at him as they stumbled out towards the dirt diamond and the still frozen grass of the Outfield. Slimy pushed them into place, blessing them with the names of short stop, third base, right field or left. When he was done, everyone was standing somewhere, like pathetic slumped puppets waiting for a pull on their string, gloves dangling uselessly from their wrists.
Dave Krinkle closed his eyes, his chin tucked reverently down.
"That's right, Davey-boy!" Doug Flutter said from the other team, bat on his muscular shoulder as he stood astride home plate. "Pray! You're going to need all the help you can get."
Again, the other team howled, slapping each other recklessly upon the back.
"Better watch out, Doug!" Darrell said, greasy hair shimmering in the bright Spring sun. "He might think he's that other David and we're his Goliath."
"Fine!" Doug said, spitting off to the side of the plate. "But it's a softball they got to throw at us, and I'll hit it down their throats."
"Ignore them," Slimy said, kicking at the pitcher's mound leaving a muddy mark. The wind blew at his wild brown hair as he peered towards the plate. He looked odd there to Patty, more at home with birds and trees than people.
"A prayer from all of us wouldn't hurt," Dave said, long face looking around at the defense. "They might not clobber us as bad if we pray a little."
"Where's your spirit!" Slimy shouted, his expression furious.
"My spirit is safe," Dave said, "It's my pride that's threatened."
"My spirit's back in my lockers," Slimy's left fielder said, "if you hold on, I'll go and get it."
Several of Slimy's team moved at once, heading back towards the ugly brick school building across the street, the bulk of Mr. Yaster stepping in between, pointing them back towards the field.
"You're going to play no matter what you've forgotten," he said, "We have more than enough gloves to go around."
"Maybe you'd better start praying for rain," she whispered to Dave, while casting another glance at Saul in the bleachers.
"Play ball!" Yaster yelled.
Doug leaned over home plate, waiting for Slimy to pitch. But the ball crashed into the catcher's mit drawing him up again.
"Hey! What the heck was that?" Doug asked. "This ain't supposed to be no quick pitch."
Patty laughed. "I thought you could hit anything, Mr. Macho?"
Doug hitched up his pants. "I can," he said, curving his back more, keeping his eye on Slimy's rotating arm. But the second pitch popped past him with the same vicious snap.
"Where did you learn to throw like that, Slimy?" Dave asked, standing at second base punching his glove.
"Skimming rocks on the pond," Slimy said, rearing back, tossing the ball again. This time, however, Doug's bat greeted it with an ugly smack, sending it shooting towards Patty in Center field.
"Catch it!" Slimy screamed. But Patty slipped on a patch of slick grass, landing hard on her butt, the ball dropping just out of her reach.
Doug grinned at her from the safety of first base. "What's the matter, Patty? Couldn't catch up with it."
She stood, threw the ball back to Slimy, who glared at her, snapping the ball angrily into his glove.
"A lucky hit," he mumbled, bending his own back to the next batter, intimidating the next batter with his grey stare.
"Coach!" The batter howled. "Slimy's thinking about throwing at me."
"That's not how we play the game, Mr. Mulligan. Throw the ball over the plate."
He did. The batter hit the ball, but straight at Dave who somehow managed to catch it and toss it to the boy at first base.
"Double play!" Yaster yelled, his big belly quivering. Doug glared at Slimy the whole sad walk back to the dugout.
"Now, look who's lucky," he said.
The third batter popped the ball high into the air. Grumpy called for it, shielding his eyes with the webbing of the glove, wavering under it, screaming at the last minute.
"I can't see it! Where did it go!"
It landed at his feet.
"Grumpy, you idiot!" Slimy screamed.
"I lost it in the sun!" Grumpy said.
"There is no sun today," Slimy growled. "It's cloudy, stupid."
"Don't call me stupid."
"Then catch the freakin' ball."
"Mr. Mulligan!" Mr. Yaster said, "There's no call for that."
"Sorry, Coach," Slimy said, then in three furious tosses, struck out the next batter, and grumbled his way back to the bench, throwing his mitt in the dugout. "Lost it in the sun? Bah!"
Grumpy led off, swinging three times, missing each of them. He sat down in a huff as Dave followed him, taking his three long swings before sitting down as well.
Slimy snorted. "Can't any of you make contact?"
"Let's see you do better!" Grumpy growled.
And Slimy tried, bending down over the plate in a mock imitation of Doug's shape, squinting closed one eye as if that could help him see the ball better. But when each of the three pitches came, his jerky swings missed them as well.
"She's throwing a spitter!" Slimy howled, as Grumpy shoved the glove into his hand. "Did you see that ball sink?"
"Nancy? Cheat? No way," Patty said. "Girl geniuses don't need to cheat."
"But she did something," Slimy said, glaring at Nancy as they met half way to the mound, her bobbing blond hair emphasizing her usual success, as if it was simply another exercise in math. "Cheat!"
He still looked angry as he picked up the ball from the mound, squinting at it again, fingers pressing across the seams for some sign of mark.
"Come on, Slimy!" Darrell yelled, "You think we've got all day for you to figure out what to do with the ball? Throw it."
"Watch your mouth, Darrell," Grumpy warned, standing now on third base. "Slimy's not in a mood to be played with."
Darrell glared. "I'm supposed to be afraid of Mother nature's son? Tell him to pitch or have someone else do it."
Grumpy shrugged. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
Slimy mounted the mound and stared in at Darrell, his eyes narrow, eyes that stared through reed beds and scummy ponds, sling shot and stone in hand. The arm jerked back, the ball swished towards the plate.
"Strike!" Mr. Yaster yelled.
"Strike?" Darrell howled. "That was a foot outside!"
"On the edge of the plate," the coach said.
The next two pitches struck the same fatal edge, with Darrell's slumped bat slinking away, glaring back at Slimy.
"Now look whose cheating, Nature boy!" he shouted.
Clara came next. She teetered in the muddy groove where larger feet had dug, a light aluminum bat wavering uncertainly in her hand. She stared out to center field, hand over her eyes. Patty stiffened, her fingers curling and uncurling inside the sweaty glove.
"Get ready!" Dave yelled to her, "I think she wants to hit it to you."
Patty shifted her feet. Slimy pitched. The ball sailed in and Clara swung, a weak uneven swing which struck the ball and sent it sailing over Slimy and the muddy second base bag. It dropped right in front of Patty, Slimy and Grumpy screaming at her to pick it up, and Clara gingerly pranced around the first base bag, grinning like a cat.
It was then, the parade came, each of the other batters finding the key to Slimy's strikes. Bang! Bang! Bang! The balls bounded through places where nobody was, Patty and Dave and sometimes Grumpy charging after them, through puddles and patches of mud. Two runs scored before Slimy found his fast ball again, returning to the earlier ritual of strikes.
Grumpy grumbled his whole way back to the bench. "I can see it all now, Forty to nothing."
Patty said nothing. Slimy grabbed her shoulder and shoved a bat into her hand, and walked her to home plate.
"All you have to do is make contact with the ball," he whispered.
Patty stood, bat on her shoulder, staring out at right field, where Clara's crimson shirt shimmered like a dull flame. But the girl was looking towards the bleachers, not the game, and when Nancy delivered her pitch to the plate, Patty whacked at it, sending it spinning out over the infield directly towards Clara's shirt.
"You can score on that one!" Slimy yelled, as Grumpy leaped from the bench, waving her on. Patty rushed around the bases, her legs aching as her feet struck each bag. In the outfield, Clara had recovered the ball and her overhand motion sent the ball sailing back towards home plate, striking Patty hard on the back.
Patty stopped. The pain erupted from between her shoulders.
"That was mean!" Slimy screamed, waving a bat in Clara's direction.
"It slipped from my hand," Clara said.
"Are you all right, Miss Mills?" Mr. Yaster asked.
"I think so," Patty said, his gaze shifting uncertainly from side to side.
"She's out," Darrell said, tagging her with the fallen ball. "She didn't touch home plate."
"Cheat! Cheat!" Slimy yelled.
But Yaster shook his head. "Darrell's right."
The next two batters took their strikes, then marched with the others back out into the field.
"Two to one," Slimy mumbled as he took the mound. "It could have been two to one."
Meanwhile, Saul had hobbled along the fence, closer to the dugout. Clara smiled and waved to the boy. But he didn't seem to see her, his squinting gaze centered upon Slimy who took a long wind up and furiously threw to the plate.
One, two, three! They fell to his skipping stone delivery.
"Two runs is all you're going to get," he told the others as they passed.
Saul waved Slimy's team to the fence. "Choke up on the bats," he said, "Just meet the ball. Nancy pitches away. Poke the ball towards Clara. She's there weak link."
"So they do play baseball in Israel!" Patty said.
Saul grinned. "All the time."
"It might work," Slimy agreed.
"But then it might not," Grumpy said.
"Don't be so negative!" Slimy said, pushing Grumpy up to the plate. "All you have to do is try it."
"And strike out as usual," Grumpy retorted, poising himself as Saul had suggested, squinting with one eye as Nancy's arm came around. His bat slashed out and the ball went flying over the infield again, bouncing in the wet grass at Clara's feet.
"Run for the ball!" her own team mates shouted. But she would not, daintily dancing towards it on tip toes, bending with care, as if afraid to do something not socially proper. She threw the ball into second base, but Grumpy was already standing there.
Slimy came up next.
"Prepare to die!" he told Nancy, then sent her pitch peeling back towards her head. She ducked. The ball bounded over the second base bag as Grumpy moved to third.
Nancy stood, glared at Slimy, then proceeded to strike out the next two batters, her glare turning to a vicious grin as tall, clumsy Dave came to the plate.
"Just swing the bat!" Slimy yelled from first.
"And pray," said Grumpy from third.
Dave closed his eyes, his mouth moving slightly. When he opened his eyes again, he crouched down and concentrated on the ball.
"Strike!" Mr. Yaster yelled as the first pitch came in.
"Swing, damn it!" Slimy screamed, throwing his baseball hat hard on the ground.
"Don't curse at me, Slimy Mulligan," Dave warned.
"Then take the blooming bat off your shoulder."
"Strike two!": Yaster yelled.
"See! See!" Grumpy said, "It all comes for nothing in the end."
Dave closed his eyes.
"Swing!" Slimy yelled, hopping up and down on the base, his face deep red. "Swing!"
Nancy lobbed the ball in, and with his eyes still closed, Dave swung the bat, ball striking its meaty end, sailing up into an arch, then down onto the thin, muddy grass, just beyond the desperate reach of Darrell, who slid in the mud for a full two feet as the ball rolled out towards the distant fence.
"Run!" Slimy yelled, as he took off for second, then third, Grumpy jogging in towards the plate, stepping on it, turning around to greet Slimy as he charged in. Dave stopped at second.
"Tied score!" Slimy taunted as Patty took up the bat and stood once more at the edge of the plate, her fingers trembling on the bat handle, her gaze shifting again and again to the olive-skinned boy and his crutches. He smiled at her, his eyes sparkling. He nodded in the direction of Clara.
"You know what to do," he said.
The furious-faced Nancy glared from the mound, her blond hair ruffled as she picked up the ball again. "You're not going to win this thing off me, Patty Mills," she said.
"Come on, Patty!" Slimy yelled. "You're not going to let them make monkeys of us, are you?"
"Don't worry about that," Darrell shouted from the near outfield, "You've already got a head start on the others."
Patty gripped the bat tighter, looking off towards Left Field where Clara stood. The dark-haired girl's head was down, her heal kicking at the mud. None of her companions looked in her direction. Her gaze rose, flickering in the direction of Saul. Her expression sagged, disturbing the perfect balance of color that must have taken hours to achieve. The eyes closed once and when they opened, they were aimed at Patty, full of hurt and fury and...
Patty closed her eyes. The sound of Nancy's shirt rubbing with her wind up came.
"Swing!" Slimy yelled.
Patty's eyes jerked open to see the dull white ball floating in towards her. She swung, the bat hitting it squarely, sending it bounding toward's the still-staring Clara.
"Catch it!" her team-mates yelled. But Clara did not move, watching the ball as if sank down towards her. She didn't even lift a glove, or accident might have made her catch it. As it was, the ball fell flat at her feet with a thud, as Dave rounded third and headed for home, crossing the plate just as the school bell sounded, ending the period.
"We won!" Slimy screamed, leaping up, slapping Patty on the back. "We won!"
"So we did," Patty said, her gaze caught on the slump-shouldered figure of Clara who still hadn't moved, though her team-mates had stolen the ball from in front of her feet. "So we have."
Patty turned slowly, and sadly marched towards school.
c/o A.D. Sullivan
271 Terrace Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07307