Today I’m posting Chapter 11 of High Pocket. In this chapter, Jake makes a decision that changes everything for him, for Mary, and for Sandy.
By the time we got back to the picnic area, everybody was friendly as could be, and I made the introductions. Ben told me how pretty Mary was right in front of her, which made her blush and look down. Then we ate and my dad told the “girls” to be sure to be at the diamond by 2:30.
“We need cheerleaders. Do you know any high school cheers we could use?” my dad asked Mary.
It wasn’t meant as an insult because she looked so young, and she didn’t take it that way.
“Sure,” she said, “one or two I remember.”
“Well, you go ahead and sing them out loud and clear from the stands.”
“It’ll be fun,” my mom said, “Teach them to me and Gena.
I went to the truck and got my mitt. All the way back to the diamond, we didn’t talk about anything except the game coming up. My dad was trying to pump us up for it. Of course, he had to be careful about doing that. I mean, me and Ben were miners after all, so he couldn’t run the Diggers down too much. Mostly, he just tried to give me some advice about my pitching. I couldn’t believe he could go on and on about the goddamn gave after what he’d just told us about Sandy. I looked away when he talked and barely answered. Ben knew something was up with me, and asked. I said nothing was wrong, but my dad just kept on going over the “Big Game.”
By the time we got to the diamond, I was boiling mad. The old snobs from the surface workings were out there in their brand new shorts and tee-shirts. I bet they only played once a year, at the picnic. Ralph and Bill were OK, like I said. But the rest of them made me sick right then. Bud shouted out a dumb hoot and said something about me being the saving pitcher, and how we were going to clean up on the Diggers. I about bit my lip off to keep from telling him what I thought of him and the whole damn team.
And we didn’t clean up on the Diggers or anything near that. They were out fielding us and even out hitting us no matter how I pitched it to them. By the end of the 8th, they were ahead by one.
My mom was whistling from the stands, which were packed with wives, girlfriends and parents of the players on both sides. My friend Tom Furgis had sprained his ankle putting up a fence at his house so he wasn’t playing on the Diggers as he usually did. He was sitting in the bleachers and was rooting for his team and trying to razz me by calling out my name just as I wound up for the pitch. Mary was sitting pretty quiet through most of the game, not shouting out any cheers since a couple at the beginning. But when I came to bat at the top of the ninth, she started yelling for me to hit a homerun. I looked over and nodded to her. We had a man on first. We had a chance to go into the lead. My dad came up to me when I was on deck.
“Okay, Jake. Looks like this is the time to let it all hang out. Go get ’em.”
I didn’t say anything. But I didn’t want to win. I knew that for sure. I didn’t want the managers to beat the miners and I didn’t feel like giving them my best shot. But before I could work it all out in my mind, what with Mary cheering for me and my mom whistling and Gena calling out my name, the pitch came down the pike and I belted it. It was a homer. I knew that the minute it left my bat. And sure enough, I was standing on home plate, not even out of breath, before they got the ball back to the infield. The fans for the Stakes were hollering like mad. My dad came out and damn near hugged me, and goddamn Bud was congratulating me and slapping me on the back and telling my dad what a great kid he had.
“The game isn’t over yet,” I said to him. “Don’t get too excited.”
I had to keep looking into his stupid face with every pitch as my catcher. I felt like a traitor to my friends and to the Diggers. Hell, I was a miner. These same bosses or others just like them had left Sandy’s best friend and the others to die. It was disgusting that here I was helping them to win. Not this time, not this time, I said to my self. They’re just not going to have it their way.
Ralph was the next batter up and he struck out, so we were back on the field with us leading by one point.
“Strike them out, Jake,” my dad shouted, “1-2-3 and down they go.”
I remember what happened next as clear as if it was yesterday. The first guy up was Dave Helgaschmidt. Dave was a sandman, the guy who shoots sand and waste into a drilled out stope. He was short and strong. I didn’t know him all that well, but I’d seem him around and he was the kind of guy that didn’t say much, but smiled all the time, like he liked what he was seeing or hearing no matter what it was. I’d seen him warming up earlier and he could hit the ball a mile. I’d struck him out once and he foul tipped twice. I was pretty sure I could strike him out again because he was a sucker for an inside fastball. But before I knew it, I’d walked him. Not on purpose. But I was happy as could be, but I can’t say I meant to do it. I sure as hell didn’t want to win the game, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be the one that made the Stakes lose. I was sort of in limbo out there on the mound.
“Way to go,” Tom yelled at me from the stands. “That’s what we like to see. Way to do it, buddy.”
My dad was playing short stop and he yelled to me to relax and forget it, that I’d get the next one. Just hearing his voice and what he stood for made me want to ease up and let Stan, who was up next, send it over the left fielder. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t go and strike him out. Just like that, boom, Stan was out and my mom and Mary were cheering and the rest of the Stakes team was clapping and whistling, with Bud giving my the damn thumbs up from home plate. Somehow, though, Dave was able to get off fast enough to steal second. I was glad about that.
When John Cross came up to bat I got worried. He was the worst player on the Diggers team. He was tall and heavy set and real slow. It’s funny, too, his being so slow since he was a skip operator and that’s a job where you have to be quick in body and mind. I wanted him to smack the ball and drive in Stan. Man, I wanted him to hit it. But he soon had two strikes and no balls and I was practically throwing them underhand to him.
“Easy. Easy, now,” my dad said.
“Get him, Jake,” Bud yelled out.
On the next pitch, he hit a grounder right at me and I caught it and tossed him out at first. I threw it high, not on purpose, but Ralph caught it, and tagged the base, then fell back and almost over and Dave went to third. Both sides of the bleachers were cheering on that play.
My dad called time out, and came up to the mound with Bud of course.
“Okay, now,” my dad started. “Here we come to the whole ball of wax. I think you ought to try a curve on him. That’s a good pitch for you.”
“I don’t know,” Bud said. “I saw this kid practicing and maybe a fast ball would throw him off.”
He didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. He just pissed me off more.
“Do what you like,” my dad said. “Just strike him out.”
I looked at the two of them and then over to Mary and finally at Sean who was rubbing dirt on his hands and swinging the bat over his head and acting like he was a major leaguer. I didn’t answer either of them and the stands started yelling for the game to get going.
“Jake,” my dad said, looking me right in the eye. “Can you do it?”
I didn’t answer him.
“Give him the fastball then. Maybe Bud is right about that.”
“Maybe he ain’t,” I said short.
“Well, then. Whatever you think best. Just strike him out. Get his ass out of there.”
Then he walked back to short stop.
I guess I hadn’t made up my mind about what to do because on the first pitch, I just threw it high and he didn’t go for it. The asshole Bud kept signaling a fastball. I just kept ignoring him. It was pretty quiet in the stands and I didn’t look up. I got the ball back and picked up some dirt and dusted it off. I didn’t let myself think about it any longer. I was sick of thinking. Sick of it.
I threw a homerun pitch, soft and just above the knees. There’s no other way to say it.
Sean bit into it, hard, and I heard the crack and saw the ball sail over my head. The Diggers fans cheered like hell and inside I felt good. I was right to do it. I still don’t regret it.
I watched it go way beyond where our left-fielder was standing and Stan was hugging and jumping up and down with the rest of the Diggers at home plate long before the ball got back to the infield.
But I wasn’t there when it came in. I was already walking to my truck, and Mary was running to catch up with me, calling out to me. I didn’t want to turn around and have to see my dad or Ben looking at me walking away, so I just slowed some and let her come along side.
“Jake, c’mon. Where are you going? It’s just a game.”
“I’m going to see your dad.”
“My dad? Now? What for?”
“I’m going down there with him. For the gold. I’ve decided.”
“You decided? In the middle of the picnic?”
I didn’t answer.
“I’ve just decided that I believe him. One hundred percent. I believe him. There’s gold down there. And I’m sure as hell not going to let it sit there any longer. To hell with all of them. I’m going after it.”
Maybe it was the way I said it, or maybe the way I looked, but she didn’t try to get me to stay. She just took a hold of my hand and we walked down the hill back to where we were parked.
Mary could let you sit quiet for a long time. I guess she got used to it living alone with Sandy all those years. If you didn’t want to talk, that was all right with her, even if she wanted you to as much as I knew she did on the drive back to her house. But she didn’t say so. Funny this is, I was ready to talk. If she asked me if I was glad we lost, I’d have said yeah, damn glad. If she asked why, I’d say those bastards made me sick and that Sandy was justified walking around with a chip the size of Mt. Rushmore on his shoulder. But she didn’t ask me and I didn’t offer.
When I decided to go down to the 3800′ with Sandy, it was just as good as putting in my resignation at the Homestake. She knew that, and Sandy knew it, too. I felt like me and Sandy were going to show them all, that we were going to take a chance and get what we wanted, what we had coming to us. And not just for us, but for other miners, all of them who’d risked their lives for next to nothing, many of them losing it, too. Yeah, I was determined all right, and damn whatever happened.
Driving through Lead was like driving through a ghost town. The stores were closed and there was nobody walking down the street. They were all at the picnic. The place was kind of creepy. I remember thinking that it was like some science fiction movie where everybody got picked up by a spaceship. Even the Silver Star Bar was closed, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it closed except on election day. The Phillips 66 station was the only place open that I could see, and Bill Kempt and his son, Billy, were running the place. A bunch of his friends were there with him, and they were having a picnic of their own. He waved to me as we drove by, and I honked my horn back to him.
I turned right on Alert Street and went on over to Highland. I could have been going 100 mph. It wouldn’t have mattered. There was nobody around. No kids were playing, no sprinklers on in the yards and no dogs running into the street. The houses were closed up and empty. Most people had put flags up on their houses.
“It’s kind of eerie,” Mary said, breaking her silence. “With nobody around, I feel like we came back to the wrong town.”
I felt the same way, but didn’t say anything. ‘Course, it wasn’t the town that had changed, it was me. Something had happened at the game that had nothing to do with the game at all. Maybe I couldn’t put an exact name to it, but I feel the change deep inside, and changing back to who I’d been before was never going to be possible again.
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