Authors: Kurtis Scaletta
For Ken and Kelly,
with whom I learned the heights of friendship
and rivalry known only among brothers.
A father makes all the difference.
—Roy Hobbs in
My father says the defining moment of his life came when he was twelve years old.
“The defining moment in a person's life isn't necessarily the greatest moment,” he tells me. “When you were born, Roy, that was the
moment in my life. But this was the
moment. It's the moment everybody knows me by. It's the moment I knew exactly who I was.”
“The luckiest son of a gun there ever was, that's who.”
This moment came on the Fourth of July, during the last baseball game he ever played. It was the annual game between our hometown of Moundville and our archrival, Sinister Bend. It was the bottom of the fourth inning, and Moundville was trailing by eleven runs.
It was nothing new for Moundville to be losing—they had lost over a hundred straight games to Sinister Bend, as far back as they'd been writing down the score and keeping track. It was unusual to be losing by that much, though, and that early in the game. Especially because it was supposed to be different that year: Moundville had a young player named Bobby Fitz, a boy who could throw a spitball without using spit and smack singles all over the field and stretch them into doubles and steal third while he was at it. Bobby Fitz was expected to lead Moundville to victory. It wasn't just his pitching, or even his hitting. There was something
invulnerable about him, something glowing and magical. Something that didn't care about curses or losing streaks or anything but winning.
Bobby got hurt in the first inning and came out of the game. Moundville's backup pitcher struggled, giving up a run or two for every hard-earned out. The fans covered their eyes with each pitch.
Things weren't any better when Moundville batted. The Sinister Bend pitcher was a monster. The batters could barely see his eyes scowling from underneath a mop of long, dark hair, though they could see his mouth twisted into a permanent sneer. He threw every ball as if he was trying to puncture a hole in the backstop. The Moundville players were terrified. They jumped back half the time just to watch fastballs bisect the plate.
Seeing black clouds creep in across the sky, the Moundville coach corralled the boys in the dugout and told them to take their time. Hold up the game, he said. Pray for rain. By long-standing rule, the game wouldn't be official until the fourth inning was done. If they could just prolong the inning until the sky opened up, Moundville could reschedule the game in a week or so, when their star pitcher was healthy again.
The first batter dawdled all he could but lasted only a few minutes. The second flailed at the first pitch and grounded out.
My father was Moundville's last hope. He stood in the batter's box for nearly half an hour, fouling off pitches,
stamping around in the dirt, and adjusting his gloves between every pitch, until the Sinister Bend pitcher looked ready to take off his head with a fastball.
His defining moment came on the thirty-second pitch. By that time, the sky had opened, sending sheets of rain across the baseball field while lightning was flashing in the distance.
The hit itself was nothing—a lucky seeing-eye single that squirted on wet grass by the diving third baseman and skittered to the fence. It was booted and mishandled and overthrown by the defense, mostly due to the slippery conditions. My dad even came around to score, on a single and three bases’ worth of errors by the Sinister Bend team.
It didn't make much of a dent in the box score. It made all the difference, though, because the game was called just one out short of being official. All eleven Sinister Bend runs were off the books. If it wasn't for the rain and lightning, the Moundville players might have carried my dad off the field on their shoulders. Instead, they huddled in the dugout, waiting for the storm to blow over.
The spectators all ran to the diner and the pool hall and the pizza place, which were across the street, packing every building right up to the rafters. My dad said you could see the sides of those buildings bulge like overcooked wieners, but he tends to stretch the truth. People crowded together at the windows and watched the sky and wondered when it would let up enough to leave. It just kept pouring, though, so people started running to their cars—or running home, if they'd
walked to the park that morning. They ran in wet little groups of three and four, hardly able to see where they were going.
Meanwhile, the Sinister Bend team refused to yield. They sat in their dugout, looking with determined eyes at the Moundville team, who also refused to yield. If the Sinister Bend team would wait, so would they. The dugouts were covered, but sheets of rain were sweeping in, keeping the boys plenty wet and miserable.
“It was a game of wet chicken,” my dad likes to say.
It grew dark, and the parents of boys on both sides began to drive by, flashing their lights in the mist and honking their horns. Every time a car passed, one or two boys would have to quit the standoff and go home.
The last two boys were my father and the Sinister Bend pitcher. They were the only ones whose parents had not come to pick them up and take them home. They waited, wet and cold, in different corners of the muddy diamond, a full hour after every single other person had gone home.
At last, the Sinister Bend pitcher stood up and stepped out of the rain. He did not turn and run, though. He stormed to the Moundville dugout and rattled the chain-link fencing that protected the players from hard-hit foul balls.
“This isn't over!” he shouted at my dad. “Not by a long shot!”
It still isn't over, twenty-two years later. After all, it's still raining.
To understand baseball, you have to understand percentages. For example, if a guy is hitting .250, he only has about one chance in a thousand of going five-for-five in a single game. Over a season, though, the odds get better. Like about one in seven. Not great, but not that bad. If he plays long enough, he'll probably do it. That's how a guy can go into every game feeling positive. He knows if he plays enough games, eventu-ally he'll have a perfect day at the plate.
It's the same thing with rain. Maybe you read in the pa-per every day that there's a 25 percent chance of rain. That means there's about one chance in a thousand of having it rain five days straight. It's not likely, but it's not impossible. If you're twelve years old, like I am, you've probably even seen it happen.
If you take all the teams in the history of baseball, then percentages start making funny things happen. For example, Walt Dropo of Detroit once got twelve hits in a row; he went five-for-five one day and seven-for-seven the next. The odds of that are like one in two million, but there's been way more than two million tries, if you think about all the baseball players and all the games they ever played in, so it had to happen eventually. Dropo was just the guy who did it.
That's how I explain the fact that it's been raining for twenty-two years in Moundville. The earth is a big place, and it's been around for a long time. If you think about all
the towns in the world and all the years the earth has been around, it was bound to happen somewhere sooner or later. It just happened to be my town and my lifetime. It's percentages.
I'm trying to explain this to Adam on the last day of baseball camp while we're packing up to go home. Camp is at the state university, and we've been sharing a dorm room about the size of a breadbox.
“Everybody's hitting .250?” he asks me. “Even the DH?”
“For the sake of argument, yeah.”
“Sounds like a pretty lousy baseball team.” He shakes his head. “The manager would send some guys down or some-thing. Maybe make a trade.”
“That's not the point.”
“It is so the point! If your whole team is batting .250, you don't wait around until the end of time because maybe eventually a guy goes five-for-five. You do something about it.”
“We can't do anything about the weather, though.”
“You can move.”
“It's not that easy. My dad's business is in Moundville.”
“He can start a business somewhere else.”
“He rainproofs houses,” I remind him. “It's not like there's a big demand for that anywhere else.”
“I would move anyway,” he says. “No baseball? That's nuts.”
“It's not such a bad place to live. Anyway, there's lots of places where it rains all the time. London. Seattle.”
“It doesn't rain every day for twenty-two years straight.”
“It could, though.”
I like Adam pretty well, but I'm kind of mad at him for dumping on Moundville. Sure, it's wet, but it's still my home-town.
Fortunately, we're interrupted by a half dozen people practically knocking down the door. It's Steve and his family.
Steve is also from Moundville. We've known each other since kindergarten. His parents and his little sisters and his grandma came down to watch the Camp Classic, and now they're all heading home.
The Camp Classic is a four-team tournament meant to end camp with a bang. Adam and I were on the winning team. He pitched the first game, and I caught both games. My shins still feel like they're about to fall off at the knees, but it was worth it.
“You're coming with us!” says one of Steve's sisters. It must be Shauna because she's wearing a red T-shirt. They color-code the twins so everyone can tell them apart.
“Your dad can't make it!” the other sister, Sheila, ex-plains.
“Shush,” says their dad. “Let the man talk to his father.” He passes me a cell phone.
“Yeah?” I shout into the phone.
“Hey, kid. No need to yell.” My dad's voice is as clear as if he's standing right next to me, a testament to Mr. Robinson's
commitment to high-end gadgetry. “I hear you won a trophy?”
“It's nothing.” I figure Steve's dad must have told him about my Camp Classic MVP trophy.
“It didn't sound like nothing.”
“Those trophies are like immunizations. Everybody has to get one.” It's true, too. Adam won a trophy for “best competitor,” which meant he took the game too seriously, and Steve won one for “best sport,” which meant he didn't take the game seriously enough.