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FICTION

From Concentrate
By Jim Scott

 

–4–

Wait for the left knee to bend. Just a little bit. Under the lights, the shadows can sometimes fake a movement. Hey, Thomas, the first baseman says behind me, haven't seen you since the All-Star game last year. Nice season, naturally. Then he snickers and spits on the dirt next to my cleat. Intentionally walk me, then spit on me. Just watch me. I sidestep two then three. McCormack glances at me from under the brim of his cap. I'm not going, buddy, get to throwing. There it goes. Stupid motherfucker. I pivot, my cleats already digging into the soft infield. I hear the crack of the ball too fast. A thousand fishhooks grab onto my leg and drag me down to the dirt. The ball snaps into the catcher's mitt.

I'm gagging, choking because I've swallowed some tobacco juice. I can just rock back and forth on my back grabbing my knee and screaming. The stretcher's coming, boy, just hold on. You're okay. His hand, where he still holds my batting gloves, rests on my shoulder. I hold my breath and groan. The lights carve neat paths out of the dark, and gnats gather like clouds in the roadways. Someone sheepishly tags me. You're out, the ump says so quiet I can still hear the whirring of the cameras in the press pit twenty feet away.

 

–3–

I wipe the sweat from my eyes. The sun's vicious. I take off my helmet and rub my head with my forearm. Jesus, Buck, this game going to be finished today? Don't know. You ripped that one, boy. Yeah, I got it good. If I hit it a little softer I could've gotten two.

The first baseman inches in behind me. We're not talking about you, J, so keep walking. Thomas, you son of a gun, what's got into your water? You're killin' us here. He pats me with his glove, and the pitcher throws over. He applies a hard tag to my stomach, just for kicks, and then throws a soft pop-up back to the mound. Christ, J, I could take second on one of those floaters you're throwin' out there today. You just go ahead and try.

Michaels strikes out, and my glove comes flying out of the dugout. I bend and catch it. Shoestring, Tommy says as he walks out to first. Nothing but the best for you, kid. I stretch out my throwing shoulder and jog over to my spot between first and second. I bend down and touch my toes eight nine ten times. The scoreboard reads nine–three, us. I wish I could get the rest of the day off. The fans haven't been making too much noise. Too hot. I hate that. They can at least make this interesting for me. Usually they hate me in Kansas City. Some guy brought a sign right before the break; ýBias Thomas: All-Star Cocksucker.ţ That was a good one. My folks came to the game from Lincoln, too. Michaels said he was going to try to buy it off the guy. He was full of shit. He also said he was going to hit three-fifty.

Today they got nothing. Maybe if I hit one out. That would give me thirty-eight. Damn. I pound my glove. What're you smiling at? Your mom always puts a smile on my face, Shorty, don't you know that? Stop calling Shorty Shorty, Tommy says. He's short, he plays short. So? So we should call him Pussy. Agreed then. You guys are assholes, Shorty says. He's a rookie. Comes quick on the double, man, but I don't want him up there with the game on the line.

 

–1–

We can't have this from you next year, Bias, you hear me? Yes, sir. Murph's office is loaded with papers, newspapers, computer printouts, used tissues, greasy paper towels, sticky notes. The pipes overhead have been painted blue and green, but they're still pipes. It smells like socks. Jillian, the GM, stands with his feet crossed at the door. It makes me want to sock him. Crack him a good one. He's the kind of guy lots of people would like to bloody. Murph looks to him and raises his hands like he's giving up.

You know where we ranked in second base production last year? The legs uncross, then the arms cross. What is it with this guy? No, sir. Dead last. Do you know where we ranked in second base production this year? No, sir, but if you're talking about run production, I bat ninth. Ain't no one producing much from there. Next to dead last, Bias, and if you ask me, that's as good as dead. You can't keep hitting two-fifty with little power. We have King at Double A. He was an All-Star down there, hit twenty-six homers.

Murph rubs his moustache. He leans back in his chair, brushing against the calendar behind him, which is filled with black Xs, scores, and starters. You've got one year left on your contract, Bias. Come to play next year, and we'll get you, or someone else will. But we can't hold King back if he's making a quarter as much as you and can hit. Come to play.

That's all we're saying. He pats down his hair. King's one of his draft picks, so the guy loves him. I've seen the kid play, and he's got hands made of granite. Can't turn two to save his life. You need anything else from us, Bias? No. You gonna come to play next year? Bulk up a little? Pop twenty for us, maybe? I'll sure try Skip.

I walk out of the office, shutting the glass door behind me. I can hear their voices, but I keep walking. I keep my head down. My face is red. I strip my uniform off. They don't waste any time. One hundred and sixty-two games down. I drop my pants into the bucket, throw my jock in the trash, slide into my flip-flops and head for the shower.

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

—EFQ

 

JIM SCOTT was born in 1977 in Boston, Massachusetts. He attended Middlebury College and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.

© 2003 Jim Scott

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