Gail grunted and slammed two clinched fists down against the metal bleacher. The lady to her right, bouncing a toddler in her lap, shifted several inches away. Gail noticed the lady’s subtle movement and then realized the older couple who once sat to her left had never returned from the concession stand.
That was nearly two innings ago, Gail thought. She almost turned to scan for the missing pair but inside the chain-link fence her son had started his wind-up. He brought his left knee to his chest, paused, and then rushed forward with his lanky leg, his shoulders, his long arm, and a fastball the batter never saw.
The pitch popped the catcher’s mitt. Strike three, Gail thought.
“Ball four,” yelled the umpire.
Gail grunted even louder and stomped both feet onto the metal below. Tremors reverberated through the bleachers. The lady with the toddler once again slid for safety.
I won’t apologize for being passionate, thought Gail. Some people have it, some people don’t. Even though her son never looked at her while he played, she knew he had it too, that’s why he was on the mound for such a big game.
Gail intensified her glare on the thin man in the navy pants and sky blue shirt adjusting his mask behind the plate. Umpires. For Gail, Blue had long been a four-letter word.
“C’mon Ump, open your eyes please,” she yelled. Gail held her own glasses toward the fence. “You can borrow my specs if you need them Blue, but I don’t think the prescription is strong enough.” A group of teens on the first row snickered.
The man in blue readied himself for the new batter and her son’s next pitch. Unlike most umps, he hadn’t given her the first verbal warning or even shot a quick stare toward the stands after one of her biting remarks. So he must know I’m right, Gail thought. He must know he’s terrible.
Her son let loose another buzzing fastball.
“Low, ball one,” said the umpire.
“C’mon Blue!” Gail yelled. “Even from back here that was a strike. Wake up and join the game please!”
The umpire faltered again on the next two pitches and Gail made sure he knew.
Finally, the opposing batter grounded into the inning’s last out. The home team jogged toward the dugout down by two runs, but Gail couldn’t relax, her son was now scheduled to bat.
She stood and scanned the distant concession area. Sure enough, Gail’s husband watched the game from his usual spot on the sidewalk. She whistled loudly and pointed toward the field, worried he’d chat his way through another of their son’s at bats. He gave a nonchalant wave and resumed his small talk with the older couple who had once sat beside her.
Gail huffed, spun, and plopped back onto the bleacher.
And then she shrieked, startled by the figure sitting close…so very close, where just a moment ago no one had been.
The man in blue removed his protective mask. Sweat glimmered on his face.
“Good day for baseball, isn’t it?” said the umpire. Gail nodded nervously. Umpires don’t come into the stands. Was he there to eject her from the game? She felt the stares of the entire crowd.
The man in blue grinned beneath soft grey eyes. “I was just checking to see if the view of the strike zone was better from way back here…like you said. But I think it’s still better from behind the plate, what do you think?”
Gail nodded and stuttered in agreement.
“Well, three more innings to play,” said the umpire. “I really should get back to work.” He leaned in closer as if to whisper. “And that son of yours is one talented pitcher, but I think he’d do much better if he wasn’t so distracted…by someone who keeps yelling from the stands.”
Gail’s heart sunk. The man in blue had simply called it like he saw it.
Silently, she watched the umpire slip through the gate and back onto the field. He hunched behind the plate as Gail’s son stepped into the batter’s box. The opposing pitcher’s looping curveball landed in the catcher’s mitt.
“Strike one,” yelled the umpire.
Every head in the bleachers turned Gail’s direction. She held back the rising words and searched for something positive to say.
“Good call Blue,” was all that eventually came out. And it sounded genuine, she thought…even though the lousy pitch had been a mile outside.
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