A Novel’s Chapter 1: Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

Ivan, acknowledging their animosity, tipped his cap to the Deer Lake section, which consisted of about two hundred people standing along the first base line behind the Deer Lake bench. This act brought more Deer Lake fans to life, and more hoots and boos followed. Peach Wiggins, our coach and high school principal, stood up from our bench and folded his arms across his chest. He called time and walked out to the mound. He waved for Whitey. He didn’t wave for me, but I slowly edged closer to the mound so I could hear what was going on. While Peach talked, the Deer Lake fans continued their verbal onslaught and I had to inch closer to hear the conference.The Pitcher

“Ivan, please,” Peach said. “You angered the Deer Lake folks early in this game. Now you’re taunting them and they’re getting very upset. They’re our guests, you know.”

Ivan laughed. “But Peach,” he said. “You know they deserve it. They’re the rottenest bunch of cheats and whiners in the county.”

Peach didn’t laugh. He continued talking seriously but quietly. He was trying to get control of a developing situation. He was destined to fail. He concluded his plea with one last comment.

“Just remember, Ivan. You might be very talented but that doesn’t give you a license to practice law and mete out punishment to those you have found guilty of cheating and whining.”

I drifted back to third base, satisfied that Ivan would heed Peach’s plea and refrain from inciting the Deer Lakers to riot. I looked into the Deer Lake crowd and I was actually frightened. They looked angry and hateful and it wouldn’t take much for them to lose control of themselves. I could understand that, even at the age of fourteen. Fifteen, I mean. It was my birthday – May 18, 1912.

Peach concluded his lecture and returned to the bench. The Deer Lakers had encroached on fair territory, meanwhile, and Rev. Whitlock walked along the first base line politely asking them to step back several feet behind it. Most of them moved back, but several took the opportunity to push their noses into the face of our beloved Methodist minister to demand satisfaction. They wanted the Reverend to do something about Ivan. Rev. Whitlock, in his likable way, patted them on the shoulders and talked to them kindly, then he walked to the mound to consult with Brother Ivan. Ivan listened, then nodded and smacked the umpire on the rump with his glove. The Rev. chuckled and shook his head, then returned to the plate.

A batter was ready. It was a boy named Toby. This kid was unlike the other Deer Lake players. He was bigger and stronger and had better ball-playing skills. He was also the only one that had hit one of Ivan’s pitches. He had smacked a fly ball into deep left field in the third inning. It was caught easily by our left fielder, but Ivan had been obviously chagrined by the event. And now, with Toby stepping into the batter’s box, the Deer Lakers saw him as their only hope for revenge against the reprehensible bullying of Ivan Ricker.

Toby’s fans focused on him. “Toby’s the one!” and “C’mon, Tobe, knock the cover off!” and “Smack one down the pitcher’s throat, Toby!” and “We’re countin’ on ya, Toby!” Their screams even got me charged up, and for the first time since the first inning I bent over with my hands on my knees and acted like I was ready for a ball to come at me. It was a game at last.

Ivan watched Toby walk to the plate and take his position beside it. He watched Toby pick up dirt and rub it on his hands, then wipe his hands on his pants. He watched Toby swing the bat three times in preparation, each time with a little more zest than the last. Ivan heard the Deer Lake fans rumble, then hoot, then scream in unison as Toby crowded the plate and glared at Ivan, daring him to throw something within striking distance. Toby was the focus of Deer Lake now, the last remaining hope for the folks who came to Stillwater knowing they’d make short work of us but finding out that they were all but impotent here. And Toby had risen to the occasion. He waxed heroic in the spotlight of his fans. He was their savior.

But if Toby was their savior, Ivan was Lucifer. The Evil One was preparing to throw some hot stuff at Toby.

While Toby dug in at the plate, Ivan stared at the Deer Lake section from the mound. I’d say his stare was more like a scowl because of the reaction it drew. Hisses went up and hoots as well, as Ivan worked the crowd and stoked its acrimony to a fevered pitch. I thought then, and I’ve thought many times afterward, that Ivan was a born showman. And at that moment I was watching a great show, and one that was nearing its final act.

Turning his attention from the unruly crowd, Ivan now gazed toward the plate. Whitey, seeing Ivan look his way, got into the crouch. We could often tell what Ivan and his catcher had in mind by the way Whitey held his glove. His glove, this time, was lined up behind Toby’s chest. Ivan skipped the preliminaries on the mound, and went right into the windup. But he cranked his arm around perhaps two revolutions more than normal, and by the time he let go of the ball Toby was leaning hard over the plate. By the time the ball sped toward Toby, he was leaning so hard he couldn’t back up. He could only go forward, which he did, and the ball passed over his back as he bent over so far he had to use the bat to catch himself from falling down. The Deer Lake crowd gasped when Toby bent down. Then Rev. Whitlock said, “Strike one.” Unimaginably, Ivan’s pitch still caught the inside corner of the plate, high in the strike zone.

Now the Deer Lakers booed. Having seen Toby nearly decapitated, they couldn’t fathom how a pitch like that could have been a strike. They booed at Ivan and they booed at Rev. Whitlock.

Whitey threw the ball back to his pitcher. Ivan looked at Whitey and nodded, as if they’d exchanged some kind of telepathic communication. He turned and stepped back up on the mound. This time he ignored the Deer Lakers, some of whom were calling him names such as “bully,” “baboon,” and “monster.” These were words coming from the mouths of women. The men chose more potent epithets. “Son of a bitch,” “asshole,” and others even less repeatable were used. Someone in the Deer Lake crowd, at the rear, started throwing out the word “bastard.” Ivan glanced toward the crowd when he first heard it, then looked back at Whitey. When we heard “bastard” a second time, Ivan looked again toward the crowd, apparently trying to find the source of that insult.

Meanwhile Toby had taken his position at the plate, though this time was not quite so close to it. Toby waited patiently as Ivan surveyed the Deer Lake crowd. Ivan was agitated. He slapped his glove against his leg and twisted his left foot deep into the dirt. Finally he looked back toward the plate. He nodded at Whitey, then cranked the ball around hard and let go of an awesome fastball. His huge effort cost him his balance at the instant of his delivery, and he fell over forward, putting his left hand down to break his fall before ending up on his knees facing the plate. Toby must have sensed that Ivan was going to throw a hard strike, because he started his swing before Ivan even let go of the ball, and he swung level with his belt.

WordPress theme: Kippis 1.15
%d bloggers like this: