"KELSO'S SWING" [CHAPTER 19]
Before the game against Warner’s Plumbing, Kelso gathered the team in the dugout as their opponent took infield. After their last practice, Marstrulavich had informed him that Jill had confided to him that although they were thankful for Kelso’s coaching and winning games, he put so much pressure on them and was so demanding the girls claimed they were “not having any fun.”
So Kelso faced them with the familiar hangman scowl as he looked each girl over with disdain. Then he gestured toward the field with a bat he held. “See those gals taking infield. They’re all business. They don’t strut around like those stuck-up queens from Murphy’s. They play fundamental ball the way you’re supposed to and don’t worry about having fun because you’re not supposed to THINK about having fun when you play ball, because playing ball IS fun. But to play ball sloppily and lose is NOT fun. To have fun playing ball like shit is akin to playing in one of those cheesy co-ed beer leagues with a bunch of pussy men who should have tits instead of dicks!”
He watched the girls rustle on the bench, exchanging looks of bewilderment, never knowing where he was going next or why. He suddenly dropped the hangman scowl and actually appeared humane. “Now, at this point I don’t expect you to beat Warner’s,” he continued, easing down his tone. “But I want you to aspire to where they’re at, so we can beat ‘em, and we will beat ‘em. Tonight, just go out and play. You are becoming better players. You no longer resemble a bunch of turkeys run amuck and I’m actually pleased a few of you are growing fangs. My hope is, by the end of the season, you’ll all have sharp, deadly fangs.”
They watched Marstrulavich roll up on his bike. “Here comes our assistant coach, girls. I don’t know who dresses the dumb Polock.” He observed Mastrulavich lean his bike against the chain-link fence separating the ball field from the hoop courts, take out a pack of Pall Malls, shake one out, tap it against the pack, light it with his Zippo, blow out a cloud of smoke, and lean against the dugout screen. “Look at the poor schmuck.” Kelso went on. “He doesn’t even have a decent pair of shoes. He’s been wearing those ratty, corrosive, stinky sneakers since he got out of the army, fifteen years ago. It’s a disgrace to see a grown man wobble around, usually drunk, in those goddam disintegrating rags on his feet. It’s embarrassing having him coach first base where the opposing team looks at his disgusting shoes and develops a bad image of our team as rag-pickers. In fact, now that I think about it, since we’re on the third base side, I’m gonna have the wretch coach third base tonight. It’s about time he took on some real responsibility and some real pressure, so you girls look to Mr. Marstrulavich tonight for guidance.”
Marstrulavich finished his cigarette and flicked it on the ground, stepped on it. The girls giggled when Warner’s finished infield, and they ran onto the field when Marstrulavich picked up a bat to hit infield.
Kelso had made the decision to allow his friend to coach third and run the team while he stayed in the background on the spur of the moment, and he did not know why he did this, knew only that he had a hunch, a feeling, and above all, Kelso trusted his instincts. And the girls, against the best slo-pitch team in the area, played surprisingly well. Kelso’s only input was to inform Marstrulavich where certain players on Warner’s hit the ball and move his fielders and rover accordingly.
The team played steady in the field. They concentrated on every pitch. They hit the ball sharply on the ground. On an infield pop-up with the bases loaded and two outs, Bobbi called Maria to take the ball that was between the mound and third base. Penny backed off. To Kelso, this never would have happened in the past and runs would have scored. Against a team with an air-tight defense, they punched out 4 runs and only lost 8-4. Marstrulavich became involved, displaying rare enthusiasm, and when the game ended and the girls lined up to shake hands, it was obvious Warner’s had new respect for the Tides. Even their coach stared hard at Kelso as Kelso stared back at him.
Kelso told the girls they’d surprised him and he was pleased with their performance, and then abruptly got on his bike and rode uphill through the sleepy tree section of Manhattan Beach until he emerged on Pacific Coast highway and found Callahan’s Tavern.
A traditional warehouse-size sports bar, Callahan’s was well lit, with several strategically placed TVs, pool table, dart area, shuffle board, an arcade of pinball machines, poster-sized and framed autographed photos of sports stars on walls, its large horseshoe shaped bar up front by the entrance. Kelso took a stool facing the swarm of activity in the bar and noticed a display of trophies behind the bar. A kitchen was in back with adjoining tables and chairs. A very large array of mostly flatlanders from the nearby aerospace industry made up much of the crowd.
Kelso ordered his Stoli, lit up his stub, and peered around. He relished going to bars by himself and observing crowds, clicks, individuals. This was a pastime with Stella, a keen observer who often sketched certain people on bar napkins. An animal rights activist, portrait and landscape painter, subscriber to the New Yorker who read intellectual literature, she made Kelso a fine bar companion who could hold her liquor and insisted on sharing expenses and although he missed her he also felt the sweet relief of the unshackled bachelor free to look over and perhaps find a loose woman to sport fuck in his lair. Love had gotten to be a little too demanding for Kelso with Stella, an undemanding woman of 32 who had no interest whatsoever in baseball or any sport and brought out in Kelso a cerebral side he had always been ashamed of and which his high school teachers, along with his educated mother, had urged him to pursue and shed his bone-headed jock mentality.
That she truly and deeply loved him Kelso could not fathom nor feel deep down that he deserved, but that she understood him and possessed a tenderness toward him unmatched by any woman he’d ever known was a gift he knew he missed and talked himself out of missing every night and was only quashed by drink and the occasional one-night stand. That he could not contend with the tenderness she brought out in him was something he refused to face.
Stella agreed when his mother told Kelso “he had more than one side, not just his father’s side, but her artistic and intellectual side of the family.” Kelso’s grandfather on his mother’s side played piano in orchestras, was a self-taught scholar with little schooling, and was such a fussy artisan as a tailor he became unemployable, a fact Ray Kelso made sure to emphasize to his son as he was not a little jealous that during the 2 years he was away in the war this old man had been Kelso’s doting father substitute
Kelso spotted Spike before Spike spotted him. He was in the middle of the bar beyond the horseshoe, standing amidst his players, and he was trying to mollify his angry shortstop, who had just chewed out a rather handsome man in white shirt with plastic name-tag. This shortstop was tall and reedy with a fine ass as far as Kelso could observe, but one game her knee was wrapped, the next it was a thigh, a calf, and she made a great show of her sacrifice to be on the field.
Spike was too busy to properly mollify her. A lot of people needed his attention. In this bar he was the big fish, the spender, surrounded by streams of guppies. As he listened to his shortstop yammer away, he repeatedly glanced over at Kelso, his each glance increasingly furtive and, Kelso thought, paranoid. Kelso found himself leering every time Spike peeked over. He chortled. His mother had once told him that no human should ever become bored as long as they could observe the human race revolving all around them. Kelso wished Stella was here to sketch the smoldering eyes and tense jaw line of Spike’s shortstop on a napkin.
He also would have sought her psychological evaluation of Spike and the shortstop, for Stella, even from a distance, was the quickest, most accurate study of people he had ever known, though he had strong ideas on both these people of which he was pretty damn sure.