CURVE BALL

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Chapter Nine

Jack double locked and chained the door before he took a shower. Twenty minutes later he was downstairs in the lobby of the hotel. He looked around the entrance, which was laid out near the front desk. Several couples and an elderly man were sitting on chairs. A few kids were running around the furniture. No one asked for an autograph. To his relief there was no crazy father, daughter, or cops waiting for him. His cowboy hat and sunglasses had worked. He stepped outside and searched for the team bus. He was either early or very late. No one from the team was around. He checked his watch and backtracked through the sliding doors. The bell captain must have seen through the disguise.

“Yeah,” he said, “that big old bus pulled out about a minute before you got here.”

Jack was stunned. And then he was pissed. “How could they have done that? What has gotten into the boss?”

“Don’t worry kid, I’ll get you a taxi. You guys gotta beat those bum Dodgers today.” The bell captain’s nametag read Ike.

Jack’s frustration dissipated. “Thanks. That’s exactly what I intend to do. Beat those bums.”

Ike’s face lit up. “I like that talk, kid.” He went outside to flag down a cab.

The ballpark was about ten miles from downtown Minneapolis. The cab driver made it seem a lot longer. He wouldn’t stop talking.

“You gett’n to the ball park kinda early. Well maybe you’ll get some ballplayers to sign something for you. But I tell you those guys play’n today ain’t what they use to be. Koufax ain’t all that somethin’, and Drysdale is a bum. Now Carl Hubbell, there was a pitcher. You ever see him pitch?”

Jack looked at him. “Hey, I’m only twenty. Hubbell was long gone.”

The driver stared into the rear view mirror. “What do you know? You’re just a kid.”

The driver made a left and merged onto the highway. It took a few seconds before he started again. “Bob Feller could throw the ball through Koufax. If the Twins were facing Feller, I’d be worried, but Koufax, ha, a walk in the park. Maybe it’s another Jew holiday and the guy wont pitch. How did the Dodgers let Koufax get away with that?”

“What do you mean?” Jack asked. “What if it was Christmas or Good Friday? Anything wrong with observing the day?”

“Whatta ya talking about? Nobody pitches on them days. It’s a holiday.”

Jack half shut his eyes and willed time to move faster.

Five minutes later the stadium came into view. “Let me off at the player’s entrance,” Jack said. He saw the driver check the rear view mirror again.

“No problem.” The cab stopped in front of the players’ gate.

Jack jumped out and gave the driver $10.00.

“It’s only a $2.00 fare,” the cabbie said.

“Keep it.”

The driver held the bill in his hand. “Hey kid, now I recognize you. Hope you win. Can you sign it?” He held out the $10.

Jack hesitated, then decided what the hell. He scribbled his name and jogged through the player’s door. He walked down a tunnel that led to the clubhouse.

“Hey look who’s here?” Frankie yelled, “Romeo has made his appearance. Only the seventh game of the World fuck’n Series, and we are now blessed with his presence. How good was she?”

Some of the players moved toward Frank. “Knock it off. Sam will handle it,” Big Tony at 6 feet 2 inches and some 190 pounds silenced everyone. He turned to Jack. “Sam wants to see you, now.”

Jack dropped his duffel bag in front of his locker and went down a hall to the manager’s office. The door was closed. He knocked.

“It ain’t locked.” Sam yelled out. “Get your ass in here.”

Jack twisted the handle and went in. The pitching and batting coaches sat around a battered wooden desk. The room was thick with cigarette smoke. Sam made a gesture, and the coaches left.

“Sit down,” he said.

Jack did.

“This a joke to you? Sam asked. “You come waltzing in here after missing the team bus. The night before the biggest game in your life, you’re out carousing with some underage whore. Who the fuck do you think you are? I’d like to trust you, but I can’t. Unlike you, this game means a whole lot to me---a lifetime of trying to get to this moment. You ain’t pitching. Jim Katt is starting.”

“Wait a minute, you can’t…”

“Let me tell you something, kid,” Sam leaned over the desk, “I can and I will. One more thing, you’ll never pitch for me again. Now get your ass out of here and pray to your fuck’n God that we win.”

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