Fiction: A True Gem
Written by Matt Taggart aka –M. Taggart copyright 2016
Dedicated to Brian W. A good Coach. A good father. A good man.
A True Gem
Pitching the top of the ninth didn’t bother him. He’d pitched complete games before and it was the same now as any other time before. He’d pitch the top and finish the game. His last game as a senior.
He nearly sprang toward his catcher. He knew before the catcher made his first step to the mound that he wanted to comment one last time before it was over.
‘This is good. This isn’t like the last time out when the scouts were here to see you.’ Pete said. He left his mask on. He was sweating. Drops had found their way in between the seam of the mask and to his eyebrows.
‘You’re sweating more than I am.’
‘Don’t worry about my sweat. How do you do this? I’m not even calling the game. You’re calling your own game and I’m here watching like everyone else. Look at them all.’ Peter gestured behind him. A few hundred people were watching.
‘It’s been a good few years.’ He turned and walked back to his perch on the mound. It was his mound. It was his game and the ball belonged to him in his hands and he knew what was left to do and he’d do it now. He watched Pete nod to the umpire then squat behind home plate.
The last time, he thought, was the only time he’d let it happen. The numbers on the pages wouldn’t move. They mocked him. He tried to make them move and become what they were meant to be, but he failed. No, the numbers didn’t move for him like people. He could see people easily. He could see now that the batter in front of him was nervous. He stepped out of the box and blew heavily before looking down the first base line. The batter wouldn’t look at him and was anxious and now he’d take what was given to him.
‘He’s dealing today coach.’ Walt said.
Coach watched Aaron’s high leg kick and smooth motion toward home. A weak swing and a miss. ‘He’s doing it again. He’s something to see. I hope they give him a shot.’ He felt the same flutter he’d been feeling for months now. Soon, he thought, he’d need to do something. But not yet. There was still work to be done for Aaron. Last game here as a senior or not, there were many more phone calls to make. How the hell they could hold up this kid over a score on a test. A test isn’t everything. It’s only one part and it’s not the best part and he’d be damned if he didn’t make a college see that. Any college.
‘You think that scout likes what he sees?’ Walt’s large eyes pushed the question.
‘Judging from that radar hitting mid-nineties I think he sees alright. But to hell with that radar gun and to hell with that scout. What the scouts say when Aaron hit that one bad game? Remember that? To hell with scouts. Aaron needs college. Look at him. See how he runs this team when he’s up there? And it’s not just baseball I’m talking about. He’s something to see alright and to hell with that scout.’ Coach kicked at the dust in the dug-out and moved away from Walt to better see the game. Aaron had struck out the first batter and was already ahead of the next 0-2. Watching Aaron was like watching purity. He knew these people came out to watch as though Aaron were already gone. Many of them the same teachers that had failed him. Yet they were here alright.
Aaron let the ball find his grip. It was home to him to be on the mound. To hold the ball. To know before delivering to home how the ball would act in mid-air and then to address the batter, through the swing, and into the catcher’s mitt. His glove was worn and felt not like an extended weight, but as an appendage that’s always been there. This was how it was supposed to be. Sitting in a room with a clock telling him his time is up while watching numbers not move was not how it was supposed to be. Not for him. No, he thought, let that go. That was what caused trouble last time.
Aaron stepped off the mound and rounded the back side. One out to go. Last batter of his senior year and that was fine. Bless them, he thought. As he rounded the mound, he looked each of his infielders in the eye. The tall left-hander, Ben was on first. Nate, the dirt dog of the crew, was on second. Benny, an up and coming stand out, was on short. And then there was Doug. He worried about Doug. He looked at Doug longest and again took his place on the mound. Coach was watching from the edge of the dug-out. He was standing nearly in play.
He did not see the crowd. The batter took his place in the box, kicked his footing to his liking, and dug in. Aaron wanted to do one thing well. He again let the ball find its grip within his hand feeling the edges of the seams near the top of his middle finger curing into his palm. Half way through his delivery, his arm would be in the L-Position and his palm would be facing second base. He knew before the ball left his hand where the bend in trajectory would take place and it’d be too late for the batter to identify how sharply it would break. He watched, as he finished his follow through, as the batter’s knees buckled followed by a late swing. The ball bounced in the dirt just after the plate and Pete scooped it. Strike one. Pete stood, threw the ball back with force, and Aaron turned to take his place on the mound.
Aaron looked again at his coach. He wanted to remember him like this. To snap the picture and file it to find again and again. He needed to also remember to truly thank him. And to ask him if he were well. It seemed to him Coach had always asked him and he’d never returned the favor. He needed to finish this batter and ask him if he were well and to not forget. Two more strikes and he could.
Doug grabbed at the infield dirt with his right hand. He tossed it away and rubbed his hand on his thigh then slapped his glove on his left thigh to make things even and right. He looked at me a while, he thought. Now why’d he do that? Does he know? He can’t know. No one knows. But he’s damn smart. What if he knows? If he knows, then what would he do with knowing?
He liked Aaron. He wasn’t jealous of how Aaron drew people’s attention to him without trying. He enjoyed it. Aaron was easily himself and he wanted to learn to be more of that rather than feel the anger that lived in him. He needed to learn. But, not if everyone knows. He couldn’t tell anyone in the school. What do they know? They think Aaron’s stupid because he can’t figure a math problem. They’d ruin him.
He can sling it. I bet he’ll throw it right down the middle. I bet he will. I’ll sit on this dead-red and close my eyes if I have to, but damn if I won’t connect. He’s not been touched all day and I know he’ll fire that thing right down the middle. Why not?
He dug in. He was down 0-2. He didn’t want to be the last out of a complete game. Not by striking out in front of all of these people. He reminded himself to loosely handle the bat, don’t over grip, and don’t tighten up.
Aaron stood comfortably on the rubber. He felt at ease and ready. He waited until the batter was ready. And waited longer for him to look at him. When he was sure he tipped his hat slightly and held his eyes on him. Now he knew the batter had seen and knew the batter understood. He’d give him this one. Let the cards become open for only them and let’s see how they fall.
Aaron started his motion. He felt his leg kick high into his chest and nearly to his chin, then lower toward the catcher. His arm moved through the L-Position and his fingers held the seams properly for a straight fast ball. He let his mind free and his body work. The batter swung and connected sharply. Aaron swiped the grass during his last follow through and felt his leg whip across his body and come to rest. The batter tore out of the box running hard for first. The ball was scolded down third base line. Doug was in mid-air diving full out when he retrieved the ball on a hop and landed while sliding in the infield dirt and seemingly springing up at the same moment. His strong arm flung the ball through the air as though it were on a line meant for this one moment.
Aaron walked off the field as his teammates rushed the diamond to celebrate Doug’s victory throw. Aaron saw one person. Coach. He needed to ask him if he was well and to thank him. The dug-out had exploded with cheers and the people watching were clapping and shouting their reward to the players. Coach stood leaning against the side of the dug-out smiling. Coach was a grizzly bearded man with the largest of hearts.
As Aaron approached, Coach held out his hand. They stood looking and seeing one another and shook hands. ‘Well done, Aaron.’
‘Are you well?’ Aaron asked Coach.
‘Don’t. Let’s not worry about that. Even if I weren’t, I’ll be soon. You don’t need them,’ Coach said waving at the scout with the radar in his hand. ‘Baseball will always be there for you.’
‘I can’t get in. Maybe the scout is my only option.’
‘The hell you can’t. I’ll help. I’ve already contacted a few colleges on your behalf and I’m not done. I have a list of division II and III coaches to contact next week. Let me do that for you.’
‘I don’t know. I can’t get past the numbers.’
‘Hell with numbers. It’s not whether or not you can figure them properly, it’s how you think of them critically. And if anyone with a brain sees what you do in life doesn’t realize you’ve outgrown the use of numbers hiding in a test, they aren’t worth your time. You can be more without baseball than you can with only baseball. Understand?’
The teams now rushed the moment from its usefulness and brought both Aaron and Coach to their next. Players and friends crowded the dug-out and gave thanks and smiles. As Aaron and Coach were pulled in opposite directions, Aaron reached for Coach’s shoulder and yanked his shirt. Coach was being pulled away while straining his head to hear Aaron. Coach nodded his head to listen.
‘Thank you.’ Aaron said. ‘Truly, thank you.’
Thank you for reading. Share freely. Please give credit. If you enjoyed this short story you might also enjoy my self-published story ‘Don’t Be a Sally’ found via the amazon link below.