Purgatory

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The boy can play

Opening day of the slow pitch league and everyone from Dante, Adam and Earl’s office were at the game. Some, including Dante, were on the edge of the field beside the enclosure with the benches and the equipment bags called the dugout. Dante, not having spent anytime following sports, didn’t know why.

The office crowd seated in the stands were boisterous and loud even before the game began. For them, the game was always a laugh, but the after-game celebration at a local pub was more intriguing. During the game they would cheer. The team members would play their hearts out and still lose, then they would all go off for a rousing evening of drinks, finger food, and fun.

Dante sat at the end of the bench and twiddled his thumbs. The first inning passed with his office team, The Motley Adders, behind three to nothing. The next two innings saw the Adders out scored four to nothing. An astonished Adam could not believe his eyes seeing his non-competitive friend up from the bench and leaning against the cage shouting, “Come on, hitter, come on Jack, hit that ball.”

Dante’s encouragement worked and Jack the mail boy and the team’s best athlete contacted the ball, rolling it through the gap, making it to second base before the surprised shortstop could gather it up and throw it to the second baseman. The next hitter struck out. Then it was Merilee’s turn at bat. She beat out a single, letting Jack make it over to third. Then disaster struck. Earl’s secretary, Mary, was to be next up. She was beside the dugout taking some practice swings when she stepped on a ball that hadn’t made it into the equipment bag after warm up and fell.

It wasn’t a serious injury, but Mary would not be able to run the bases if she was to get a lucky hit. Adam called time out and looked around for someone to take her place. He couldn’t believe what he saw. Dante was pointing at himself. Adam couldn’t hear him over the din, but it looked like he was asking to be put in the game. Adam signaled him to come.

While Adam met with the umpire to insert the substitution, Dante took two practice swings. “Ok, you’re up, but you know it means you’re in for the rest of the game,” Adam informed him as he returned from talking with the Umpire.

Dante shrugged and walked up to the plate. Imitating the other hitters, he held the bat off his shoulder. It wasn’t the perfect stance, by far, but he looked ready. The crowd from Dante’s office had been silent as two of her fellow players helped Mary off the field and into the stands, and Dante made his way to the plate. Then the noise resumed, the chanting, the shouting, and the laughter.

The first pitch was slow and wide. Dante was sure he could have gotten there and hit it, but he had seen enough games to know you let those go by. The next pitch came right down the middle. To Dante’s mind, it seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time to get to him. It was hard, but he was patient. When it, at last, reached him, he swung the bat as Astrada had taught him, although he didn’t remember the lesson. Meet the opponent with full strength and follow through to a quick, maximum extension. The bat contacted the ball with a crisp smack.

Everyone froze in amazement as they watched the ball soar through the air, over the outfield fence, and disappear among the trees off in the distance. At the crack of the bat, Jack scurried for home. With Adam shouting directions, Dante walked around the bases, Merilee a base ahead of him, until he was back at home plate.

Everyone in the dugout had come out to greet Dante as he made his way back to the dugout. They were congratulating him, patting him on the back, shaking his hand. The score was now seven to three as Earl stepped up to the plate. The other team, still stunned by Dante’s colossal hit, were not yet ready when Earl hit the ball to the far-right corner of the field. With the opposition’s concentration still focused on the disappearing ball from Dante’s bat, the outfielder failed to react fast enough, allowing Earl to follow Dante’s home run with one of his own. While nowhere near as spectacular as Dante’s, it made it seven to four on the scoreboard.

A pop up and a strike out later, the Adders where headed for the field. Dante replaced Mary in right field, her glove which he had to borrow was a little tight on his hand. Adam’s pitching, while not the greatest, was the best the Adders could muster. The opposition, now back in focus, were ready. Dante watched as the opposing teams batter hit Adam’s first pitch cleanly, and it looped just overhead of the shortstop to land midfield. Dante wondered why no one caught it. Although it wasn’t his responsibility, Dante felt strangely confident he could have.

The next hit was a hard line drive right up the center. Rather than worrying about the center fielder catching it, he bolted across the field and hauled it out of the air. He then threw it to Merilee at third base, tagging out the runner.

Not everyone had seen the play, but those who did were gasping in amazement. This was an apocryphal story that would make the rounds of the office for years. The umpire called Adam over to him. “You know it’s against the rules to have an ‘A’ league player or above on your roster,” he said, “and that guy looks like at least a Triple-A guy to me.”

“Honestly,” returned Adam, “I know for a fact that guy has never played any kind of baseball, or any other sport in his entire life, and I’ve known him since elementary school. It’s gotta be a real fluke, beginner’s luck.”

It was neither a fluke nor luck as Dante continued his stupendous play over the next three innings. He hit two more home runs, both with players on base, and made several unbelievable catches from his right field position. The final score was nine, eight for the Adders. It was their first win in three years. Both the team members and the spectators from the office went wild. The after game celebration at the pub was unmatched. Everyone was cheering Dante, buying him drinks, grabbing him by the arm and telling him how amazing he was.

The evening’s joy was unprecedented and when it ended, more cabs, Ubers and Lyfts were called than ever before. It was a fabulous and unexpected opening day and opening day celebration for the Motley Adders and their fans. Despite free drinks, however, Dante felt tired, but not drunk when he entered his apartment. He went to the bathroom and then straight to bed.

As he sat up on the pallet in the Stade Arcanium, Astrada holding out a crossbow for him, all he could think was, “Thank God tomorrow is Saturday.”

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