"KELSO'S SWING" [CHAPTER 32]
While Callahan's played their game, the Tides girls commenced pepper drills on the asphalt edge of the hoop courts off the third base line in preparation for Murphy's, who warmed up along the right field line. Kelso stood beside Marstrulavich, watching his girls execute pepper, snappy and adroit, each girl wielding a bat placing a ball to all three fielders, the game achieving a rhythm that swelled him with pride.
“I'm beginning to look at these girls as actual humans,” he told his friend. “And not pawns to move around and control. Do you realize these broads are actually impressive OFF the field? Take Maria. She's mature, level-headed, unselfish, eager to learn, humble...she's a college grad, a social worker, a credit to the race. I just hope she doesn't end up with some asshole.”
“The odds are at least even that she will,”
“And Lacey. She issues loans at the bank. A responsible grownup person, with direction and purpose. And Claire, she runs a law office, and she's pregnant. Maybe pregnancy will take some of the nastiness out of her.”
Marstrulavich shook his head. “Naw, she married that twerp because she can run roughshod over him and he'll still go along, because he's got his first steady piece of ass. I watched him strike out over and over again when we worked the Tides, and he's got more money than God.”
“Yeh, Claire fucked half the bar back in her hippie days, then she settled on the beggarly twerp so start hatching beasties.”
“That's what they're trained to do—get laid by riffraff like us and then marry some male hide and pair of balls to bring home the bacon and hatch meanies and get lashed like Jesus to the homestead, poor bastards.”
They spotted Ray Kelso walking slowly from the parking lot with his big German Shepard, Barney. He wore a sweatsuit. Marstrulavich set off toward Ray Kelso, met and shook his hand and stood talking to him. The Callahan's game ended, and Kelso rounded up his girls, and told them, “this is your night. We're gonna run those prom queens to ruin. My dad's here tonight. He came a long way to watch you girls. It's his swing I taught you. I told him how good you were, how much you've improved, how mean you are. In his day, ball players sharpened their spikes to scare infielders when they slid into base. He never wore a batting helmet when he faced Bob Feller, who threw harder than anybody in the game and liked to pitch you tight. You don't have to worry about that, all you gotta do is play the game right, and he'll be impressed.
Marstrulavich and Ray Kelso walked around the backstop, Ray's arm around Marstrulavich. He at down in the front row of the stands behind the Tides dugout. Spike and members of his team were in the stands, which were packed full and stocked with regulars from Murphy's and the Tides.
Kelso had been working with Bobbi to put more arc on her pitches with a reverse spin he called “oogie.” She lofted the ball with her palm inward. When Kelso's father pitching himbatting practice he caled his diving palm ball “oogie.” Kelso also urged Bobbi to break a hitters rhythm by forcing fidgety, impatient hitters to wait, and calm, patient hitters adjust to a deliberate pace. The shortstop, Cindy, grounded out to Maria. Kaycee made a shoe-string catch of their clean up hitters line drive. The Tides hitters almost dehorned their new thirdbaseman with vicious one-hop grounders. The score was 3-3 in the 5th inning when Toni, batting sixth, came up with two outs and Jill on first and Kaycee on second and stroked a single into right center. Kaycee scored easily. Kelso, in the dugout, waved Jill around third when he saw the centerfielder hesitate. Her strong throw arrived at home plate at the same time Jill accelerated, lowered her shoulder and flattened the catcher and sent her sprawling as the ball rolled to backstop. Toni took third.
While the Murphy's coach and players protested Jill's rough-house tactics to the umpire, Kelso met her at the dugout with a slap on the butt. “Tiger!” he cried. “That's our goddam tiger!” Murphy's catcher was still wobbly as the Tides girls pounded Jill's back and smacked her on the butt. Becki beat out a dribbler and they went up 6-3.
With Kelso yelling out, “Give her the oogie!” they won 7-5. When the game ended, Kelso peered over to see his father surrounded by several husbands and boy friends of his girls, along with several bar denizens. He had seen this before. There was a distinct easy confidence in an ex big leaguer that stood out among mortal men, whom somehow found themselves gravitating toward the professional athlete who'd experienced the swooning adulation of packed stadiums. Kelso had seen it as a youth—men of every financial or occupational level paying homage to a man who had contested against the best our country had to offer on a field of competition. And Kelso's father, aware of this, used to it, did not take such idolatry lightly, nor did he glory in recognition of his importance, but understood that part of his legacy was as a charter member of a special club, which meant everything to those who loved and worshiped their national pastime.
When everybody finally cleared away from his father, the girls, despite being snubbed by Murphy's as they formed a hand-shake line, jubilantly headed for the parking lot. Kelso stood with his father, watching the girls.
“Good God,” his father remarked. “Those gals. they look like ball players.” He showed his son his sunshine smile. “You got 'em hitting like I taught you—top-hand line drive pull hitters. They're playing like you used to play—cold blooded scrap iron.”
“Dad, have a drink with Marstrulavich and me.”
Ray shook his head. “There's nothing I'd rather do, Rick, but your old man's beat.”
Admitting to this jolted Kelso. As they walked to the parking lot together, Kelso took Barney's leash, and Ray braced himself with one hand on his son's shoulder. At the car, he told Rick, “I'm not gonna let 'em gut me. I'm gonna try and enjoy myself.”