A 600-Foot Can of Corn

People have told me that the air conditioning at my job is too cold. I guess the people wearing sweaters and blankets and drinking hot chocolate in July should have tipped me off. I don’t care. I think it feels great. My office is so cold you could hang meat in it.

So when the time came Sunday for my old men’s hardball team to take the field, let’s just say I wasn’t quite acclimated. Before games when I know it’s going to be hot, I drink a lot of water the night before and usually wake up feeling pretty good. But as soon as I got to the ballpark Sunday and took a few practice swings, I was sweating and breathing hard.

Week after week, our manager gets to the park before anyone. No matter which field we play on, he’s got a favorite side and he stakes a bench claim by plopping down a sack of batting helmets as soon as he arrives. At Sunday’s ballpark, he picked the bench that sat directly in the sun, with zero chance of any shade whatsoever. The other team and its fans nestled into the third-base bench, protected by tall trees and a thick, overgrown woodsy area.

I went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. I don’t remember the last time I whiffed twice in one game. The first strikeout, I was completely fooled on a breaking ball. The second strikeout, with two on and two out, the pitcher got me on a check swing that would’ve been ball four. The two balls I did hit were both off the fists. Nothing left the infield. The humidity sapped every bit of strength I had.

I played mostly first base, a position I’m not really built for. Too short and right handed. I like it, though. I learned some first-base footwork from a guy a long time ago and I’ve always kind of enjoyed it.

Our starting pitcher found his mojo in the second inning, after a four-run first. The manager told me he was going to use me as a bridge between the starter and the closer. Fine by me. I’ve been getting fewer and fewer pitching innings over the past weeks. I can feel the manager losing confidence in me, week after week. I got roughed up in a night game about a month ago and am slowly sliding down the chart.

Still, though, he gave me the ball in the sixth and seventh innings. I “warmed up” and was throwing too high. Next thing, balls were in the dirt. Eventually, I settled in, though not before allowing a couple runners.

Their shortstop  came to the plate against me in the seventh. He’s already shown both teams he can hit. He cranked a double in the second inning and boohooed that interfered with him at first base. I probably did, but not because I was trying to cost him a base. It’s because I stood there admiring his extra base hit, forgetting that I was right in his base path. He had a few words for me and was clearly angry.

Whatever, guy. I made a note to buzz him from the mound if the situation presented itself. I didn’t want to hit him, just make him move his feet a little.

By the time he came to the plate with me on the mound, there wasn’t much room for buzzing hitters or sending messages. We were down five runs, still in the game, but not in much position to waste pitches or outs.

So I fired my best fastball to him, low and away, and he sent it soaring over everyone’s head to straightaway center field. The ball was hit as hard as anyone has hit a ball off me in my years as a pitcher. Just absolutely smoked.

Tom the center fielder turned his back and ran as hard as he could. He reached out, stretching his glove arm and I heard the umpire proclaim, “we have a catch! batter’s out!”

The catch of the year. As the obnoxious batter made his angry turn toward his own bench, I might’ve yelled at him, “can of corn!” As if the catch were routine and that I’d gotten him to do exactly what I wanted him to.

Final score, them 11, us 7. Coulda been worse.

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