Sunday, April 11, 2010

Finishing Minor League Heckler

The stage has been set, the bad guys have been killed off, yet the Sarasota Reds record continues to suck. At least that's how it reads in my book "Minor League Heckler" that, as of 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on April 11, 2010 is DONE! In the final chapter the main character, Dr. Chris Ramsey, and his new squeeze Brenda Livingston the 40 year old hard body Senior Resident Agent of the FBI's Sarasota Florida field office solved the "who done it" and returned from the Dominican Republic to heckle players in Ed Smith stadium in Sarasota.

If you are interested I have reproduced the opening chapter here. The manuscript will be about 340 pages in length after considerable editing. That should translate to a 310 page book when its printed.

Enjoy.... and make sure you buy multiple copies of the book when its printed and available on the market. Any comments on this chapter would be most welcome by the way. You might even get mentioned in the acknowledgments section.

Minor League Heckler

A Novel

Craig Faanes


To the 2009 Sarasota Reds Class A Minor League Baseball Team
You are all winners despite the final scores

“It's a semi-true story,
believe it or not;
I made up a few things,
and there's some I forgot.
But the life and the telling
are both real to me.
And they all run together,
and turn out to be
a semi-true story” … Jimmy Buffett


After seven hard-fought innings, the Lakeland Tigers trailed the Sarasota Reds by one run. It was the last game of the Class A Paradise League baseball season in Florida. The year had not been fruitful for the Tigers who were two games out of last place in the Paradise League south division. Only the Reds had a worse season.

Tigers catcher Miguel Fernandez led off the eighth inning. A product of the Dominican Republic, Miguel was one of those players for whom many had great hopes for success. This was his second year in the Paradise League – minor league baseball at the Class A level. Paradise League players had three options. They could excel and be moved to Class AA. They could be relegated to the unimpressive Rookie League or they could be removed from the team and sent back home.

Miguel did not relish the idea of being cut. He had grown up on the streets of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. When not hanging out on street corners with his friends, Miguel cut sugar cane in the fields that were widespread around San Pedro de Macoris. When he was employed Miguel woke up before five in the morning and was on a bus to the cane fields by six. There he would do the back breaking work of cutting and hauling cane until nearly six in the evening. He did this five days each week. On Miguel’s two days off from cutting cane he played baseball.

Miguel lived and breathed baseball. As a child, he played short stop because of his quick reflexes and his razor sharp arm. Not many 12 year olds could throw a ball to first base with the speed and accuracy that Miguel possessed. In his final year of eligibility Miguel’s team traveled to Williamsport, Pennsylvania to represent the Caribbean area in the Little League World Series. It was in Williamsport, as the San Pedro de Macoris team played Taiwan in a second-round playoff game, that the San Pedro de Macoris catcher was hit in the head by a pitched ball and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. The backup catcher for San Pedro de Macoris caught swine flu not long after arriving in the United States and he was on the unofficial disabled list. The San Pedro de Macoris coach had no other alternatives for catcher.

Coach Roberto de los Santos remembered watching Miguel throw bullets across the field to first base and wondered out loud if that arm could be used behind the plate. It was especially important now that he was out of catchers. He asked Miguel to put on the catchers equipment and take his position behind the plate. Miguel, never one to say no to anything, even extended hours in the cane fields, gladly stepped behind the plate.

Miguel knew little about the position except for what he had seen from shortstop. To him it looked like an easy position to occupy and he assumed that once the regular catcher was back on his feet Miguel would return to playing shortstop.

His performance behind the plate exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations. He was quick to learn the responsibilities of being a catcher and knew how to direct play on the field. His explosive arm was put to the test early in that first game when he was challenged by two runners trying to steal second base. Both were thrown out by Miguel who executed laser-perfect throws to second base. The opposing team soon learned that it was foolish to try stealing off Miguel. To do so was to ensure your own team mate was out at second base.

Scouts from several teams mingled among the crowd in the stands in Williamsport where they scoped out prospects for a few years down the road. Jon Andrew, a scout for the Boston Red Sox, was the first to notice Miguel. In his broken Spanish, Jon talked with Miguel after San Pedro de Macoris beat Taiwan and discussed his prospects for the future.

“You have an impressive arm, Miguel. Have you ever thought of playing in the Major Leagues in the United States when you are older,” Andrew asked?

Miguel was impressed and on his return to the Dominican Republic a few days later told his parents about the discussion. At the time Miguel’s parents thought it was only a twelve-year-old child’s obsession and never gave it another thought. That was until Miguel turned 17 years old and was eligible to be considered by a major league team in the United States.

Jon watched Miguel develop over the years and was looking forward to the day when he could sign Miguel to a contract and put him in the Red Sox farm system. Ty Casey, the first female baseball scout for the Detroit Tigers had also discovered Miguel and was determined to sign him to a contract. Nobody is quite sure how it happened but soon Andrew and Casey were, when not in a screaming match over Miguel, in a bidding war for him and his future. Ultimately at the age of seventeen, Miguel decided on the Tigers and signed a five year contract. Because of his age, however, the Tigers brought him to the United States and placed him in the Class A Lakeland Tigers where they expected him to grow and develop in the next several years.

Everyone including the entire town of San Pedro de Macoris had great expectations for Miguel. There appeared to be little that would or could stand in the way of his greatness. All he needed to do was play a couple years in the minor leagues and Miguel would be on his way to stardom.

Thoughts of sweating in the cane fields of the Dominican Republic occupied most of Miguel’s mind as he took his position at the plate. He was the leadoff hitter for the Tigers as they struggled to squeak out a win against the Reds. Certainly there was no way they were ever going to climb to first place in their division. There were just not enough games left in the season to make that happen. That didn’t mean, however, that they had to rest on the bottom with the Reds. And if they rose to a higher standing in the league, brought about in part by some brilliant plays by Miguel, then certainly he would be a strong contender for moving up to Class AA baseball next year. Although from humble beginnings in the Dominican Republic, Miguel had grown accustomed to being extremely bored every time he boarded a bus down here in the bus leagues to drive across the state to the next Paradise League team’s home field. At least in Class AA ball he would be able to fly on occasion to more distant teams.

As Miguel strode to the batter’s box he could not miss hearing the aggravating chants and taunts from that same Heckler who had been following him and the Tigers around the state all season long. For some reason the Heckler had chosen the Tigers as his team to badger that year and no matter where they showed up the Heckler was there to taunt them. Living in Sarasota, the Heckler’s home team needed all the help it could get. They were without doubt the worst team in the Paradise League. The Heckler discovered that even with him in the stands, pestering the other teams, their record stank.

The Heckler tried everything to help the Reds win. He would sit in the same seat in Ed Smith stadium every game and cheer them on. Nothing helped. He would arrive late and the Reds would lose. He wore his Reds baseball cap forward and backward. It made no difference to the hapless Reds. No matter what he tried the Reds lost. It was as predictable as the sunrise.

Heckler had scored some impressive distractions during his travels around the state supporting the Reds. On several occasions he distracted the opposing batter so they would swing at pitches that were obviously outside the strike zone and he convinced others to watch as a perfect strike cut through the center of the zone. On more than one occasion the Heckler could convince an opposing catcher chasing a passed ball to throw to a base where there was no play by yelling at the catcher that the play was at a different base.

Heckler was enjoying himself and for any other team his distractions would have helped the team. But the Sarasota Reds were never on the ball enough to benefit from his labors.

Taking the plate and digging in for the first pitch, Miguel heard Heckler start to taunt him. Every game in every stadium that summer Heckler sat in the first seat in the first row of the section directly behind home plate. Many times in stadiums Heckler was less than 30 feet from the plate and the players. With his bellowing voice it was difficult not to hear his taunts. And he was relentless. Tonight, for whatever reason, Heckler decided to give Miguel extra attention.

Miguel dug in, swung the bat several times and focused on the pitcher. With luck he could get an idea of what type of pitch was next by seeing how the pitcher held the ball in his glove. Scouting reports indicated that if the pitcher held his hand upright in the glove he was going to throw a fast ball. If his arm lay to the side while the ball was in his glove, it was likely that the next pitch would be a curve ball. If the pitcher looked at third base even without a runner there, the scouts said his next pitch would be a changeup. Miguel was ready for any of them.

What he wasn’t ready for was the barrage of invective coming from the Heckler sitting in his usual seat behind home plate. Tonight, the Heckler seemed to be even more aggravating than on most nights.

“You guys suck like the real Tigers,” he yelled in a reference to the major league Tigers team who had the worst record in professional baseball.

Miguel could almost agree with Heckler on that call. After all, it was Miguel’s secret plan to turn the Tigers around once he reached the show. Being reminded of how bad the mother ship team was actually encouraged Miguel to do better.

Miguel watched the pitcher and noticed that he was looking over at third base. If the scouting reports were correct, and invariably they are, the first pitch he would see would be a changeup. He dug in and waited for the pitcher to make moves like he was throwing a fastball only to slow up the delivery and present a much slower pitch that usually fooled the batter.

The pitcher wound up and was ready to let go of the pitch. Miguel was ready for a slow speed ball to come his way and he developed thoughts of seeing it sail into the palm trees just over the left field fence. With twenty-two home runs to his credit already this season, Miguel knew that any more would certainly grab the attention of people in the front office who would take notice of his exceptional season and maybe even bring him up to the majors for a couple games before the end of the season. All it would take would be to send this incoming changeup on an outbound blast to those palm trees in left-center field.

By the middle of his delivery the pitcher had shown all of the characteristics of someone throwing a changeup. Miguel noticed this and so did the Tigers coach, Leroy Boettcher, who was hugging the third base coach’s box. Miguel dug in further and waited for that juicy pitch to sail his way at 72 miles per hour. In about two seconds the ball would be racing away from home plate at 140 miles per hour. He just needed to get the meat of the bat on that ball and it was out of there.

With the pitchers arm pumped and his left leg on a trajectory toward home plate Miguel saw the ball rise out of the pitchers glove. In that instant he also noticed that the pitchers fingers crossed the seams of the ball at a steep angle. Experience had taught him that this was something else a pitcher does when he’s throwing a changeup. Miguel waited expecting the fat pitch that was just seconds away.

What Miguel didn’t figure on was that the pitcher was aware of the scouting reports and had decided to mix up his delivery and how he held the ball in the hope that he could fool the batter. He did that with Miguel.

The ball left the pitcher’s fingers and instead of moving at a leisurely 72 miles per hour, it came toward Miguel at nearly 100 miles per hour. Miguel had been fooled and the pitcher was sending a fast ball toward him that was nearly 30 percent faster than what Miguel’s reflexes were expecting. Although Miguel’s eyes saw the ball moving at a great speed his brain had been conditioned by earlier actions to expect a much slower ball. It was obvious to Miguel when he started his swing at the same instant he heard the loud smack of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt behind him.

“Strike one” the umpire bellowed as Miguel finished his swing.

At the same instant that the ball hit the catcher’s mitt, and before the umpire could make his call, Heckler was on his feet and yelling.

“Did you learn to swing like that in kindergarten, you loser?”

Miguel glared at his antagonist and told himself to wait for a better pitch.

The pitcher took his time preparing for the next pitch. He was in no hurry and experience had taught him that the longer he waited to present the next pitch the more frustrated the batter would become. With that in mind he kicked dirt off the mound, scratched his scrotum a third time and exhaled deeply.

The count was 0 balls and 1 strike so the pitcher had considerable time to make his move. The options were many and he wanted to send Miguel another pitch that would confuse him. After all the pitcher had a date with a hot blonde cheerleader after the game and the sooner this was all over the sooner he could be with her.

Looking down at the catcher, the pitcher saw a single finger pointed back at him. Anyone who knows baseball knows that a single finger means you’re being asked to throw a fastball. Many think a fastball is the most difficult pitch to hit mainly because most people are cautious about standing just inches away from spheroid moving through space that if the ball had been thrown correctly it could do serious damage to your skull. Just the week before during the Little League World Series a 12-year old pitcher from Texas threw a ball an estimated 94 miles per hour. If a 12-year old could throw a ball that fast just think what an adult could do. And if the adult for some reason didn’t particularly care for you the damage could be considerable.

The pitcher looked in for the sign and this time saw two fingers presented like someone from the University of Texas would present them if they were supporting the Longhorns. Had it been the index finger and middle finger he would have known that the catcher wanted a curve ball, but this sign was for a change up. Thinking this over the pitcher realized it was a brilliant move. No doubt the batter was prepared earlier for a change up. His body language when he swung at the pitch told him so. But now that he had faced a fastball when he thought it was going to be a changeup, the chances were in the pitchers favor to send in what he least expected.

Looking over the bases, the pitcher settled into his normal routine. He wound up and as he did he held the ball like most pitchers do when they are going to throw a fast ball. However this time just like the last time he sent a different pitch. This one came in slow and easy and maybe wobbled a bit before it crossed the plate. Miguel, expecting a fast ball, was again fooled and this time swung forcefully even before the ball reached the catcher’s mitt.

“Strike two” the umpire bellowed as Miguel kicked the dirt and waited for the next pitch.

Ty Casey was in the stands watching this game. Her entire life, now that both children were off to college, was devoted to baseball. Her daughter Lynn, the brains of the family majored in criminal justice with a minor in creative loafing at the University of Florida.

Devon, her son, was a graduate of Florida State University. Devon went to Florida State solely because his sister was a Gator. There he majored in computer science and minored in cheerleaders. Both children fought continuously over everything since early childhood. It seemed only fitting that as college students they would also fight over the two teams with one of the greatest rivalries in college sports.

Ty took great pleasure in her discovery of Miguel. When first asked to go to the Dominican Republic to scout out potential players for the Tigers farm team Ty reluctantly took the assignment. Throughout high school and college she was interested in many subjects and her degree exemplified that. She wasn’t sure what her major would be but she wasn’t going to let a class skip her attention just because it wasn’t in her field of interest. One year her University offered a course titled “Contemporary Social Problems.” Ty leaped at the chance to take it. Another semester there was a course in geography based entirely on the songs sung by Jimmy Buffett. Ty, ever the potential traveler, leaped at the chance to take the class.

Her first trip was to make her familiar with the Dominican Republic. The only words Spanish that she knew were “agua” and “cerveza”. She had learned long ago that knowing how to say water and beer were about all it would take to survive in a third world Spanish speaking country. Later when she learned “bano” she knew that she had arrived.

Ty sat in the stands this evening watching her protégée at bat. As Miguel prepared for the next pitch it occurred to her that if he succeeded and made it to the Show his success could be the route to her own success. No doubt if Tigers management was impressed with Miguel enough to move him up through the system they would certainly remember who signed him. And, Ty thought, if I can find another Miguel somewhere her career would take off. She would be on her way to stardom in the world of baseball scouts. All she had to do was make sure that Miguel made it.

With the count 0 balls and 2 strikes, Miguel dug in and waited. That pain in the ass in the stands behind him was not going to ruin his time at bat. At least he told himself that.

Kicking some dirt in the batter’s box Miguel settled in and watched the pitcher. With nobody on base the pitcher went through a full swing and as he did Miguel again noticed that the ball was being held at an angle across the seams. In that split second he remembered that the last two times the ball was held like that the pitcher threw him changeups. There was no way he would see a third changeup so he anticipated, correctly, that the next pitch would be a curve ball. He dug in further and kept watching.

As the pitcher let go of the ball it looked like it was coming straight at Miguel’s head. Curve balls do that at times and this was one of those times. A batter has just a split second to decide what kind of pitch has been thrown at him and how he wants to respond to it. Miguel’s initial thought was that the ball was coming directly for his head. Instinctively he jumped back from the plate and just as he did the ball defied both physics and logic and broke heavily away from him and toward the plate.

“Damn,” Miguel thought. “That would have been a perfect pitch. Now I’m going to be called out on strikes.”

It was a very good pitch. It did exactly what a curve ball is supposed to do and on its trajectory for the plate it kept sliding further away from Miguel and closer to the strike zone.

From Heckler’s vantage point behind home plate the pitch appeared to be more than perfect and he was sure it would be a strike.

The umpire watched it sail toward him and noticed in the millisecond before the ball crossed the plate that it had curved a bit too much as just missed the corner.

“Ball one,” the umpire yelled as the ball smacked into the catcher’s mitt.

Miguel was relieved but Heckler was livid.

“Ball one? If that was a ball then you’re a Rhodes Scholar and we know that didn’t happen, Ump!”

The umpire heard the screed and wasn’t impressed. Miguel, at least, took time to chuckle under his breath.

Looking in for the sign the pitcher agreed with what the catcher wanted and quickly wound up and threw a fastball that was high and inside just missing Miguel’s head. “Chin music” as some in show would call it.

Tiger staff in the seats behind home plate were holding a radar gun and recording information on each pitch that pitchers from both teams were throwing. After this pitch, the radar gun held by Wellington Jones, a rich kid from Denver with a wicked sinking slider, read 98 miles per hour.

“Ball two,” the umpire said.

“The next one is in your ear, batter” he heard the Heckler scream.

Given the way he reacted to the curve ball that was just pitched to him, Miguel gave that taunt some thought. The curve ball looked like it was coming straight for his head, and that last pitch was 98 miles per hour and it came too close to his head for comfort. He doubted that the pitcher was aiming at him but in baseball you never know. Miguel decided that it was just the randomness of the ball he had to deal with. No way was the pitcher throwing at him.

With the count two balls and two strikes the pitcher looked in for the sign. The catcher was showing his middle finger and pointing it toward the inside of the plate. Everywhere in the world, including in Thailand, a middle finger is recognized as a symbol for “fuck you,” quite possibly the most regularly used phrase in the world. However for this catcher the middle finger sign meant “I want you to throw at the batter,” and pointing his finger inward meant he wanted the ball really close to the batter.

The pitcher went into his wind up and let loose a pitch that burned a path through the air as it hurtled toward Miguel. This one, just like the curve ball earlier looked like it was coming directly at his head. However that earlier pitch curved at the last second and went way out over the plate. Maybe this pitch was going to do the same. Miguel waited.

But he didn’t wait long because it was soon apparent that this ball had no intention of curving. Instead it was very apparent that this ball was sent like a laser directly at Miguel’s head.

Instinctively Miguel laid backward and thrust himself onto the dirt around home plate. As he hit the ground he heard the loud “thwack” of the pitch hitting Jose’s glove. The speed indicator on the scoreboard showed the pitch at 97 miles per hour.

“Wow, what a pussy” he heard the Heckler screaming from behind him. “I hear the Rookie League calling for you.”

Having just missed a collision between his head and a ball pitched at 97 miles per hour, Miguel didn’t really appreciate being called a pussy and the last thing he wanted was to hear the words “Rookie League” mentioned near him.

Miguel dusted himself off and waited for the next pitch.

“Full count, 3 balls and 2 strikes” the umpire said.

Miguel dug in and waited for the next pitch. He had already seen two curve balls and three fastballs. The count was full and he tried to outguess the pitcher on the next ball he would see.

Chances are it would be a fastball because they are more easily controlled and more likely to get in the batter’s box. Yes, that was it. He’s going to throw another fastball.

The pitcher was thinking along the same lines and wanted to throw a fastball. Catcher Jose Maldonado had different plans and instead called for a slider over the outside of the plate. The pitcher thought it over and decided it was a good move. No doubt a fast-moving slider was going to confuse Miguel and as a pitcher that was his main goal in life.

The pitcher nodded in agreement then began his wind up.

Miguel watched the pitchers hands for any sign of what kind of ball he was going to throw but nothing seemed to stand out. It had been hidden behind the pitchers glove and his back and Miguel didn’t have a clue about the pitch until it came bouncing and gliding toward the plate. At least this one wasn’t aimed at his head.

Miguel started his swing just as the ball began to move away from the center of the plate. His bat connected with the ball but sent it off toward the stands. A foul ball.

Behind him Miguel heard Heckler chanting in Spanish, “Usted chupe” over and over. This was the formal and more polite form of saying “You suck” to someone in Spanish.

Miguel was getting very tired of the constant barrage from behind him. As far as Miguel knew he had never said or done anything to the Heckler to warrant his constant abuse. He thought back and remembered that the invective began when the Tigers played their first game of the season against the Sarasota Reds in Ed Smith stadium in early April. Since then, it didn’t matter what team the Tigers were playing or in what city the game was played, this same jerk was in the stands directly behind home plate heckling the Tigers and especially him. No matter what he considered, Miguel simply could not figure out what this guy was on his case so hard.

Rather than think about it further Miguel dug in and waited for the next pitch.

The pitcher was pleased with how his slider worked and liked the fact that Miguel swung at it and fouled it off. He would have preferred a strike but a foul ball is better than walking a batter.

The pitcher looked in for the sign and was glad to see that Jose was thinking like him and calling for another slider. Certainly this one was going to breeze by Miguel he would have a strike out.

Reality doesn’t always fall in line with fantasy and Miguel fouled off the next seven pitches. Each of them went into the stands behind first base and each foul ball was greeted with more invective from Heckler. There was always something new in what he yelled. It didn’t matter what or when, Heckler seemed to always have something else to say and it was always new. Miguel was beginning to wonder if it would ever stop because now with the count full and him having just fouled off eight pitches in a row, Miguel needed a break. He just wanted to get a single, get on base and get away from the constant harassment behind him.

Throwing so many pitches was beginning to take its toll on the Reds. It was Florida in late August so naturally the heat was oppressive and the humidity more so. Sweat was rolling off the shortstop and much of it was dripping in his eyes. The first baseman kept taking his cap off and rubbing sweat from his head in the hope that doing so would cool down his head. Because of all the sweating the second baseman was starting to feel a bit weak, almost as if he was going to faint if he couldn’t get off the field soon.

Ricky Sanchez, the third baseman had taken precautions for the heat and drank a huge slug of water before taking the field at the beginning of the inning. Now Ricky was paying the price for being prepared, because he had to piss so bad his eyes were turning yellow.

The entire team, it seemed, was going through its own quiet drama as they waited and waited for Miguel to strike out.

Miguel wanted it over also, but for him he wanted it over with a base hit. He wanted something that would motivate the team, and more importantly something that would help his already substantial batting average. As of this afternoon, Miguel had the fourth best batting average in the Paradise League, a more than respectable .328. Still, there is always room for improvement and a nice fat single right now would help. A double or a triple would be even better. And there is no doubt that his 23rd home run of the season would get the attention of people in the front office.

He dug in and waited.

Having thrown 13 pitches at Miguel, the pitcher was running out of options. Plus his arm was starting to feel a bit tired. The anabolic steroids he was swallowing at irregular intervals were supposed to help him to build muscle and not feel pain. He needed to talk to that doctor in Venice who gave them to him.

Even the Heckler was getting tired of waiting. It’s tough duty trying to come up with witty phrases that piss off batters all the time and he was about out of his usual repertoire. To save face, if nothing else, Heckler was wishing that the next pitch was strike three so he could take a break.

Tonya Goodthighs was sitting in the box seats eight rows behind Heckler. A baseball groupie since high school, Tonya was married to a guy who still delivered pizza for a living. With her Bachelors degree from the Michigan State University and a Masters in communications from the University of South Florida, Tonya was head and shoulders above her pizza boy husband when it came to intelligence. Because of her Detroit ancestry Tonya was naturally a fan of any team that came out of the city. It didn’t matter if it was Tigers, Pistons, or Red Wings, if they had “Detroit” in front of their name Tonya was a fan and she followed each team religiously.

Tonya moved to Florida not long after getting her degree, and did so because she needed to spread her wings without being confined by her family. Devout Catholics, Tonya’s brothers and sisters considered her a heathen if she missed one church service. And if she woke up one morning with a severe hangover, then they might as well call a chariot to haul her sullied carcass away.

Having heard one too many lectures about how her life was going to hell in a hand basket, one day Tonya wished her family a hearty “fuck you” and moved to Florida. There she met the pizza boy one evening while hanging out at a bar. He told her “I love Italian girls with big tits and blue eyes” and for Tonya the rest was history. She and pizza boy were married six weeks later.

Pizza boy was from Tampa and hardly ever raised his voice to anyone. Tonya learned this not long after they married when some high school kids decided to do figure 8’s in their lawn with their cars. Pizza boy, afraid of a confrontation, sheepishly asked them to “please stop this foolishness before you hurt my pansy garden.” The high school kids saw this as an invitation and proceeded to tear up their yard even more. Pizza boy, who was probably a distant cousin of the Senate majority leader, himself a wimp at his best, simply sat there and let his lawn be destroyed.

“What the fuck is wrong with you,” Tonya asked him. “Those little creeps are ripping up our lawn and you stand there and take it!”

Pizza boy had no response. As time went on and other incidents occurred Pizza boy continued to show the spine of a jelly fish and Tonya quickly lost interest.

“What I need is a real man” Tonya told herself. “I need someone who isn’t afraid to open his mouth and make waves and let people know where he stands.”

Tonya was a Tigers fan and tried to see every game when they played at home. She had been in the stands last April when, out of the nowhere, this mouthy guy from Sarasota showed up and started to heckle everyone in a Tigers uniform and many people just in a Tigers cap. Tonya admired his panache and wished her spineless husband had even one tenth as much passion for anything in his life other than mowing lawns. To Tonya, the Heckler was the man she had looked for all her life. She just needed to let him know how she felt.

The pitcher looked in and shook off the first sign. His arm hurt too much for a curve ball. Then he shook off the second sign because likewise his arm hurt too much for a slider. He’d never learned how to throw a knuckle ball and he didn’t want to take his chances on a changeup. They are just too difficult to control.

From behind the plate the pitcher saw the catcher give him an index finger signal. “Good,” he thought, “I’ll just give this guy the heater, strike him out, and go sit down and take a break.”

With the start of the pitcher’s wind up, Miguel decided that there were few options for him also. Chances are this was going to be a fast ball and he was ready to watch it sail off into one of the palm trees just over the fence in left field.

Heckler had other plans and wanted to make sure the ball got no further than the catcher’s mitt.

As the pitch was leaving the pitchers fingers Heckler turned on his mouth. Miguel saw the ball coming and knew instantly it was going to be a fast ball. Heckler didn’t care what it was as long as Miguel missed it.

The ball was moving so fast it was in the catcher’s mitt before Miguel began his swing.

At the start of Miguel’s swing, Heckler spewed out a new line. One he hadn’t thought of until that instant. Something that he knew was bound to upset any Hispanic male and especially one standing in the batter’s box.

All Miguel was aware of from that point on was Heckler bellowing out “Tiene le pene del nino, mericone!”

That was the final straw. The camel’s back was broken. Miguel could put up with many things but to hear this jerk tell him in his native tongue “You have the penis of a small boy” was just too much to bear. And then to add “faggot” at the end took him over the edge. There was no excuse for this.

As Miguel finished his swing he rather accidently on purpose let go of the bat as it passed over his back. Let loose and with the laws of physics on Miguel’s side the bat rocketed away from him and directly at the open mouth of the Heckler who, for an instant, was shocked as he watched the bat racing toward him.

Protected by a large mesh screen that best resembled a gill net used illegally by fishermen, Heckler was almost certain that the bat was not going to hit him. Still he wasn’t sure. Stranger things have happened and how was he so sure the mesh was going to hold?

He ducked just as the bat hit the mesh. Because of its mass and the speed it was traveling, contact with the mesh slowed down the bat but didn’t stop it. The fibers of the mesh were strained as the bat kept its course toward the Heckler.

A large gasp could be heard from the people in the stands. Despite being fed up with the Heckler themselves they still seemed to get a chuckle now and then from the things he said. Most of them being typical Americans who can barely understand English, let alone speak it correctly, had no clue what had been said to Miguel in Spanish. Yet it was obvious that whatever was said didn’t sit well.

The crowd watched for that same split second to see if the mesh would hold or would the Heckler finally be quieted.

What unfolded in front of Heckler reminded him of the penultimate scene in the classic baseball movie “Fear Strikes Out” where Anthony Perkins playing the part of internally tortured Jimmy Pearsall flips out and starts climbing the backstop behind home plate. For Perkins’ character the scaling of the backstop was just the latest in a long history of fighting off demons that had haunted him since childhood. For Miguel, the climb up the backstop was to shove his fist in the mouth of that guy in front of him who had pestered him and made him swing at bad pitches all summer. Tonight was payback time.

Security guards in the stadium quickly recognized what was happening and as the Tigers players circled around Miguel trying to pull him down from the fence, the guards entered the scene trying to keep Miguel from killing Heckler if he somehow got through the fence.

Eventually the laws of physics took over and Miguel was unable to keep climbing the fence. His team mates pulled him down and tried to calm him as security guards surrounded Heckler.

Heckler saw one last opportunity to make a point. “Miguel, is it true you lost your virginity to a goat in San Pedro?

That was enough. Miguel screamed a primal scream and fell backward into the arms of his team mates. As he did, he yelled at Heckler, “I’ll get you, you son of a bitch.”

As the scene unfolded in front of her, Ty Casey sat in her seat with her head in her hands. The number one best prospect she had ever seen let alone signed to a contract just committed baseball’s version of hari kari and did so in front of hundreds of fans. Ty now considered her career in the toilet simply because she had placed so much emphasis on Miguel. To Ty it was the Heckler’s fault.

“I’ll get that mouthy bastard if it’s the last thing I ever do,” she resolved herself to believing. “Divorcing that idiot was the smartest thing I ever did.”

Tonya watched as the security guards scurried Heckler to safety and thought “Damn, I want that man.”

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