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BASEBALL FICTION

Fantasy Camp
By Art Grillo

This isn't one of those stories where a jaded, middle-aged professor has wild sex with one of his students. Michelle is not one of my students and never was. And I am not a professor anymore, having been denied tenure at a small eastern college because I didn't publish enough or because the school was "downsizing" and just wanted to jettison people. Or both. I left that place in May. There was an NEH teaching gig during the summer, and in the fall a part-time lectureship that was not renewed. Now it is late January of a new year, and I am a center fielder in a fantasy baseball camp. The fantasy camp in no way fits into my flagging attempts at reentering the heady world of academia. It is simply something a man will do once he is old enough to have a midlife crisis. We—meaning all the over-thirty types who have plunked down $2,800 for the seven-day holiday—are in Florida, at the spring training site of a Major League Baseball club. We parade around in spikes and batting gloves and are coached by stars and near-stars from the past. Michelle is down here with me. She sits in the stands with the other next of kin and assorted autograph seekers and senior citizens, her black sweater and cutoffs and Bierkenstocks distinguishing her from the sportswear set. I can imagine her saying, "I'm with No. 17." Her listener will glance out at me and notice the prematurely gray hair protruding from under my cap and slowly rule out the possibility that I am Michelle's father.

In center field, waiting for action, I'll sometimes space out. I'll imagine myself hitting a home run, and I'll imagine Michelle meeting me as I touch home plate, and grabbing me and pulling me off to the rented Chrysler LeBaron in the parking lot, and pressing me down in the backseat and raping me. These kind of Woman Power fantasies have nothing to do with baseball or the approach of middle age (I'm thirty-nine) or with academia. They have a lot to do with my own psychosexual wiring, and a little to do with Michelle. It was Michelle who asked me out. I had not shown interest in her. She was just someone who latched on to me at an English department holiday party in December. Yes, dating someone barely old enough to buy alcohol is a dubious business, but when women your own age show no interest in you, what are you going to do? Michelle has an easy, mischievous smile. She is heavy at the neck and waist and hips—Renoir would have worshipped her—and is given to spontaneous gushing over Sylvia Plath and to dissing Hawthorne. In a few months she will be graduated and on her way to the West Coast in pursuit of a screenwriting career. What attracted me was the chutzpah she showed, thinking a "professor kind of guy" might really want to see a movie with her.

It was her idea to come with me to Florida.

"I'll be your muse," she said in the even tone of someone who does not expect argument. The new semester was about to begin, and she would have to miss a week of classes. As a professor I always felt contempt for students who would miss blocks of classes for reasons other than illness. My thinking was you are given a spring break in March, and that's when you should take it.

"You mean my cheerleader."

"No, I mean your muse. Cheerleading is for ditzes."

Whatever.

 

In center field, I lose balls in the sun and overthrow cutoff men and narrowly avoid collisions with the other outfielders. Handling very high flies, I will invariably flinch as the white rock barrels down into my space. I just don't like things coming at my head. It was the same with soccer back in high school. To play soccer you occasionally have to head the ball, and that proved an activity beyond my comfort zone. There could be injuries to the brain or spinal cord. I worried these fears themselves would doom me, that I would drop my head at the critical instant, and instead of the ball hitting me on the hard surface of the forehead, it would shatter my cranium. Change the rules of soccer and make heading illegal, and I could have made the varsity. I could have been a contender.

At the plate, I have a good eye, but also the tendency to pull my left leg toward third base as I swing–called "stepping into the bucket"–which results in a lot of groundballs to shortstop.

"You're stepping into the bucket," Michelle says. I have just finished my turn in the batting cage and have joined her at the first row of the grandstand.

"Since when are you an expert?" After all, she is a female. And a kid. And she doesn't have a Ph.D. in anything.

"I've seen Bull Durham. Kevin Costner was doing it. Susan Sarandon told him not to do it. Now I'm telling you not to do it."

"Bull Durham was a dreadful movie."

"That's not my point."

"Okay, Coach. Tell me. How does one not step in the bucket if one's natural inclination is to do so?"

"Stride toward the pitcher. Point your hip at him as he is throwing. Don't be afraid of the ball."

"Sure. Real easy."

Back in our motel room, I wait for Michelle to finish taking a shower so that I might pleasure her. I am naked. On my knees. Staring at the bathroom door. You ask, why not take a shower together? I don't know. It seems more dramatic this way.

Michelle comes out all steamy and clean and white, wearing the terry cloth robe I bought her. She sits on the edge of the bed. I position myself before her.

"This is what I think about doing when I'm out in center field."

"You should be thinking about what field the batter likes to hit to and how's he's being pitched."

"More wisdom from Bull Durham?"

"Not necessarily. I picked up some stuff from my dad."

To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Spring 2000 issue.

ART GRILLO is a New Jersey native and former newspaper reporter. He teaches at City College of San Francisco and San Jose State University. His stories and essays have appeared in literary magazines such as The Cream City Review and Washington Square.

© 2000 Art Grillo

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