He was weary and weak, and didn’t feel good most of the time. The old man seldom went out and even when did, he wished he were back home, in his small apartment and its tired dusty walls, the Murphy bed, the broken recliner. The only place he felt safe and comfortable, with his frail broken down body, his head full of memories that seemed to fade more with each passing day.
He would sit in his chair, a blanket folded over his legs to ward off the chill of an early spring evening, and his mind would wander, and he tried to remember the last time he had felt warm. And he would think, and occasionally nod off, only to be startled awake by the sounds that filtered through the thin walls; the horn of an irate driver, a mother calling her child to dinner, the crack of a bat, the pop of leather meeting leather. He remembered what it felt like, to hit, to catch, to throw. And his nose remembered the scent of a leather glove, how it smelled of oil lovingly rubbed in, of sweat, of summer. And when evening faded to night, the children long gone, the driver forgotten, when darkness and silence were all that remained, he drifted to sleep once more, and he dreamed.
He was on the mound, his attention focused down to a tight narrow beam, the only two things in his world just him, and the catcher’s glove. In that moment, for him, everything else ceased to exist. He didn’t hear the crowd or smell the popcorn, or see the catcher’s signals. Signals made no difference, he knew what he was going to throw, the crowd knew, even the hitter knew. His one pitch, the one that got him here, and kept him here, the one he could always count on. He’d been in situations like this countless times before, he knew the feeling well. He knew pressure, how it could intimidate, crush, make you shrink in on yourself, and he relished that, he hungered for it, for its challenge, for the way it caused his adrenaline to flow, and to him, it was only another opponent, another obstacle to overcome.
Four tenths of a second, hardly more than the blink of an eye, that’s how long it takes the ball to travel from his hand to the catcher’s mitt. Sixty feet six inches and four tenths of a second, all that stood between him and glory.
He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his glove, adjusted his hat, shook the tightness out of his arm. The ball was light in his hand, like a feather, like nothing at all. His fingers caressed the seams, intimately familiar with their feel. Rocking back on his right leg, reaching back, reaching for all he had, his left leg in the air, he pointed his toe at home plate and threw. From the moment he let the ball go, as it streaked toward home plate, a comet, a vanishing point of light, he knew. He knew. It was his pitch, he owned it. It defined him, was him. He awoke to silence, the crack of the bat a fading memory. The dream, the same one he dreamed every night, ended, as it always ended.
The old man opened his eyes. Outside, a dog was barking.