kelso's swing, chapter 4
BY DELL FRANKLIN
Kelso, in trademark cutoffs, hooded sweatshirt, sneakers and a badly sweat stained Cincinnati Red cap pulled low over his brow, arrived at the ball diamond at Old Elm Park early in the evening, before the girls. He stood with bat balanced on shoulder, exuding the aura of a medieval hangman. Although raised in Los Angeles, he wore the Reds cap to purposely piss off Dodgers fans, mocking the hometown team as fraudulent baseball royalty.
Jill Norton was the first to show up in rubber cleats, shorts, jersey, pony tail springing out from behind her ball cap. She drove a swank new car. Kelso had ridden up on his bike. He knew Marstrulavich would be late, his trademark. Marstrulavich could not be hurried. If one tried to hurry him, he moved even slower. And if one continued attempting to hurry him he would turn around and go home. There was no dealing with him and never had been. And Kelso, who wondered how his friend survived the army with such a habit, was stuck with him for life.
Bobbi pulled up in a gleaming Mercedes. He’d seen her in the Tides, a pretty woman around 30, who seemed the party leader, always smiling and buying rounds, her burly blond handsome hunk of a husband in tow. A vivacious personality, Bobbi owned a main drag gift shop full of quaint and unique items. Kelso had scouted her in the shop, searching for leadership traits. He felt a party leader with special social skills made for a good prospect as field leader. Except that Bobbi, their pitcher, who possessed at least 48 D cup breasts that didn’t sag but bounced majestically, would make an unusual looking leader.
The two women met in the parking area along the tree-lined street bordering the complex and headed toward him. Beth came next, accompanied by Mark, the two toting bags of balls and bats and bases. Kelso spit. Cars began pulling up. Kelso was relieved to see Monica Epperly park her compact pickup. Owner and operator of a downtown frame shop; she was the girl friend of an old bartending acquaintance from the early ‘70s in the Tides, and an athletic tomboy who performed like a man. Kelso had assured her the team would be “serious,” and she agreed to play, though she had not played in a year because she could not stand the politics and back-biting of women, and the meddling of their men. Kelso assured her there would be none of that.
The girls assembled around the mound. Short, round Claire, who was married to a short, twit of an accountant, glowered at him and had already informed teammates that Kelso was a devout and practicing woman-hater who had never shown the slightest respect for females, which was why she and her twit had tipped him poorly when he was behind the bar.
The girls were uneasy as Kelso made them wait while sizing them up, one by one, with a mouth twisted into a grimace of disapproval. Mark, who had been chumming with the husbands and boyfriends who’d taken seats in the stands, walked over and stood beside him.
“I know these ladies real well,” he informed Kelso. “I’ll assist you.” Bearded, slender, around 35, he was puppy-dog hopeful.
Kelso said, very resonantly, “Any male hide associated with you people in any way is to have nothing to do with you on the ball field from this moment on!” He turned to the men in the stands behind home plate, who were anxious to see Kelso in action. “YOU! Up in the stands! Clear out! I don’t want you here! You make the girls nervous! You confuse them! You…”
“Wait a damn minute,” cut in Beth, stepping forward, “Mark…”
“Shut the fuck up!” Kelso roared, then took a few vicious swings with the bat, clearing out Mark. He spat on the ground. He kicked dirt. “You asked me to coach. I’m coaching you. I’m in charge. Men are not allowed here, only the wretched Marstrulavich, if the prick ever shows his ugly Slavic mug. This is OUR team. You guys, in the stands, GO! Mark, go! All of you are out-a here, or I quit, and you dummies can have each other back, and you can go on hating each other because not a damn one of you knows his ass from first base about the game, much less how to play or coach it.”
Marstrulavich shambled up just as the muttering men filed glumly out of the stands; one of them, muscular and crew-cut, leveled Kelso with a nasty stare. Marstrulavich nodded at them, having no axe to grind. Mark skulked off as Beth fumed.
“You can’t do this,” she maintained hotly.
“You don’t like it, quit. I’ll have no dissidents or trouble-makers on this team.”
A few girls surrounded Beth, whispering consoling words. She was near to tears of rage. Kelso liked nothing about this bossy, over-weight woman. As far as he was concerned, she deserved a namby-pamby like Mark with his moronic ball cap. But the girls talked her into staying. Marstrulavich, taking his place beside Kelso, lit up a cigarette, while Kelso chewed on the stub of a cigar, and said, “I want everybody to meet Monica. She is a real ball player. Her presence on this team is our first step toward actually winning a game. She will play left field and bat third. The person standing beside me is Marstrulavich, who is to be my assistant. He will coach first base and help me mold you into something resembling ball players. Now, the reason I kicked your husbands and boyfriends out of here is because this is OUR team, not theirs. They have ruined you with their lack of baseball knowledge. Everybody thinks they know the game, and how to play it and hit and field, but they don’t. Those bozos know nothing, and everything they’ve taught you is worthless bullshit I’m gonna have to undo by starting you from scratch. Now, the first thing I want you to do is run. Line up along the first base line in right field and run. Marstrulavich, herd those bimbos and start ‘em off.”
When they raced, Claire, Bobbi and Beth straggled in last, far behind. Marstrulavich stood beside him as Kelso tossed his cigar stub on the ground and scowled. “Christ,” he said. “We got three tit monsters who move like snails, so we put ‘em at the bottom of the lineup.” He turned to the girls, who were panting. “I want you to get your gloves and play catch. Pair off. I wanna see who can catch the ball and who can throw the ball.” He eyed up a blond gal with a puckish face who was built like a whippet and finished far in first—Lacy. She threw the ball well. He and Marstrulavich watched them warm up.
“Christ,” the assistant coach muttered. “They’re worse than I thought they’d be, a real bunch-a klutzes.”
Kelso yelled at the girls. “Don’t catch one-handed! Two hands. Watch the ball into your glove. Don’t stab at it. Relax. Squeeze it gently. That’s right. Two hands. Very good. I’m impressed. Maybe you’re not a bunch of aardvarks. Maybe you’re real humans. Two hands. Soft hands. Let the glove absorb the ball, like a net catching a butterfly.” He watched for a few minutes. “All right, that’s enough. I’m gonna hit you grounders. Go take your positions.”
Marstrulavich joined the girls, while Kelso lashed them ground balls. A wiry girl with a blond pony tail, Penny, took shortstop. She had decent hands. A Mexican named Maria took third. Kelso liked her hands and surprisingly fluid arm. All the girls came up too quickly on Kelso’s wild bouncing grounders, a trick he’d borrowed from his dad, giving the balls wicked topspin. He exhorted them to keep their heads down, watch the ball into their gloves, and then throw. One thing at a time. He was patient. Encouraging. Claire could only bend over so far at second base and told him so.
“Are you pregnant?” he demanded to know.
“No I am not.”
“Then bend your goddam back and squat down on your ass, like you’re a female dog taking a pee. It’s my way or the highway.”
Claire bared her teeth like a dog about to attack. She was feisty and mouthy, and the girls were agog at Kelso’s crudeness and insensitivity. Jill Norton began to speak when Kelso fired his bat violently against the dugout screen. “Here’s how you do it!” he growled. He spread his legs, spread his arms, and began scuttling back and forth, low to the ground, arms hanging loose, hands cupped in preparation of fielding grounders. He ordered Marstrulavich to hit him grounders and took his position at shortstop. Marstrulavich stroked him grounders and he gobbled them up effortlessly, bare handed, one after another. “Look at me! My ass is low to the ground. Every hop’s a good hop when you’re low to the ground. When you’re upright, every hop’s a bad hop, and the ball plays you. You move low, stay low, even when you charge the ball, like a duck, dangle your arms like a monkey.” He ceased fielding grounders. “All of you, get down low, scissor your legs, back and forth, low to the ground, arms dangling, hands ready…like ducks…like monkeys. Scissor those legs, duck women! Let’s hear you quack. Quack quack quack! You’re ducks. Come on, let’s hear those goddam quacks!”
Marstrulavich wandered over to stand beside Kelso as he continued barking out quacks in his notorious foghorn voice that locals claimed rattled glasses two towns away when he made last call. The girls went along, trying not to giggle, feeling the strain in their thighs and haunches. “Quack quack quack!” The chorus filled the air, pouring onto the busy tennis and hoop courts, where participants ceased playing to gawk at the spectacle of scuttling women quacking repeatedly, like ducks
“Very good,” Kelso cried. “Good ducks. Good monkeys. You almost look like ball players. Keep quacking. Such nice girls. If only your mothers could see you now.”
He worked them until they were near collapse.