The beach was the place where they had come to work not because it was beautiful but because there was a game in the evening. At first the day had been warm and there was sun but the clouds were there, too. Night would come and be cooler than the day but it was late in June and the sun would stay up longer than in the winter when the boy had moved from Durham to the place far north of San Francisco to play for the Sea Men. The boy had been scared then because he was honest and young and the world was a bigger place than he cared to know. Tonight they would ask him to stand on the hill and do what he was meant to do and what they expected of him and he would do it in the town named San Diego. The other team would bear the same name as that town. He had done his work in preparation and his body felt loose as the moment approached. The one they called Coach had given him instruction in how to pitch well and to use the hill better than before. Such was his night, to stand on the hill and throw the ball.
The First 0-0
It was not the boy's turn to begin and waiting was not to his liking but he knew he would have to wait now and many more times following, if the night went well, so he sat on the bench of padded pine and saw Red Beard stand on his hill. His face squinted not in sunlight but in worry as the early evening game began. The Red Beard looked in to his glove made of leather and stitching and saw there a ball made of the same. He shifted his weight on the leg behind and then threw his weight forward towards Morrison standing, with bat held, in anticipation. The first throw was a ball, low and out. The second would be the same. On the third pitch Morrison would quickly set his foot and throw his hands towards the ball of leather and stitches and with the bat made of deeper wood than the purpose of its day, he would swing and the ball would be caught in center field. The day's first out. Next up walked Cano and Red Beard was equal to his level and struck him out quickly and with little notice. The third batter was Seager and would hit a ball to left, hard, but caught still.
The boy was up upon the hill next and looked down at his fingernails where there the ball could be made to dance and do the different things he had been taught since before he knew truth. Truth was there then at that moment before he threw his first pitch. Truth and dirt were both there. Dirt and sand made the hill taller than he remembered, but the boy was very tall and he didn't think the crowd would notice much but he felt taller than he had before when he was in Durham and doing the same thing. He looked around to see the people gathered, hoping he would give them what he wanted to. What they wanted was for him to fail but he was too proud to do that or to care about what other people wanted him to do. The boy paused and caught his breath for his last time had been great but he could not think about the last time said the Coach. He threw the ball while still worrying about the last time. The big man named Kemp would hit it to Cano and be out. It was hard hit but Coach had known where Kemp would be hitting and Cano was there. The other bearded man who squat behind the plate for the Red Beard would walk and the boy looked to have little command. Alonso would hit a ball, hard and on the ground, to Morrison who stepped on the first base and threw to Sergio who put his glove down with the anger of the calf that has not had its milk on the bearded man who had walked.
The Second 0-0
The first had gone fast and without scoring but this was not unusual for this game or these men. The men from north of San Francisco had troubled luck and had not scored many runs and the team from San Diego was not much better off. Loud Stick stepped to the plate as Red Beard looked on in horror but not showing so. Loud Stick held tightly his hickory piece from the right side of the plate and all there knew what he could do with one swing of that smoked and shaped wood. He could bring truth and honest goodness to all his team but when he swung he hit it to left field and it was caught. Smith was then up and he was returning to the place he had come from but felt no vengeance or anger in leaving and hit a ball to the wall left of center field and that was caught also. Chewing his tobacco with great focus, Jackson rolled a ball to second and the Sea Men were down.
Comfortable now on the hill, the boy made the elder Upton swing hard but hit soft and a high, arching ball caught by Cano. Solarte was full of energy and spirit and later the boy would learn, malice, but swung truthfully enough and Seager fielded his groundball. Two outs were made quickly this way. Jerk struck out.
The Third 0-0
Sergio was eager and ready to swing and did so at the first pitch from Red Beard but it was caught in left. The Italian lumbered to the plate, looking confident and sure but internally encumbered by thought and worry of losing a job while still being young. He took one ball from Red Beard but on the second pitch swung his bat hard and fast and the ball went over the fence. Before the ball had gone over the fence the Italian knew it had because he felt the feeling in his hands that the wood makes when you give it truth and power and skill. The bat had been given truth and gave truth back. Far and long the ball flew and the Italian jogged around the three bases before coming back and touching the plate. The score was then one to nothing. The boy was then asked to hit which was unusual but as guests of the game he did as was asked of him. He hit the ball hard to left for an out but was not ashamed of his trying despite the poor result. Cano struck out again.
Four balls were thrown to the younger Upton and he walked but the boy was worried about him and showed so by throwing to Morrison many times. The crowd gathered there was impatient and uncomfortable and yelled in disatisfaction at the boy. Barmes flew out to Jackson with his chewing tobacco anew. Red Beard stepped to the plate and the boy sized him up. He was older than the boy but not as brave and the boy thought this but was not sure and so the boy threw him the ball where many others could hit it hard. Red Beard squared to bunt but could not because he was not as brave. On the third time Red Beard tried to bunt he could place the ball on the right side of the soft, cold chalk and was struck out in this way. His yells were loud and made to show his effort but in vain because a large crowd can always see who is brave and who is a coward. Kemp would swing and bounce a ball to Sergio who knew what to do with it.
The Fourth 1-0
Seager got to first on a hit and did so by hitting a ball hard at Jerk who was not able to field it cleanly off the wet dirt or the slick grass. Loud Stick was as frightening as before and Red Beard was a coward still too and walked him. Smith, wistful of being home in the way a dog feels at home outside of the house when the wolves are howling struck out. Jackson with the chewing tobacco in his mouth and bigger now hit the ball true and well and it was a double to center. Seager crossed home and Loud Stick was caught being a fool between second and third and was out because the outfielder threw the ball clean and quick to third where Loud Stick had not yet made it. The score was then two to nothing. With Jackson standing on second and waiting and chewing, Sergio stepped to the plate and with his shoe dug a whole by the plate on the left side. Red Beard was not worried about Sergio but Red Beard was also a coward and those who do not worry are often those who should and who are also too cowardly to know truth. In not worrying, Red Beard threw Sergio a ball that Sergio cracked and popped with the wood between his palms and his fingers and the ball flew further than anyone in the crowd had seen that night and over the wall in right.
In the dugout the Sea Men gathered and Coach was smilling, "This is not the usual way, Sergio, but I am not mad."
"The usual way is not what makes us happy anymore and we want to try a new one."
The Italian, smiling and broad as a door frame also spoke then to Coach and to Sergio, " If we do the game with this much power and as much skill many more times we will be happy again and the world will move around us."
"Yes," said Coach, "This is how winning is done and this should be the new way."
The score was four to nothing then and the Red Beard was known for what he was which was unprepared and foolish. The Italian would strike out to end the Sea Men turn.
It was the bottom turn of the fourth and the boy was feeling good now. The bearded man who squats and caught for Red Beard was at the plate and the boy struck him out and then he also did the same to Alonso. Alonso was a good man but had no chance because the boy had done the different, dancing thing and thrown him a curveball that was like the fastball but also not the same. Curveballs dance and dip like those beautiful girls the boy had seen the night his father let him stay out too late while they walked in Valencia when he had turned thirteen. He was turning twenty-six the day after the game and the memory rushed to him fast but he could not remember what color his shirt was which troubled him because his father had always said that the color of a shirt was what showed the color of a soul. He thought his shirt was red then, that night. The older Upton grounded out to Seager. He briefly could smell the violets of the planters on that street and hear the laughter of old men who had had too many whiskeys and not enough loves.
The Fifth and Sixth 4-0
Baseball was a game and is a game that is defined by not only moments of great upheaval and disorder but is a game that can be quite orderly if played by two teams that have talent and play true. In the Fifth and the Sixth the game was played with great order and the score did not change for either side but in the Sixth it is true that Red Beard was made to leave the game and another pitcher came in his stead. This did not change the matter that baseball was played with great order and love and attention and that the score did not change in the Fifth and the Sixth. The boy was not asked to leave though because Coach had seen the fire that was building in his heart and that love was coming not only from his soul but from the the arm on his left side that was throwing the ball harder now. When the turn of the Sixth was done the boy was still on the hill made of dirt and sand and he would not be asked to leave.
The Seventh 4-0
Three Sea Men would strike out in their turn, Jackson and the Italian and the boy but before the turn was done Sergio struck a ball in to center and stood on first base when the play was through. At the bottom of the turn, with the boy still on the hill and after the older Upton had made an out to left where Smith was waiting, Solarte stood at the plate. Solarte still had the energy of a younger man and the boy was starting to feel the weight of the game in his legs and also the weight of the thing that nobody had spoken about yet but he felt in his mind. But this is how the game was meant to be played and nobody on the boy's team would speak of the important thing that he was doing so far because some truths once mentioned become lies or, even worse, are then broken by those seeking to make truth immortal which cannot be done by a mortal. Nobody spoke of the thing because no mortal was right in doing so. And in life, just as in the game, truth is more sacred when unspoken.
The boy had thrown the ball well but not as well as some other nights but was still on the sandy, dirty hill and had allowed no hits. Solarte stood at the plate and the weight of this was on his mind too but he had the energy of a younger man and struck a ball bouncing over the wall in left. Jerk and the younger Upton both would follow by getting out.
The Eighth and Ninth 4-0
In the Eighth there was nothing for the crowd to cheer but the boy but the boy was not what the crowd had come to cheer. When the Ninth began and the Sea Men were given their final turn while the score was four to nothing in their favor, Loud Stick broke his hickory club but ran with enough speed to be safe at first on a hit that did not leave the infield. Smith flew out to center and Jackson with his tobacco now at its greatest size also dribbled a ball like those rains of Galacia that fall many times but softly in the infield and he, too was safe. Sergio would step to the plate and put a ball in to play that was thumped with enough strength that the other team fielded poorly and their error would let Loud Stick score and the score was now even more in the favor of the Sea Men, five to nothing.
The boy was asked to walk up the mound and throw the ball in the final turn as he had also been asked to do the last time. But he was not supposed to think about the last time and tried not to now even though this time was better than the last time as Coach told him when the game was ended. The boy saw for the last time the bearded one who caught for Red Beard and he hit the ball hard but right to Cano. Alonso came up and knew his fate and struck out on three pitches which is the fewest number it takes to strike a man out but some men know they are struck out even before the first. Alonso was a man who knew this. The older Upton walked to first on a pitch that the boy and his team knew was a strike and Coach was nervous because the boy had then thrown many pitches and there is a line that fate walks that we cannot know but Coach knew that fate was beginning to fall off that line. On the next pitch, the pitch to Solarte who had been full of energy and had got the one hit, the ball was hit high in the air and Muerte Parajo as they had known him once and again caught the ball.
The game ended and the Sea Men had won five to nothing as they had rarely done in the year but it still mattered and the feeling of love and ancient beauty swept over the boy again. He had done well the last time but better now. He had lasted the full game and had allowed the other team only to have one hit and it was Solarte who was trouble and always had been. Those in the crowd who had come to see the Sea Men play were made happy by the boy and by Sergio and by the Italian and Loud Stick. Jackson and his tobacco had done well too and this was seen by all there.
All we have when we sit in the seats and watch the men play that game is hope and a good drink. There is nothing that can be won from wishing to control what is not ours to control and will never be but there is good and honest work in wanting to control it nonetheless because that is more true than not wanting to feel the goodness of warm green grass and water on dirt and leather that has been worn thin by leather and skin. Baseball is a game that is played by boys who are asked to play more like men but baseball does not take the boy out of the boy. The ball does this and the ball bounces wherever it may and nobody can control how it proceeds from the bat to the field. We are made to play the ball as it comes.