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BASEBALL FICTION

Canceling Home Run Derby
By David W. Monahan

Roger Wood walked into his living room with a cold bottle of Ballantine and switched on his Zenith color console. As the set sparked on, he noticed a 45 still spinning in the player on top of the console. He set the bottle, already sweating in the muggy afternoon, inside the record player, reached in, and switched the record off. He read the label as it spun to a stop. "Hey Schoolgirl," by Tom and Jerry. So this is where the allowance money goes.

He sat down on the sofa and kicked off his Hush Puppies, finally breaking in after a couple of weeks of wear. His wife, Claire, bought them for his first day as foreman. She also issued an edict that day—since he was now getting home at three o'clock instead of six, he could not have a beer as soon as he walked in. He'd have to wait until dinner. Of course, she never got home from work until after five, so let's see her do something about it. He took a long drink as he put his feet up on the coffee table.

The TV warmed up to a doctor and nurse talking on a soap opera. Both blond, sort of. With pink faces. "I always follow doctors' orders," the nurse said seductively. The doctor took off his stethoscope and tucked it in the pocket of his white coat. They gazed into each other's eyes for a second. Then they took a step toward one another and kissed. Roger wondered how much Dippity-Do it took to get her hair to stand still like that. The organ played.

As the scene faded, the screen flashed to "Special Report." That always-ominous sight. For a second Roger almost hoped for something big. Something exciting. But then he thought about Russia. The seconds passed in silence. "Special Report" loomed, scarier by the second.

Finally, the announcer: "Truth or Consequences will not be seen today, so that we may bring you President Eisenhower's press conference from the White House. We go first to CBS News in New York, and Walter Cronkite."

Roger darted up and banged the set off just after "Good aft-" from Walter.

"Damn," Roger muttered and walked to the glass doors that led to his patio. He glared out at his sunny yard, about as big as his living room, and the three trees he had planted along the back fence. They stood in descending size from left to right, from a tall skinny fir like a dark green bottle brush, to a dry struggling palm, to an orange tree that had squeezed out two whole oranges this past summer. Shoulda planted three firs, he thought.

Roger went back to the sofa, arranged a pillow at one end, and lay down. The thick plastic seat covers exhaled. He thought about picking up the fresh L.A. Times from the table, but left it. He reached into his shirt pocket for his pack of Raleighs. He lit one and took a deep drag. He grabbed a clean ceramic ashtray—the same color blue and kidney shape of the neighbors' swimming pool—and placed the cigarette in one of the grooves.

After another good swig of beer, Roger laid back and enjoyed the quiet. He was just about to nod off to sleep when he was aroused by a lawn mower suddenly shutting down. He hadn't even noticed its growl until it stopped. Now it was quiet. An almost cool breeze drifted in the open window.

He pushed his head back against the soft pillow and closed his eyes. Just then, from the distance, a faint crack was heard. Wooden. Roger pursed his lips. A moment later, another crack. About ten seconds later, another. Then another, and another. With each one Roger's heart raced faster, his calm broken. A sharp one now, and five seconds later—a loud bang against the side of the house. "Damn it," he spat.

Now the distant cracks continued. A few seconds after one of them, Roger heard a ripping through leaves and a splash from his neighbors' pool. "God damn!" he yelled out loud.

Now another crack, louder than the others, echoed in the afternoon. Roger closed his eyes. One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . and a crash as his patio door exploded. A thousand shards of glass sprayed at him in an instant. He leapt up from the sofa, stumbling away from the explosion. The glass was still spraying upward, when Roger saw a baseball bounce off the floor, bowl over the Ballantine, and smash into the ashtray. As the last crystals of glass tinkled to the floor, the ball, dusted with ashes, rolled off the table and came to rest right in Roger's spot on the sofa.

"Goddamn Mickey Mantle!" Roger screamed.

He grabbed the baseball, ran out back, hopscotched over his lawn furniture, and ran up a ladder propped against the back fence between the palm and the orange trees. Standing at the top step, he looked over the fence and into L.A.'s cavernous Wrigley Field. The left field wall of the stadium abutted the back fence of Roger's yard. From his vantage point, an expanse of brilliant sunlit yellow-green outfield grass curved up from the sun into the shadows. Beyond that, the field sloped down, so that he could barely make out the infield dirt. A pitcher stood on the mound. And further on, striking in his road greys, stood Mickey Mantle at home plate. Swinging righty.

A pitcher on the mound, with no windup, zipped a ball straight in. Mantle swung, connected, and the ball shot up. A second later, Roger heard the crack of the bat. Lousy pop-up, Roger thought. He watched it rise majestically, across a background of wispy clouds and deep blue sky. As the ball arced downward, Roger realized that it was almost upon him. Without thinking, he switched the other ball to his right hand, in case he had to make a play on Mantle's drive with his left. But the ball landed softly on the grass, a foot in front of the warning track. Mickey left the batter's box and headed for the dugout, and the high-pitched voice of the umpire chimed from the infield, "Three outs!"

Roger looked at the ball in his hand. For a second he thought about taking it inside. But then he let loose with all his might and flung it toward the infield, almost falling from the ladder in the process. "Hey Mantle, let's see you hit one out offa Spahn!" he yelled. "Ya bum!"

A high school boy, getting paid exactly one dollar for an afternoon's work patrolling left field in a baggy uniform, was the only one who looked up at Roger. The kid shook his head and laughed.

"What are you looking at?" Roger mumbled. He looked in to home plate, where Mantle's opponent on Home Run Derby had stepped in to hit. He couldn't tell who it was, but he looked as if he played for Washington. I wonder how he can hold up against Mantle, Roger thought. The Senator fouled the first pitch back near the first base grandstand, where it plunked into the seats.

"One out!" yelled the umpire. Roger looked down to step off the ladder and realized that he was in his stocking feet.

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

—EFQ

DAVID WILLIAM MONAHAN is an assistant attorney general in Massachusetts. He also acts and directs in local theater in the Boston area. Born in Brooklyn too late to see the Dodgers, he has managed to root for both the Mets and Red Sox since he was a boy.

© 2000 David William Monahan

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