The pre-game, pagan circus show starring Loretta Le Croix and her swordfish swim did nothing to change the fortunes of the Catchemcan Cannonballs, pride of southwest Kentucky…..nor did Nathan Leopold’s cave man chants while tiptoeing across red hot coals. There were vodka screwdriver giveaways, replica baseball player doll days. Nothing worked. The Cannonballs kept losing, but there were crowds….oh, there were big crowds and not only baseball fans. Preachers came and so did cops and peddlers and tinkers and thieves and they all shared cold feet and straight-faced jaws of indifference.
Manager Billy Oppenheimer loved to sleep, so much that he installed a bed in the dugout and caught some zeeee’s between innings, insisting that his dreams would solve the riddle of “incessant losing.” He woulda been fired too if he hadn’t a been a local boy, born and raised in Catchemcan. Local pundits said this aroused pride in folks who were so weighed down by all the abandoned coal mines, poverty, begging on the street, and the revival of hoovervilles.
The skipper’s bed became the hunchback good luck charm of players, specifically relief pitchers, not so much to right the ship-to win, but to ensure a steady flow of whisky in the bullpen. There were bootleggers back there, disguised as law-abiding citizens and they slipped them relievers dark jugs of moonshine whisky. The onlookers, those feisty local prohibition police came closer.
“What’s you got inside the jug?” they asked “We run a peaceful operation here! It’s a break, ya know, a little baseball medicine, for the residents.”
“Nothing but molasses,” promised “Tender Legs” McGoo, the closer. “Good for our pitching hands. Gives us a better grip.”
“Doesn’t seem to do you a lick of good. Can’t win a damn game, but alright then,” surrendered Johnny Law, not too interested in investigating the situation any more, preferring the breeze and daydreaming about their honey’s pot roast later that night.
The relief pitchers typically sipped the moonshine, giving them a slight attitude adjustment when they entered the game which was often and they were good, real good, about the only good thing the team had, in terms of statistics anyway….hadn’t given up a run in sixty three innings. Those damn starters walked the clean-up hitter, the nine hole, the third string catcher. They couldn’t hit an ocean with a beach ball….couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning and the game was already over by then. But those fans stayed, them and their cold feet and straight-faced jaws of indifference.
Well, one day them relievers drank moonshine all game long and in gulps too, out of nerves. you see, there was a perfect game going on, as rare as a toilet in a farm field for a Catchemcan starting pitcher and so not one of them relievers was summoned and they kept drinking and they passed out in the pen and never did find out if the perfect game happened. They woke up with a hangover, a headache worse than a heartache and they did what any right-minded citizen would do, they drank some more to revive the previous night’s feeling and after a few gulps the feeling was even better than the original drunk high.
They danced across the outfield grass as the position players performed stretches and played long toss in preparation for the new day’s game, them relievers still in the dark about that perfect game and with every dance step, they stopped caring about perfection. Once those players caught sight of the dance, they stopped and danced too and the manager, that snoring Billy Oppenheimer arose from the dead bed and declared that he would wake up early from then on and that practice would begin before dawn.
Didn’t matter if it was a day or night game….they were all to report to Billy Oppenheimer’s bedside before that sun crawled up the horizon and well it didn’t do a damn thing for the team’s won loss record, but that “crazy walking” as the newspaper coined the dancing, slipped into the umpire’s shoes and ushers too and police men and the organ player and the dancing never stopped, long after the game, into the streets and the bars and the zoo …..yes even the animals got into it as well as break rooms of banks, the schoolyard, the prayer people under the moon, painters of the water tower, and the dogs loitering beside the lagoon.
there was the side-step, the cradle launch, the bugaboo and whatever other dances the Catchecan folks and dogs and other animals felt like doing… fish started jumping too…
October 2, 2022 at 11:18 am
There’s a magical realism here, and with all your writing. I feel transported to a different world, in lots of ways the same as ours, but with some magical twist. And all your characters seem to have a tinge of the magical too, and a bit of the outcast. My kind of people.
October 2, 2022 at 4:32 pm
Excellent! Great to hear that you connect to the characters. Thanks for the feedback Bob.
October 2, 2022 at 11:39 am
I agree with Bob. Reading this felt a little bit like being inside one of Billy Oppenheimer’s dreams. (By the way, I think some big-league skippers should try napping during games and letting their thought-dreams, as Bob Dylan called it, do the work for them).
Your fiction about minor-league ball in eastern Kentucky isn’t too different from fact. The Harlan Smokies had a minor-league club for a while. Denny McLain began his pro career there when it was a White Sox farm in the Appalachian League. In his book “Nobody’s Perfect,” McLain recalled arriving in Harlan for the first time: “I checked into the only downtown hotel. There, Cecil Perkins, my first roommate, and I examined the contents. Two beds. A sink. No bathroom. But it was professional baseball, and, by God, I was a part of it. My manager was Ira Hutchinson. He tried to teach me how to throw a curve, but quickly gave up. My professional baseball debut came on the night of June 28, 1962, against Salem. I had super smoke. It was quite a debut. I struck out 16 and didn’t allow a hit.”
October 2, 2022 at 4:46 pm
Thanks Mark. That’s one Dylan lyric I remember, the one about if his thought dreams were real, they’d put his head inside a guillotine or something like that. Great line. They kind of do that with managers these days. Quick to fire them. Wouldn’t you say that in the old days managers were kept around a lot longer? I was shocked when the Cards fired Mike Shildt who as I understand it had been in the organization for many years and been pretty successful as their manager, but it turned out well for the Cards. I wouldn’t want to face them in the playoffs this year.
Thanks for the wonderful Harlan Smokies anecdote. I had never heard of them and great quotes by Denny McLain. What a life he’s had!