CURVE BALL

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Chapter Fourteen

“Jack, you’ve been around a long time. You’ve pitched in a World Series, how does this one compare?”

“Well, Curt, every time you get here, you thank your lucky stars. My first was when I was a rookie with Minnesota. It was a wonderful series and I got to see two of the greats, Jim Kaat and Sandy Koufax. I don’t think I realized how lucky I was.”

“Do you have any idea on how you’re going to pitch to the Big Red Machine, Cincinnati Reds?”

“Carefully.”

“That’s a good one. Best of luck to you. There you have it, Jack Rakow of the Boston Red Sox.”

He shook Curt Gowdy’s hand and mouthed a few words off mike. The TV sports announcer and his cameraman laughed then went toward the press box. Jack trotted back to the dugout.

El Tiant, Louis Tiant, Boston’s number one starter eyed him as he moved down the steps. “Nice going, Rakow. Hope you’ll pitch as good as you talk.”

“Better,” he said and went to where Tiant sat. “Just give me the ball and you’ll see.”

El Tiant smiled and spat. “Si, you had your chance. I’m numero uno, today.”

Jack looked down to where Tiant’s spit landed and then back at him. “It all goes real fast. Enjoy it while you can. Hope your aim is better out there than here.” He reached for his glove that was on a shelf and made his way down the bench.

As game time approached he and the other players assigned to the bullpen left the dugout. He wore his warm-up jacket over his uniform. He gazed at the stands. Every seat was taken. A sea of Boston blue broken up by Cincinnati fans in red. The crowd erupted into cheers as the Red Sox sprinted to their positions on the field. The outfield grass looked greener than it had all season. He took a deep breath. The scoreboard flashed the date, October 11th…Saturday. Hmm…at least God can’t be too angry with him. He wasn’t pitching on the Sabbath.

It was a crisp day. The kind of weather a pitcher loved. He looked toward the mound and saw Tiant take his warm-ups. If only… He knew he was luckier than most. He was in his tenth year, which to many was a career. His fastball wasn’t as fast and his curve not as sharp. He now had a third pitch, a split finger fastball. It came at the batter straight and then dropped. It kept him in the majors.

“Hey, you should do some throwing.” Don Bryant, the bullpen coach said.

“It’s a little early. I’m slatted for the third game. That’s about 4 days away with the travel day.”

“The skip wants to know about your arm. You’ve been a little off.”

He shrugged. “What the hell. Let’s wait until after the national anthem. Show respect.”

“What ever you say Rakow.”

Minutes later the voice over the loud speaker asked everyone to stand for the singing of the Star Spangle Banner. The stadium quieted. At the end of the rendition the fans roared their approval. Jack grabbed a ball and went to the bullpen pitching rubber.

“Lets see what you got.” Bryant crouched behind the plate raised his glove for a target.

Jack took a breath and as he had done countless times before, wound up and threw. A pain shot down his arm. He bit his lip.

“Was that your fast ball?”

He found his voice. “Why? You didn’t see it?”

Bryant shook his head. “My grandson can throw harder.”

Then your grandson will have the hitters on their front foot looking stupid when they miss.”

The look on Bryant’s face told him he didn’t buy it.

“Throw like you mean it, Rakow.”

“Let me get loose. That was the just first pitch.”

“Whatever.”

He threw several more pitches and the pain lessened. His velocity picked up and his curve was sharp.

“Thatta way, Rakow. Now you’re cooking. Give me ten more.”

It may have been the day, but he was in rhythm. His motion was fluid and the ball went exactly where he wanted. It was a great day to pitch.

After five minutes Bryant held up his hand. “Okay, Rakow save some for the game. I’ll tell the Skip you’re ready.”

He caught the ball from the coach and rolled it around in his glove. He went back to the bench and got his jacket.

“You were humm’n, Rake,” said Dick Pole, one of Boston’s relief pitchers. “The Big Red Machine better look out.”

“I’ll try to give them more than they can handle.” He sat down. It didn’t take long before he felt pain shoot from his elbow to his hand. He bent forward and cradled his arm across his chest. When he thought no one was looking, he rubbed his forearm. Shit, this was trouble. He began to sweat. He rolled his eyes. It wasn’t even 60 degrees. He shouldn’t be sweating---one more game God, just one more.

“You ok?” Pole asked.

He looked up. “Yeah, yeah.” He let his arm drop to his side. “Great day for a ball game isn’t it?”

Pole wiped his forehead under his Boston cap with the back of his hand. “Sure is, but what’s with…” he nodded toward Jack’s arm.

Jack gaze followed his. He smiled. “Just a sign of age. The arm is telling me I’m no longer 20.”

“Maybe the trainer should look at it?”

“Come on Dick, that aint gonna happen. Every pitcher gets a little sore by this time in the season. It’s nothin to worry about. I’ll be fine.”

“So you say, but it’s the World Series.”

“Think I don’t know that?”

Pole took a seat down the bench. Jack searched out the scoreboard. It was 0 to 0 top of the second.

“Excuse me,” he heard someone say.

He saw a man in an Andy Frain blue uniform in front of him. What the hell is an usher doing in the bullpen?

“You Jack Rakow?” the usher asked.

Jack nodded.

“I have a telegram for you.”

Jack leapt to his feet. “Let me see that.” He grabbed the envelope and tore it open. He read the message once and a second time. “Oh my god.”

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