Only nine players showed up for the game.
The game was played at the high school field because it had a small bleacher section behind home plate and behind each bench. Every parent for the Blues was there, as well as other assortments of interested spectators. This was certainly the biggest crowd any of the boys had ever played before.
The taunting continued from the Blues. The Reds were so dull and downtrodden they hardly uttered a word.
Kyle Booker was, indeed, warming up to pitch. He wasn’t even their third string pitcher, but to hear him yammer, one might think he was the ace of the league. He was flamboyant beyond description during the warm-ups. His arrogance and ruthless verbal assault continued even when he finally stepped to the mound.
Booker struck out the Reds’ lead-off man. The second batter popped up to the Tom Miles at second.
Rich stepped into the batter’s box. He was utterly aflame with anger. He forgot his batting helmet and carried the two additional warm-up bats with him to the plate.
Booker nearly doubled over with laughter.
Booker’s first pitch was a changeup. Rich swung with such ferocity that he lost his balance and fell to the ground.
“Cool breeze.” “Wind’s picking up,” Rich heard from the Blues along with laughter.
Booker brushed his hat off and yelled, “What a wind. Anybody hurt out there?”
The next pitch; Rich could not have asked for a better fastball and he could have only fantasized better results. He swung and the bat bowed back to release it’s energy and propelled the ball eye high at Kyle Booker. He ducked. Rich dug hard for first, made a big turn, and stopped. The big turn was too much of a temptation for center fielder Mark Hire. He feigned an easy throw to second and wielded a rocket throw to first. Rich knew what he was going to do. Rich stopped and took a nonchalant step back to first and turned abruptly and streaked for second. Kirkland caught the ball and threw it to second as Rich slid in safely. The next pitch, Booker tried to pick Rich off second. The ball was thrown behind the second baseman and skipped into center field. Rich trotted to third.
Bert Hawk was the Reds’ batter. He was their best hitter. There was little doubt in Rich’s mind that Bert was going to get a hit. The first pitch Bert hit a rocket down the third base line that bounced foul by a foot.
The arrogance washed from Booker.
The next pitch went to the backstop and Rich raced across the plate.
“Is anybody keeping score?” Rich called out to the Blues’ bench.
The next pitch Bert hit the ball solidly over the left field fence.
“You mean I could have stayed on third,” Rich yelled out as Bert crossed home.
Bert was also the Reds’ pitcher. He was a short stout kid with a very quick delivery. He pitched the best he had all year.
Rich’s second time to the plate Booker tried to hit him with a pitch. Rich ended up flying to left. Bert followed with another home run. This time, it was to right.
The Blues brought Larry Coleman in to pitch. The way Bert Hawk was pitching they could ill afford to allow another run.
Rich’s third time up he walked and Bert hit one deep to left that fell into the glove of the left fielder for the third out.
Finally, the last inning came. The Reds had a 3 – 0 lead. Mort Johnson led off with a triple and came in on a sacrifice to right. Mark Dickman hit a home run. Coleman singled to center. Kirkland popped to short. Tom Miles hit a blooper over the first baseman’s head. The Reds’ right fielder, Jabe Miller, took a long time to run it down. Coleman was waved in as he rounded third. Everybody was yelling for Jabe to throw the ball home. Jabe had an accurate and strong arm and rifled a strike to home. Howie, the Reds’ catcher, caught the ball and turned to see if Coleman was coming home. The throw surprised Coleman and he raced back to third. Howie whipped the ball to Rich covering third. Coleman’s momentum pulled his foot from the base. Rich placed his foot between Coleman’s foot and the bag, caught the ball, and tagged him. His foot was clearly off the base. “Safe!” cried the umpire.
“He’s not on the bag!” Rich bellowed and moved out of the way without moving his foot to allow the umpire to see.
“Safe!” he bellowed definitively and spread his arms looking like a hovering buzzard.
“What! His foot ’s not on the bag!” Rich looked into Larry’s eyes and then Mr. Coleman’s, who was the Blues’ third base coach. Although their eyes were sympathetic, they were not about to divulge the evidence. “Say something,” Rich pleaded to Mr. Coleman pointing to the obvious runner’s foot, not on the base.
Mr. Coleman looked at the obvious injustice and said, “He’s the ump.”
The umpire came running along the third base line. Larry quickly moved his foot over the top of Rich’s. Everyone was certain the umpire saw it because the entire Reds’ team and coaches pointed it out.
“Safe!” the umpire bellowed deeply, spreading his arms, and coming to a stop midway between home and third.
“He moved his foot!” Rich decried. “Everybody saw it, but you!”
“One more remark and you’re out of the game,” The umpire pointed at Rich.
Rich defiantly stared at him and tossed the ball back to the pitcher. The umpire walked toward Rich. Rich took one step toward him.
Mr. Coleman ran up to the umpire and pulled him aside. The umpire brushed Mr. Coleman’s arm away, but Mr. Coleman quietly and calmly tugged on the sleeve of his shirt. “Look,” Mr. Coleman said quietly, “You blew the call. You should have been halfway down the baseline to begin with.”
The umpire glared over Mr. Coleman’s shoulder at Rich and trotted back to home plate. “Let’s play ball!”
If he were going to give us a make-up call it was all erased when Kyle Booker stepped to the plate and hit the first pitch between the gap in right field and center field that scored Coleman and Lawry. The game was over amid screams and cheers of victory for the Blues and their dedicated followers.
The Blues congregated at Reds’ bench and shook their hands. Most were smug, arrogant, and sarcastic. Larry Coleman was happy, of course, but the smile disappeared from his face when he shook Rich’s hand. “Bad call,” he said.
Rich forced a smile. “Good game.”
Rich mingled with the players. He saw the coaches talking to one another with Mr. Coleman stretching and lifting himself on his toes as if he were looking for someone. He made eye contact with Rich and motioned for him. Rich broke away from the players and followed Mr. Coleman a short distance from the confab of coaches.
“I want you to know, you can play first base or third base any day for me. If I were your coach, and I’m not saying anything bad about your coaches,” Mr. Coleman assured. “but they’d have been carrying me out of here in a straight jacket after that call.”
Rich had no words, only a torrent of feelings. He extended his hand. He clasped it firmly and said, “Thanks.” Before letting go of Mr. Coleman’s hand he said, “We played our best. I don’t need the win, but the other guys do.”
Rich ambled to his bike, removed his cleats, tied them together, and hung them over the handlebars. The first baseman’s mitt and fielder’s glove slid onto the handlebars also. Rich began to peddle home.
Mr. Hawk yelled at Rich, “Hey Rich, turn your uniform in before Monday.”
Rich flashed an okay with his hand and peddled home.
It was a long, lonely reflective ride. Over and over again images of Larry’s face and Mr. Coleman’s face flashed in his mind. They were helpless, caught between rules and right and wrong.
Rich pondered what he might have done. “Am I the so noble of character to speak out and confess to being “out” or was I the noble sort to allow the decision to rest in the hands of the umpire. What lessons to life am I learning? If I saw the answers to a final exam, is it not more honorable to reveal it? Am I thinking that way only because of losing? What if we won and how glorious it would be now. How shallow the victory must seem to Larry and Mr. Coleman. It was written on their faces. The noble thing; never to remind them of the shallow victory.”