I love writing stories. I began when I was around eight or nine years old and I have not stopped.
I wrote the first draft of the following short story during 1972/73. It is an untypical baseball story featuring Dave Evans. When I wrote later drafts, I ended up with two that I liked. The first is below and is closer to the original draft, presented in Now and Then parts. The second story is darker—a bit menacing, which I will post tomorrow.
I like the first one for its light innocence, but the second one has a bite to it that makes it exciting to read.
Bottom of the Seventh
Subtitled, “Soft Like Butter”
He is Dave Evans, a tenth-grader at Ridgewood High School. He has on his white baseball uniform with blue pinstripes. Today is the first Thursday in June and the last day of school. It is also the last regulation Junior Varsity baseball game of the season.
His team huddles at the bench inside their dugout. It is the bottom of the seventh inning, the team’s last chance to score two runs and win the game. Coach Walker reminds the players of that when Dave peeks past the wire mesh next to him, out at the blonde-haired girl sitting in the third row bleachers behind the dugout. The evening sun seems to spark a halo around her hair and white dress, making her look like an angel.
She lifts her face and he looks away to avoid making eye contact.
“Is it really her?” his friend Lenny Stevens asks from his seat next to Dave. He twists and cranes his head to get a better look at her.
“You see her too,” Dave says, glad he has not lost his sanity.
Coach Walker’s pep talk ends with, “No matter how this game ends, it’s been a great year.”
Has it? Dave sneaks another glance at Julie Sommers, then looks away and tries to focus on the game. Coach Walker, a short, heavy man who has a passion for pepperoni pizza, ambles to his spot at the third base coach’s box and gives his first batter, Alan Richards, signals. Alan watches attentively from home plate, then hurries into the batter’s box, looking eager to start a rally.
Dave leans against Lenny and whispers, “I wish this was over.”
“Do you think she still loves you?” Lenny asks.
Dave closes his eyes. “I wasn’t a very good boyfriend.”
“She was the prettiest girl at that party,” Dave said to Lenny in the lunchroom at school almost a month ago. They sat across from each other and kept their voices low. “Remember? It was at my snooty cousin Lisa’s house, during a party for her fourteenth birthday. You were already there, in my Aunt Debbie’s indoor swimming pool, when I got there. She yelled at me when I cannonballed into the deep end. Lisa and some other girls were playing Blind Man’s Bluff there and they surrounded Julie who was blindfolded. She was trying to tag them.”
“Is that when I hit you with the beach ball?” Lenny asked.
“Yeah. I turned around and saw you laughing over at the shallow end. That’s when Julie stumbled into me. She fell and pulled me underwater with her. I squirmed around and the next thing I knew, we were arm in arm and face to face. She took off her blindfold, smiled at me, then pushed away and returned to her game.
“I could have kissed her—our faces were less than an inch apart.”
Lenny nodded. “You should have kissed her.”
The Ridgewood fans cheer and some of them jump to their feet when Alan laces a single over the second baseman’s head. The New Cambridge Yellow Jackets shout encouragement to their pitcher.
Dave glances again at Julie. Staying focused on anything has been difficult. His grades have taken a turn for the worse. And that is when his hitting slump started, when—
“Fire in the hole,” someone shouts as players in the dugout dodge and dive around Dave and bring him out of his reverie.
The foul ball skirts past his knees, ricochets off the bench, and sails back onto the field. He sneaks another glance at Julie. Her face and hair glow more luxurious as the evening sun sinks toward the horizon.
The evening sun glowed through a window inside the Pizza Hut and lit up Julie’s perfect face. She was like an artist’s finest creation. To be in her presence made Dave a nervous wreck.
He stood at the counter, gnawed on his chewing gum, and urged Lenny to hurry and pay for their pizza and go.
“You should say hi before we leave,” Lenny said.
“I don’t want her to get fired.”
Julie picked up her tray from the table she had just bussed and headed toward Dave. Lenny had to hammer him on the back to dislodge the gum wedged against his windpipe.
When Dave could breathe again, he stepped in front of Julie before she could enter the kitchen and bumped her tray, knocking over a glass of half-finished iced tea. It spilled down the front of Julie’s uniform.
She shrieked, then hurried into the kitchen and left behind a dumbfounded Dave.
Lenny pokes him in the ribs with a bony elbow and tells him he is on deck. Dave seems to float from his seat and to the on-deck circle in foul territory. He swings a weighted bat and dreams of hitting another home run for beautiful Julie Sommers.
After that horrible event at Pizza Hut, Dave entered a funk and spent some time at a safe distance from Julie.
When baseball season started at school, she came to his first game. He did not know she was there until after he hit a homerun to end a tie game. She came to the dugout and asked, “What’s it like to hit a game-winning homerun?”
Dave was speechless. His mouth seemed to petrify.
Why was she here, talking to him?
“I’m the sports reporter for the school paper,” she said.
It felt like several long minutes had passed before he could work his voice again. Julie had turned away and was speaking to Coach Walker when Dave blurted, “It’s such a wonderful feeling when a batter connects with the ball and hits the perfect hit.”
“And what is the perfect hit?” she asked, turning back to him.
“It’s when the ball feels soft against the bat when a batter makes contact. Sometimes there is barely a feeling at all.”
“How soft does it feel?”
“Really soft, like the ball is made of…” His mind scrambled to think of the right word.
“Soft like rubber?” she asked.
“Softer. Creamier. Smoother.”
Yes. Like hitting butter. She was perfect.
“Would you like to go on a date?” she asked.
Again, Dave’s mouth seemed to petrify.
“You can let me know at school tomorrow,” she said with a smile before walking away.
Dave puts on a batter’s helmet. The scoreboard behind the centerfield fence shows two outs. He wonders if Petey Jackson, his teammate at bat, will be the final out. Petey answers his question by placing a hot bouncing double between leftfield and centerfield. The center fielder is quick to get to the ball. He throws it to his shortstop, keeping Alan Richards from rounding third base and scoring the tying run.
The Yellow Jackets’ coach calls for a pitcher change and Coach Walker is quick to get to Dave.
“Forget about those last two strikeouts,” he says, which causes those last two strikeouts to loom large in Dave’s mind. “Just relax and make contact. Like hitting butter.”
Dave steals a glance at Julie. Coach Walker places a beefy hand on Dave’s thin shoulder. “You can do this. Empty your mind of everything around you and focus only on the ball.”
Dave nods and tries to ignore the anxiety dancing across his back.
“Like hitting butter.”
“A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter,” Dave and Lenny sang out as they walked beneath the gentle May sun to Maynard’s grocery store downtown. Lenny held out his mom’s shopping list of bread, milk and butter, which the boys found hilarious since it mimicked one of their favorite segments from television’s Sesame Street.
“You should go out with her,” Lenny said.
Lenny laughed. “Of course. I hear she’s really into you.”
Dave forced his fists into his jeans front pockets. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Come on, you have to do this while she still has feelings for you. But if you keep turning her down, you’re going to lose her.”
Dave shook his head and Lenny continued his campaign.
They carried on for several blocks to downtown until an ambulance screamed past them toward the hospital. A female police officer guided them across the street at Main and Elm intersection where broken glass from an accident still littered the street. A tow truck drove away with one of the cars from the accident. Another police officer directed traffic around the other damaged car still in the intersection.
An elderly woman at Maynard’s told them that a car had run a red light and hit another car broadside. The drivers from the cars were okay, she said. However, a young girl in the second car was in critical condition.
Dave and Lenny reflected on their own mortality. It frightened them to think about death coming suddenly and taking one of them away.
Dave looks one more time at Julie, enters the batter’s box, digs his cleats into the dirt, and swings his bat menacingly at the replacement pitcher.
“No batter no batter no batter,” the Yellow Jackets’ catcher taunts.
The pitcher nods to his catcher, checks Alan Richards taking a big lead from third base, glances at Petey Jackson stepping away from second base, then delivers a letter high fastball that blows past Dave.
“Stee-rike one!” the umpire bellows.
Coach Walker gives Dave a nod and raises his thumbs.
Dave steps back in the batter’s box. The pitcher eyeballs Alan who steps off the bag as the third baseman leans toward third base. Nothing happens, so Dave steps out of the batter’s box and sniff at the dust in the air. And Julie’s rosy perfume.
She has vanished from her seat.
“Butter pitch,” she says; her voice is like a small echo in Dave’s ears. “Let’s hit the ball and end this game.”
Dave shivers from the strange sensation of Julie’s soul inside him.
“Batter up,” the umpire says.
Dave gulps, nods, and enters the batter’s box on wobbly legs. The pitcher nods to his catcher and throws a chin-high fastball. He knows not to swing at it, but an unfamiliar urge forces him to swing anyway.
The bat strikes the baseball.
“Like hitting butter,” Julie says.
The ball shoots high above leftfield and clears the fence.
Dave circles the bases, a hero who is unsure of what happened. His teammates mob him at home plate.
He retrieves his baseball glove from the dugout and slips away from Lenny and the others as he heads away from the high school. Ridgewood Cemetery sits across the street. The sinking sun plays shadows across the gentle hills of tombs and headstones. He stops at a large, pink marble headstone at a fresh grave. A breeze stirs through the trees and he enjoys its warmth, which is so like Julie’s love.
He speaks quietly to her soul still inside him. They talk—boy and girl, mortal and spirit—until, in the final moments of twilight, a cool breeze stirs through the trees of the cemetery and he leaves Julie behind.
But before he goes, he embraces her love one last time.