[With apologies to James Thurber, the Thurber estate, and anyone who has ever heard of James Thurber]
“Incoming!” shouted the Commander as another rifle-crack sounded, cleaving the late-summer night in two. “To your battle stations, men! Hold the wall! Raise the shields!” Boom, boom, boom, like fireworks splitting the July sky back home in North Carolina, Miss Debbie’s lemonade stand at the county fair, Cheerwine in a dusty pickup truck and watching for shooting stars, all the summer things he’d given up forever when he chose this path. Boom, boom, boom, and he forced the woods back home out of his mind and focused instead on manning his position, trying to stop the onslaught. Here came a shot, right at him; he readied his shield and crouched low, ready to engage the hostile.
His shot was true; his aim ideal. He was a machine, a relentless killing machine. Few would see the carnage he wrought, few would know directly, but they would know his effect, as one senses the wind—
“Kyle! Why are you just standing there? Are you okay?”
“Hmm?” said Kyle Seager. He looked at his teammate—Nola, was this one? Lopes? Romine? No, he was gone, his brother was on the field. There had been so many, boys with bright scrubbed faces and short haircuts, here one day and gone the next. This one, though, was mouthy.
“Get a move on, you’re due up this inning.” Tom/Tim/Tam gestured to the dugout.
The King of Kannapolis, they called him. The Chief of Cabarrus. The Pinball Wizard of the Pine Woods. He could direct a ball anywhere he wanted it to go. He didn’t see the lights, he didn’t hear the tinny manufactured music, the bright chrome mirroring his own shaved head. All he saw was levers and orbs, things he could manipulate without even touching the cabinet. They were the puppets, and he, their master.
Until one day it all changed. They shifted the game, rearranged the board, and suddenly there were roadblocks where he used to drive down a free and open highway, one with no speed limit, in a Carolina Blue convertible with a scarf wrapped around his bare head, fluttering in the breeze. Suddenly none of this old angles worked.
(90.5 mph off the bat with an expected batting average of .300. Earlier in the inning Mike Ford would hit a ball slightly less hard, with an expected batting average of .080, which went for a home run.)
The King of Kannapolis stared out at the diamond, moving his fingers through the air. He was reaching for the orbs and levers but they weren’t talking to him, weren’t making the same music they had before. He pulled hesitantly at an invisible string, waiting for that answering call, the thrum of the universe as it all came together in a harmonious whole—
“Excuse me, Kyle?” said Tom Murphy sweetly. “I need to take my turn at-bat now.” Murph proceeded to hit a ball exactly where Kyle Seager had been trying to hit his ball for a single. Tom Murphy’s ball did not bounce off the pitcher’s leg. Tom Murphy’s ball was a single. Kyle went to the dugout and drank three cups of blue Gatorade, one after another.
They came to see the show from all over. Smoke and Shadow. Air and Water. They were that elemental. People came to play the midway games, see the freak show, but what they were really there for was them. Efficient elegance, flying through the air. Re-orienting the rules of physics. Stopping flying objects midair. They were the talk of vaudeville, of the carnival circuit, gallons of newsprint spilled on their exploits in every tiny town they visited. They were graceful. They were unstoppable. They could catch anything. They were—
“Kyle?” came J.P.’s voice, muffled by the turf. “Did you catch that?”
“No, buddy,” Kyle said sadly, face down in the dirt. “No, I didn’t.”
“Friends? I had a friend once.” The man known as the Southern Stiletto, or S to his bosses, took a long drag on his cigarette. “Not any more, though.” S examined the cherry on his cigarette, how it burned brightly in the darkest places. People like him didn’t have friends. He walked to where the man was tied up on the dirt hill, blew some cigarette smoke in his face. This man had been a teammate once, a friend maybe. That was before he switched sides, of course, chasing a ring. S turned his head. It wasn’t the man’s fault, exactly. He was just doing what they all did, following his orders, jumping when they said jump. Not one of them were masters of their own fate, not in this game. But that didn’t mean he disagreed with what was happening. That didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy watching the man squirm under the bright lights up on that hill.
Later, what seemed like hours later, S took a walk, his second of the day, leaving the man on the hill behind him. He didn’t look back. He just kept on walking. He was tired of playing everyone else’s game.
Other things that happened in this game:
- The Mariners got three of their runs off a home run from Dylan Moore. Every time Dylan Moore hits for power, it violates the laws of physics in a way that concerns me we’ll have to pay it back somehow in the future, like a wizard’s bargain. Everyone be prepared to walk on the ceiling in 2020.
- Keon Broxton got the start in center, but was replaced by Mallex Smith in the bottom of the second, because after Broxton was called out on a ball that looked fairly outside, he flipped away his gear in anger, and one of his batting gloves grazed the home plate umpire. You almost got a whole recap themed around the Glove Slap episode of The Simpsons, but I’d already put in the time reading “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and a bit’s a bit.
Demonstrating the damage a wayward batting glove can do pic.twitter.com/GW18fDiJmK— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 27, 2019
- It’s probably good Mallex Smith did get into the game, because he hit his first homer since June.
That made the game a close 5-4, but the Yankees bullpen made sure it didn’t get closer than that.
Also: Mallex Smith in the postgame said he was in the bathroom when Broxton got tossed and had to run out, buckling his pants, when he was called upon. He also said he had to wash his hands after the defensive half-inning. No one touch Mallex’s glove.
- Wade LeBlanc made his 2019 debut out of the bullpen. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning. Go Wader Tot.