Little Jimmy Dixon was never too good at sports, partly because he was more the Dungeons and Dragons sort and partly because he was about two feet shorter than everyone else. Working his way through college, he bartended at a restaurant named Aunt Bessie’s Grill, and when he saw the camaraderie in their softball team, he wanted to be part of it.
One of the busboys, Duncan, played for a respectable high school team in the area, so he asked him for help.
“The first thing you should realize is it’s just class D softball,” Duncan said. “Some of the players have as much or less experience than you do.”
“You mean the girls,” said Jimmy.
“Some of those girls are pretty good.” He crumpled his face and looked away. “But, yeah. Mostly the girls.”
“That’s why I need your help, man. I don’t want to be one of the girls.”
“That’s what I’m saying. It won’t take much to get you there.”
“Awesome,” said Jimmy.
They worked on batting, throwing, and catching—hit all the basics until Jimmy felt pretty good about it. Then they talked about situations on the field, and that’s where Jimmy got confused.
“I’m just not getting this,” said Jimmy. “There’s too much to learn.”
Duncan chewed his lip. “They’re going to put you in right field.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It’s good. It’s what amateur coaches do with weak players. For you, it means if you’re in doubt, just throw it to the cutoff man.”
“In right field that’s the shortstop. I can do that,” said Jimmy.
They played their first game against “Lucky Lounge,” which happened to be their biggest rival. Jimmy was pumped. Duncan was in the crowd rooting them on.
In the first inning, no hits came to him in right field, and he came through in the top of the second with a base hit. In the bottom of the second, Lucky Lounge’s bats got hot. They were up three to two and had men on first and third.
A lefty came to bat, and after whiffing the first pitch, he drove one hard sending it over Jimmy’s head to the left. This was it. The first ball he would field for the team. If he screwed it up, Lucky Lounge would score three easy. He sprang into a run, heading back and away, zeroing in on the ball, but it dropped in front of him so he had to fall on it and pin it with his glove.
He pushed himself up, his back to the infield, so he spun on his foot and threw the ball with everything he had. The ball flew straight for home, bouncing on the line just in front of it, into the glove of the shortstop, who bobbled it, dropped it, and chased it as the runner from first crossed the plate.
For the rest of the game they didn’t hit a ball Jimmy’s way, even the lefty. On the other side of the bat he got on base two out of four times. Even in class D, batting five hundred can’t be too bad, right? He felt pretty good about it. Aunt Bessie’s wound up winning seven to five.
Back at Aunt Bessie’s the catcher brought him a beer. “That’s to make up for dropping that great throw of yours.”
“Thanks,” Jimmy said and sheepishly took it.
“They knew better than to hit it your way after that,” he said.
Jimmy blinked. Ah. That’s why.
Duncan had to work, so it wasn’t until later he came around to congratulate him.
“You handled yourself pretty good out there. You read the play and made great throw. I’m proud of you.”
There’s something extra gratifying about being congratulated by a coach younger than yourself, and euphoria from the experience threatened to overtake Jimmy, but he had to tell him.
“I was aiming for the cutoff man,” he said.
Duncan’s jaw dropped. He laughed and shook his head. “No, you didn’t man. You read the play and threw it home.” He gave Jimmy a high five and went back to work.