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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Page 7--Designated Hitter--Ryan Mattern

It was aesthetically bright that night, or as bright as a September evening in Kinston could possibly be. There was a vibration snapping every frequency that even thought about becoming a sound. Held breaths caused every heart in town to double every pitter and quadruple every patter. The announcer called for an excited cloud formation and misting droplets of anxiety.

The Kinston Indians were down by one run in the bottom of the ninth inning in their showdown with the Erie Sea Dogs, two teams who had been grid-locked all season long for first place in their division and had a chance to go to the Eastern League Playoffs. Not a single fan stirred in these final grueling innings. Even peanut vendors well below their sales quotas hushed and nervously prayed.

The Sea Dogs’ newly acquired prospect, Tosh Wakatsuki—from Japan and capable of throwing some kind of wicked kamikaze when on the hill—had been called in to relieve in the fourth inning and maintained a no-hitter ever since. One by one, Kenny “The Crash” Nash watched as his comrades fell prey to a violent Japanese barrage, much like the USS Arizona, fiery and swirling into the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean. These Sea Dogs were relentless pirates at heart and by franchise.

After the first batter of the side had become little more than a brilliantly painful “K” strewn over the edge of Erie’s dugout and just before Crash’s best friend, shortstop Tony McCabe stepped out into the on-deck circle, he leaned over, worked a sewagey piece of Red Man to the side of his mouth and said, “Ain’t no way we goin’ out like this. It’s our chance to be kids forever, Crash.” He recalled getting the worst cold of his childhood one rainy, autumn afternoon that he and Tony had spent playing Over-the-Line. Both children were freezing, but nonetheless unwilling to quit the game. Growing up in Kinston, baseball was like an airborne virus to which all succumbed. This was not a bad thing in the slightest, just to say that as far back as Crash could remember, baseball was the only thing important to him. And no matter what distractions came about, nothing came close in daring him to break custom. Before he could even get in a practice swing, Eli Stinson grounded out and it was then all on Tony’s shoulders to keep the team alive. He took the first pitch of the at-bat, a fastball high and inside, for a ball. The second pitch was Wakatsuki’s bread and butter, a knuckle-curveball paced almost thirty miles per hour less than his fastball, and with a tendency to disappear upon arriving to the plate. Definitely unhittable. Tony had no choice but to chase it. That pitch rolled in slow and smooth, delicate and beautiful, reminding every batter of his first kiss. That one special moment during the summer vacation between elementary school and junior high. Every boy and girl in town, terrified by the rumors of breasts, getting trash-canned, and showering with their peers, gently collapsed into each other’s arms, completely vulnerable in an attempt to perfectly recreate their favorite movie scene. Sadly, no kiss would ever be the same.

Stunned with nostalgia, Tony violently swung at a fastball right down the pipe and felt a wonderfully strange sensation: contact. He smashed the pitch back up the middle for a single. This glint of hope for the Indians set all eyes aglow and left every seat empty as fans jumped and roared in ecstasy, a once forgotten feeling. All the while Crash had been spinning two bats over and around his head, fearing a looming responsibility to both his team and his faithful hometown.

The loudspeakers boomed the announcement for everyone’s favorite lapsed hero: Kinston, North Carolina! Please welcome number twenty-seven, designated hitter, Kenny “The Crash” Nash! Still erupting over Tony’s single, the crowd began to chant, “Kin-ston! In-juns!” over and again, louder with each section’s involvement. Tony had taken a huge lead, pointed to Crash, and mouthed Bring me home, baby!

Crash cherished these few seconds as if they were one golden hour. A shiny, metallic reminder that along with the glory of heroism came the potential opportunity for advancement to AAA or even the majors. That one desperate chance he needed to be given in order to prove that he was cut out for the big leagues. That he had scarcely dreamed other than of rejoicing in the cheers of his loyal fans in the comfort of his diamond-shaped kingdom. An opportunity to show his love for the game, the likes of which he had held back from his family in order to give one-hundred and ten percent to this ballclub. That he lived as though life was the past-time and baseball was reality. The thought of being called up to Jacobs Field with a blue and red “Cleveland” embroidered over his heart brought tears to his squinty, black eyes.

Milk spoiled faster than Crash’s timely stroll to the plate. Tensions were high and adrenaline peaked as the crowd began to roar, “Crash! Crash! Crash! Crash!” It eventually picked up enough to shake the earth far beyond the city limits. Crash, raptured by his fans’ support, looked fiercely into Wakatsuki’s eyes and dared him to bring the heat. But, he was frozen by a late-breaking slider.

The umpire screamed, “Striiike.” Crash cocked his head back with an angered disappointment. He looked to the ump for reassurance.

“Your son secretly hates you for pushing him so hard in baseball. He really wants to be an artist. His resentment for you is extremely prevalent in his work,” The ump fired. Immediately Crash threw his hand up and stepped out of the box. He placed his helmet on the ground and began rubbing his eyes. He saw the Indians’ mascot standing atop his team’s dugout, flailing his tomahawk in gentle, mellifluous strokes. The air around it, slowly becoming paint, was churning into a grotesque aquarium of browns and greens. The foam and rubber Native turned to Crash and said, “I’m not you!” Crash continued to rub his eyes and shook his head. This was followed by a desperate attempt to blink away the demons. He nodded, the Indian now harassing the 4,100 in attendance, and continued with his routine.


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