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April '05: The Baseball Issue

The Wolfman in Barry Bonds
by Tim Denevi

Joltin Joe Has Left and Gone Away
by Tod Goldberg

Sinker in the Hole
by Bob Arter

Barrie Blonz
by Randall Brown

Course Catalog for Jose Canseco's Baseball Academy
by Christopher Monks

news: Ann Arbor Fundraiser Event!

The first uniforms we shared were the green-on-gray of our Little League team in Colton, the Orioles. The league was sponsored by the Lions Club and our team by the local 7-Up bottling company. The round, red and green 7-Up patches on our sleeves were easily the coolest adornment worn by any team in town.

Dale Shack played short and I was a fixture at first—no range, no speed, but a decent left arm and a perfect number three hitter, just back of Shack. He could hit and bunt, get on base, play run and hit, steal a few bases. I hit for average and a little power, used the whole field, yanked everything low and in, stroked the breaking ball, low and away, to the opposite field, waited for a mistake out over the plate.

He had a good glove at short, but when he went into the hole to his right, Shack never set himself before throwing. So he was moving away from me, spinning midair, as he flung the thing sidearm, and I’d have to deal with a sinking curve to my left or right on a bang-bang play. When his throw took me into the runner, I often wound up tumbling down the foul line. He’d laugh while I tried to shake it off. That was the only place he laughed.

We were friends off the field as well, but at a distance. I remember walking home with him after practice, crossing a half acre of weeds, rocks, and empty bottles behind a bar. A German shepherd trailing a broken chain ran at us low and growling. It scared the hell out of me. Shack picked up an empty Smirnoff bottle by the neck, broke it off on a rock, and when the animal gathered itself and leapt at him, it took the bottle in the throat. I remember it thrashing where it fell, the leg spasms, the final gush of blood, the eyes glazing over. My breath came hard; Shack just dropped the b0ttle, turned and walked away.

I wasn’t encouraged to hang with him, except between the lines. I paid no heed.

He and his father shared an aluminum prefab in a trailer park. I never asked about his mother. His father was generally drunk or out drinking, and was the only person, I believe, Shack ever feared. We played burn-out next to the double-wide when his old man was gone. I had the advantage, because I wore a first baseman’s glove, a Wes Parker model, and took his hardest throws in the webbing. He had a rag of a no-name fielder’s glove and if I hit him in the palm he never flinched. Sooner or later I’d give up; he wouldn’t.

Shack had red hair and freckles, skinny as a stick, all knuckles and elbows and knees. At high school, when we got there, he’d fight at any hard word, any perceived insult. The boys’ vice principal figured him for trouble and he spent a lot of time on suspension. He managed to control his temper and stay in school during baseball season, and we again started together, played together, this time wearing red pinstripes. He still threw that damned sinker from the hole.

I got used to it. It was part of getting used to Shack.

When he was seventeen, a junior, he didn’t show up for school. I read about it in the Colton Courier, a weekly rag that mainly advertised the supermarket’s current sale on chuck roast. It said that Shack had been suffering from a toothache and asked his father to take him to a dentist. After being ignored for four days, Shack loaded six rounds of .22 long rifles into a bolt action Marlin and shot his father dead as the man lay, passed out, on a yard-sale sofa.

Teens were still tried as juveniles in those days, however heinous the crime, and they sent Shack out to a boys’ correction facility called Verdemont. The judge would re-examine him when he turned eighteen.

So I only saw him at our once-a-year game out at Verdemont. At the last one, Shack hit a dribbler toward third. I hurried to the bag, left my foot over it as I stretched, and he spiked me, nicking my Achilles tendon, and beat the throw. He came back laughing, and we talked a little between pitches. While blood soaked through my sanitary hose and filled my shoe. I finished the inning and sat down for the day.

Just after I graduated, Shack faced the judge again. There was a war in Vietnam, and the judge offered him a choice: do two years in the Army or eight and a third to twenty-five in a penitentiary. He chose the military option without blinking.

Then he called me. I wasn’t going to college so I had a job doing unskilled labor at a foundry over in San Bernardino. I wanted to buy a Chevy Impala and fix it up, pick up girls, get laid now and then. That was the extent of my ambitions. So when Shack asked me if I wanted to enlist with him on the Army’s “buddy plan,” I took him up on the offer. I was overdue to get drafted anyhow. This way, we’d get sent, but we’d get sent together.

The Courier’s headline: “Youthful Murderer Again Takes Up Weapon.”

Shack and I, this time in olive drab, wound up in a place called Chu Lai, and there is absolutely nothing I want to say about our time there. Except this: we occasionally got some time off and, as we weren’t far from the sea, we’d spend the time at the beach. There were women there, and bars, and general recreation. And you could get up a game of co-ed softball and have a hell of a good time. I can remember standing at first when a nurse hit a blooper that landed at Shack’s feet over at short. He short-hopped it, but had a can of beer in his bare hand. He looked in his glove, shrugged, and threw the can, foaming, across the infield. I took two steps, snagged it in my glove, whirled and swipe-tagged the girl on the ass as she went by. The ump, a captain who’d driven over a mine and couldn’t run, called her out and she raised hell. I looked at Shack, raised the can in salute, and we both busted up.

That night we sat on top of a bunker, quietly sharing a joint. Shack said, “It’s weird. They were going to put me away for killing my old man. Instead, they send me here to kill every stranger I see. I don’t get it, man.”

“I don’t either,” I said, “but we’re down to three months. Just stay with that.” He shook his head, lay back and stared up at the stars. I gave him the rest of the joint and went off looking for the nurse I’d tagged out that afternoon.

The other day I was sitting in the bleachers, watching my grandson play ball. He’s in the Little League now, playing my old position. Jake looks pretty smooth around first—left-handed like me, but quick as a cat. These kids are a lot better than in my time.

A girl, red ponytail and freckles, was playing short. The first time I saw her move to her right, backhand a bouncer, and spin midair to sling it over to Jake, I grinned. It hung, sank, and pulled Jake into the runner—who knocked him into short right field.

Shack didn’t make it. He bought it at the ancient city of Hue, along with a lot of other people who had no idea what in hell they were doing there. He got a couple of medals, posthumously, and they put him in a bag. Since he’d shot his only next of kin, the Army held onto his medals.

I found his name on the Wall, back in the Eighties. I went there alone, just once. And traced the letters with my finger: SP4 Dale Shack.

I wished I could have added “Shortstop.”

Bob Arter was a hell of a first baseman, but always had a a hitch in his swing. Happily, he is learning the art of fiction from his home in Southern California, where his son wants to be a cop, his wife hopes his son doesn't get shot in the face, and his desert tortoise, Gomez, is about to rise up from his winter hibernation. Bob's work has appeared in such venues as Zoetrope: All-Story Extra, the Absinthe Literary Review, the Mississippi Review, Ink Pot, Night Train, and God knows what else.Bob thanks you. Gomez thanks you.