Monday, November 09, 2009

The Streak - 54

In the bottom of the sixth Evan made another throwing error, floating a ball high over Brendan Terry's head and allowing the go-ahead run into scoring position. When he finally regained the dugout the Yanks were down seven to four. Everybody gave him wide berth and avoided eye contact. Even Jim Bosworth, burning with a rage that now transcended even the profanest outer realms of language, stood stonefaced as Evan skulked by. Only one man would – only one man could – speak to Evan now: Pat O'Rourke. The old timer leaned forward and spat a flurry of sunflower husks between his cleats.

"You got that ol' beast now, kid."

"Don't I know it."

"Don't look good out there, boy. Nervouser'n a cat on a rocking chair."

"It's the truth."

"You know how to catch a ball. You know how to throw a ball."

"Least I thought so."

"Don't doubt it. That knowledge is burned into your soul. Knowing ain't the problem."

"Help me, Pat. For Christ's sake."

Pat peered up at the action on the field, a swing and a miss by catcher Cesar Gutierrez.

"I can tell you're thinking out there. Like a regular fuckin' Socrates."

"I know, I know," Evan said, hanging his head in shame.

"What do you think about? The ball?"

"The ball. My fingers."

"Your fingers... Your arm? Your elbow?"

"All that and more."

The old man shook his head and permitted himself a sigh of dismay.

"You're good and fucked, kid. We're gonna try to untangle the knot."

"What's the process?"

"What else is going on with you, Ev? You can tell ol' Uncle Pat."

"You know, I dunno. Getting a fuckin' divorce."

Pat held his right hand up to Evan without looking. "Stop. Don't tell me nothin' personal. This don't got anything to do with shit like that."

"OK..."

"What's going on in the mind-body-spirit? I'm talkin' the triumvirate."

"Uh, I feel pretty good, I guess."

"You wake up with a boner?"

"Most days."

Pat nodded solemnly. "You eat right? You shit right?"

"I really think so."

"Is there anything else out of the ordinary that you'd like to disclose at this time?"

"Well..."

"That's it. What is it?"

"For a couple days I, uh..."

"This is the beginning and the end of your problem. Go on."

"I uh, I don't think I've been able to smell."

"You can't smell?!"

Evan sniffed the back of his hand by way of illustration and shrugged his shoulders. "I can't smell shit."

Pat removed his cap and buried his face in his hands for a few seconds. When he reemerged, the world-weary creases in his cheeks were deeper still.

"You can't fucking smell? Your nose don't work?"

Evan shook his head.

"Smell is the most important sense in baseball!" hollered Pat, aggrieved.

"Jesus. Really?"

"Nobody knows it but it's true."

The old man began muttering now, mostly to himself, and rocking like an autist. "No smell, no smell... maybe he can hit, maybe he can DH... No he can't, no he can't, Jesus..."

For the first time, Evan was afraid.

"What do I do, Pat?"

"Huh? I'll talk to Trainer Mike I guess," Pat said hollowly. "Maybe it'll just go away."

They sat in silence and watched rookie center fielder Danario Lafell pop up for out number two.

"Meantime, you'll have to sharpen some other sense in compensation."

"Sight?"

"Hearing's better."

"Hearing?"

Pat nodded gravely. "I want you to hear every goddamn thing that happens out there. Let it enter your body and be a part of you."

"OK. Hearing."

"I want you to hear the batter tap the dirt out of his cleats."

"OK."

"I want you to hear Cesar pound his mitt before he sets up for the pitch."

"He pounds it twice."

"He always pounds it twice. I want you to hear the umpire's exclamations through his mask."

"Strike."

"I want you to hear the sound of the bat so well that you know exactly where the ball hit on the grain."

"Wow."

"I want you to hear the ball spinning in the air as it approaches."

"Right."

"The muffled pop when it stops inside your glove."

"I will."

"The crowd, too. The choruses of chants and jeers, the solitary taunts."

"The crowd too?"

"Yes. But remember one thing. This is very important."

"Yes?"

"Hear it all. But don't listen to a thing."

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