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  • Thursday Excerpt: Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings by J Conrad Guest

    Thursday Excerpt: Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings
    by 
    J. Conrad Guest

    An excerpt from Backstop, available from Second Wind Publishing and Amazon and wherever good books are sold. Backstop was nominated as a Michigan Notable Book in 2010, and this year, the Illinios Institute of Technology adopted it as required reading for their spring course, Baseball: American's Literary Pastime.

    September 1995

    For the first time in my career the Tigers made the playoffs.
    I never went out with the guys after a game, not because I feared putting myself at risk but because, married, it just didn’t seem right; but that night, in New York, I made an exception in celebration of clinching a playoff berth. We were scheduled to fly back to Detroit the next morning, Monday, to begin a three-game set with Kansas City after an off day. Radford, Trexler and Reynolds came by our room and invited John and me to go out with them. John begged off, not yet having spoken to Trish and his kid; but I consented. I’d already talked to Darlene on the phone, accepting her congratulations for winning the Division, exchanging “I love yous,” when they enticed me with an evening at McSorley’s. I hadn’t been there since I’d taken Darlene the first year we’d known each other.
    McSorley’s was hopping with college kids from New York University and Cooper Union University when we got there a little after nine. Standing at the bar and half-finished with my second dark beer, I was put off by the noisy young crowd and ready to call it a night as soon as Reynolds and Radford returned from the loo when I was approached by a young blonde of maybe 27 or 28.
    “You’re a Tiger, aren’t you?” she asked me. I recalled noticing her when she came out of the restroom a few minutes ago. Pretty was an understatement—and the miniskirt she wore showed off a dazzling pair of legs.
    “How can you recognize him without all of his catcher’s gear on?” Trexler said from my left, laughing. The blonde gave no indication that she was aware Trexler and I were together.
    “I saw the interview after the game,” she said, moving a wisp of blond hair behind her ear without taking her eyes off me. I took a swallow from my glass of beer and seemed to notice, for the first time, all the rings on the bar’s surface left by other wet beer glasses. “You’re that catcher, aren’t you?”
    “Backstop,” Trexler supplied.
    “You’re going to the World Series.”
    “Not yet, we’re not,” Trexler said. “We need to make it through the playoffs first.”
    “Oh,” she said with no disappointment. She seemed to know as much about baseball as my kid sister did when we were growing up. With all the seriousness and wisdom acquired during her five-year tenure on the planet, she once referred to the Fall Classic as the World Serious.
    At that moment, a young man, a year or two out of college, approached and said, “What are you hanging with these old guys for? Come on, let me buy you a beer and get to know each other.”
    “I told you I’m not interested, so leave me alone,” the blonde said. Oily and unkempt, he was out of this girl’s league, but she hadn’t yet been able to convince him of that.
    “You’re a babe,” he said, leering at her breasts.
    “Go away!”
    “I just ... I just wanna talk,” he said, changing tacks and taking her by her elbow.
    “Stop it!” she said, pulling away. The kid couldn’t take his eyes from her breasts.
    “Look,” I said in my best Bogie impersonation. “Of all the gin joints in the East Village, you have to walk into this one. Why don’t you train your sights on someone else?”
    The kid looked at me glassy-eyed, evidence that he’d already had too much to drink. “Gin joints,” he said with mustered condescension. “Only a pussy drinks gin. Are you a pussy, old timer?”
    “Yeah, I’m a pussy,” I said, discounting the insult and cognizant of the fact that McSorley’s doesn’t serve hard liquor.
    “Yeah you are,” the kid said, running the words together in his slurred speech. Then he turned to the blonde and, taking her again by her elbow, said, “Come on, hot stuff, let’s go over to my table.” Around “his” table sat a couple of other college-aged boys and two similarly-aged girls. This guy seemed to be the one unscuffed baseball in the bucket, and he didn’t relish the notion that his buddies were already on-base, threatening to circle the bases and score without him. So here he was, caveboy that he appeared, lunging after this good-looking blonde with his club, like a batter behind in the count trying to connect with a split-finger fastball in the dirt.
    “Take a hike,” I said.
    The kid looked at me a moment with squinted eyes and said, “You say somethin’, old timer?”
    “The girl obviously prefers company other than yours.”
    “Yeah? And what are you gonna do about it?” In his inebriation he was braver than he might be otherwise.
    “I’ll knock your block off,” I said. “Now scram.”
    He looked at me, perhaps measuring me, before saying, “It wouldn’t even be a fair fight.”
    “Sure it would,” I said, pushing myself up from the bar against which I had been leaning to show I was a full head taller than he. Then I added, as Radford and Reynolds returned, “My buddies will ensure that.”
    The kid looked at my teammates, and perhaps that small part of him that hadn’t yet succumbed to alcohol thought better of pushing his luck. “Whatever,” he said, a small effort to save face, and made his way, a trifle unsteadily, back to his table.
    “Thanks,” the blonde said. “You’re a hunk.”
    “No problem,” I said, ignoring her come-on. “I can’t stand a guy who pushes himself on a girl who doesn’t have the time of day for him.”
    “Lucky for me,” she said. When I said nothing, she added, “Would you really have fought for me?”
    I chuckled over her choice of words, recalling a discussion with Darlene over David’s unwillingness to fight for her in the aftermath of his affair, and shook my head. The girl seemed to mistake my reticence to respond for humility. Finally I said, “It wouldn’t have come to that.”
    “You’re cute,” she said in reply to my discomfiture. “Buy a girl a beer?”
    I heard my teammates chuckling over some private joke.
    “I’m a married man,” I said a little too forcefully, realizing I’d been 12 years out of this game.
    “We just made the playoffs,” Trexler said, an effort to get the girl to notice him. “You should be buying us a round.”
    The blonde ignored Trexler’s comment. “I’m not asking you to sleep with me,” she said with far more maturity than her age betrayed. “It’s just a beer with a Tiger.” When I nodded, she told the bartender to bring her a light beer.
    “Aren’t you here with friends?” I asked, hoping to prompt her departure even as I enjoyed her flattery. It was my experience that women always went to public restrooms in pairs, and the same could be said about going clubbing.
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