“Come on now. Right over the plate. Hit my glove. Be a pitcher. ” JW socked his glove like he’d seen catchers do. He was squatted down like a catcher, but he lost his balance and went forward onto his knees before he fell over backwards. “Come on, boy. Rock and fire. Hum baby hum boy. Rock and fire, rock and fire. Be a pitcher. Right over the plate.” Socking his fist in his glove the whole time.
They were out in the backyard. Bobby shaking his head slowly not so much saying no as I don’t believe I’m doing this. Bobby just looked at his daddy, JW, and wondered again at the strange language of baseball. He had developed a theory that most languages were simply variations of English. He was sure that German was just English backwards. But the foolishness of his Daddy’s baseball language aggravated him and yet it tickled him, too. Hum baby hum boy? What in the hell?
Bobby could not smell anything but he knew from his daddy’s eyes that he had been drinking again. Knowing that changed things. Changed the whole way he would deal with his daddy that day.
“Ain’t no plate there. That’s a piece of cardboard.” Bobby sullen and bitchy.
“Dammit, can’t you just pretend? Over the goddamn piece of cardboard then, aright?”
“I aint no pitcher. I aint no third base either.” He socked his glove. “I wanna play right field.”
“Oh you do huh? You wanna play right field? I tell you what’s the truth. You wanna play right field cause everbody’s right handed and hits to the left. Can’t help it.
If one of you little pissants ever got onto one it might actually get out into left field. You wanna play right field because you’re afraid of the ball. Aint that right?”
His daddy was right and he hated it when his Daddy right. Especially when he was drinking. But it was correct that right field was a dead zone. And he was afraid of the ball. Afraid of it taking a bad hop and hitting him in the face. Or the crotch. Afraid of making a mistake. Just afraid.
“Well just try to get it over the plate. The cardboard plate. And just hit my glove. Just hit the glove. Throw it at the glove. Be a pitcher, now.”
Be a pitcher? Bobby thought. And he threw the ball so that it bounced two times and rolled up to JW. Bobby was determined not to cooperate with his daddy’s foolishness.
“What in the hell? Shee-it.” JW picked up the ball and threw it hard back to Bobby. Bobby was not looking when JR threw the ball and it went to his right and into the hedge.
“What in the hell? You took your eye off the ball. Never do that when you’re playing ball. Never. What in the hell’s the matter with you?”
“We aint playing ball. You’re making me be a pitcher is what we’re doing. I wanna be a right fielder. But we aint playing ball.”
“Never take your eye off the ball. Never…take…your…eye…off…the…ball. Go get that ball and throw it back. And don’t roll it back like a little girl.”
While Bobby retrieved the ball his dad kept on saying, “Never…take…your…eye…off…the…ball.” He knew his daddy was drinking.
“How you gonna be a ball player? Never…take…your…eye…off…the…ball.
“Don’t say it again,” Bobby said.
Don’t say it again.”
“What? Never…take…your…eye…off…the…ball.” JW knew he was getting to Bobby so he kept it up. The liquor making him predatory.
“Never…take…your…eye…off…the…ball. If you’re afraid of the damn ball don’t …take…your…eye…off…the…ball.”
Bobby said goddam it and threw the ball as hard as he could at his daddy. Not at the glove but at his daddy’s head.
JW caught the ball and then his eyes were big. “Whoa, whoa, now that’s the way. That’s the way, that’s… the…damn… way. Ball was hard and right over the plate knee level. Good boy. These little pissants will swing high right over it. Now do it again.” He was nodding, satisfied that his coaching style was working.
“I can’t. I aint gonna do it.” Bobby shaking his head.
“Why, you scared of throwing now? Scared of catchin’ it now you’re scared of throwing it? What in the hell is wrong with you, boy? Scared. Scaredy. Scaredy cat. Scaredy cat. Come on dammit. Grow up, stand up straight and throw that damn ball through this glove, ‘at’s right, throw it, you mad at me, well throw the ball through the glove and hit me in the face. I’ll hold it right in front of my face. Come on, hum baby, hum baby.”
Bobby throwing the ball hard into his glove over and over. His face was red and he was gritting his teeth.
“Come on dammit. You thinking too much scaredy cat. Throw…the…damn…ball.”
“You asked for it.” Bobby did a short wind up and launched the ball as hard as he could at his daddy’s face behind the glove.
At that exact instant, Bobby’s mother called out the kitchen window.
“JW honey I need you a minute. JW. Hey.”
“What?” JW said as his eyes moved just slightly toward his wife’s voice. As soon as his eyes returned to the front, the ball arrived. Arrived hard on the tip of his nose and mashed his nose to the point that blood spurted out and he grabbed his face with both hands and blood spurted through his fingers, and he fell over backwards still holding his face.
Just for a second Bobby horrified himself with the thought he had killed his father. Just for a second.
JW rolled from side to side moaning, “Oh you’ve killed me, you’ve killed me, oh dammit, you’ve killed me.”
“Not yet I ain’t,” Bobby took off his glove and threw it on the ground and kicked at the grass. “Not yet.”
He picked up his glove and threw it toward the woods and then he ran toward the woods and when he got to the tree line, he stopped.
He wanted to yell back at his daddy, “Don’t…take… your eye off… the ball.” But suddenly he just did not give a damn.
Alan Floyd graduated from MTSU with a BA in English in 1969. He focuses on the short story and creative nonfiction about East Tennessee. He has published in The Roane Reader. His sensibilities have been influenced by radiation and kudzu. And perhaps moonshine and poison ivy.