Rounding Second

Red and green stars arc toward earth trailing streams of white plumage against the bold blueness. Blunt explosions of cannon fire mistimed like a badly dubbed movie explain the silent puffs of smoke. A prattle of smaller pops interrupts tens of thousands of conversations and marks the end of the demonstration. The cooling embers consume themselves in the dry air of Minneapolis before reaching the unnatural green of the Shultz Center’s artificial turf.

            “Opening day. Who woulda thunk it.” W. Charles Brown stands to remove his mohair coat.  He folds the shoulders together exposing the white silk lining and turns the inside-out coat over his forearm. He removes his Borsalino fedora and holds it outstretched toward his companion.  Patricia Reichardt-Brown smiles a tight little smile and snaps up the hat with a glint in her eye. She ungloves one hand and smooths over Charles’ broad gleaming dome.

            “I’m so proud of you, Chuck.” She leans into the round-shouldered man and hugs him hard.

            “Hey, careful,” he says, as he pulls back his hat.  “It’s my favourite.”

            “We bought that for your induction,” Patty says.

            “A good time to bring it out of retirement.”

            The announcer blares over the loudspeaker. “Welcome to the first game of the 2012 season of your Minnesota Twins!”  The crowd screams. Even in the corporate boxes adjacent to the Browns’ private box, everyone is standing.

            “This is a dream come true,” Charles says. “Ranks up there with the day I pitched to Joe Shlabotnik.” He takes Patti’s hand and adds: “And the day we married.”

            Patti glows with pride. “This is going to give pleasure to thousands of children,” she says.

            A roar rises up from the crowd. Simultaneously, Charles and Patti point to major league Baseball’s newest and largest digital scoreboard. The images of the pair appear in real time, five stories high.  As Charles drops his arm, sixty-two thousand fans give him a standing ovation.

            “You’re blushing,” Patti says.

            “It’s good to give back.”

            The announcer continues: “A big, big welcome to the patron saint and benefactor of the Shultz Center: Hall of famer, W. Charles Brown!”

            The fans cheer louder. Charles waves to the crowd.  Patti’s eyes are frozen on the image of the good-looking couple on the Jumbotron. “You should have thrown the first pitch,” she says.

            “I’ve thrown enough pitches for an old man. Its enough that I let you talk me into taking credit for this.”

            The couple stands until the applause subsides. Then they settle in for the game. The Twins lose to the heavily favoured Red Sox as Boston’s 2011 MVP hits a two-run triple in the top of the eighth inning. 

            “That was great!” Patti opens the passenger door of their blue Bentley. “Chuck, you’ve done it again.”

            “Lets get out of here, Patti. I don’t want to be late for Lucy’s thing.”

            “Your sister-in-law will wait. Everyone will wait.”

            “I don’t know why you call her that.”

            They get into the car and drive past the line of cars waiting to pay for parking. Charles lowers his window and flashes a card to the uniformed attendant at the VIP parking booth. “Good day sir,” says the attendant. ”Thank you.”

            “Because she is your sister-in-law,” continues Patti.

            “Yes, but it’s not right.”

            “I call her your sister-in-law. It suits her. It suits me.”

            “I wish you two would get along better.”
            “We get along fine.”

            “You said you’d put that behind you after the wedding.”

            “Sally also thinks Lucy is challenging. She calls her a bitch behind her back.”

            “She does no such thing.”

            “Really, Chuck?  Really? Talk to your sister sometime.  You two should get to know one another.”

            “Funny. Anyway, Linus and Sally are happy and that’s what’s important.”

            “I wonder where Lucy would be if Schroeder was still with us.” Charles aims the long hood up the entrance ramp to the freeway. “Things happen for a reason. She really threw herself into baseball after that.”

            “Do you think about Schroeder often?”

            “Yes. I do.”

            “Me too.”

            “Schroeder would be happy. That’s hard to say. His Wagner retrospective was the most moving recital of classical music of our age. Even school children listen to classical music now. Sally’s grandson has a little grand piano. It’s so cute- he props the top up and everything.  Of course he’s no Schroeder, but—“

            “Who is, right?”

            “Exactly.”

            “It would have been nice if Lucy had come today. For you.”

            “I’m sure she watched it on TV. You know she doesn’t get out much any more.”

            “Yeah, but it’s the Twins. You’d think she’d come out for this. I guess she’s not completely over it.”

            “Managers come and go. She knows that.  One bad season and you’re gone. Steinbrenner fired Billy Martin, what, five times?”

            “Yeah. Something like that.”

            “She was only there for half the season. It was just a parlour trick for Steinbrenner. Once he got the mileage out of having the first female GM, he had no use for her.”

            “She did a good job.”
            “Its political, Patti. Billy-ball kept the fans’ interest. Lucy was only good for George as long as she was an oddity. As soon as she proved she could do the job, there was no story. No story, no job. That’s the way it is in New York.”

            “So she wins ballgames and she’s fired because she can do the job as well as a man.”

            “That’s correct.”

            “Well, that sucks,” Patti says.

            “She got ten good years in Minnesota. Almost won GM of the year once. It’s no a small feat. And she’s a good soul,” Charles says. “I owe her much.”

            “You tell me all the time. I think you give her too much credit. You made your career.”

            “Lucy helped me find my groove. She was my teammate. She kept me focused—

            “She almost ruined you,” Patti interrupts. “She had nothing good to say about your pitching back at the old field. I remember her hitting straight back at the mound on purpose. Remember when she hit that one so hard it ripped your clothes off? You were left standing there with nothing on but your shorts!”

            “That was pretty funny.”

            “And the football?”

            “I consider that an important part of my professional development.”

            Charles slows to let a small hatchback into his lane. The driver almost misses the exit and has no time to signal, but Charles notices the driver suddenly turn his head. The hatchback driver waves in his rearview. Charles replies in kind and follows the hatchback down the ramp.

            “Can we stop and get some dog food?” Patti asks.

            For a time, Charles thinks about Lucy and the football. She had a mean streak to be sure, but once she grew tired of taunting him she was the first to realize he had genuine talent. Nobody would believe a boy with Charles’ stature and physique could kick a ball like that. Lucy stood by him.

            Charles leaves the Bentley trunk open as they saunter into the dog food store.  He walks directly to the large bags of organic TOP DOG premium food with Alfalfa sprouts and ginger while Patti browses the toy section.

            “I’m getting him a new squeaky toy,” she says.

            “Good Grief,” Charles answers. “How about some chewies. Those things are driving me crazy.” He lifts the bag of food onto one shoulder and heads to the till.

            “You’re still quite the athlete,” Patti says.

            “When I can’t lift a bag of dog food, I’m in trouble.”

            The clerk offers to help.

            “I got it, thanks,” says Charles.

            “And how is little Snoops today?” asks the clerk.

            “Snoopy III is doing just fine, thanks. He’s a bit miffed at the speed of those new fighters the Jerry’s have, but he’ll be okay.”

            “Huh?” Says the clerk.

            “He’s just pulling your leg,” Patti says. “Just ignore him.”

            “No ma’am,” says the clerk. “Two world series rings, a Golden Glove, and number nine on the all-time slugging list? I’m not going to ignore Mr. Brown.”

            Charles winks at the clerk and carries the dog food to the door. Patti opens it and thanks the clerk. Charles drops the bag in the trunk. “Eight,” Charles says. Patty smiles.     They drive home in silence. The gate opens at the driveway. “Something on your mind? Patti asks.

            “Schroeder,” Charles says.

            “Artistic genius is a difficult thing. I guess none of them die old and happy.”

            “Pretty deep for a freckle faced redhead.”

            They share a worn and comfortable smile, like an old sweater with holes in the elbows that you just can’t throw out. Charles guides the Bentley into the garage. The couple gets out and meets at the trunk as though for the first time. Charles presses the trunk release on his key fob while staring into Patti’s eyes. Patti moistens her lips while Charles watches intently. She leans into him. Charles puts his arms around her waist and pulls her in close. He marvels at her slim youthful build and feels warm inside. He closes his eyes and tries to picture Peppermint Patti as an eight-year old in the outfield of their childhood. But it’s almost sixty years later and the only face he can call up is the face he knows, the adult face pressed to his lips just then. And he realizes that there was only ever one face. She hadn’t changed at all.

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