The Last At Bat
By Jerry Grimm
Have you ever wondered what your very last time on the field would be like? That planned, or unplanned day when going to the ball yard you once again go through the old, old ritual for the last time_.
The old geezer got up from the dugout bench slowly and moved toward the bat rack: It was the bottom of the seventh inning, one out and his team trailing miserably. He realized that this was to be his last at bat_ever. The last time he would be selecting his weapon from the rack, the last time he would enter the icebox. He kind of froze there at the meat rack, shuffling through the sticks, although he already had his bat held securely in his right hand. For some reason he passed his left hand lightly over the tops of all of the bats hanging there; then he gripped Old Faithful tightly in his hand and stood upright, as if he had made a great decision. He glanced out at the field through the mesh fence of the dugout and immediately understood where the defensive players were, where the pitcher was in the count and about how much time he had until he had to get into the on-deck circle. Without anyone knowing, he turned slightly and looked at all of the guys sitting on the bench; there they were, his pals, all dressed in mostly grub clothing, rough looking characters but some sort of contented, happy expression behind each one's face. He knew that look. He knew just what they were feeling and it had never gotten old. No one was looking at him, so he glanced at each face down the row: He listened hard to the few words that floated or popped out from the squad of sandlot Kids-that's what they really looked like, and so did he, he realized. Just a real bunch of old boys, going after that ‘ol Gold Ring. He'd heard it all and seen it a thousand times, but now it meant so much it was like he was on his deathbed.
He straightened all of the way up and slowly made his way to the opening in the dugout to the field. With no fan-fare he stepped out of the dugout, for the last time. No one said goodbye, no one even hollered at him. It was like going to your own execution, he thought, no one wants to be the last one to speak to you. But they don't know, he hadn't told anyone of his decision to retire this season; it was something he felt was best to take all on your own.
The old Geezer moved into the on-deck circle. For the ump-teenth time he watched the present batter going through his work in the box. Batters all look about the same, but if you know what to look for you can see how they are different, and they are all different. He studied the batsman carefully for a few moments and wished that he had more time to really get into this battle between the pitcher and the batter, but a big part of the softball game is that it moves along so swiftly. It isn't very long until the batter hits the ball and the old drama leaps into action. After all, nothing really happens until the ball is hit and this fact made the old batsman bow his head in thought. "How absurd," he thought, "Of course nothing can really have significance until the ball is in play. I've always known that, why would I go all the way back and think of that?"
Then the hitter hit the ball, there was a bit of running, some yelling, scuffling and then an ordered end of it and conclusion. Now there were two outs. This really could be it. The last out. What a way to end it. And it's to be him, he represented that last out. The geezer smiled to himself, realizing the private, vast meaning to all of this. There was more to it than just hitting the ball: You had to reach base safely-this was the goal, this was the ultimate victory. "Why am I having these mundane, simple-minded thoughts?" He looked around him quickly as he realized that he had spoken these words out load, although they had been under his breath. "This is only right", he thought silently to himself, "This is the way it should come down for me in the end; the game has always been good to me in the long run and now only it knows and I know what this all means."
He began walking slowly toward the plate, wishing that somehow he could stretch this single, seemingly meaningless walk into an on-going home run trot that would go on and on. There just didn't seem to be any way to get a stay from all of this, or a lasting satisfaction that would finally say, "See, I told you that I played the game with all of my heart and it really meant something to me and somehow I meant something to the game!"
He glanced at the small metal bleachers that were located directly behind home plate. Prior to now, they had been all but empty, but he was shocked to see that they were jam-packed with wonderful, lively looking people. They were all smiling and looking at him, some pointing. Their animated voices almost sounded musical and he could hear his name drifting out of it all on occasion. But wait a minute! There was his dad and mom sitting right there in the front row, all smiles and waving to him. They had been gone for years now, and yet they looked as if they were in their 30's when he had first begun playing ball. Around them he could see old friends, all full of youth and centered in on watching him.
The geezer shook his head and tearing his eyes away from this stunning apparition, he looked out at the pitcher. Same ‘ol, same ‘ol, they never looked much different. Ultimately it was always just the ball that he was interested in. That was what he was looking for, really. Now it was finally time. Just before he entered the box, for some strange reason, he stopped and looked directly at the umpire. The ump smiled kindly at him and called him by name; the squatted catcher did the same and the old Geezer just shook his head and muttered something intelligible in reply. "Don't be the last out," somebody sang out, and then reality crashed down suddenly upon him. Same old game, same old pressure, but did they know, did anyone really know what this was all about?
Venturing a backwards glance at the bleachers behind home plate the ancient batsman snorted when he saw that the stands were completely empty. He dug into the box with a snort and an old feeling of deep anger came over him. All alone. Yes, that is the way it really was in the icebox. Who's to ever know what you really go through in there? "Well, I made it through. I'm finally here, I got to the last at bat after all of these years and I'm going to finish. What does it matter how? Who's to care? Anyway, what's this guy got out there? I'm going to work it just the way I want it and that's all I'm going to think about."
Just as the pitcher was through doodling around out on the rubber a strange thing began happening around the ballpark. A quietness began settling in, from the dugout out to the deep field. No one had anything further to say. All eyes became focused on the oldster, standing uneasily in the deep-freeze. He looked older than anyone else out there and his face was the very mask of Drama's Sorrow. The first pitch sailed down the middle and the ump sang out a strike. The old man did not move much while the pitcher got ready to chuck the next offering. It came floating in like a frosted marshmallow, but the frozen batter didn't move; the silence became thick. There was an underlying sound to this silence and everyone there knew that it was all about him now.
"There is something missing, missing!" he thought. The inert geezer did something that he rarely did: He stumbled back out of the box, drew a deep breath and looked out directly into the center field. "There never used to be stands out there", he thought, "So what's with all of that?!" Just behind the fence, under a single, bright overhead light ran gleaming metal stands along the length of the centerfield area. It was a long ways out there, but he could make one thing out very clearly: It was her. There she was, his sweetheart, ex-wife from years ago standing alone out there and it looked like she was waving. She had on that cute little summer dress and hat that she wore that time they went to Yankee Stadium, years ago. She looked the same age as back then. She was definitely waving at him, slowly, and he could imagine the beautiful smile on her face.
The pitcher was impatient, after all, this game was all but history and he wanted to get it over with. He pranced around the slab and came to rest, glaring in at the old slugger.
By instinct the Geezer re-entered the hallowed precinct. Someone shouted a word of encouragement from his dugout and the ancient warrior felt his toes dig into the soft dirt and his hands gripped the bat handle like a man gripping the first woman of his life. His entire body surged with an inner scream that was matched by a rousing roar that began from behind home plate, surged through his dugout and flew out to centerfield where it rolled and crashed with the blood thundering in his ears.
"Death to you!" the old man shouted, but it was not heard in the din that rose around the ball field. The orb came in lazily, in total contrast to the holocaust going on all around it. Someone from deep center field shouted with a clarion voice that chilled the blood of every player on the field-all but the Geezer who held the club of life: He heard it and understood. As he swung, he could actually feel all of the 60 plus years of the power he had put into this game surge through the end of the bat: The single, piercing shriek of the orb, as it left for dead center field, numbed the ears of everyone in hearing distance.
The Old Guy finally kicked open the freezer door and took a step or two into the clear, wondrous air of Parnassius. There it went, yes! There it went and it was headed straight for her.
With both hands held straight out, the maiden caught the ball in the deafening clamor of the thunderous applause. Just as quickly as she caught the ball, the maiden held it out toward him, which he saw as he was headed for second base. Then she released it, throwing it straight up into sky, shattering the single overhead light. All but the Geezer, the ballplayers and the ball field dissolved slowly away. No one really noticed if he touched home plate. Hey, after all, does that really matter?
That's it folks. No one really knows how it's going to end. But it was SURE a grand game.