Marcus Coleman stepped into the batter box and looked at the Lev Anderson, the pitcher. The Lev Train, as he was nicknamed, only had two pitches, a fast ball somewhere just short of light speed and a curve that broke so hard some said you could hear reality cracking as the pitch dove to the ground just as the ball got to the plate. The catcher, Sanferd Fernandez, chuckled. “Enjoy the view,” Sanferd said just loud enough for Marcus to think he almost imagined it.
It was the bottom of the ninth, Freddie and that other kid whom Marcus couldn’t remember were on second and third. There were two outs and Luke Mathews was up next. Luke was an RBI machine, so Marcus knew he was going to see good stuff. There was no way they were allowing him to get on, much less walk him. Marcus had had a good game so far going one for two with a double, but he had never faced the Lev Train in anything except simulation, and there he had sucked, striking out seven out of ten times. The other three had been dribblers into the infield. Still, now was his moment. He could be the hero or the guy who should go back to the minors that he had just escaped from. Marcus was sick of bus rides, so the minors were not a choice.
Marcus took a couple of practice swings as Sanferd and Lev began the ancient ritualistic communication of hand signs. Lev shook off the first one before nodding yes. Marcus steeled himself. Fastball or curve? Marcus guessed fastball and started his swing before Lev had even released the ball. Marcus felt time slow down as the ball came closer and closer to the plate. He adjusted the swing a bit to chop at the ball when the ball broke, bouncing off home plate. Marcus couldn’t stop his swing, having to eat his own energy back as he followed through.
“Striiiiike un!” shouted the umpire from what seemed right behind the right ear of Marcus. The home crowd groaned. Marcus stepped out of the box and adjusted his gloves. If he did get sent back to the minors, would he get another chance? He was getting up there in age, a twenty-seven year old second baseman known more for his defense than his offense, and there might be no more tomorrow.
Marcus stepped back into the batter box and nodded at Lev. Lev ignored him as Lev checked out the runners before launching another ball Marcus’ way. Marcus moved to swing, but realized he was too late and barely took the bat off his shoulder. The lightning bolt of a pitch smashed into the catcher’s glove with a “Striiike twooooo” filling in the role as thunder.
Marcus stepped back out of the batter’s box and shook his head. The Lev Train was smiling and Marcus could see Spud, the pitching coach, call to the bullpen. They must be thinking this was done and the game was going into extras. Marcus thought about how his girlfriend was going to think about moving back to Albuquerque. At least it was a dry heat, right? It might help with that rash he had been fighting on his calf.
Marcus looked around the stadium. He figured this would be the last time probably ever, so he basked in it for a moment. Looking at the third base coach he had an idea. Marcus quickly reverted to hand signs of his own, and the coach looked at him dumbfounded. Slowly the coach shrugged and nodded. Marcus smiled. At least this should be memorable.
Marcus stepped into the box and smiled at Lev. He dug in his left foot and squatted down low. Marcus waited for Sanferd to say something, but the catcher must have decided to let him die in peace. Marcus gripped the bat and lifted it lightly off his shoulder. Lev nodded, accepting the duty of sending the death knell pitch. Lev wound his body into a knot then unraveled, sending another bolt of lightning.
As Lev was releasing the ball, Marcus brought his bat level with his waist, facing slightly down the third base line. At the same time Freddie broke for home at warp speed. Marcus guessed right, and the ball never broke. It hit his bat with a loud cracking noise. Marcus took off out of the batter’s box in a hail of splinters as his bat exploded. Marcus ran as fast as he could, ignoring everything else that was happening. At least with his last moment on a major league field he would show he always hustled.
First base kept getting closer as Marcus’ blood oxygen content got smaller. Marcus could feel every step ebb away more of his energy. Every step focused his vision to a smaller and smaller point until he felt himself trip on the bag at first, and he fell forward into a cascading heap. When he stopped rolling, he looked at third. Freddie was still there. Marcus looked at the first base coach and called time. The coach came running over. “What happened?” Marcus asked.
“Broken bat dribbler,” Coach said. “They kept Freddie close, and you beat it out. You got lucky, kid.” Coach helped Marcus get up and back to first. Marcus smiled. No matter what happened now, he at least had a chance to stay here another day, and that beat Albuquerque any day of the week, even with the dry heat.