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(_27) Ch Twenty Seven

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From a brilliant blue sky the sun peeked down. It flashed temptingly around a pillowing cloud that paraded elegantly, high across the sky.. then flared fully onto the emerald green baseball diamond glowing far below below. It was a magnificent day to be alive.

Not too far away.. the same intense light fell upon a scenic seawall. Six feet of pathway separated it from a steep slope crowded with towering pines. It was as if the urban forest merged with the sea but for the intervention of a man made ribbon of pavement.  The Lion’s Gate suspension bridge towered high overhead into the sky.. far above an older man who lay on his stomach. He reached over the wall and gestured gently and gratefully downward to a flotilla of upthrust mammal heads. There were thirteen killer whales striving to rub against the outstretched hands and loud whistling was going on. A few pedestrians strolling the path around Stanley Park saw the moment, and a rollerblader stopped to gape and reach for her camera, as it was simply a stunning vision.

To any observant eyes, there were many other killer whales evident further out in the wide channel that ran under the bridge.. and more to be seen turning with some energy further out in English Bay where the big ships were anchored and swinging with the incoming tide.

The superpod was in full gather.. but simply and completely out of place.

A big mature female moved in toward the seawall gently, riding high and visible in the lightly dancing chop of the current. She was followed at a mere distance by a huge bull running deeper in the waters. He rolled easily and watched as she nosed gently into the pod and rose to touch the outstretched fingers.

.. but away from there now..

 Back to the rich grass of the emerald baseball diamond and a dusty mound of earth..

“Y’all right kid?”

Jimmy turned slowly to the big catcher.. reluctantly taking his eyes from the stands.. and turning them back to the field..

“Everything’s cool Creighton… I was just watching that peanut vendor over there.. you ever see him work the crowd?”

“Who?”

The bulky Texan worked his glove nervously but with powerful energy, pounding the ball into the small pocket. Little puffs of dust seemed to strike off the meaty fist that engulfed the horsehide sphere this game seemed all about. He looked over with a puzzled gaze.  Just knowing this was Jimmy Walker on the mound made him pause and look more seriously into the crowd behind first base. Then he stepped up closer to Jimmy to hand him the ball but with curiosity just itching at him…

“What is it Jimmy.. watcha see.. ?

This question arrived more as it would between two nine year olds.. at a playground or in a sandbox. Yet it was between two strapping young men who were being watched by thousands at the ballpark and likely hundreds of thousands on this rare televised Triple A game.

“He’s over there.. ten rows up.. just inside the bag. Watch this! He’s got a guy in the middle won’t pass the money or the peanuts..  won’t look him in the eye either. Watch how he does this.. gets the rest of the people in the row up there  to work on him..

The catcher glanced back at Jimmy.. looking curiously and very attentively at those dark eyes with the light smile.. then hearing some heavy breathing and throat clearing he glanced behind him and once again tried to get Jimmy focused on the game.

“Ump’s comin Jimmy.. time to play ball.”

“Check it out Big C.. look how they’re getting on him.. and the vendor’s already moving on..  they’re shaming him! Just look will ya? The ump’ll be ok.. trust me..”

“Geez Jimmy I trust you.. aint no doubt about it.. but the ump’s gonna hand me my head if we hold up the game any more”

But his eyes followed Jimmy’s.. and he could see that it was just as Jimmy was saying.. there were almost a dozen people as far as he could see.. and it was clear as day.. they were communicating their immediate thoughts at just one solitary, very obvious person. He marveled at the vision and presence of this kid and contemplated how he was just plain on the ball about darn near all things. What a hoot it was catching him…  screw the ump.. this is fun to watch..

“Let’s play ball!”

The ump was striding purposely toward the mound fully expecting the conference out there to break up before he got halfway there. But the two of them seemed to be looking into the crowd as if something was happening there.. some kind of a disturbance? He found himself looking too.. but kept walking… and by now.. the first baseman, drenched in sunlight with his back to the mound now, had the closest vantage point and had been watching for a while with Jimmy and was hooting his own thoughts bluntly towards the grouch in row ten.

The shortstop was drifting in toward the conference .. eyes scanning the crowd, wondering what it was that Jimmy had them all looking at as the vendor by now was lightly playing the surrounding crowd. His lightly and humorously executed mime of the expressions crossing the face of the stubborn spectator had the crowd chuckling.

“Ok Jimmy Walker.. what’s more interesting up there than this here game?”

“Mr. Bradley.. ump .. sir.. I just couldn’t help but see that ornery dude up in row ten that couldn’t see his way clear to help out the peanut vendor, and I kinda was drawn to how that old vendor knew enough to let the crowd go to work on him.. straighten him out a bit..”

“That’s just old Nat Bailey..  Leather Lungs.. been here forever.”

The ump could clearly see who Jimmy was speaking about.. as about two or three hundred of the crowd had followed Jimmy’s line of vision and were staring down a very uncomfortable, but stubborn middle aged man.  There was a growing rumble from the crowd that surged even more as several TV cameras zoomed to have a look and were flashed on the big screen. 

By now there were six at the mound as Darcy had sent Dusty out to settle the team, and he was looking over his shoulder into the crowd as he headed to the mound. Dusty arrived in time to see Jimmy and the ump sharing a chuckle as a very agitated spectator rose to his feet and began a red faced exit to the roar of the now very involved crowd. In the dugouts both teams had come crowding to the edges as it seemed the entire stadium had joined Jimmy in watching the hasty exit..

“Jimmy.. let’s play ball.. I think you and old Nat Bailey got that little problem sorted out.. but.. ah.. you always so interested in what’s goin on outside the game?”

“Well Mr. Bradley.. I love baseball.. but human nature just plain wins out every time..”

“Jimmy.. you’re just plumb right.. and I got to say.. never .. ever.. seen someone shamed out of a ballpark before…. now.. we got about 15,000 people here watching.. and maybe a few more out there in TV land .. what say we get on with it?

“Yessir.. my pleasure..”

The ump looked at the infielders who had gathered at the mound then up at the towering catcher. All of whom were watching the retreating  butt of the now humiliated spectator disappearing into the exit ramp.. chuckling at the whole moment..

“What are you guys staring at? Let’s play ball!”

There was the tiniest dip to Jimmy’s ball cap.. that matched the tiny dip from the elderly peanut vendor.. a shared moment perhaps.. a shared understanding. And then came the clear and leathery voice.

“Fresh peanuts.. popcorn..”

Jimmy’s eyes were smiling as he turned toward home plate. The game got into full swing as Jimmy’s next pitch caught the batter flat footed..and there seemed a new energy in the park. There was an easy and buzzing sense now coming from the crowd. They seemed more connected.. and the ump was clearly holding  a better and bantering sense of humour with the batters as the innings progressed.

In the dugout Dusty was having trouble keeping a straight face as Billy gave a play by play in his best and hilarious imitation of Harry Carey and other announcers. Even Darcy was having trouble keeping from just plain laughing out loud and finally turned to the water cooler  to hide the tears in his eyes from suppressed laughter

By the eighth inning, Jimmy had them all in the palm of his hand. The dugout was almost silent, few had anything to say.. they just watched and crossed their fingers and some twitched or flinched with every pitch Jimmy threw till the inning ended .

In the bottom of this inning,  Jimmy perched easily at  the edge of the dugout.. Billy just two feet way if that..   and in full voice with that deep, easy Alabama  rhythm, going against convention, and egging him on about pitching a no hitter. Not mentioning a perfect game though.. no.

Half listening to the easy banter, Jimmy began to slip away a bit.. an idea floated down from the clouds and entered his consciousness.  He let it drift around a bit, examining the edges, looking into the heart of it. Interesting, he thought. Grandfather always knows the right moment to send his thoughts and they were so playful, so musical to Jimmy. He reflected back on the peanut vendor.. applying that moment to the now resolving idea.

A bang bang play at first ended the inning and he snapped out of his reverie.. and looked over at Billy.

“Top of the ninth dude..  keep your eyes peeled. Might just see something you haven’t seen before..”

With a warm glance and a little head gesture toward the old pitching coach, he flicked  a mischievous smile at Darcy, glided out of the dugout and headed for the mound.  He gestured to Creighton, meeting him on the grass halfway there.

“Been thinking Big C..  going to throw some different stuff.  Breeze is turning around a bit and it feels like its starting to come from behind the plate. Sun’s hitting that left field fence pretty sharp.. pretty big glare off it. I’d kind of like to work that side of the plate at bit now.. but kinda had the idea you might want to pull out the big mitt. Just a thought.. you know.”

“Geez Jimmy.. you’re not goin to start throwin knucklers! I was just starting to enjoy the game y’know.. fer crying out loud!!”

“C…. just get that big glove on.. we’ll have ourselves some fun. You call the pitches.. I’ll throw them.”

“Gotcha Jimmy.. let’s have some fun..!!”

The big catcher had a grin that just wouldn’t quit plastered all over his big head as he tramped into the dugout to switch gloves… wearing his armour of shinpads, chest pad, and warrior mask perched on his head, he pounded his fist once into a glove that was meant more to knock down pitches than catch them. He grinned.

Dusty was almighty intrigued by that little gesture sent his way from Jimmy and had stepped over to intercept the big catcher.

“What was that little discussion all about Creighton? Oh.. the big glove eh.. well.. guess that says it all.”

From Jimmy’s perspective on the mound, light waves of fine dust drifted uncertainly toward him as the big catcher stomped through the box adjusting his mask, scuffing his spot, then settling his big wide body athletically behind the plate. He favored the outside edge away from the right-handed batter. The ump stooped deeply and tucked behind the big shoulders of the catcher.. essentially invisible to Jimmy but for a bit of the masked head. The old pro knew well enough what the big glove meant to a catcher trying to corral the unpredictable knuckleball and from what he’d heard this kid threw an outstanding.. even outrageous knuckler. There was no way he was leaving anything but the minimum body parts available to be stung by that capricious pitch.. and he gave a little step backward and reset.. hiding even further behind the catcher and perhaps with a less favorable, but safer view of the plate.

On the mound Jimmy looked in with interest at the floating dust particles that danced happily between him and the plate. It was lightly swirling here and there.. steadily advancing toward him and every little move of the catcher, the ump.. the batter digging in with choppy little steps seemed to stir more fine sunbeams up into the air in front of the plate. To Jimmy it was a tapestry of motion.. little clues to the passage of the air.. an intriguing pathway on which to launch a round horsehide ball toward the catchers glove. Some extreme randomness was locked in.

All was one here.. At this moment.. he could feel it.. and let himself fall into into it.

And so the pitches came.. one after another Creighton called for them, dancing happily and free from gravity momentarily toward a batter.. an ump.. and the bulky, agile catcher with a big glove. Black eyes smiled, as each pitch took a life of its own, bringing wild and puzzled swings from the batter, chuckles and hoarse calls from the well hidden ump. Muttered sounds and oaths came from the  catcher trying to catch these butterfly like baseballs that seemed to prefer flitting into his knees, his mask, the dirt, his shoulders.. anywhere but his glove.

And so the talents of Jimmy Walker played on.. for anyone to see.. hidden in plain sight. In the bright sunshine of left field the old fashioned scoreboard told the tale.. no hits, no runs, no errors against the home team.  One run scored against the visiting team’s pitcher. The afternoon light began to fade softly and the crowd now was now almost silent before each pitch.. then buzzing and shouting  loudly, as each eccentric pitch was corralled. Creighton was now simply trying to block, knock down or let the pitches bounce harmlessly in the dirt in front of him rather than expect to catch them.

The old ump called time and stepping around the catcher, bent to home plate with his small wisk to clear away the latest explosion of dirt that had arrived. A pitch the batter had swung tentatively at, had exploded into the dirt a full foot in front of the plate. Stepping up from his efforts, the ump called the count loudly and looked at both managers in their dugouts.

“Two out.. the count is three and two!”

With a light nod to the pitcher he settled in again behind the catcher , but this time he was so close he put his right hand lightly on his shoulder and risked putting his masked head just behind and beside the catcher’s mask, muttering lightly to his ear.

“This next pitch deserves a very close look.. Creighton my boy. A rare and perfect game is riding on it perhaps, perhaps.”

The crowd had come to its feet and sharp yells were raining onto the field. A hard shadow from the stands now cut a sharp meridian across the infield grass just behind the mound, reaching all the way to home plate. The pitcher stood completely in the dazzling late afternoon  sun, looking in at the catcher for the signal. 

Both dugouts were jammed at their edge as Jimmy stepped lightly onto the rubber, paused.. squared perfectly and leaned back, smiling that cat got the mouse smile. Uncoiling the mysteriously innocent windup,  he unleashed another miracle of physics to the capricious little gusts of air that waited in the shadows between the mound and home plate.

The pitch fluttered and flitted playfully toward the plate, then slipped with a glancing sound off an erratic but excellently swung bat, followed a split second later by a loud pinging sound as the ball richoched off the top of Creighton’s mask and popped into the air. The big catcher moved like a cat  and flipping his mask off backed into the ump, felt his way around him without ever removing his eyes from the flight of the ball. In the deep shadows behind home plate a round horsehide sphere landed with a soft thud in his big mitt.

There was silence for a moment, then a roar from the crowd as the home dugout spilled leaping and yelling baseball players. A perfect game .. twenty seven outs. No base runners, no runs, no hits, no errors. Bedlam swept onto the field as the old ump came up to the big catcher looking quietly into his big mitt. They were deep in the shadows behind home plate, just feet from the backstop and netting.

“He’s the best I ever saw Creighton.. and I’ve seen a few… but he threw that last one.. he threw it lefty.. didn’t he ?”

The big man softly handed the ball to the ump.. walked with him to the plate and picked up his mask from the dust.. No words were spoken.. just a light nod as their eyes met for a moment, then both turned toward the mound..

“Not that I recall Mr. Bradley.. sir..”

“Perfect game.. and even more .. well I’ll be!”

Overhead.. banking on the surging updrafts an eagle tilted its golden head downward for a moment and then.. finding the strong edge of a westward current, leveled its wings and rose powerfully and gracefully toward the distant mountains of the big island. Passing high over the sparkling waters of the Straits of Georgia its sharp eyes noted the glistening backs of hundreds of killer whales surging with the outgoing tide toward the distant Pacific Ocean. For a moment the great raptor felt through all its embedded instincts.. and finding no clue or memory of such an unusual passage rolled lightly to the southwest on the same bearing.. spreading its pinion feathers wide to closer match the pace of the superpod below.

Perfect was the current of air..  good forces flowed in this direction and moment..

and so the eagle rode with it.. perfectly .

 

 

The End ..

Written by diamondwalker

November 26, 2008 at 8:46 pm

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