"kelso's swing" [chapter 24]
The Tides had the first base dugout against Warner’s Plumbing and warmed up along the first base line. Kelso was unusually quiet; having already delivered them the “talk” he felt they needed in practice the previous evening. Taking a page out of his father’s lexicon, he told them, “I guess you’re all distressed with my coaching tactics, poor little Campfire girls. I never realized you were so sensitive you couldn’t BEAR hurting somebody’s feelings. Yah know, every time I beat somebody on the ball field and hurt their feelings, I get so disturbed I can hardly sleep at night. In fact, I think you girls are on the right track—good sportsmanship and being liked by your opponents is much more fulfilling than winning. It’s so wonderful to know you’re still liked by the people who kick your asses day in and day out…I mean, you can have just as much fun in the bar after getting slaughtered 22-0 as you can winning, right?” At this point, Kelso assumed an especially namby-pamby tone of voice and pose. “Because it’s a lady thing and you’re pals with these girls, right? So ladies, tomorrow night, when you play Warner’s Plumbing, tell ‘em good play when they get you out, and nice hit when they run around the bases, and afterwards, after they kick your asses, you can all bond and maybe go to lunch some day and make trivial, asinine small talk over tuna sandwiches and a good chardonnay.”
Claire had gazed at Jill, shook her head, and muttered, “Good God, what next?”
Marstrulavich sat smoking in the dugout while Kelso delivered this sermon. Then, all through practice, continuing his pansy voice, Kelso complimented everything they did, made excuses when they booted grounders, apologized for ‘hitting the ball too hard,” and generally saturated them in sappy, fatherly kindness, until they were literally gritting their teeth. Then he promptly walked off.
The night of the game, Kelso hit infield. They were snappy and focused. He said little. Before Bobbi walked to the mound to start the game, Kelso pulled her aside and gave her a hug, and whispered in her ear, “You’re our backbone, the heart and soul of our team. You’re a great gal—smart, gorgeous, good hearted, and you got the best tits in creation. Go get ‘em, tiger!”
Kelso was shocked when she hugged him back and planted her breasts against his chest, and he was positive she felt his sudden hard-on, his first around the girls.
They played with grim determination, supported each other with constant chatter. Kelso realized Warner’s hitters were trying to hit to right field and test Annie, so he stationed Lacey in the area and had Annie guard the line. The Tides made no mistakes and Warner’s had to earn their 3-0 lead. When their pitcher had a brief wild streak, Kelso put on the “take” sign, which produced two walks; and Monica drove them in with a booming home run over the make-shift fence and off the tennis court chain-link fence. The Tides girls sprinted from the dugout to hug Monica who could not conceal her smile. Kelso slapped her hand when she rounded third base.
After that, a rally fizzled, and Marstrulavich, on the bench, told Kelso, “Two players short, maybe three, we need a big stick after clean-up.”
Kelso scrutinized the girls in the field as they tensed with each pitch, knees bent, on the balls of their feet, poised to react. They alerted each other on the number of outs and anticipated strategies of Warner’s. Maria checked with Kelso on where to position outfielders. He felt they were at last a team, a unit. Warner’s scored two more runs, and the Tides scored on Lacey’s double down the leftfield line, but Monica left her on base with a deep, towering fly ball caught against the fence to end the game.
Afterwards, in the dugout, Kelso addressed his team. He told them they had improved far more than he expected them to, felt every girl was a better player. He urged them to practice together without him, working on their skills, so they were unified and sharp and prepared for the fall league starting in a month. He told them they should feel proud, and that playing the game, no matter what the level, was a passion, and their newly acquired passion should drive them to improve and learn, and with that came confidence, and then swagger, and finally moxie, and that would be the day they were ready to beat Murphy’s and Warner’s.
“In the big leagues, it takes time for inexperienced players, even the cream of the crop, to rise to the level of success. It never happens overnight. But you went from last place to third and won five games when you never won one in two seasons, and you damn near beat the two best times in the league the second round. That’s an accomplishment you should take home with you, and it should inspire you to get better. Don’t be satisfied. You broads are all better than you think you are. All in all, you showed a lot of character and spunk, despite being females and having to put up with a bastard like me. Now let’s go down to the bar and get drunk—you deserve it!”
Bobbi led three cheers to the team and their coaches.
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