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FICTION

  Excerpt from Barnstormin’ With the Babe
                        A Novel by R. A. Cabral

      A taxi pulled up to the curb in front of “Rec” Park and Gehrig and Ruth lumbered out around 1:45. Immediately, they were besieged by various groups of well-wishers, exchanging pleasantries with the Knights all over again, plus executives from the San Francisco Examiner, which sponsored the game. Proceeds were going to benefit the newspaper’s Christmas Fund for indigent children. It was two o’clock when Babe and Lou started making their way toward the clubhouse, located directly behind centerfield. They went up and shook hands with Tony Lazzeri, who was fielding grounders around second base. 

      “How you doin’ today, Babe?” Lazzeri asked. “Feeling hitterish?”

      “Yassir, feelin’ hitterish today.”

      As the duo walked through centerfield Babe said, “Didn’t I tell ya—Rec’ Park’s a regular bandbox, Lou. See the fence over there in right?” Babe pointed to the twenty foot wall that showcased billboard advertisements, most of them for local businesses, such as Anderson Insurance and the proverbial Coca Cola sign. Mounted atop the billboards was a wire fence that rose another fifty feet, preventing the long flies from landing against the multi-story housing units directly behind.

      “What is that, about 265 down the right field line?” Lou asked incredulously.

      “It’s shorter than Yankee Stadium, that’s for sure. Now, that fence may be a hundred feet high,” Babe joshed.

      Lou chuckled. “Yep, and your upper cut is perfect for this place, Jidge.” As they drew closer to the centerfield fence, Lou nodded toward the billboard mounted atop the clubhouse. The advertisement featured a man in profile smoking a cigarette, with wisps of fake smoke coming out of his mouth.

      “Maybe you could knock that cigarette out of his teeth,” Lou kidded.

      “Might just do that before the day is through, Dutchman.”

      Observing like a seagull patrolling the sand dunes, Luther Woundup watched them strolling toward the clubhouse. He had been promised a tryout before the contest. But no one had offered to hit him fungoes or take batting practice along with the others. Some tryout.

      Around 2:10 Babe and Lou emerged through the fence and a cheer went up from the left field bleachers where another group of kiddies screamed their names in delight. The star players were dressed in their identically-opposite looking uniforms. Ruth was sporting a navy blue jersey and pants, with basic block white letters spelling out the team name “BUSTIN’ BABES” on the chest. He wore a white hat with a dark blue bill and dark lettering “BB”. Gehrig’s “Larrupin’ Lou” outfit was nearly the photographic negative of Babe’s uniform: all white except the hat and navy blue lettering on the jersey.

      Out on the mound a pitcher was taking his warm-up tosses, when Ruth stepped into the batter’s box. The much anticipated “batting exhibition” featuring Babe and Lou was about to begin. Twelve dozen Reach baseballs had been brought in for the afternoon’s game. The first one out of the boxes was about to leave the park. Luther had positioned himself in right field to catch the ones that missed the mark.

      Babe launched several pitches well over the enormous fence in right field, towering, majestic shots that rattled the rooftops of the houses behind the right field wall. But the crowd erupted in a cacophony when they heard the sound of a tape measure blast to centerfield that sailed so far over the cigarette billboard it clattered on the ceramic shingles of the church one block away on 14th Street. Babe dropped his bat and waved to the fans, cheering this unimaginable bomb from the Big Bambino.

      Then it was Gehrig’s turn. He came to bat and the crowd came to attention. This was the first time that Bay Area fans would have the pleasure of watching Lou Gehrig put a charge into a baseball. Lou was a line drive hitter and swung at pitches with smooth ferocity, attacking the ball like few hitters in the game. In this exhibition, not as many of his blows jumped over the fences. Several stung the wire fence in right field, and Luther adroitly played the ball off the wire screen as if he’d been playing this outfield all through school. But Gehrig launched a ball that sent the crowd into a feverish pitch, propelling the baseball deep to centerfield as if shot from a cannon, until it climbed to the perfect altitude and smacked the cigarette billboard sign with such a clang the sound reverberated throughout the Mission District. When Lou tossed his lumber on the dirt, the crowd cheered, for they had just witnessed the memory of a lifetime.

      Luther flipped his glove near the dugout and walked over to Zeltac. “I thought they were going to give me a tryout? All I did was shag balls in right.”

      Zeltac folded his arms over his chest. “Babe promised they would take a look at you. And they did. Now, here comes Mr. Walsh.”

      Walsh approached Luther. “Sorry they were unable to work you out today, but in fact we are well-stocked and won’t be needing anyone today. Some of the best talent assembled on this tour is out there today. Perhaps tomorrow there might be an opening,” he said, attempting to mollify Luther. Walsh could see was disappointed. “Maybe tomorrow, kid. Meantime, you’re welcome to sit in the dugout with the boys in case somebody gets hurt.” He turned and walked back toward home plate, where the umpires were talking with Babe Ruth.

      Zeltac pulled Luther away from the booze cage. “You care to explain how someone from Verdeca can handle a glove like you just displayed out there?” he asked pointedly. “It looks like you have been playing this game all your life.”

      Luther thought twice about revealing he’d been playing all his life. “I have been at it awhile.”

      “But I just introduced the game two seasons ago,” countered Zeltac. Either you’re a quick study or not from Verdeca as you claim.”

      Luther fought the urge to say anymore, to announce that he had set the collegiate home run record at University of Maris, and was voted the MVP of the baseball Glolympiad on Spalding, a tournament that his father would help organize and promote some sixty years in the future. “That is ridiculous. I am a Spaldingian through and through.”

      Luther retreated toward the dugout, ducked inside and took a seat down at the end of the bench. Then it him, like a duffel bag full of bats over the head: In his haste, he had used the planet’s future  name when claiming his lineage. He smiled, for he knew that Zeltac wouldn’t recognize the faus pax, but knew that in the process he’d just planted the seed for a new cultural revolution on his home planet.

 

{end excerpt Barnstormin’ with the Babe}