The story so far:
The second game of a double header was the game that counted. Both went into the record books, but it didn’t matter that we won the first game 14-3. If we lost the second half, I had to take whatever **** Kirt dished.
The Ohio State University led this one 4-1; we avoided being shut out thanks to my solo homer in the first. Our pitcher sucked unless he was in a groove. Tonight, the sluggers were hitting him like Rodney King. Four innings of hell down, five to go.
Kirt banged his bat against his cleats in the on-deck circle, then timed the pitcher. Their leadoff batter watched a pitch bounce off the plate for ball four and jogged to first. Kirt spit, looked down the left field line at me, and grabbed his crotch. This was no adjustment. The arrogant bastard mocked jerking himself off as he approached the plate.
A self-trained switch hitter – how many jokes did I have at his expense about going both ways? – he lifted the bat over his left shoulder and faced me. The toe of one silver cleat scraped at the dirt; once he solidified his footing, he brought the other into the batter’s box.
Diego, our number four starter, shook off a couple of Murph’s calls. Nodded. Spit. Fondled the ball in his glove. Checked first. Wound up and uncorked a fastball.
Kirt’s stare intensified as he dropped the barrel into his left palm and squared off to bunt. I charged towards home, but Kirt pulled back at the last instant and the navy blue lardo squawked, “Rike!”
Murph chucked the ball back to Diego, who grinned, suddenly oblivious of the scoreboard. Airhead sonofabitch thought he was the king of the hill when he got ahead in the count. He ran through his routine and Kirt turned sideways again. The curveball caromed off the edge of the plate and through Murph’s legs, bouncing back to the backstop as their lead runner sprinted halfway to second base, then jogged the remainder confidently.
No outs. Man on second. Kirt’s advancing the runner. As the ump planted a new ball in the catcher’s mitt, I cheated in a couple of steps. Kirt noticed. Spit in my direction. Third base: suicide corner.
Diego molested the ball until he was comfortable. Why the **** was our coach keeping this idiot on the mound?
During Diego’s windup, Kirt jerked the bat forward like he was going to bunt. As I charged, he yanked it back and barreled the pitch. **** aluminum bats should be outlawed.
I saw it coming, but it was like watching a bullet; duck all you want, you’re still going to take the shot. I flung my glove upwards and it ticked off the top of the netting.
Until this point, I only associated my nose with smell. Not touch. Definitely not sound. The middle of my face crunched like a mouthful of potato chips. I was blinded by the impact. The cartilage jigsaw puzzle sprayed blood in three directions.
They told me later the ball popped up off my face and was caught by Neil. In shallow right field.
Kirt struggled running to first base anyway; he was laughing too hard.
As the smelling salts were waved over me, an announcer proclaimed something about “Big Ten rivalries running deep in our veins. Ohio State and Michigan were the Hatfields and McCoys of collegiate sports.” Whatever.
The trainers lifted me and started toward the dugout, but I had no intention of giving Kirt the satisfaction of knocking me out of the game. I squeezed my nostrils with my thumb and forefinger and willed myself through the throbbing. Coach took the field and bantered with the head umpire before he finally came to me. My eyes were already swelling shut, but I turned my back on him and returned to my position behind the bag. “Sorry, kid,” Coach explained. “NCAA says you can’t be on the field with blood on your jersey.”
What utter ****! I pled my case, but Coach turned two fingers towards our bench and summoned Carlton to replace me.
I watched the rest of the game from the end of the pine. No one spoke to me. Not when we went down in order over the next two innings. Not when we rallied in the last frame to win on a walk-off home run. Nobody even came near me. Sports fans would have thought I was in the middle of throwing a no-no.
When the game finished, I rose with my teammates to shake hands. We lined up along the base path and I looked for Kirt. He was last, smirking. I muttered, “G’game, ****” to the rest of the scarlet and gray. When it was down to Kirt and myself, I honked red snot into my hands and repainted his uniform. More scarlet. Less gray.
He threw a jab between my eyes and I reeled backwards. My Wolverines were ready to pounce on him, but I raised a palm and they waited. I pointed at the scoreboard and coughed, “Oh-for-four, dickhead.”
We both laughed before assistant coaches grabbed his shirt and pulled him off the field. No matter; we'd see him in Columbus next month. Maybe I could fire an errant throw to first into the side of his helmet. Loser was never going to the show anyway.