Jack kicked dirt off the pitching rubber. The scoreboard showed his name and number as the Dodger’s pitcher. They were ahead and if he did his job they would win the World Series. The catcher flashed the signs calling for pitches. No use playing around. It was like an outside force powered his arm. If that was because his father looked down Jack silently thanked him. He would just throw what he wanted. The hitters like his catcher never knew what was coming.
The first batter struck out. The catcher held the ball after the third strike and shouted at Jack. He threw to the second hitter and the pitch went by the backstop. His catcher got up from his crouch. “What’cha you doing? Jack smiled. On the next pitch the second hitter hit a fly ball for an out. The third Yankee batter watched two balls sail pass him and the catcher. Time was called. The catcher sprinted to the mound. Jack knew his battery mate was upset.
“What the hell are you doing, Jack?”
“For god’s sake, look at the signs.”
“Hey, there’s only two kinds of pitches in me today---fastball or curve. That’s what I’m throwing. I’ve got it just go back and catch.”
He saw the catcher look into the dugout. Tommy Lasorda, the manager shrugged.
Jack was never better. The other night’s threats were pushed away for another time. All he saw was the catcher’s target. He dug within himself and pitched to win.
For the few hours after the game he and his fellow L.A. Dodgers were champions. His teammates poured champaigne over his head, and he soaked it all in. He was for a moment part of something great. They partied on the flight home and at their hotel. As the celebration broke up, in the early morning hours, he spotted Fred and invited him for a nightcap. They were feeling no pain and their voices were loud as they walked down the hotel corridor to Jack’s room.
“Ssh,” Fred said, “You’ll wake everyone up.”
Jack screwed up his face. “Oh, sorry,” he said softly. “I’m going to Disneyland everybody,” he shouted.
“Ok, I’ll tone it down. Holy shit, we’re at my place already?” Jack stood in front of the door.
“What are you waiting for?” Fred asked.
Jack turned. “Ah my key.” They burst out laughing.
“Try your pocket, dumb ass.”
“Oh, yeah.” Jack stuck the key in the lock and pushed. He stepped inside. Something caught his eye and he looked down. A scrap of paper lay on the threshold. He scooped it up.
“You are a dead man. Murderer.”
Fred had wandered into the hallway and made his way into the room. “Boychik, the ladies are slipping you notes?”
Jack blushed and stuffed the paper in his pocket. He felt his stomach churn. Shit. “Well …I am champion of the world,” he looked away for a second and then forced a smile.
“W-o-m-e-n.” Jack drew out the word. After a pause he asked, “Are you married? Do you have kids?” He opened the liquor cabinet and searched for a bottle of vodka.
“The ball player turns into a reporter. How do you like that? Well, I am married and I have a daughter. She is 11 months.”
Jack gave him his drink. “A daughter? “Fatherhood? What’s that like?”
Fred’s face turned serious. “It’s like what you did today even better. This was a game. Children are real. They are what’s left after you are gone. It’s a challenge to do it right.”
“Wow, h-e-a-v-y at 3 or is it 4 in the morning.”
“Yes I did.” He lowered his glass. “It must have been tough for you.”
“I mean, well, you didn’t know who were your real parents.”
Fred swallowed his drink. “I know I can hold my liquor.”
Jack held up the bottle. “We’re doing real good.”
Fred was all business. “Here’s what I pieced together.” He waved his arm and let go of his glass. It bounced on the carpet. “When the war broke out my father still hadn’t returned from Germany. Within two years the Nazis took over Warsaw and well, things went from bad to worse for the Jews. I was told life was so horrible my mother gave me to a Polish woman who knew my father from some University.”
“Your father went to a university?”
Fred shrugged. “I’m telling you what I know, putz.”
“Sorry, go on.”
“She in turn had a friend in Lodz’. That’s how bad it was. War turned many into monsters as well as heroes. I was lucky and thankful everyday.”
Jack refilled the glasses. “You’re one hell of a son-of-a-bitch.”
“Not nearly as tough and prickly as our folks.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
They emptied the bottle. By the time the sun rose Fred left the hotel and Jack wasn’t far behind. He went out the back. The buzz from the liquor hadn’t lessened his worry. The note was still in his pocket. He searched the street before he stepped out and caught a cab. He was condemned to live in fear---never knowing when the bastards would strike.