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BASEBALL FICTION

Home Run Herschel
By Ezra Olman

The frost on my window nearly convinced me to stay put. City sidewalks can be icy, and if I fell down, well, I need that like a hole in the head. But if I didn't show, everyone would have worried, there would have been phone calls, so I figured better just to get out of bed, do my morning ablutions, and bundle up. And that's what I did. Undershirt, two long-sleeved shirts, a sweater, and an overcoat.

It's a fifteen-minute walk up Reisterstown Road to the Dunkin' Donuts, and sometimes longer if I stop to read the headlines in the newspaper vending machine or if I bump into someone I know, but that day I hustle and make it in thirteen minutes. Everyone else is already sitting down by the time I get there, even Morty whose doctor had cleared him to resume normal activity only the week before. Darryl sees me settle into our regular booth and brings us our four coffees and four apple fritters. I know Dunkin' Donuts isn't known for bringing food to your table like at a restaurant, but we've been meeting there every day for an awful long time, and we always get the same thing, so I guess it's just easier for everyone. But woe to anyone else who expects similar treatment. Darryl and Monique are all smiles for us, but they can put you in your place real quick if you try to boss them around. I've seen it happen.

Anyhow, we're drinking the coffee and eating the apple fritters, and Izzy as usual starts off by talking baseball, even though it's January, it's twenty degrees outside, the ground is frozen, and all the Orioles are probably still hibernating in their fancy houses. No matter, in Dunkin' Donuts the game is alive and well.

"Did you hear about the schvartze left fielder we signed from Detroit?" says Izzy. "Eighteen million dollars for two years, and they say he came cheap."

"We should all come so cheap," I say.

Morty shakes his head. "He's no good. Sure he hits home runs, but what about his glove? Defense wins games, you know."

"Home runs win games too," says Giora.

"Home runs are overrated," says Morty. "Shows what you know."

Giora was a baseball fan too, but not in the same way. Morty claimed Giora was an enthusiast rather than a fan, because during the season he'd get all excited about the previous night's game and he'd try to repeat what the radio announcer had said but he could never remember anyone's name except for Cal Ripken Jr., and he'd end up calling everyone else "Speedy Gonzalez." Also, he was fuzzy sometimes on the rules of the game, but that was probably because he came from Hungary and didn't grow up with it.

"Hey—I know baseball just fine," Giora insists. He's quite a bit younger than the rest of us—his hair is long and frizzy and nearly all black—and in my opinion, a bit crazy. He gets up to wipe the crumbs off his lap onto the floor. Same tan pants every day. I know because one day a few months ago, Giora decided he didn't want an apple fritter and so he ordered this chocolate cream doughnut that one bite later splattered filling everywhere and left this brownish stain on his pants leg that I can't help but notice every time he stands up, which is whenever he finishes his fritter or when he's letting Izzy get by to use the men's room.

"Talk all you want, there's nothing like a home run," Giora says.

So we're talking in this manner when a slightly stooped man with a checkered cap comes over with coffee and a glazed doughnut and sits at the table closest to our booth. He doesn't say anything at first, just eats his doughnut and licks his fingertips, but when he overhears Izzy and Morty arguing about how today's all-star hitters would fare against the great pitchers of the past, he turns to us and says, "Don't underestimate our generation; we had some fine ballplayers."

You could have heard a pin drop at our booth. Morty, who had been of the opinion that yesteryear's pitchers were no match for today's sluggers ("full of muscle drugs and God knows what else"), takes a sip of coffee and asks the new guy what makes him such an expert.

"Well," he responds with a smile, "I've had the privilege of seeing a lot of the old-timers play up close."

"What's your name?" asks Morty.

"Name is Jack Herschel. Pleased to meet you all."

Morty doesn't look pleased to meet him. "That must be inconvenient for you, having to share a name that's been taken by Home Run Herschel."

"It's no big deal," says the man.

Izzy spoke up. "Uh, Jack, you're not . . . him, right?"

Before the man can respond, Morty jumps in. "C'mon Izzy, you're crazy. What would the real Home Run Herschel be doing in a Dunkin' Donuts?"

"Drinking coffee," says the newcomer.

"Get outta here," says Morty. "No way."

"Why won't you say the guy is who he is?" asks Giora.

Izzy clears his throat. "My friends, there's a real easy way to solve this." He waits till everyone is quiet, then continues. "Mr. Herschel, are you or are you not Home Run Herschel, the guy who used to pitch for the old Baltimore Orioles in the thirties?"

"Yes I am."

To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Summer 2001 issue.

—EFQ

EZRA OLMAN is an ex-journalist living in Israel who now works at a Jerusalem hi-tech company, where he faithfully reads box scores each morning as he has for the last twenty years. His articles and short stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines in the United States and abroad.

© 2001 Ezra Olman

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