Batting Practice

Image of Bud Berkich

Bud Berkich

2 readings

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Dante got ripped.

"And that's deep to left center field!" Vincent said with loud excitement, as the baseball flew off of his metal Easton bat on a high curve ball by Dante that never curved. "Way back, it's OUTTA HERE!"

Dante just watched the small, white spheroid sail a good thirty feet over Pinwheel Park's 300 foot sign, hands on hips.

"You suck at pitching, Alighieri," Vincent said in an as-a-matter-of-fact tone, when Dante turned around. "You have one pitch, a mediocre fastball, and your curve ball is basically a slow motion fastball in disguise. And not only that, but you could paint the broad side of a white barn in a snowstorm better than you can paint a strike zone, bro."

"Finished yet?"

"No, not just yet. You throw the ball to first on a ground out to third faster than you pitch. Just so you know. Constructive criticism, bro."

"I appreciate it, bro, I do." Dante said, with strong facetious overtones. "But, the last time I checked, I made the all star team the last two years and Legion ball based on my fielding third base. I never realized I was a pitcher."

"True. But if it's any consolation, it's obvious that no one else has come to that realization, either. And honestly? That realization might never be realized. Sorry, bro."

This got Dante moving towards the plate a few steps.

Vincent held up a hand, all smiles. "Now, don't get me wrong. You're the best third baseman, maybe the best over-all fielder, in the Greater Johnstown Conference." A pause. "But you still suck as a pitcher, bro."

Dante looked at his friend, remorseful. "Past tense, bro," he said. "I was the best third baseman in the Greater Johnstown Conference. And you were the best catcher. And Geoff was the best pitcher. But we're not students at Pinwheel High anymore, so we're not a part of the team anymore. Past tense."

Vincent nodded thoughtfully. He smiled. "Well, we still had Legion ball this summer. And you'll be playing for 4 C's in the spring, right?" Vincent was referring here to Cambria County Community College, where Dante had just started as a freshman, a couple of weeks before.

"Yeah."

"I mean, if there's anyone that should be talking past tense, here, it should be me," Vincent said. "It's the farm and maybe some Sunday softball league for me from here on out." A pause. "My playing days are basically over, now."

"You feel it?"

"Yeah, I feel it," Vincent said. "I think about it. It's weird right now, because I'd be playing football at this time of year." He shrugged. "But it's OK. 'Turn as the wheel turns,' right? I'll get used to it. I'll adjust. I love the farm, I love working with cows. And it's something my family has always done, you know?"

Dante just nodded in silence, slapping another baseball from a bucket of balls next to the pitcher's mound into his glove.

"But I'll tell you something," Vincent said, in a serious tone. "What would make things better? If Geoff would make it. Even if it's only the Johnstown A affiliate. At least, it would be something."

"Yeah, Dante said. "Not to mention that doing so might get Stephanie's witch of a mother finally off of his back."

"And Steph's, too," Vincent said.

"I can't be-liee-ve that woman," Dante said, obviously angered by Mrs. LaSalle's actions concerning the couple, both past and present.

"Yeah, I know," Vincent said, with a slow nod. I'm still trying to get used to the fact that Geoff is with Stephanie in Pittsburgh now. I thought that we would get to spend the rest of the year hanging out with him before he was off to Johnstown."

"And even then, because it's only a few miles away, he probably would have still been around, at least during home stands." Dante said.

"Uh, huh," Vincent said. He appeared to shrug his shoulders, as if he was attempting to shrug off the existing state of affairs, and studied the end of his bat. He took a quick, deep breath and stepped back up to the plate.

Dante contacted his foot with the edge of the pitching rubber, set himself and delivered an inside fast ball that Vincent was late on and fouled off behind the third base line. It bounced off of a bleacher seat. Dante grabbed another ball from the bucket, looked up, and spotted Stephanie's parents' large white Carpenter Gothic Victorian home in front of Pinwheel Ridge, above Residential Hill Road. To Dante, its highly ornamented eaves glinted in the early morning Saturday sun like a painted woman past her prime.

Still the home of Mr. and Mrs. LaSalle, but no longer Stephanie's home. Not for the past three months, as Stephanie was quick to move out, shortly after graduation.

And a similar situation could now be said to exist inside a particular row house over on First Street.

"You know," Dante said, "our crew has never been apart for very long. And now, two of us are not in Pinwheel, anymore. I knew it was going to happen anyway, but-- not like this."

Vincent grunted as he kicked at the ground next to home plate. "Yeah, and all because of someone else. Beyond your control. I hate that."

A few seconds of contemplative silence.

"Bring it, bro," Vincent said with another shrug. He settled into the batter's box and began his batting routines of adjusting his shirt, pointing his bat towards the pitcher's mound and taking one or two slow one-hand roundhouse swings before setting himself for the pitch.

Dante nodded, set himself and brought another imitation curve ball that never broke. Vincent, eyes and head locked in on the trajectory of the baseball, transferred his weight from his back to his front leg and brought the bat head through the strike zone with lightning speed.

"And that's WAY BACK, and it's OUTTA HERE!"

Dante watched as the crushed ball landed nearly four hundred feet away with a loud SMACK! off of the Pinwheel Pirates scoreboard, located twenty feet above the top of the outfield bleacher seats. Another mammoth home run for the Pinwheel Pirates' former clean up batter.

"OH, YEAH. FIELD OF DREAMS, BABY, FIELD OF DREAMS!"

Dante shook his head and grabbed another ball with frustrated animation.

"You still suck, Alighieri," Vince said to his friend, with a wide smile that turned into a laugh. "And from this angle? It's not getting any better."

A laugh that Dante eventually couldn't resist sharing.

"Your turn, bro," Vincent said, all smiles. He removed his batting glove, tossed it and the bat to his friend and made his way out to the mound.

Dante caught the bat in mid air, picked up the batting glove, tossed Vince his fielder's glove and grinned. "Those who thought that they saw major suckage with me on the mound haven't seen anything yet, bro."

"You got that right," Vince said with a smirk, as the two contacted forearms in greeting.

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