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(2) Chapter Two

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That same day..

I guess its about time to get this tale told straight. Sometimes I wonder if it really happened or if its happening right now.. kind of like a déjà vu, an enigma, whatever. But if you follow the game of baseball. If you believe in special people, or in magic, here it is.. at least how it all started for me. Form your own conclusions.

The kid looked about seventeen or eighteen to me, kind of ropy build, dark skin with the damndest reddish glint to his hair. Black eyes.. not brown.. black.  Even back then he showed signs of a lot of growth to come.. still to grow at six feet two and a bit and about 175 pounds or so.. but you could see the wrists and elbows were big.. ya… a lot of growth to come. This kid was well on his way to becoming a very big man. I was watching practice from behind the screen when I heard him say..

“Excuse me sir!”

I have to admit I kinda ignored him, but when he said.

“Chief Joey sends his regards… and said you would give me a tryout if you had a shred of common sense to you, sir”

Well my head kind of snapped around on hearing that name from the past. I guess maybe my mouth was hanging open or I looked a little stunned.. those black eyes were taking in and measuring my reaction…  for sure.

“What? Where you from kid?

He looked over his right shoulder toward the island and motioned his head north.  I could almost tell how far up the coast by how he gestured with his chin, then his eyes drifted across the baseball diamond and back to me slowly.

“How do you know the Big Chief?

“He’s my grandfather sir.”

“He’s your grandfather… and you’re a baseball player.. and he thinks I should give you a try-out?

“Yes.. sir.”

Well it was hard not to laugh.. but the kid was pretty earnest and mighty polite and lookin right in on me. Seemed all of a sudden there were memories crowding in on me.. the Big Chief! Hadn’t thought about him for a while but for sure hadn’t forgotten him either.. and why would he send this kid to me.. a joke?  No. Joey had a wicked sense of humour and a mean mischievous streak, but he wouldn’t never do anyone no harm.. and certainly not his grandson. Geez.. the kid did look like Joey a lot.. those dark, dark pools for eyes.. the height.. And how did Joey know where the hell I was.?

I looked back out at the diamond, thinking.. remembering those days. Me catching for the Big Chief.. small towns. Double A, triple A .. the endless summer bus rides. The wicked, wicked curve the Chief would throw.. and the nastiest of knuckleballs. Me down behind the batter, the ump’s hand touching my shoulder.. the smell of crushed grass and pine tar on the bat.. great memories.. geez.. I was just about this kid’s age for crying out loud, fresh outta Minnesota.

A bald eagle was drifting in lazy circles, low over the diamond and I kind of snapped back to the here and now and left those shiny memories behind.. but for a second.. it was like I was back there. 

“What position you play kid?”

I laughed out loud when he said he could throw a pretty good pitch and play any position I had open. The humour kinda fell away when I looked at him, as those eyes were looking deep into me.. and I suddenly felt, remembered.. with a chill, the exact feeling when I had my first walk on to try out for double A ball. I was pretty nervous, fresh outta college, but full of hope. And I’d known.. just known I could make that team.. and I did.. I stuck. What a feeling that had been.. and how and why had that long ago feeling.. even the smells and sounds come back to me..

I couldn’t even figure what to say.. but God.. I remembered that feeling..  I looked over towards the practice mound and nodded.

“Thank you sir”

It was a soft but confident voice. I pulled a ball out of my windbreaker while he fished a glove out of his bag and walked to the mound in running shoes.  I tossed him the ball, picked up a bat from the rack and headed to the plate. I don’t remember anyone watching.. Dusty was running the practice, it seemed like it was just the kid and I.. a ball, a bat, the pitcher’s mound and the plate..

He looked a little curious that I didn’t call out a catcher but I told him I’d hit anything he threw back to the  mound and that I wouldn’t be swinging for the fences on him. The dark eyes seemed to narrow at that.. and I felt a momentary chill.. like a little patch of cold air.. a bit of a smile came back into the eyes.. kind of like the one a cat gets when its about to pounce..  I wondered about that.. just like Joey.

I loosened up with a few crisp strokes, stepped in, looked to the mound and nodded to him.  He went into a very compact windup.. almost nothing to it. I felt almost disappointed as he extended and released in a nice easy smooth motion.

Now if I could describe that pitch I’d be first cousin to Issac Newton. There wasn’t a lot of speed on it at all.. just a big sweeping curve that was whistling in toward my left ear like a big ugly bumble bee. It was all I could do to fend it off as I tried to bail out of the batter’s box.  It was like slow motion.. my right elbow getting tangled up in my ribs.. trying to drop out of the way but my right knee seemed locked, the buzzing sound of air on the seams of the ball. I couldn’t get my bat around to protect myself.. much less swing at the damn thing.

At the last moment it died.. sweeping down with a whistling sound across the inside corner. I got myself untangled, trying to pretend I hadn’t lost my balance or my composure and strode to the backstop hitching my pants and looking at my bat as if there was a problem with it. I picked up the ball threw it back to the kid and stepped back into the box.

“Good pitch son.. kinda fooled me..”

Those black eyes just looked in at me.. quiet.. calm.. thinking. I gave him another nod and he went into that kind of nothing wind up, and let it go. I had plenty of time to look this pitch over.. it might have been the slowest pitch I ever saw thrown. It was taking forever to get to me.. and I could pretty well read the label on the ball.. Rawlings.. there was no spin on it.. a knuckleball for crying out loud.. dancing madly on air. My swing was laughable.. not even close.. it was like trying to hit a barnswallow with a shovel.

I walked to the backstop threw the ball back to the kid. He had a hint of amusement on his face but he was hiding it pretty well.

“Strike two son.. lay her in here”

I never even swung the bat.. the same nothing to it wind up and the same damn delivery.. the ball was past me and rolling up against the backstop.. and I had never even thought to swing. I stood there over home plate kind of frozen.. staring out of focus at nothing.. and then walked to the backstop for the third time and picked up an ordinary horsehide baseball and looked at it wonderingly. He’d thrown that fastball past me with his left hand.. and the first two pitches with his right hand.  This kid from up the coast had thrown three pitches past me from an almost non existant windup.. and I hadn’t even noticed him shift the glove.. adjust his stance.. or nothing.

I took a walk to the mound, still looking at that grass stained ball.. then looked into those dark dark eyes.. not much expression to read anything from.. just a straight, even, friendly smile..

“Any other surprises for me son?”

“No sir .. maybe.”

“Can you hit”

“Yes sir”

I was inclined to believe him but felt a little perverse need to salvage some pride or sensibility.

“Let me throw a few then son.. do your best”

I gave him a good honest curve inside, that nibbled the plate. He dropped it like an egg in the grass, where it died.. less than halfway to where third base would be. A bunt for crying out loud.  The next pitch I threw him was outside and low and it would have cleared first base by ten feet as he turned on it late, slapping it to the wrong field.  I asked the obvious next question and he stepped dutifully to the other side of the plate.. dug in switch hitting.. and looked out for my next pitch with a confident twitch to the bat.  I shook my head and stepped off the mound, wondering about who had taught this young pup to play the game. I understood this game well.. and some kid from up in the mountains had just blown my perceptions out the door.  I doubted that the kid was any kind of a slugger but someone had given him more tools than anyone had a right to.

“Kid, you’ll do just fine.. got a name?”

“Jimmy Walker, sir”

I looked him over .. thinking.. it wasn’t Joey’s last name.

“Where you staying”

“Got family here, sir”

“Think they’d mind if you had dinner with my wife Shirley and I tonight?”

He was agreeable to that idea though he said he wanted to meet up later with some cousins of his from up north a ways who were travelling thru here.. I gave him directions to our house about two blocks away and suggested he drop by about six o’clock and bring an appetite.

“Yes sir, thank you.. sounds just fine”

I called over my reserve catcher to pound him out some fly balls.. just to see how he moved out in the field and moved over to join Dusty who was in obvious discomfort from pure curiosity.

“What’n tarnation is that all about?”

“Just watch..”

Creighton couldn’t hit a curve ball to save his life.. just a huge, good kid from Oklahoma and a fine catcher.. already twenty five years old but hadn’t made it to the big league show.. and probably never would. But in his meaty hands a fungo bat came to life.. and he’d be a fine coach some day too. He popped the balls out to the kid with massive height.. then brute, straight power.. it was poetry to watch. The kid was like an antelope out there, running down the towering flies then smoothly and easily launching an incredibly arcing throw back to Creighton.. who glanced over at me a few times then settled into a powerful rhythm.. just hitting em hard and flat out there. The kid stole two off the wall and another that was well over.. he played a couple more that crashed off the fence, collecting himself for the throw as he one hopped them..

“Kid handles hisself real well Darcy. Who is he?”

I watched the kid feel the wall with his free hand, shielding his eyes with the glove from the high sun.. then step forward into another catch.. already powering into the throw to second base..

“Dammed if I know Dusty.. just a kid from the island..”

I walked over to the infield, calling the team in.. and left Dusty there just nodding his head and watching..  I let them go at three, and reminded the kid of my address.. I tried to gain something by looking more closely at those dark eyes but all I saw was an eighteen year old. He wasn’t serious or funny.. just there.. kinda quiet and comfortable with himself.  As we walked off the diamond I couldn’t resist though..

“Are you lefty or righty?”

“Lefty, sir” came the quiet reply.

“Why’d you throw right to me .. those first two pitches”

“It felt right when I saw you setting up to hit, sir”

I thought back.. and sure enough he had been just squared away facing me, dead on. The scary part was that when he went to his third pitch it had all seemed so natural. He’d just thrown lefty.. instead of righty.  And .. geez..

“Six o’clock it is.. Shirley will be looking forward to meeting you son.. nice workout.. real nice..”

He looked at me for a moment.. those dark eyes..

“Thank you sir…”

There was something in his eyes.. just a flash for a moment.. made me think of the big chief. Kind of took my breath away for a second. I nodded at him and turned away.. too full of thoughts.. and memories.

He headed off toward the parking lot.. Creighton with his big shoulders and that farm kid smile was sayin something to him and making signs with his big paws and laughing out loud. A few of the players were obviously wondering about him.. but if Creighton was ok with him.. then there wasn’t much to be discussing. The two of them shook hands down there and the kid got into an old truck. I saw a big black dog looking on at all this from the bed of the truck with a lot of interest.. and noticed that big Creighton made a bit of a wide circle around the truck while getting on his own way.. that dog had a mighty wide and white smile to him… and there wasn’t anything keeping him from leaving that truck for a look see.  The two of them drove off.

“A kid from the island.. eh?”

I looked at Dusty and just shook my head with a grin..  and he looked at me with a laugh.. his arms crossed, feet planted wide in that way he has. I thought there was a bit of an extra special sparkle to his wrinkled eyes just then.. y’know  

Written by diamondwalker

November 25, 2008 at 11:30 pm

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