Chapter 2

“Another one?”

Royce nodded.

“What inning is it?”

A crackle of peanuts at the bottom of his shoe informed others it was his own 7th inning stretch.  The din of clanking glasses lulled Royce into an awaken stupor; as he sipped blindly from his muggy highball.

It was baseball day.  Tuesdays were an off-day for football in 49er country. No Joe Montana long-bombs to faux Jerry Rice jumps.  No Ronnie Lott impressions after each interception, sans pinkie sacrifices.  There were only a handful of baseball purists, and Royce was its perpetual king.  Playing baseball in the heart of the City meant “baseball” day was relegated to the hours right after the school bell rang at 3 p.m. to when the church rector closed the gates to the private school’s playground.

Royce’s school, an oasis of quiet solitude hushed by an L-shaped row of one-story classrooms, and painted white chalk lines bordering the field of dreams of hard blacktop. The rectory for the nuns jutted achingly in front of the open blacktop, and the 2-story hall used by the church and school sat menacingly over it.  Yet, there was enough open space to throw a football in front of the principal’s office down to the hall and call it a classic Montana-Rice “Hail Mary”.  Again, it was baseball day.

The church hall acted as Royce’s own version of Fenway Park’s “Green Monster”. He still remembers launching a high fastball to the roof of the Monster, still his arching achievement in his 2-year career of after-school baseball.  It was his love.  Of course, with any passionate affair, there were consequences. He had promised so many times to his grandmother to be home right after school, but the allure of pounding that Wilson tennis ball in the inside corner and seeing his baseball brethren whiff always destroyed his promises.

This day was special.  The bell had just rung and the throng of Royce’s classmates bolted out the 20-foot retractable fence that guarded the school from the 10th Street traffic.   He HAD to be home by 4 p.m.  His band of brothers gathered below the Hall and recounted how they were going to drop the hammer and blast a homer to the roof of the Monster. Among the five, Royce rather pitch than hit, and it was their last “game” of the year.  Royce drew shortest straw, which meant he was pitching.  That 4 p.m. home curfew was looking impossible.  Again, he wasn’t going to miss his spot in the rotation; passion an omnipresent drug of his life.

Chris was the first batter. He always looked for the slider. It was funny. Pitching with a tennis ball.  This anomaly never seemed unnatural to the crew. If anything, when they picked up a real baseball to play catch with, it didn’t seem right. Ghetto ball at its finest.

“You ready?” Royce yelled. Patrick and Frank rounded out the outfield, right in front of the Monster, while John manned both catching and umpiring duties.

“Hold on!” as Chris motioned the mini-Giants bat he got at one of the promotional nights at the ‘Stick.  The bat mimicked a real Louisville Slugger, but give or take half its length.

Chris tapped the blacktop with 3 taps, as he hunched over, because the bat was so short.  As he glared down Royce, a sign he was ready, Chris’s butt hung out for maximum coil.  Royce summoned his best Dave Dravecky impression and placed his mitt over his knee while his pitching hand disappeared behind his back.  Rolling the Wilson tennis ball around his hand, exacting scientific measurements of the neon felt hair, as if each strand meant an off-speed curveball or hard slider; not knowing that each pitch was a fastball no matter what he thought he threw.

Royce finally stood to motion his throw and with his signature Valenzuela-roll of the eyes to heaven, and high horse kick, Royce threw a “curveball” that went over John’s head.

“Ball!” John laughed out as he went to fetch the ball.

“Just throw it back”, Chris ordered.  You could tell Chris wanted as many at-bats as he could.

Royce got the ball back from John, and went through the same ritual. This time, Royce threw his heater and it was straight down the line hitting John’s mitt with a feminine thud, a sound only a tennis ball would make in a catcher’s glove.  Chris swung violently and swung his bat around so hard, it almost launched into John’s face.

“Watch it, man” John cautioned.

Royce was ready.  He threw another, and the ball actually sunk like a sinker and Chris again swung madly at open air.

“Damn”, John demurred as he threw back the ball.

Royce had his stuff today. Pitches were coming like rockets, and Chris managed to lose his batting turn without even a soft grounder past the rectory, let along a high-flying screamer towards the roof of the Monster.

This scene played out through Patrick and Frank.  Again, neither able to launch even a  fly-ball. Royce was on his way to a “perfect game”…a no-hitter for the ages.

John was up.  The final batter.  Royce happened to look at his watch, and his heart nearly jumped out of his mouth, as the short-hand of his watch mocked him at 6 while the long-hand Greek-chorused the time by sitting at 12.  2 HOURS LATE!!

He waved off the chill of his grandmother’s scolding in his head.  It was a perfect game in making.

John didn’t tap his bat nor did he sway any practice swings…he was ready.

Royce massaged the ball in his palm, and focused on the catcher’s glove as the sun’s light disappeared, making the outline of the glove much harder to read.

Royce motioned….his eyes darted towards the purple sky and released the ball with a grun

“Hey, it’s 8th inning”, the bartender finally answered Royce.


Royce looked at his phone, and it was already 10 p.m.


As he tilted past the bar’s front door, he looked around.  She never made it.  A sign that it wasn’t going to happen tonight.  Fumbling for his keys, he started to walk…the fresh smell of concrete swept rain made him want it…and her.  Passion an omnipresence in his life.



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