The Utility Player, Chapter 6

“I’m coming to bat with the bases loaded,” said the up to the friendly catcher, who had asked how he was doing. The friendly catcher smiled warmly. The umpire added, “And there aren’t any outs, so, no pressure.”

Indeed, the up swung at the first pitch and made contact. Something happened with the ball in the vicinity of third base. He didn’t see it. He was running full-out towards first, where he arrived with no throw.

“So it was a hit,” his wife later interpreted.

“I made contact,” the up was willing to avow. He did not want to cheapen his making-contact by claiming more for it than what it was. Still: “That was clutch,” at least one of his teammates said.

So the up feels pretty good about life. His team went on to win the game, despite many fielding errors which require no elaboration since none of them were made by him. The up actually played only one inning, the last, in right, where he chanted “Hit it to me” and “Go flat out Marko!” over and over but could not will the ball into being lofted towards him.

He did see, however, see bullpen action, which brought him joy. Squatting was blissful; putting his mitt up for a target and then letting it dip momentarily as he has seen major league catchers do: uggggggggggghhhhh. And then catching the warm-up pitch in the webbing: unnnnnnnnnnnnnnhhhhhhhh.

Oh yeah. He got a steak after the game. Victory steak. Then he planted corn, pumpkins and beans in his backyard after sharing a beer with his wife. This is more properly the domain of the up’s alterna-self, the mushroom farmer, so let’s adhere to that distinction. Meanwhile, I have some other things to tell you in the 10 minutes remaining before I have to get ready to ride my bike to school for the first day of in-person school since March 13, 2020.

For example, what books to take with me? The Laura Dassow Walls biography of Thoreau; the Emily Wilson translation of The Odyssey. It’s going to be a long day with no students and not much to do except adhere to whatever today’s policy is determined to be by whomever is requiring the adherence. No fighting and also no flouting of regulations, not on the first day back. I also have my back-up drum kit at school to assemble, so it ought to be a reasonably things-to-do-filled day if you also include going door-to-door campaigning for Dean of Students, which I also want to do.

But enough about me! Did I mention that the day before the game where he made contact with the bases loaded and warmed up a guy in the bullpen, the up had played Wiffle ball with his pal Wilson down at Slippery Hog Park? Oh yes. And if you’re like, okay, we get it, the up loves playing baseball, any scrap of baseball activity is enough to get him moaning — I hear you.

And, check it out: Wilson is warming up to play doubles when the up saunters onto the court and says, “Let one of these other guys play tennis, we’ve got Wiffle ball to play.” Sure enough, Wilson is down! Can you imagine? A grown man actually walking away from playing a friendly game of doubles in order to play Wiffle ball with the up. Yes. It happened. I was there. I saw it.

Slippery Hog Park over there in unincorporated LA County, South of Slauson, just a hair north of Inglewood — that is the perfect setting for any activity wherein the participants would like to feel blessed. It has been said that the park fits into the cupped hands of a benevolent God and this certainly held true during the up’s visit the other day.

There is an amphitheater next to the tennis courts, typically occupied by dance squads, but on this day there was just a guy experiencing homelessness, standing stooped over his belongings in a shopping cart. The up tactfully set up the trash barrel used as umpire a goodly ways away from that guy, to protect him from foul balls.

The amphitheater looks out on fanning-out rows of benches, each beckoning “Home run, home run!” If the up ever experiences homelessness, he is heading directly to Slippery Hog Park to set up residence beneath one of those benches. He visually scanned for sleeping bags and belongings out there in the audience, saw none, and commenced game on with Wilson.

I believe that we have recorded elsewhere that the up has finally assumed a semblance of control over his Wiffle pitching after 50 years of struggle. Suffice it therefore to say here that he was painting the outside corner with his curve. Wilson exclaimed on more than one occasion, “You’re doggin’ me!”

The up could only laugh the pure mountain stream laugh of someone having the time of his life. For good joy-sharing, Wilson later connected for a dinger and won fair and square, so both could laugh and let’s end it here with Wilson avowing, “I really like playing with you.”

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