"KELSO'S SWING" [CHAPTER 17]
At practice, Kelso drilled the team on relays and cut-offs, emphasizing situations where a runner might score from second on a single, or go from first to third on a single. He stressed making sure to hold the hitter who singled to one base. He claimed that even big leaguers were guilty of trying to throw out runners when they had little chance and allowing the player who hit the single to take the extra base and erase the force play. He wanted the girls prepared for every situation so they didn’t panic and throw the ball around like “half-cocked idiots.”
The next evening, they beat Player’s, formerly the second worst team in the league, 8-3. Kelso’s clones were beginning to play with a little moxie and swagger. Yet, after the game, appearing glum and disgusted, he groused, “Don’t let your heads get too big, because that was not a very competitive team you beat tonight, not much of an achievement far as I’m concerned. You were sloppy. Becki got thrown out by ten feet. Mental errors are worse than boots. Keep your goddam heads in the game, and not up your asses.”
He stalked off, ignoring the devastated looks on their faces.
Kelso and Marstrulavich elected to drink in the Sunset after the game. The mostly male crowd viewed the glowing TV’s in each corner. A few gamblers discussed up and coming games. They all knew Marstrulavich through his bartending days and liked to talk the odds with him. Book-making, to Marstrulavich, was his first real job that he looked upon as a possible career. After college graduation at 26 from the GI bill, he went to work for a national firm that produced skin care and shampoo formulas and was almost always late and usually hungover and disturbingly impervious to corporate style tactics of motivation and discipline. They didn’t know what to do with “Markshak,” so he made it easy for them by quitting and hooking onto a part time bartending gig at a horseplayers bar in Downey where he was a regular and well liked for his easy-going temperament and sports knowledge.
Soon he hooked up with Caroline, a woman five years his senior, a pleasant alcoholic working full time as a typist for an aerospace company, and they moved in together at that rat-hole motel a block from the bar, the same motel they nearly burned down after both passed out with lighted cigarettes after drunken sex. Thus, he showed up a day later at Kelso’s doorstep with a pillow case of his worldly possessions.
As they sat along the bar, quiet but for the TV’s, Kelso said, “Hey, Annie got her first hit tonight. Went from hitting zero to .091. Was she thrilled! Like a little girl.”
Marstrulavich shook a cigarette out of his pack, tapped it three times against the pack, lit it with his Zippo, and blew out some smoke. “Annie wantsa buy me a new pair of sneakers,” he confessed, a might sheepish.
Kelso, puffing his cigar, glanced at his assistant’s sneakers, which were more or less bound together with duct-tape, and mainly decomposing. “Christ,” he muttered. “What next?”
“I told her not to bother, but thanks, I’m comfortable in these. I’ve got bad toes and new shoes hurt my toes.”
Kelso said, “I don’t like the idea of Annie buying you shoes. To me, it’s a ploy. She’s testing you. She’s up to typical female mischief with a person of some authority—a coach.”
“She hasn’t gotten me the shoes yet, Kelso, so calm down. I told her I hated new shoes and liked the ones I’m wearing.”
“Yeh, but what if she takes matters into her own hands, like these mothering women do, and shows up some night with new fucking shoes for you? I can’t have my players bribing my coaches with new shoes.” Kelso signaled the bartender for a round. “So far, I’ve had pretty smooth sailing with this team, and now this bullshit with you and Annie and shoes. Don’t you dare let that little pumpkin buy you shoes under any circumstances, Stroolo, you goddam threadbare wretch.”
“Look, if she brings me shoes I can’t refuse ‘em. It’d break her heart and cause dissension on the team. These things just happen. You wanted good cop-bad cop, so I’m good cop and they like me, and hate you. Besides, you’re no one to talk, cuz your shoes aren’t much better, but none of ‘em are gonna dare buy you shoes. Only reason they tolerate you is they won a few games.” Their drinks came. Marstrulavich paid, shoving tip money into the bar trough. “You’re lucky those wenches don’t poison you, the way you disrespect and abuse ‘em, especially after that ass-chewing you gave them tonight, when they actually won and played pretty damn well in my book.”
“What are those scheming fish-wives saying about me, Stroolo, you little kiss-ass?”
“You have no patience, no respect. You use the filthiest obscene language. You pick on ‘em, only notice the negative. You give them unflattering nicknames that attack their intelligence and femininity. You’re condescending. None of ‘em stick up for you when this chatter’s going on. I guess the only way they can vent their frustrations with being constantly disparaged and humiliated is to bitch about what a miserable prick and bastard you are.”
“Goddam ingrates,” Kelso muttered bitterly. “What I oughta do is quit and let that goddam weasel Mark coach ‘em, so they can start losing again.”
Marstrulavich tapped out some ashes, very delicately. “Claire’s the ringleader, of course. She’s even tryna turn Bobbi against you, and Bobbi loves everybody. You practically hafta be an axe murderer for her to turn on you, but Claire’s coming pretty close to getting her to hate you after tonight.” He glanced at Kelso, whose jugular was pulsing. “Claire’s really got the horn out for you. You never should-a fucked her in the old days.”
“She propositioned me, goddammit. And I was drunk. Really drunk. She’s not even my type. I’m an ass and leg man, not a boobs man. That was my problem with Stella. No ass.”
“How drunk were you?”
Kelso sighed. “I passed out on top of her after I finished.” He puffed his cigar. “If I did finish.”
”Christ, no wonder. I’m sure they all know by now—you-re the lowest form of life in a woman’s mind, a bum-fuck. I can’t imagine what they’re saying about you right this minute.”
“Let them say what they want. Let them hate me. I don’t give a fuck, as long as it fuels ‘em to win.”
He ordered another round.