“He was safe,” said the burly catcher to the umpire.
“I said he's out,” shot back the umpire, flexing and swelling the veins in his neck. (Have you ever seen umpire veins flex and swell in the same motion? It is almost erotic. At the very least it is titillating.)
“Listen here, Mr. Umpire, sir...let me tell you a little story,” said the catcher, removing his mask.
“I ain't got time for this. He's out. You tagged him. What the hell is your problem?””
“In the ancient days of baseball, when the world was still young, and the dew of creation still hung on the outfield,” said the catcher, “there was a tiny, tiny shortstop, possessed of a quirky, forthright spirit.”
“I told you I ain't got time for this.”
“Bear with me.” The catcher motioned for the umpire to sit down, which he did. They both sat down cross-legged on either side of home plate. The first baseman had strolled over and pulled a harmonica out of his pocket. As he played a plaintive tune, the catcher took a deep breath and continued the story.
“The dew of creation, in fact, had hardly dried in the outfield when the primordial umpire hollered 'play ball!' and the first pitch was thrown. It was only on the second pitch, I think, that the first batter got some wood on the ball. It took a couple of hops on its way to the shortstop. It bounced off the top of his glove, and when he grabbed for it on the ground, he missed it twice. An easy out turned into a base hit.”
“Some kinda' rookie?” asked the umpire.
“They were all rookies at that point,” said the first baseman, taking the harmonica away from his lips for a moment.
“It went on like this for eight innings,” said the catcher. “The shortstop kept on messing up easy plays.”
“I woulda' benched the guy and put in a different shortstop,” said the umpire, pulling some pemmican jerky from his bag.
“They didn't have enough shortstops to go around at that point,” said the pitcher, who had left the mound and joined the others in sitting cross-legged around home plate. “Not enough players at any position.”
A large bird winged its way over the box seats down the third base line, and a vendor in the stands hollered out “peanuts!”
“Well, somehow the home team managed to hang in there and was down by one run in the bottom of the ninth. With one out and a man on third, the tiny, tiny shortstop came up to bat. Everybody held their breath. One elderly lady in the bleacher section passed out, in fact.”
“What happened?” asked the umpire.
“On the third pitch, he hit a long fly just to the left of center. Two outfielders both ran for it and collided in mid-stride. It was spectacular. The runner on third scored, and the tiny, tiny shortstop's little legs churned as fast as he could turn them. He went past first, past second, and rounded third. The second baseman had run out to shag the ball, as the two outfielders were lying unconscious in the grass, and he made a mighty throw for home.”
“The throw was just in time, and no one could quite tell if he was safe or not. The umpire started raising his arm like he was going to call him out, but just then there was a rumbling of the earth and the skies darkened. The backstop in the bullpen was rent in twain. The runner, the catcher, the umpire and most of the coaching staff of both teams were struck dumb and were paralyzed. And everyone heard a voice from the heavens, booming out of the clouds.”
“What did it say?” asked the umpire, his mouth agape and full of pemmican jerky.
“Learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”
The same large bird winged its way over the box seats down the third base line, and a vendor in the stands hollered out “cold beer!”
Wind blew over the infield. The umpire and the players got up from the ground and dusted themselves off. The umpire pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his brow. He swallowed hard, choking down the jerky. It was as though there were mighty drops of blood upon his forehead. He stared into the silence of the outfield.