In our last episode, Julian had returned from another inconclusive search for the lake that moves – Lake Andromeda. A usually reliable source had given him a location, however, all that Julian found was a soggy, rotting morass of vegetation, fish poop, fish carcasses and an obvious indentation that could have been created by the weight of a body of water. No lake, though.
Disappointed again, he'd returned to Dirt City hoping to catch the final softball game of the year between the Dirt City Pamphleteers and their arch rivals, the Crass Corner Careerists. Unfortunately, he had miscalculated and arrived outside Eats Restaurant six months after the game. Since recalculating jumps through space-time without saying hello is rude, Julian went inside to see some friends.
Inside he discovered Orville Whitehead was up to old tricks, Bertha was still imposing and Roy was ... still Roy. Roy Bent is Julian’s best friend. He’s been working on a book about auto mechanics based on the philosophy of Nietzsche. No Zen for him. He’s taken to calling his place Garage Ubermensch; the tool, the car, the perfect engine … for him the search for perfect synchronization of gears and belts is a mystical thing. He’s also sort of odd.
"Julian," Roy said. "You missed the big game. What happened?"
"Ah, you know, I missed my cutoff and wound up here six months later. Shit happens. How did the game go?"
"Well, it was like this ...."
The game started as always with a speech. The Pamphleteers have a political following. Other than Honus Wagner and Rusty Staub most of the team is made up of former IWW workers. This universe seems a natural pit stop for the disenfranchised and the terminally anarchistic. And naturally, the stands were filled with crazies looking for a soapbox.
Wilbur Knight was the first. Wilbur usually restricts his speech to his application to be 3rd base coach for the game. His credentials are less than impeccable for coaching, being more a rabble-rouser and defender of free speech, but he does like to coach nevertheless and has done okay with help from the players.
Today however, Wilbur decided to stage a rant directed at capitalism and the usurpation of workers’ rights through the elimination of collective bargaining and nasty name-calling of teacher-types. You know, the cardigan-clad ones with nary a mean bone in their collective bodies whose life goal was to teach children and help enrich their lives. The thugs. After about twenty-five minutes of discourse at the pitcher's mound Wilbur had the partisan crowd worked up to a frenzy. Even the Pamphleteers stood at the dugout steps. Fans worked their way onto the outfield. Wilbur worked the crowd in the stands and the throng on the field.
Meanwhile, Crass Corner manager, Scooter McFowl, was having a spirited argument with the umpire regarding the interruption of the game. Since the umpire was a shop steward and an actual college graduate, Scooter wasn’t getting anywhere.
Finally, Wilbur covered the main points of his discussion one more time, asked for a vote on each point and having received approval promised a completed manifesto. The crowd cheered again as Wilbur made his way from the field.
Still having no coaches at the corners, Rusty strolled out to the mound and asked for names. A couple were brought forth and seconded. Speeches ensued. Finally, votes were cast and the elected coaches walked to the dugout. The crowd dispersed and settled in for the game.
The game went rather smoothly for the first six innings. There was one moment when a Pamphleteer was called out on a close call and the team nearly went on strike, but an arbitrator quickly settled the matter amicably, with concessions. The Pamphleteers managed to push a couple runs across in the third and led the Careerists 3-2 when they came to bat in the top of the seventh, the final inning.
Pitching that day for the Pamphleteers was their ace, Catnip Turner. He’d done a masterful job. His high-arching lobs had been hitting the front and rear of the homeplate extension with unremitting regularity, throwing off the majority of Careerist hitters. Now, Turner faced a young executive leading off. His first pitch was a moderately high arching pitch that just caught the inside back part of the plate. The next two pitches were just outside. Not wanting to walk the first batter, Turner tossed a fat one which was ripped past second and by a diving Bobby Merkel for a base hit.
The next Careerist executive also reached base on a rare error by Honus at short. This was followed by two swinging strikeouts. However the number three hitter managed to eke out a walk.
With two outs and the bases loaded, little Jimmy Kross came to the plate. Kross, a diminutive executive known for taking orders and ruthlessly carrying them out, was responsible for driving in both Careerist runs this day via the home run ball, aided by suspicious fairball calls from the ALEC-sponsored umpires. He flexed his jaw muscles as he walked to the plate, never taking his eyes off Catnip as he readied himself in the batter’s box. There was a palpable uneasiness from the crowd.
Chanting began. “Capitalist pig, capitalist pig. Why don’t you swing and miss it big ... like you did on your tax returns this past year.”
Pamphleteer fans are nothing if not well-informed.
Catnip knew he couldn’t give into this guy so he decided to go right at him with the high stuff. His first pitch soared up into the air and landed directly on the back of the plate extension for a strike. The crowd roared.
With his teammates chattering encouragement behind and Honus urging Catnip to “Throw dat moonball,” Turner adjusted his cap, composed himself and launched the cork-filled ball up into the dusky sky. Lost in the clouds, Catnip – and nearly everyone else – watched as the ball sailed above the lights and descended toward home plate. Kross watched too. Lifting his lead leg and rearing back he swung viciously at the ball as it dropped into his sweet zone.
The ball exploded off his bat in a flat trajectory at Catnip who was just returning to earth from viewing his masterful pitch complete its journey. His glove – totally by instinct and a sense of self preservation – moved in front of his groin and stopped the ball in the webbing.
Catnip looked down and found the ball in his glove. Kross threw his bat down in disgust and muttered something about libruls as Catnip walked toward the dugout to a standing ovation.
In the outfield two fans ran quickly from left field to right field carrying a banner that said “Workers of Dirt City Unite.” Fans poured onto the field, lifted Catnip onto their shoulders and marched around the infield. The band kicked up a rousing version of The Internationale. A few impromptu speeches were added before the fans and their beloved Pamphleteers walked off together to enjoy the rest of the evening recounting heroics and their efforts to overthrow the elitist corporatists from Crass Corner.
I listened to Ray’s accounting of the big game last night and am bummed I missed it and the shrimp breole Rusty made for the after-game party. Rusty is the best cook in Dirt City.
Maybe I’ll adjust my schedule and catch the game on my next trip.