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FICTION

Dark Horse
By Bill Murphy

 

The e-mail read:

 

You don't know us, but friends of ours are students in your class, and they say you always talk about baseball. We are a team, the Veszprem Fireballs, and we need another player, because one of ours is injured, and we are in the playoffs. We have a big game on Sunday, and a practice on Saturday. If you can, please come to the Volan-palya Saturday about 10 am.

The Veszprem Fireballs

P.S. Do you have a glove?

 

The American allowed himself a slight smile. Did he have a glove? He had come to this strange, faraway country with little more than an extra pair of socks and a jar of peanut butter, but he had packed his glove. I bring my glove with me everywhere I go, he thought, temporarily allowing himself to forget this was the only place he had gone.

The American's heart began to race, and his breath became shallower. He hadn't actually used the glove in the year and a half he had been in Hungary, he thought, temporarily ignoring that he hadn't used it much in the ten years before that, either. The glove, a Don Drysdale model which he had won for selling personalized Christmas cards door-to-door nearly thirty years ago, was stiff and worn, as much from age as use. An unkind person might have compared the glove favorably with the American himself and added, But at least the glove hasn't put on weight.

The American had brought his glove with him like a teenage boy slips a condom in his wallet, not so much in case he gets lucky but to give him the feeling that he just might. Oh boy, he thought about his newfound chance to play baseball in Hungary, while below that, another unformed thought tingled: Oh-oh.

In the days before the practice, the American, who was, as far as he knew, the only American currently in Veszprem, spent much of his time thinking about baseball. He had spent much of his life thinking about baseball, sometimes even when he was playing. He thought about baseball from many perspectives and thought many intelligent things. It was true, as the e-mail said, that he had spent some time in his classes talking about baseball, though he thought "always" an exaggeration. His students had thought American life to be totally glamorous and fast paced; he had shown them how the slow pace of baseball and the primary role of the individual in that sport could be directly related to the reflectiveness and isolation of the psyche in Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" as well as in the Puritan Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." His students thought Americans were consumed with success; he explained how, in baseball, even the most successful batter usually failed. It had taken some time, he thought, but not too much time. Of course, if it wasn't going to be on a test, none of his students really cared, but the English teacher kept trying to explain.

In the days before the game, the only American in Veszprem thought about stretching, exercising, getting ready. He had spent much of his life thinking about exercising, and due to his excitement about this new opportunity, he now thought about it a lot. As he found it hard to both think about it and do it, he focused on his strong point, which was thinking about it, and occasionally tried to touch his toes. He hoped his back wouldn't give out on him again.

In moments of calm clarity, he acknowledged his underlying fear as well as the fact that he had never been much of a ballplayer. He had never been coordinated or in good physical condition, and his problems had always been compounded by a certain nervousness. The feeling of all eyes upon him at the plate or in the field tended to make his eyes water and his head spin. The memory of coaches shouting "Keep your eye on the ball" while his eyes were watering and his head spinning had spawned a certain bitterness toward authority figures, which had kept him away from organized teams. But as he thought about it, he realized the years had calmed him and matured him. This encouraged him; maybe the years of rust and reflection had improved him as a player. Maybe he could finally, not far from his forty-first birthday, play baseball as well as he could think about it.

Had he not been blinded by his ability to think so well, the only American might have realized that his tendency to think, especially when baseballs were traveling past him, might actually have interfered with his ability to play. But he didn't think of that. Instead, he imagined himself freed of past failures, ready for, not to mention deserving of, redemption. That wasn't why he had come to Hungary, but it seemed a fair enough by-product.

To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Summer 2003 issue.

—EFQ

 

BILL MURPHY continues to follow Hungarian baseball via the Internet from his new home in Hollywood, Florida. He now attends Florida Marlins games hoping he'll get pulled from the stands to fill a spot on their roster. His newest book, The Hurricane of My Mother and Other Likely Stories, has been published by iUniverse.

© 2003 Bill Murphy

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