Magical Moments

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
For baseball fans, serious or otherwise.

Submitted: December 14, 2016

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Submitted: December 14, 2016

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“Magical Moments (and the hands that hold them)”

Orin Rook

As I pulled into the lot at McAllister park I could feel the crest of something magical rising, poking through the blanket of heavy, humid Appalachian air.  Exiting the car, I found myself awash in the aroma of barbeque and beer, was there ever a sweeter scent than baseball in July?  I adjusted the brim of my red and brown McAllister Muckdogs baseball cap, and was instantly embraced by my people, most of whom I had never met.  Arm in arm we jaunted through the golden gates, which sparkled diamonds in the ruby red glow of the fast falling sun.  The shadows from the marble columns stretched before us, guiding us to the carnival inside.  Food and drink was passed freely among all as we watched the gnomes of the ground crew roll off the tarp, emblazoned with the McAllister Muckdog’s “MCM” logo, and begin chalking the lines with fresh pearl dust. 

Never has there been a ballpark as perfect as McAllister park was that evening, with its 2500 satin cushioned seats and picturesque view past the outfield of the rainbow mountains.  It was a pleasant surprise to us all when the velvety voice of Vin Scully announced the first pitch would be thrown by none other than Babe Ruth.  The great Bambino, granted this one release from that great ballpark in the sky, and me, here to see it.  A gorgeous arching curve, right in the bottom of the zone, a final fly over by silver tailed Pegasus and the game was on. 

Ask anyone in Central Pennsylvania and they will tell you there is no greater rivalry anywhere in sports than that between the Gallitzin Gallants, who for five years have stood alone atop the Appalachian Independent League standings, and the scrappy McAllister Muckdogs.  The crowd booed as the Gallants line-up of aging ex-major leaguers was announced along with their half-game lead over the ragtag Muckdogs atop the division.  A cheer went up as McAllister’s young southpaw ace, Bo Riley, who turned down an offer from the Yankees to help his hometown team win a championship, threw a 101 mile an hour first pitch strike. 

That was an immaculate first inning, a no doubter over the right field wall was somehow caught by McAllister’s one-legged outfielder, Joe “Pogo” Magill, and thrown back to first for an inning ending double play.  At the bottom of the inning, against the 58-year-old ex-Red Sox ace Tristian Humperdinck, the half troll outcast Burleigh McCormick hit a scorcher into the Adirondacks so hard that his bat caught fire, and he ran around the bases with it held high like the Olympic torch. 

The top of the second ended with a moment of panic as Bo Riley threw a sinker that near about ended up in China.  Buster Blackledge took off from first and was sure to make it home on the pass ball, when out of nowhere McAllister second baseman Dudley “Digger” Doctson, a former miner from West Virginia blasted out of the ground like a cannonball right in front of home to make the tag. 

We all laughed and catcalled at Blackledge as he walked dejectedly back to the dugout, his perfectly pressed bleach white uniform covered in McAllister mud.  The jeers must have rattled Blackledge something fierce, even though as a former Cub he should have been used to it, because he dropped a can-of-corn fly just off the infield dirt with two outs and a runner at third.  The crowd erupted like Vesuvius as Skeeter Coolidge slid into home, leaving behind a trail of dust which lead back to the dejected Blackledge at third, who stared down at his glove sadly like some kind of sucker. 

Because we play real ball in Central Pennsylvania, unlike those jokers in the major’s American league, Tristan Humperdinck came up to bat in the third.  It should be noted that it is of general consensus, and with good reason, that Tristan Humperdinck traded his soul to the devil to win one last World Series title for the Fenway faithful, how else could you explain a future hall of famer spending his golden years in that hell hole called Gallitzin?  At any rate this was what the game was all about, the old order vs. the new, cheaters who buy wins vs. the good old boys, Humperdinck vs. Riley.  We groaned as Humperdinck slapped a bloop single over the head of Bobby “The Bat Boy” Royce (who never really woke up until the sun went down) and trudged into first on what must have been his third or fourth hip.  We groaned again when Riley went to bat, later in the inning and struck out on a high arching eephus, so slow it followed the full silvery moon into its position atop the heavens, at least Rip Sewell would have been proud. 

Well you could tell when Bo Riley took the mound in the fourth that he was all riled up.  He kicked at the dirt in front of the rubber so hard that it shot up into the stands like a geyser, I put some in my jeans pocket and to this day that’s where it still rests, in that pocket safely in that glass case somewhere at the bottom of my closet.  The first pitch of that inning had a tail coming off it like Haley’s comet and broke the hand of McAllister’s burly long time backstop “Old Timer” Billy Sledge.  Right after they carted him off, supported by a forklift, Muckdogs pitching coach Ray Farmer came out and calmed Riley down with a quip rumored to be so damn clever and funny that only major league caliber arms are strong enough to hear it without breaking apart from the laughter.  Must be true because Bo Riley set the rest of the side down in order as care free as a kid in the sandlot with a big old goofy grin on his face.  Things started to heat up when McAllister came to bat.  Lefty Markowitz ripped a liner which looked like it had booked a one-way trip to the other side of the right field wall, that somehow looped foul against a warm wind blowing towards left.  On the jumbo screen replay you could see clearly Gallitzin manager Ephraim Morley, a well-known Satanist, whisper something under his breath just before the ball veered out of play.  After he saw the replay, McAllister manager Butch “Big Hoss” Brody came storming out of the dug out to give the umpire an ear full.  When the bullpen and coaches finally pried Big Hoss away with a crow bar the damage was done and the ump needed to apply burn cream to his scorched ear, Big Hoss got a firm warning. 

Old Ephraim Morley and his Gallants must have thought that they had us but good.  A wave of panic started going through the crowd, there was a sense of finality about the Lefty Markowitz would-be-home run, that the scrappy Muckdogs were just cursed by fate, destiny or old Ephraim Morley and the devil himself to only be good enough to beat anyone but the Gallants.  It seemed like Bo Riley felt it too out there on the mound because he allowed the first three batters to reach.  He was shaking in his shoes when Bill “Bulldozer” Brovinsky, the fire haired ex-homerun derby champion, stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs.  Sensing his young ace’s trepidation, Big Hoss called time out and the team gathered around the mound.  During this time, looking real closely I could see Big Hoss take the cursed ball from Bo Riley and slip it silently in his pocket and replace it with another that, Pastor Bill Parsons would later tell me after the game he blessed himself with holy water to combat the evil Satan had put on the official game balls.  Well that blessed ball did it’s trick because the next pitch out of the timeout Bo Riley threw hard inside on the hands of Bulldozer that jammed him, sending the ball slowly down the third base line.  I still don’t know how he did it, but the Muckdog’s backup catcher “Slithern” Sal Salvatore slid snakelike right out of his crouch and underhanded a toss to third the end result of which was an unthinkable, impossible 2-5-4-3 round-the-horn triple play.  The stars started flashing like camera bulbs and the crowd rose to their feet in a leonine roar which shook the ground, registering a 3.2 on the Richter scale.  Old Ephraim Morley shot out of the dugout and started complaining animatedly to the umpire, possibly with the audacious claim that Butch Brody had put an illegal substance on the ball just used or that Bill Brovinsky’s ball had been hit foul, but between the decibels generated by 2500 win hungry Muckdog’s and the still fresh burns Big Hoss had left on the ump’s ear, Ephraim couldn’t quite get his point across and had to return to his dugout amidst the cacophonous yells.  When Tristian Humperdinck faced the first Muckdog at the bottom of the inning he just stood there statuesque for a minute, his eyes closed, and suddenly a fierce wind kicked up behind him and his sparse, thinning blond hair whipped across his face towards home.  It turns out he had summoned the ghosts of Red Sox’s greats passed to all blow a fierce wind which added ten miles-per-hour and a knuckleball-like movement to his two-seamer.  We knew because the second he had set down the third Muckdog, the winds fell silent and he walked from the mound, tipping his cap with a wink to the night skies. 

About this time all us in the stadium was starting to get a bit of a rage brewing inside us, why I near about thought that Brawny Brady Bickle, the Muckdogs hitting coach who crushed cars with his bare hands down at the scrap yard in the offseason, was gonna beat the living day lights out of Marlon “the magician” Marchetti after he drove in the runner at second on a butcher boy single.  We roared at the deception, and Marchetti’s slick little smile at the home team’s dugout.  Well Brady Bickle just come a roarin’ up the steps, leaving cracks in the concrete with his sledgehammer feet, and if it were not for the fact that it was a full moon out and the first base umpire Lou Pine had assumed his werewolf form and was therefore strong enough to contain Bickle then surely Marchetti’s remains would have ended up floating down the Susquehanna not reaching the Chesapeake ‘till early September.

 We all should have known what was coming at the bottom of the inning when McAllister came up to bat, why we all seen old Ephraim Morley and Tristan Humperdinck with their heads together, whisperin’ all conspiratorially.  When Bo Riley stepped to the plate Ephraim give Tristian Humperdinck a nod and he nodded back, wound up in a way he hadn’t seen him wind up before and pitched a fastball right at Bo Riley’s head.  Now it all depends on who you ask, some say that special wind up was part of an incantation or spell, some say that Ephraim Morley conjured up a specter to replace Bo Riley’s bat with a magic wand when no one was looking and some will swear up and down that they seen a dragon black as the night sky swoop down as the pitch was on it’s way, but all anyone can be sure of is that fastball from Tristian Humperdinck’s hand turned into a fireball about halfway to the plate.  Now we knew that Tristian Humperdinck wasn’t just trying to buzz the tower, that we was going for the kill, and you should have seen Bo Riley’s eyes widen up like saucers when he saw the heat headin’ right for him ‘cause he knew it too.  Still can’t say exactly how Bo did it, he must have knowed though that there wasn’t any earthly way of avoiding a fireball like that so he just whipped the bat around hoping for nothing more than to keep his head where it was and somehow managed to club out a bleeder past the temporarily blinded first baseman, Touch Conner, for an infield single.  We all rose as one and hooted and hollered, starting to feel like maybe we could make it after all, maybe we could beat those dirty, devil worshippin’ cheaters, maybe change was on the way after so many stagnant, mediocre years. 

The seventh inning stretch seemed to drag on forever, even as a chorus of sirens sang a sparkling rendition of “Take Me Out to The Ballgame.”, all anyone could think of was the next inning, with Tristian Humperdinck up to bat lead-off.  “No way Old Ephraim Morley will send his star arm up to the plate, not with Bo Riley throwing over a hundred.”  Said Greggers Greenly, who owned “Greggers Grocery” down on 5th by the new high school, next to where the Collin’s boys used to live.  “Used to be there was a time when a man had the guts to do penance for what he done wrong.”  Replied Old Terry “Pap” Parker, the oldest man in town and honorable mention for oldest in the world.

 “So then what’d your daddy have to do for takin’ a deliberate part in makin’ you?” Slurred Tubby Thompson the good natured drunk as we all burst into laughter. 

“He had to live with mom for a hundred one years and then another twenty more for good measure.”  “Pap” Parker said to another roar of laughter, that quickly died with all the sounds of the world as Tristian Humperdinck stepped to the plate.  We could all see a hungry smile creep across Bo Riley’s face when he saw Tristian Humperdinck walk up, the kind a spider must wear when that big old horsefly whose been buzzin’ bout all care free finally flys a little too close to the web.  As Bo went into his wind up, we were all thinking it, old Tristian Humperdinck was about to learn the meaning of the phrase “it’s hard to keep your head above water when your pool is ass deep in Crocodiles.”, and not a moment too soon.  But that retribution didn’t come then, could have been that Tristian Humperdinck turned himself into a ghost, he did go transparent for a moment, or maybe he had hypnotized Bo Riley the way he used to hypnotize big league hitters into chasing his breaking ball out of the zone, or maybe it was something as simple as there just wasn’t enough of him to hit anymore but Bo Riley walked him on four absolute smokers, high and inside.  He spat on the ground angrily as “Jeerin’” Jake Jackson, a professional bench jockey when he was in St. Louis and owner of a face so unfortunate it looked more like an open invitation for a knuckle sandwich than anything else cackled at him from the on deck circle, Bo had no trouble nailing him.

The damage was minimal in terms of runs, but everyone was a little sore, some like Jake Jackson physically, and others, like Bo Riley spiritually.  So when McAllister came up to bat it was no surprise that they seemed a little stiff, like their joints were lubricated with hard mud, which they might have been.  Against a no-good Satan worshipping son of a bitch like Ephraim Morley anything was possible and more likely than not bound to happen.  The first two batters went down faster than France and up to the plate stepped the last player we wanted to see hit when the team was in a hole, “Astronaut” Rick Manly.  We gave Rick Manly the moniker astronaut because he was known for not merely just skying balls, but spacing them up to a mile and a half in the air, and that’s not an exaggeration, one time he brought down a Cooper’s Hawk with a pop fly.  We all thought that He would develop into a great homerun hitter, but it never happened, it just doesn’t matter much how high you can hit the ball if it never makes it any further than the infield dirt, so unless there was an exceptionally strong wind, say nearing 110 mph, or the opposing fielders forgot to wear their sunglasses he was an almost automatic out.  Well he took the first two pitches for strikes and was about to take the third when suddenly there was a freak rainstorm for about a minute or two, real hard, an absolute downpour.  Probably, we thought, because his head was about as far out in space as his pop flies, “Astronaut” Rick Manly just stood there staring into space, as everyone else ran to their respective dugouts.  “Even a chicken is smart enough to get inside when it’s raining, are you dumber than a chicken?”  Came the gruff voice of Butch Brody from the dugout motioning for his batter to come join them under the roof, but Rick didn’t move, he had his eye on something and it wasn’t until after the rain stopped that we knew what it was.  After the rain cleared and the players resumed their positions, Rick Manly gave a nod to the sky, at what we now know was a Leprechaun.  Suddenly, a rainbow appeared leading from home plate to where is anyone’s guess, but if you ever found out then you would find the ball that gave McAllister the lead at the bottom of that magical 7th inning.  We had never before seen anything as beautiful as that long ball, a mile and a half in the air, but following the arc of that fading rainbow into the night sky.  The next day on the news they reported a meteor shower thirty minutes north in Moshannon, but only us in McAllister knew that wasn’t no meteor shower, but “Astronaut” Rick Manley’s home run ball returning back to earth with the chunks it knocked off the moon.  It was all turning around. 

The 8th was the inning of the fight.  Not since World War II has there been a fight as great or justified as the fight at the top of the 8th inning that magical night.  It all started with one out and a runner at second. 

Now, remember that Ephraim Morley, manager of the evil Gallitzin Gallants is a well-known Satan worshipper and most likely a Lutheran too.  Well he must have done something to the base line between second and third when he was out “inspecting” the dirt between innings.  The general consensus was that he had laid down a series of symbols, which allowed for teleportation between them.  It wasn’t any more farfetched than anything that had happened so far and his people have been known to do that kind of thing, devil worshippers I mean, not Lutherans, although I wouldn’t know anything about that.  Like I said, there was one out and Jitterbug Sparks on second, well Jitterbug kept creepin’ down the third base line with each pitch while Bo Riley watched him out of the corner of his eye, like a cat stalking a mouse.  Then suddenly, bam!  He tosses the pickoff throw to second and Jitterbug Sparks was in a hell of a pickle halfway between third and second and not a sliver of daylight to be found between the two fast approaching Muckdogs.  We all jumped to our feet, positive that was gonna be it, but somehow, probably, like I said using black magic he was able to teleport behind Ace Maverick and all the way over to third.  We all cried foul, we knew what Jitterbug done was impossible and the umpires must have known it too, but that’s the problem with umpires, they’re all walking rulebooks and because it don’t say in the rulebook you can’t teleport then that means you can, from a technical standpoint at least.  Now that it’s been done though I suspect it’s only a matter of time before those jokers in the American League start teleporting pitchers from the bullpen right on to the mound.  It was bad enough that those damn Gallants had used black magic on us again, but what they did next really crossed the line.  With our infield moved in they knew we were gonna try and stop the run from scoring, so they brought in “The Freight Train” to pinch run for Jitterbug.  Now the only reason they would bring in an eight foot, seven-hundred-pound mountain of a man is to inflict pain, everyone knew they were gonna have “The Freight Train” run over “Slithern’” Sal Salvatore if he tried to tag him out.  What nobody knew was “The Freight Train’s” real name, what we did know about him is that there is a cult of witches living out in the Black Forest and they summoned him from the pits of hell, and he is so mean that all he did in return for them bringing him out of there is eat all them witches on the spot, and if you go to the Black Forest at night you can still hear their ghosts screaming in agony.  Well, Sal must have known what was gonna happen, but we all give him all the credit in the world, because he didn’t hardly flinch when “The Freight Train” barreled into him the next time the ball was put in play.  If you go down to McAllister Park even now you can still see the indentation where Sal’s body hit the dirt.  That alone wasn’t enough to start a fight though, but when the umpire had the audacity to call “The Freight Train” safe, well that done it.  The dugout’s cleared and the stands might have too if we could have seen exactly what was going on, because the dirt got kicked up something fierce and you could hardly tell who was hitting who.  By the time the dust settled Butch “Big Hoss” Brody and “The Freight Train” were each ejected with bloody noses while that evil mastermind Ephraim Morley chuckled from the top of his dugout, not a speck of dust offended his crisp white uniform. 

With McAllister now down by a run and Butch Brody, the greatest Muckdogs manager ever, dragged kicking and screaming from the game things were looking dire again.  Then there was a slight sliver of sunlight at the darkest moment imaginable, and I mean that last part literally.  We had the tying run in scoring position in Flip “Frogger” Henson at second base.  Flip was called “Frogger” because he belched like a great big bull frog, he had a big long tongue like a great big bull frog and he was covered in warts like a great big bull frog, but the one aspect of a bull frog he could never claim was jumping like a great big bull frog, until that night.  There is no more exciting play than a steal of home base, and it’s very rarely done because it’s the trickiest, most daring thing to do.  Well, like I said Flip “Frogger” Henson was at second, no lead or nothing, and Tristian Humperdinck was going into his wind up when suddenly, the lights went out, all of them.  It started with the moon, what is called a lunar eclipse, then the stadium lights flashed off for but a few seconds and when the moon came uncovered and the lights flashed back on Flip “Frogger” Henson was standing there at home plate, a big ol’ bull frog smile stretched across his face.  Well Ephraim Morley come a runnin’ out of his dugout swore up and down that there was no way in hell or high water that Flip could have run around third to get home in that couple of seconds (it didn’t help Flip’s case that he also happened to be fat like a great big bull frog) and he must have taken a shortcut through the infield grass.  Well everyone in the stands knew how he done it, because we could see his shadowy silhouette jumping from second to third to home, just like a great big bullfrog.  I’m sure that the umpires must have seen it too, but Ephraim Morley started twirling that great big silver pocket watch of his and we could all see the umpires eyes get all glassy, and we knew that it was no good, Ephraim Morley the devil worshipping, Lutheran dog beater himself had already cast the spell of hypnosis over the umpire – who called Flip out at home to end the inning.  If only Butch Brody had been there he would never have let old Ephraim Morley hypnotize the umpire like that, but alas, all we could do was put our hands in our heads and pray for a miracle. 

“Why is everyone sad?” Little Tommy Wiggins asked, looking up at his father.  “There only down a run.” 

“That’s right son.”  Said Bill Wiggins, wearing that pitying little smile that all fathers must wear when facing the misplaced optimism of their children.  “Still plenty of time to right the ship.” 

I bowed my own head, remembering how much easier it was as a child, to put your faith into something, and how much harder it was, consequently, to face up to reality.  I only hoped that Little Tommy Wiggins could learn this lesson another night, to have one more day of childhood.  It was obvious that everyone seated in our section was in the pre mourning phase, replaying in their own heads the first time their faith was crushed, and the bitter aftermath, it is something the die-hard fans of any losing franchise must learn to do, it softens the blow.

Bo Riley must have been reliving bitter disappointment too, his warm-up pitches were little more than placid lobs, he felt it and we all did too.  It was then, as the first Gallitzin Gallant stepped up to the plate, that the almost universal poison of defeatism which hung over the stadium like the shadowy specter of death it’s self would be whisked away by the words of a child. 

Little Tommy Wiggins, sensing all the negative energy, refused to embrace it as only a child can and stood defiantly atop his seat and took in a deep, calculated breath of air and shouted down to the slumping Bo Riley atop the mound “Hey! All you have to do is strike them out!” Bo Riley looked up, shell shocked, his face blank as though the thought that it could be so simple had never occurred to him, and then he gave little Tommy Wiggins a nod, wound-up and blew a 110 mph heater past a stunned looking Oak Harrell.  Bo Riley preceded to set the rest of the side down 1-2-3, with only nine pitches, what’s known as an immaculate inning.  We all rose as one as Bo Riley walked off the field amongst a tremulous roar of approval. 

“I’m sorry I yelled daddy.”  Said Little Tommy Wiggins, bashfully, as the crowd erupted from their seats. 

“That’s alright son.”  Replied Bill Wiggins with tears rolling down his face.  “You have daddy’s permission to yell whenever you want.”  The innocent words of a child had righted the ship. 

There was still the bottom of the ninth to deal with though, and the park was so quite when Bo Riley came up to bat with two outs and the bases loaded that you could hear the collective heartbeat of the town, beating in unison with the thudding in Bo Riley’s chest.  This was it, the old order vs. the new, the no good devil worshipping cheaters vs. the good old boys, Humperdinck vs. Riley.  Even the man on the moon opened his eyelids, just a crack for not even all the wars in Europe or the dragons in China or the Northern Lights in the artic had been sufficient cause to peak down, but that one magical night in Central Pennsylvania, with the count 3-2, had been deemed worthy of a look.  That at bat lasted forever, I don’t know exactly how many pitches, I don’t think anybody was keeping track, foul balls pelted the stands as Riley fought off Humperdinck’s whirling screwball which swirled so hard that it created little dust devils on the field.  The two gladiators stared each other down, sweat dripping from their faces and crystalizing as they hit the dirt, that’s how heavy and tense the air had become.  I remember cringing at each crack of the bat, how I nearly fainted from the pressure, how I wanted nothing more than for it to be over, but knowing all the while at the outcome my heart would either rise into the air, popping from out the top of my skull, or else sink down into ground, sliding slowly through the soles of my feet.  I would give anything to go back to that moment now, the moment before Bo Riley cracked that ball out of the stratosphere, and the Muckdogs pulled off the most magical moment in McAllister history. 

We swarmed the field, a wave of pure energy, we had beat those devil worshipping sons of bitches, we had finally turned everything around, there was a sense of excitement in the air, things had finally started to change.  No one wanted to leave the parking lot that night, we stayed awake until the sun crept up again, bringing with it a harsh glow that illuminated the rusted cars that littered the parking lot and the drained faces of the revelers.  Then we all sort of stood up and returned to our ordinary jobs, families and lives.  We had made plans that night to carpool to Harrisburg for the championship game.  The McAllister Muckdogs did make the playoffs that year, losing in the first round to an unknown team across the state line in West Virginia, crushing all hopes of the long awaited re-match in the final.

 Bo Riley left after that year, taking that offer and becoming a career farm hand in the Yankee’s system, never quite able to turn that final corner.  I’ve gone to every Muckdogs game since, and we’ve had good wins, great wins and plenty of them but none could compare to the magic of that night.  But that’s the thing, those magical moments are magical because their fleeting, they’re hidden in the pages of novels, but they’re not the novel.  That moment was as fleeting as the smile shared between those of us who attended the game that night, a brief recognition of a short moment when things were special, followed by a sad pensive look at the ground, a look of mourning for what had been, but that’s just the way it is when you leave all your magical moments to things outside your control, when you put them in the hands of others, or the hands of fate. 


© Copyright 2018 Orin Rook. All rights reserved.

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