This might offend you. Okay? Okay.
We found out that afternoon that the company picnic party would be at Lavin park, where there's this real nice diamond on the north side of the park, beyond the benches. There's this old timer named Benny who lives on the other side of West Creek who comes out twice a week or so to make sure it's kept in good shape. He does it for free. He even keeps up a chalk line in an arc at 380' at left and right fields and 395' at center field to designate how far a long ball has to go. The rule is simple - if the outfielder has to cross the line to make the catch - it's declared a homer. It really was a beautiful diamond, by far the best public one I had ever seen or played. A local legend, to be sure.
Mike, Joe, and Craig went home on their lunch break to gather up bats, balls, and gloves. Between the three of them, and with Joe being a lefty, we had plenty of what we needed, except for gloves. We told everyone to bring their own if they could, or else the infielders would have to play barehanded. It worked itself out in the end.
Mike was the obligatory captain for the first team. I was the only real candidate for the other captain, being the only other person in the company who played ball beyond high school (2 years at a Tech school, I quit because I was sick of the demands of the road). There were exactly 18 of us, as luck would have it. As captains, Mike and I decided to pull names from a hat instead of using a draft system, for the fairness and the fun. My team composition wound up being myself, Evan, Taylor, Bradford, Ashley, Jake, Quanhui, Henry, and Jesus H. Christ of the Nazarene.
Now Jesus was always an awkward sort, especially since he decided to cut his hair to draw attention away from himself. Nobody knew much about his athleticism, but we all sort of assumed he was the shy and untalented type of guy who was eager to please, a good team player. But individual athleticism is a big part of this sport, especially if we're gonna beat that douchebag Mike. I know he rigged the set to get Emily on his team, I don't know how. But I know that asshole did it. Ah, but I shouldn't be coveting my neighbor in mixed company I guess.
To my surprise, Jesus approached me on the matter before I could bring it up. "Hey, umm," he spoke tentatively. "if it's okay with you guys I think I'd rather not play outfield. Or shortstop. See, you have to move around a lot for that kind of stuff, and between my asthma and these holes in my feet I think it would take a lot of fun out of the game for me." "Hey, it's all good, Jesus." I said. "We'll find a place for you."
Now I had to start thinking. Can I trust him to run down bunts if I put him at third? Maybe he can pitch okay? I decided to throw a game of catch with him to think things over while everyone else was getting seconds of the picnic food. His hand-eye coordination seemed decent enough that I decided to put him in as my catcher, and see what happens. What can I say? I figured the whole thou shalt not steal thing would help us out.
As it turned out, Jesus was a kind motivator, but ultimately a nightmarishly bad baseball player. What I hadn't considered about making him catcher is that Jesus isn't particularly good about giving people signs. Not clearly enough to help, anyway. He gave up two passed balls, he missed an easy pop flyout about 9 feet behind the plate, and he struck out every at bat. He played very eagerly, and he was all apologies through the game. Every other inning he'd stay on the diamond for a while before realizing we had got 3 ("Oh, that's the third out? Well, yeah! Good job, guys! We'll get those runs back, no worries!")
By the 4th inning we were down 7-3. Taylor's pitch count was getting pretty high for us - he had to work pretty hard to get out of some of those innings. But I decided to come over from first base to see if I could still throw a few reliever innings after the surgery. We were tired, a little sweaty, and getting desperate. Or, at least I was, I think everyone else actually might have been having fun, but oh well. I guess it takes a lot to extinguish the fire to compete once you've had it and nursed it, even in a past life. So as I'm claiming my hill, I'm shaking. In nervousness or frustration? Excitement of uncertainty, Fear and Doubt, or all of these things? Whatever it was, it got smothered abruptly. As God bestowed upon us a small gift.
OH, THANK CHRIST! Well, I mean...you know what I mean.
It was Darren, walking across the parking lot to the field with a raggedy glove and a warm smile. He was technically on vacation. But I guess the house gets lonely sometimes, with the kids at school and a wife that had just moved back in with her mother because she needed some time and space. I swear he walked like an angel. A fat, greasy, dog-faced angel. Like John Travolta in that one movie where he played an angel. Hmm. Mysterious ways. I called time and waved Mike over to talk about it. "You're the trailing team, so I'll let you take him if you want him" said Mike. I could've kissed him for half a second until I decided I'd rather break his jaw. Of course, I didn't do that either. Sin of Wrath and all, I took the Virtue of Patience thing with a grain of salt.
I took the slow, tough walk over to Jesus that any coach has had to make before. I couldn't decide whether or not I was enjoying it. I mean, his psyche surely wasn't the same after the incident. You feel a little for the guy, not for his fragility as much as for his effort and spirit. His campy, morning person spirit which demanded endearment, but it's still spirit. I guess at the end of the day the shepherd, the captain, and the lord all have their duties. And they tend to be similar.
He was already quietly observing the way his foot scraped the dirt behind the plate. His body language showed everything he tried to hide behind a mask in a size too small. He had clearly seen it coming, so I made it quick as I could for my favorite loser.
"Hey, Jesus? Darren was looking to jump in on this game, and we're probably going to take him in on our team." He continued to scrape his foot, purse lips, bobbing his head understandingly. "Hey," I said, with a friendly clap on the shoulder as he looked up. "You know what? I think--" as I turned the both of us to the left "you would make a GREAT first base coach." I turned to him and gave a smile that was probably genuine, I don't remember.
Jesus smiled weakly, and walked with his head down along the first base line, not trying particularly hard to show or hide his disappointment.