KELSO'S SWING, CHAPTER 21
While Callahan’s took infield, Kelso told his girls, as they sat in the dugout, “Take a peep at their shortstop. Last time we played ‘em, she had her knee wrapped. This time it’s the hamstring. What does that tell us? It tells us she’s a player with a built-in excuse to fail. An Alibi Ike. So what do we do? We exploit her. She’s playing the most important position on their team and batting clean-up. That means she’s got a huge ego. Now last week you witnessed me harassing those Murphy’s divas, and we damn near beat ‘em.”
Kelso began pacing, bat on shoulder. “I want you to learn to bench jockey. Bench jockeying is a lost art in today’s game, because all these big leaguers make too much money, they play golf together and fraternize in the off season, but in the old days, when players didn’t make much money and played the same teams for years, they all learned each others weaknesses and emotional baggage, and they needled each other, and those players, they were expert needlers, the kind of men who took great pride in probing and asking around and testing opponents to find out what they could say to reach their rabbit ears and get under their skin and find their red-ass, really piss ‘em off and get ‘em distracted and so angry they couldn’t perform. This is baseball. All teams have certain players who are easy marks, and we got some girls on this team who not only have tough hides and are immune from bench jockeying because your coach picks on you and makes fun of you all the time, but we got girls with genuinely barbed tongues! I know of nobody in this league who can match the vicious vituperation of our beloved Claire. I’ve also seen Jill tongue-lash men into scuttling curs. And Beth, a catcher has the potential in a very nice way to distract and irritate hitters.” Kelso ceased pacing.” Do you know who Yogi Berra is?”
Beth shook her head, immediately disdainful of Kelso’s spiel.
“Yogi Berra was a hall of fame catcher with the New York Yankees. Yogi talked to every hitter, asked them all kinds of questions that seemed harmless, to distract them. He was so nice the hitters felt oblige to answer him. You could counter-act some of our sharp tongues by soft-soaping the hitters—like good-cop, bad-cop.”
“I’m not saying doodly to hitters,” Beth groused.
“We’re not a bunch of tobacco-chewing varmints,” Claire snapped.
“You’re ball players,” Kelso said. “A ball player uses every edge to win. Don’t you wanna win?”
“We can still win without hurting some girl’s feelings,” said Claire. “We’re not like you, Kelso—we don’t like being hated.”
Jill stood up. “I’ll bench jockey, coach. I don’t like that shortstop. I ate at the Ivy Room steakhouse with Jay up on PCH, and she waited on us. I asked for a doggie bag for our dog, and she lectured me on how meat gave dogs cancer. She’s got something to say about everything. She’s a bitch.”
Callahan’s ran off the field. Marstrulavich hit a snappy infield. Kelso realized he had his work cut out trying to out-fox Spike the second time around. Spike had probably been planning strategy to counter-act his tactics all week long, coming early to watch the Tides. Before the Tides took infield, Kelso whispered in Jill’s ear; then conferred with Bobbi. Callahan’s was first up, and their one and two hitters got on base. Their shortstop came up with those runners on first and second and one out.
“Pitch her in!” Kelso shouted. “She can’t go to right.”
Bobbi pitched her outside and the lanky girl lunged and popped a foul ball down the right field line. Kelso yelled at Bobbi to pitch her outside and this time she pitched her inside and she slapped a one hopper to Penny, who stepped on third and threw out the limping shortstop. Before Jill ran off the field, she said something to the shortstop, who stopped in her tracks, mouth open, as Jill sprinted across the infield to her dugout.
Spike, in the third base coaching box, turned to stare at Kelso before trotting his heavy bulk back to the dugout.
Spike had each of his girls positioned correctly for Kelso’s hitters. He had his infield deep for the tit-monsters and up close for the few speedsters. He kept Kelso’s hit-and-run asleep by getting his hitters out. There was no score through the first three innings. Both teams made all the plays. In the fourth, Bobbi muffed a hard come-backer. After Kelso called a pitch out, and missed, Spike called a successful hit-and-run and moved the runner to third, and she scored on a groundball to Maria. Callahan’s 1-0. Kelso kicked at a scrap of paper in the dugout and felt violated.
In the bottom of the fifth, Maria beat out a high bouncer and then Monica lashed a one-bounce rocket off the thirdbaseman’s knee, the ball rolling into foul territory, resulting in runners on second and third. Jill skillfully grounded to second, scoring Maria. Spike brought in his infield. Becki axe-chopped a high bouncer to short and Monica scored. The game remained 2-1 until the top of the seventh, when Callahan’s shortstop came up with runners on first and second with two outs.
Kelso brought lacey into the infield and had all his infielders play deep. “She’s a turtle!” Kelso shouted. He brought in Becki and Annie and had Monica hold her usual position in left. Jill yelled, “Throw it down the middle, Bobbi, she can’t hit and can’t run, she’s got a bad leg and a bad head.”
“Alibi Ike’a up!” Claired hollered through a cupped hand.
Spike paced the coaching box. “Don’t listen, Lisa. Just do your thing like you always do. You’re big, Lisa, you’re BIG!”
Lisa swung so hard she almost fell over and hit a pop-up. Maria waved off Bobbi and Claire with authority and caught it between the mound and second base. The girls came squealing to the mound to mob Bobbi. Spike kicked dirt and stomped off the field. Lisa, angry and close to tears, had to be consoled by team mates and Spike. Kelso, sitting beside Marstrulavich, took out his stub and Marstrulavich lit it with his Zippo.
“Bringing the outfield in, that won’t work next time,” he said.
“I won’t need to use it next time.”
They watched Callahan’s girls refuse to shake hand with the Tides girls when they lined up. A couple girls yelled at Jill and Claire, and especially at Jill, who gave it right back.
“We got a real leader now, Stroolo,” Kelso said.
He nodded. “I always thought Jill was the meanest broad on the team. You gotta have a couple hardened bitches to win.”
“She’s got backbone. Like a damn pioneer woman. Good Eastern European stock. I just hope I can keep her from turning on me.”
“Eventually, they’ll all turn on you, Kelso. They’re women. The woman doesn’t exist who doesn’t turn on you sooner or later.”