In the Limelight
As he arrived at home plate he felt the sweat in his palms; it was a comfortable 66 degrees on game day so he attributed the perspiration to his nerves. Before stepping into the batter’s box Happy wiped his hands on his uniform pants and continued to rub the pine tar on his bat to ensure he had a solid grip. His cap felt slightly askew so he adjusted the brim an eighth inch to the left. He re-tucked the front of his wool jersey uniform shirt into his pants and kicked the dirt from his cleats with the end of his bat.
At this point his baseball instinct honed by countless repetition through years of sandlot and amateur league games and endless practice drills took over and he surveyed the field. Although he was watching closely as the inning unfolded he reviewed in his head the critical particulars of the game as it currently stood.
Bottom of the 7th inning against the first place Cubs. Bases loaded. Two outs. One run lead but a hit or a walk brings in at least one more insurance run, maybe more. Defense playing straight away or a shade to right field. Not expecting me to pull against Three-Finger Mordechai Brown on the mound. Throws gas so I’ve got to be ready but has a mean changeup which he mixes in with a lights out, off-speed overhand curve. Will pitch inside and put you on your ass just for fun. Best pitcher in the whole damn league.
He automatically glanced down to the third base coach to read the signs, although Happy knew as did everyone in the stadium, that with two outs and bases loaded he would be instructed to swing away. In fact, since the coach didn’t make a move to tug on his ear none of the animated gestures he was going through meant anything at all. Swing away kid, plain and simple.
Then, “Hey, rookie! Haven’t got all day…you gonna get in there and hit or what?” hollered home plate ump Bill Brennan, shattering Happy’s attempt to focus and concentrate.
“Yes sir!” instinctively responded Seaman Second Class, Henry Smith as he crossed the threshold into the left side batter’s box. Brennan misinterpreted this as a sarcastic response and gave Happy a dirty look. With that reaction Happy thought he just lost the benefit of the doubt on anything close so he’d better be prepared to swing at any pitch even remotely near the strike zone. In reality, it was never really in question: major league umpires, including Brennan always gave the edge to a veteran pitcher over a rookie. That’s just how things work.