The sun dangled like a medallion over the baseball diamond the next day. Normally I’d shrink back beneath the shelter of my itchy uniform, but I felt a sense of pride as the rays beat down on my face and produced tiny globes of sweat on my brow. Dad and Pop-Pop were up there watching and I knew, even if I didn’t crack the lineup, I’d get the job done.
Gibson was on the mound again, the poor slob. My maniacal haircut was neatly hidden under my cap, but I lifted it for a moment and ran my index finger along the smooth hedgerow that had formed against my will. I felt the corners of my mouth curl up devilishly. This would be fun. This would be baseball.
For the first few innings I played my role, warming the right side of the bench and breaking the record for bubbles blown in an inning. I once hit 64, but that’s beside the point. The real point was in feeding Gibson his favorite meal: a sense of security. I’d let him pitch his regular game all right, but when the game was on its axis, I’d twist is around and send him reeling. And that’s exactly how it played out, for the most part.
Matty Gibson mowed down hitters, and the Stingers offense treated him to a six-run lead. The kid was working through innings so quickly that I was only able to blow six, maybe seven, bubbles in a half-inning. Trust me, that’s pathetic. Before I knew it, the game was winding towards a conclusion. The Stingers still held a six-run marker with only three more outs to make. This would be the inning. My inning. The one where I’d sit back, flex my temples, and make a laughingstock out of my tormentor. I’d chew him up and—
“Hey Walker, get your butt out to right,” Coach grunted. A complication I hadn’t expected after my last trot out onto the ball field. “What are you waiting for, kid?”
I grabbed my cap and glove and stumbled out to right field, wondering how I’d manage to control Matty Gibson’s pitches with my mind and play in a ball game at the same time. Previously, my only success with multi-tasking involved a stick of gum and some walking. But I had special powers now. I could make this work.
The first batter dug into the box and I squeezed my eyes into slits and concentrated on the ball as it floated from Matty’s grip and landed in the third row of the stands. “Ball one!” It was happening. Matty reared back again and I felt the tension build between my temples once again. This time, the ball flew forward a few feet and then dropped to the ground like a lead weight. It rolled across the plate and came to a rest at the batter’s feet. “Ball two!”
Each time Matty went into his windup I squinted and squeezed and pinched. And each time the ball came out of his hand it sputtered and spurted and twisted out of control. “Ball one! Ball two! Ball three!” Over and over, the same calls spilled from the umpire’s mouth in an unstoppable loop, an image I imagined would appear in Matty Gibson’s nightmares even after his grandchildren were too old to play baseball.
Before long, the game had tightened to a one-run affair and there were no outs. The base paths had been transformed into a carousel of opposing runners. Gibson reared back again and I wrinkled my brow and sent his pitch rising two feet above the batter’s head. “Ball one!” He reared back again and I skipped his pitch on two hops to the catcher. “Ball two!”
I was having a blast out in right field. Gibson was sweating and talking to himself under his breath. Coach was snoozing in the dugout. He wouldn’t be coming to Matty’s rescue with the hook any time soon. I felt so full of energy that I did a little twirl and a spin right there in the outfield. Which is when I heard it. CRACK! In all of my excitement, I’d missed a pitch. And Matty had found a way to deliver one in the strike zone.
I looked up at the sky and saw the tiny orb eclipse the sun. Such a large shadow for such a small object, I thought. I took a few steps back toward the fence. My heart rate was normal. My thoughts were clear. This was nothing like the baseball I’d played in the past. I wrinkled my brow and pictured myself cradling the ball in my glove. And then I thought, why? Why should I rescue Matty Gibson when I’ve got him in the exact position I’d always dreamed about? I loosened my grip on my mind and felt my senses begin to spin the same way they had whenever a fly ball entered my sector.
But then I thought about Pop-Pop, and throwing the ball with him. I thought about he and Dad staring down at me from the brightest light on the field, and I thought about what it was that would actually make them proud.
There was a great commotion coming from the infield, where the opposing coaches were now aware that I was way out of position to make a catch and were sending runners around the bases. And then the tension built up and the right pictures found their way to my mind. And then something slapped hard against my mitt. Its weight settled in the pocket and a great cheer rushed out of the stands. I spun and threw the ball to Billy Gill at second base, who tossed it over to first to complete the triple play. Matty Gibson’s pitching legacy was safe for at least another day.
Although I’m thinking tomorrow may be a little different. Shhhh. Matty doesn’t know yet.