brewers baseball and things


the umpires who chewed gum

She woke to AM talk radio every morning, before the sunrise, in total darkness. She woke to words of a war in a faraway land, car crashes and four-alarm fires. “Redhead” Radcliffe took a few deep breaths, but rather than relax her, she felt annoyed at the life she’d chosen or rather, the life her father had chosen for her – work at the feather shop, the arranged marriage, a devoted husband, and two kids.

She raised her arms and stepped out of bed or tried to, but the realization that she had never exercised her own free will was overwhelming. She slipped back under the covers and longed for something different, something not so tuned to her father’s vision.

She switched the radio to FM, to classic jazz and though she didn’t know the names of bands or songs, the bass and hi-hat sounds ignited a daydream. She would have no husband or children and there would be no job at the feather shop. Instead she would work at a warehouse picking orders with fellow “clock watchers,” as the boss called them because they had the habit of staring at the clock hanging from the wall. It would be no Big Ben, but it would still inspire dreams, of the hands moving faster, to bring the day to an end, but those hands would move slower than molasses and time, in the minds of the “clock watchers,” would became a tyrant, one with no remorse. It would always win.

The warehouse would have no windows and when the boss wasn’t spying from his second floor office, the workers would talk, none more than the oldest employee – Lockhead McDade. He would talk to Redhead Radcliffe about centipedes and global warming and then talk some more during their 15-minute break, at lunch, and insist on walking with her after work.

Lockhead would exaggerate his gait on the way home, doing what he called the “silly” walk, longer strides than usual, a nice rhythm, thought Redhead, a seductive one. The two would walk side-by-side.

Lockhead would invite “Redhead” Radcliffe to dinner and she was free, had no husband, no kids and so she would accept. It would be a small, one-bedroom apartment and they would eat salmon and pasta and Lockhead would flip on the TV, to watch a baseball game, all of it brand new to Redhead. She would have never seen a baseball game before.

“You see the way the pitcher tries to outsmart the batter,” Lockhead would explain, “a quick pitch, his change of speeds, but the batter gets his chance in this duel. You’ll soon see the way he calls time and steps out of the box to upset the timing of the pitcher.”

And then Lockead would finish his salmon , stand up and declare that he was born between Shakespeare and Hitler, in April, around opening day and…

“so what if the average fan is 57 years old, there’s no need to speed up the game. Leave it be. Let the empire known as baseball run its course like the Roman, the Inca and the endless others. Let it fade away. There will still be games, maybe not MLB games, but people will play all over the world and not a penny will be earned. Yes, people will wear mitts and hold bats and there will be championships and scouts and pine tar incidents and foul poles and if stadiums are destroyed to make room for expensive condos, baseball fans will transform old junk yards into diamonds and they will toss and swat anywhere there is grass and dirt, even on pavement and at the base of mountains and on top of buildings and to the hell with instant replay and robot umps. Let pitchers and players adjust to the imperfection. There are cracks in tombstones, the names no longer legible.”

Lockhead, apparently done with his speech, would then walk Redhead to the door and ask her to leave, but rather than upset Redhead, she would welcome his unpredictability. And the next day at work, Lockhead would stomp up the metal stairs to the boss’s watch tower office and Redhead and the others workers would watch as Lockhead tied the boss to his chair, turned off the light and slammed the door. He would then stomp down the metal stairs, three steps at a time, back to the “clock watchers.”

“Any ball that hits the roof is an automatic double,” he would announce. “The home run wall is obvious, the rack in the back. We’ll use cardboard as bases. This will be warehouse ball and we have plenty of players, more than enough for managers and four of us to be umpires and we will call balls and strikes and declare fair and foul and we will chew gum to welcome managers and players to argue with us.”

And before first pitch, old Lockhead would walk to the wall, unhinge the clock and remove the batteries.