I knew him as Pie and didn’t care too much about his real name because his family name was Kepinger and that reminded me of Kessinger, not Kissinger, the political guy, but Kessinger, – Don Kessinger, the White Sox player-manager in 1979 and where did player-managers go and what happened to the word hankering? I miss my grandfather.
Pie stood on third base looking like a virgin at 13th and Walnut – lost. He said he was guarding the line, “to prevent a double.” It wasn’t very convincing because Pie was facing the pitcher, not the batter and standing straight up looking at the sky, not really ready for a sharply hit ground ball.
I liked Pie. When everyone else dressed as an axe murderer or a skeleton for Halloween, Pie wore a brown monk’s robe, learned a few prayers and said them after receiving a Three Musketeers bar, but not for any other candy, only the Three Musketeers and we never knew why and this pissed off a lot of people, but not me.
I had heard of some empathy trick that if you collect a strand of someone’s clothing, from a shirt, pants, or socks and place the strand in a drawer with a pair of eyeglasses, you could reach Maximum Empathy Realization or MER as the psycho-scientists liked to call it.
And so I sat beside Pie in the dugout and put my arm on his shoulder and better than a strand of clothing, I got a strand of his hair and I bought pair of reading glasses at Fitzgerald’s Pharmacy and set the items in a drawer and as sure as a ghost, the next day I shrunk, as small as a blade of grass and slipped into Pie’s ear. But I didn’t stay small for long because there was room inside Pie’s mind. It looked like miles and miles of virgin forest and I figured that’s what experts were hinting at when they said we only use a small percentage of our brain. I was suddenly seated on a park bench inside Pie’s mind watching his thoughts fly by like the ticker tape trailing behind a small plane with messages – “should i pick up dirt and rub it in my hands? should I carefully drop three small stones on the base I’m standing on in some prehistoric superstitious ritual to turn the tide? Should I have not washed my game jersey? Should I scratch my crotch? Should I lean over, glove on the ground, flip my shades down, talk to the pitcher? Say something enthusiastic? Insult the batter?
It looked and sounded painful for Pie, the anxiety lullaby roaring on…
I eventually stood up from the park bench and exited where I had entered – Pie’s left ear and asked him why he was on the team and he said it had always been this way when it came to baseball and it all started with his father. Bastard never took Pie to a game and they lived walking distance from old Tiger Stadium so he missed the 35-5 start in 1984 and he never got to see Milt Wilcox labor or the batting stance of Johnny Grubb.
“We never played catch. He never bought me a pack of cards. He stuck me on this team. Dad likes it when I’m uncomfortable, out of my element,” admitted Pie.
A sick joke I thought, a cruel father, and that’s what made it such a miracle when exactly 90 days before Halloween, Pie crowded the plate and waved his bat like Carney Lansford, so eager, ready for the day like a rooster and Pie bunted down the third base line and it was a beauty, trickling along and stopping still and silent on the chalk. Pie stood and stared at the ball and when we all screamed for him to “go go go,” he looked at me and rolled his fingers towards himself, a sign for me to follow him so I did, along the left field foul line, all the way to the fence and over the fence and up the small hill to the railroad tracks, angling in both directions and all Pie said to me was “a martian made me do it” and I thought about that strand of his hair and the eye glasses and the bunt and the martian and nothing really mattered anymore. It all felt like some strange riddle that could never be solved.
Seeing Pie disappear over those tracks and down the hill hit me in the gut. Time was running out. School was starting in three weeks and I had to do it. I had been thinking about it for years, hankering for it, and the three weeks passed slow, but that first day of school arrived and I did it – I signed up for band and started learning how to play the tuba and with every sound I managed to make, I thought, we’ll see where this all goes….