Farewell Season - By Kevin N. Haw
Elmer "Thunderin" Leightnan was surprised to feel the stiffness in his back, the tightness in his bad shoulder as he climbed up the scuffed concrete steps to the Coyote dugout. If anything, he'd have thought… Well, that was irrelevant now. All that mattered now was this final inning before he went away.
He sensed himself enter the dugout, then slouch into the first available space on the bench. "Hook" Aspen, the shortstop, grunted recognition and turned back to the game.
A summer storm loomed off to the Northwest, racing the coming sunset.
Elmer did not understand what was happening, but he knew an opportunity when he saw one. This was one last chance laid before him, like a base begging to be stolen or a small town umpire with a hangover during a close game. He would not let it slip through his fingers.
"Leightnan!" growled Coach, spitting the word like a curse. "What happened at the hospital? Can I play you, or did the doctor restrict ya?" It was clear from the tone that he was either playing or packing his bags.
Elmer felt the deep breath in his lungs, then answered back "I'm all yours."
Coach nodded, penciled something on his clipboard. A silent flash of lightning danced across the dirty clouds, a faint wink for any who watched.
"Allright, Leightnan, you're up after Davison," Coach shouted at no one in particular. Then, an afterthought.
"Oh, yeah. Everyone's glad you're O.K."
Elmer let out a weary sigh. So, this was what everything boiled down to. A nightmare childhood. A mediocre career that saw him hopping from farm team to farm team like a migrant worker, playing in any league that'd take him. Two busted marriages. A kid who barely knew what he looked like.
What a mess.
A pop fly right into a visitor's glove and another batter is sacrificed to the gods of Statistics. The second out of the inning, but Elmer couldn't remember who'd been the first to fall.
Clouds ate a handspan of horizon. It'd be a close race between a rainout and the ninth inning. Still silent, the lightning flashes brought a flicker of daytime blue to the gray of the dusk sky.
If you were placing blame, Leightnan reflected, there were two things that had always kept him from the majors. The first was obvious - his limited skill. In younger years, he'd convinced himself that the shoulder injury had derailed his career, but Elmer had long ago outgrown that comfortable lie. He'd seen enough hungry kids go to the big leagues, seen enough bitter men come back to know his skills wouldn't have cut it there. He'd played the minors for fifteen years. It was no claim to fame, but it was better than a hundred other men Elmer had seen come and go.
Even if he'd had the talent, though, his joy for the game would have held him back. He'd felt it the first time he'd played the game as a boy. It would still be there when he went out on the field today.
No, he never could have detached himself enough to get the job done in the majors. He'd still be a nine year old kid, awash with joy even as some hotshot pitcher ruined him. Baseball was the only happiness he'd ever known. He wouldn't have sacrificed that, even to play in the big leagues.
Those thoughts had raced through his head when the chest pains had ripped him apart that morning in the locker room. Then, in the ambulance, his heart had struggled, stopped. His skin had gone cold, the color drained from his lips. He'd taken his pulse a half dozen times and felt nothing in the taxi back from the hospital.
Somehow, he was dead, but had not yet gone away. Elmer knew deep inside that it couldn't last, that soon Nature would look his way and end this charade. Before then, though, he'd play the game one last time.
"Leightnan, on deck," shouted Coach.
A distant grumble of thunder, more heard than felt, rolled in. A few fat summer raindrops peppered the chalk of the first base line.
Elmer stood, grabbed his bat, and walked out on the field for one last turn at the plate.