Jordan Pacheco seems a simple man. He grew along the banks of the Snake River, a steamboat pilot's son who cleared a baseball diamond out of the tough prairie grass and played till dusk would settle. In the lengthening shadows he'd demand for just one more pitch, one more, until the dirty ball could barely be seen in the darkness.
Daddy wanted him to be a pilot, too, or at least a stevedore, and Mama wanted him to be a preacher, and little, sweet Abigail just wanted him to stay home. But Jordan wanted to play baseball. He couldn't do it at home forever, having long passed the other kids in talent, so at the age of fifteen he took to going down to Springfield and played for the A&P Beet Packers.
The baseball was fine, but for the first time in his life his mind slipped from the bat and the ball and the bases. Springfield was an awfully tempting for a young ballplayer, and before long he found himself on the wrong side of Tommy Bagels. He'd take your money and maybe write you in his little book and as long as you were good for it you were good by him, but even Tommy could be generous for so long.
Jordan headed out on a midnight train and split rails for the Union Pacific. He liked hearing the stories of the guys who'd lived it, their braggadocio and the rhythm of the words. Long, hot days with a mall and a wedge, and a bang, bang, bang. Sometimes it sounded like a bat hitting a ball and Jordan would feel it then. They'd pass through small towns and he'd look for a pick up game, even just some kids in the main street to play some stickball with the handle of a broom. He never stopped looking for that game.
In Uniondale the rail splitting team stopped for a night. Jordan sat out near the motel's soda machine, felt the hot night's air. He idly tossed a worn baseball against the machine, scooped up the return, tossed it again. The metallic clang was hollow and dry. Thwonk, thwonk, thwonk.
"Awful way to get a Coke." Jordan jerked out of the meditative motion of throwing the ball, looking for the speaker. He saw an old, grey man in a worn bathrobe.
"Don't want a Coke," Jordan replied.
"Well," the old man. "Then maybe you should keep the gatdang noise down and leave the baseball to the professionals."
Jordan eyed him, trying to see if he was serious. "I might have been a ballplayer, once," he finally replied.
The old man laughed. "Ain't no ballplayers in Uniondale. I'd know, I've been here all day looking at these farming nitwits that don't seem to know the end of a bat from their ass."
"You ain't seen me play." Jordan felt his face go hot with anger.
"No, I haven't. And I don't think I will."
"Are you a scout?" Jordan thought he was but wanted to be sure before he really embarrassed himself.
"Used to be. More of a bird dog, now."
"Watch me play," Jordan said. "Please. I'll let you go to bed, but promise me you'll give me a chance."
The old man didn't reply at first, just gave him a watery stare that seemed to be through a fifth of whiskey. Then he shrugged. "Fine, but not now. Don't you know what time it is? Tomorrow."
Tomorrow came, then became yesterday, and then receded behind Jordan like that beaten down ball field by the curve of Snake River. He hit for the old scout, he hit for the semi-pro Quad-City Tigers, he hit his way into a minor league contract and finally got a call to the show. And the Snake River receded further back until it was a distant shore.
One day, on not a particularly special day in May, Jordan sat in front of his locker. A clubhouse attendant made the rounds with a bag of mail, and dropped one off. He stared at the envelope in surprise - he never got anything. Some guys would get fan mail everyday, and hell, Goldy seemed to get it by the bagful like he was Santa Clause, but Jordan didn't get so much as a jury summons.
He turned it over in his hands, but finally couldn't take anymore and ripped into it. Inside was a short letter written with a looping hand.
Jordan, It's Abigail. You'll see that down at the bottom where the signature goes, but you probably haven't skipped ahead. So much as happened here in these last 20 years, I could fill a phonebook. Anyway, I saw your pa at the sandwich shop and then thought of you, even though I haven't in years. Isn't that strange?
Yours, Sincerely, Abigail.
As if the paper suddenly opened up and he fell in, Jordan was suddenly back home. He could hear the prairie wind shake the grass and smell the dust. He sat underneath the tree outside Abigail's house, with its white painted slat sides and bright blue trim. She sat with him, too, hands trembling, head shaking as if it would undo what he had just said. The words hung between them. He could almost pick them off the tree, but he had to leave something for her. She had been the only one he'd told before he left. He didn't know why, it just seemed right.
"You okay?" Chip's voice brought him back to the present. "You look you've seen a ghost."
"Alright. Take the night off, we'll only put you in if things get wild."
Jordan sat in the dugout not really seeing the game. Chip stopped by at some point and told him to grab a bat, so he grabbed a bat. As he walked up to the dugout he passed Goldy, and realized he was pinch hitting for him. He wondered what the hell had happened.
The game became a blur until the bottom of the 6th when Jordan found himself up to bat with one out. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton, and he barely noticed the first pitch come in for a ball. The second one he took looking for a strike. Instead of seeing the ball he saw Abigail, her dark brown curls and mouth that upturned with a secret smile. The next pitch he stared down for another strike. Then a ball. Then another ball.
"Get your head in the game, Pacheco!" The shout from the dugout could be heard over the hushed crowd, and suddenly the game came rushing back in. Pacheco shook his head slightly, and the dust of the past shook off. He squeezed the handle of the bat, squeezed until his hands hurt, squeezed it until Snake River and Abigail and it all faded away, and suddenly all there was and all there would be was him, the pitcher, and the ball. The ball came screaming in, Scherzer was on tonight, but Jordan swore he could count the stitches as the ball rotated.
With a quick swing he connect bone hard wood to that white ball and it went up into the thin desert air and didn't come down. He put his head down and ran the bases, ran like he always had. He crossed home plate, went into the dugout and through the tunnel, through the clubhouse and out of the stadium, and kept running until he'd catch that ball.
Oh, and the Nationals scored like 11 runs and won.
Yikes, what a total clownshoes game. Surprisingly busy GDT, given the circumstances, with 337 comments. TheGoldenSombrero led the way with 66, and was joined by: AzRattler, BIGredmc, BulldogsNotZags, Clefo, Diamondhacks, GuruB, Jim McLennan, JoeCB1991, JoelPre, Makakilo, MrMrrbi, Robert Merrill, SenSurround, TheGoldenSombrero, Xipooo, bbtng, cheese1213, coldblueAZ, ford.williams.10, gamepass, hotclaws, hventure, imstillhungry95, onedotfive, piratedan7, preston.salisbury, shoewizard, soco, and xmet
Nationals are still around for 2 more games, so yay? The next two can't go much worse than this one, right? RIGHT???