Jim waited for the sign.
He concentrated. He visualized the ball, spinning, driving a bee-line straight through the air and then tapering off, twisting just outside as it reached the plate.
Then he heaved it.
The batter swung and missed. The batter, six foot five and burly-strong, dropped his bat-head on the ground and stared hard at Jim, practically snarling. Jim caught the ball, turned his back and worked the ball into his glove.
He touched the cross on his neck and glanced up.
Jim took a breath. He turned, looked for the sign and almost smiled when he saw one finger, straight down. The catcher set up inside, slightly high, the perfect jamming position.
Jim wound up and wondered why his wife came home so late last night. He threw a blazer high and inside, but far too inside. The hitter jumped back.
"Ball!" called the ump.
The batter's eyes bored holes. Jim once again turned his back.
He remembered their fight the previous night, about her job. How she was constantly tired. How she was never home.
Three fingers. Changeup. Jim considered shaking him off. He really wanted to blow one past this guy, but he'd learned to trust his catcher. His catcher was practically ancient, a veteran. Jim knew enough to listen.
Jim wound up strong, but then suddenly dropped the speed. The batter swung and missed badly.
Jim glanced at the furious hitter. He adjusted his hat.
So why did his wife need to work at all? They didn't have kids; if she'd come to the game they could go out afterward, maybe hit a club or two.
He wondered what to do.
Jim stared at his catcher. He was thinking fastball, but his catcher flashed slider. Jim nearly shook him off. A slider? He wanted to blow it past this guy. He hesitated, but then nodded. One thing he'd learned was that an experienced catcher could make you look brilliant.
Jim stared, challenging the hitter, daring him to hit his heat. Then he pitched.
The hitter reeled up, striding into a power swing, but then saw too late what was happening. He lunged for the ball, looking foolish, tipping it, barely.
Jim liked his catcher. He trusted his catcher. He knew his catcher wouldn't let him down.
Not like his wife.
Jim waited patiently.
Four fingers. Curve. Curve? Why now?
Trust, he told himself. Trust.
Jim wound up and wondered if he really could trust his wife.
He heaved it.
His catcher dove to stop it.
Enough! Jim thought. Concentrate.
The batter was staring smugly up at him. His demeanor screamed arrogance.
Jim gazed at his catcher, waiting. One Finger. Fastball. About time.
Jim touched his cross, then started his windup.
Jim wondered why he'd married her in the first place. Maybe he would have been better off with someone else. Maybe it wasn't too late....
He threw it hard. The ball sailed, chest high then higher. The catcher jumped to catch it.
What the heck was he doing? Stupid. Just stupid!
He scanned the stands. His wife wouldn't be there. She was working late again. He picked up the rosin bag and threw it to the ground. He wondered if he even loved her.
He shook his head. Enough, he thought. Enough.
Jim touched his cross and emptied his mind.
He gazed at his catcher and waited for the sign. The batter looked evil, like the devil himself. Jim was ready to blow it past him, blow it straight down the middle of the plate, right past him.
The catcher flashed three fingers. Changeup. Nuts.
Jim considered it, rubbed the ball, and considered it again. No. Not this time. He was tired of this, tired of his wife never being home, tired of everything. He wanted to burn this demon, here and now. He wanted to show who was boss.
Jim shook his head.
The catcher flashed the sign again. Changeup.
Jim stared at him. He wanted to scream. He shook his head again.
The catcher shrugged. He put one finger down. Jim grinned.
Jim wound up. He wondered...he wondered if his wife was cheating on him this very minute. He heaved the ball furiously, blazing it straight down the middle, and the batter swung.
As Jim watched the ball soaring high into the centerfield bleachers, he glanced up to the heavens. He shook his head, and despite himself, smiled.
"Okay," he said. "I'll listen."
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