Bottom Of The Ninth

By: Wayne Brown

Charge!” roars the crowd as keyboardist blasts his musical call-to-duty from the scoreboard speakers. Standing here in the home team dugout on the losing side is not the best position to be in at the moment.


The scoreboard shows the hometown favorites down by two in the bottom of the ninth and there are already two outs. This is the last go round; what it all comes down to so often in this game of baseball. It’s finally "nut-cuttin’ time" as they say in the locker room. The visitors have their cleanup stationed on the pitchers’ mound fresh and ready to shutdown production so they can head home a winner. The hometown crowd is restless. They are like a hungry jungle cat after its raw meat. They want a playoff berth and this is the ticket.


The crack of the bat signals success as a low line drive bullets between short and second and rolls into shallow left field. Jennings is standing on the first base bag glad to slip in at this late hour. You grab your favorite bat and move to the on-deck circle. Smithers walks to the plate, kicks a little dirt around and steps into the box nervously eyeing the relief pitcher.


Charlie “Night-Train” Williams is on the mound doing clean up duties tonight. Ol’ Charlie is a pretty decent guy who you played AA ball with way back when. They call him “Night-Train” because when he brings the heat, it’s usually the express run and it doesn’t slowdown for crossings. Charlie has sent his share back to the dugout empty-handed cursing his name in mumbled breath. He’s earned his spot on this mound and the way the scoreboard looks, he’s earning his paycheck tonight.


Smithers passes on the first pitch for a ball and gets ahead in the count. The ritualistic first pitch is out of the way now. Smithers is ready to hit and “Night-Train” is plotting to rob his dreams. Smithers lets it go for a strike. The dance has begun with both tasting blood. You tap the bat against your right cleat and knock out some dirt that is not there. According to the ritual of the on-deck, you know you need to do some spitting, scratching, and swinging before your turn comes. The crowd expects it. Smithers lays down a bunt ball on the third pitch that twists down along the first baseline almost tangled in his running feet. The catcher struggles from his squat hurriedly trying to get his hand to the ball. He connects spins and throws to second in an attempt to head off the lead runner. Too late, Jennings is safe standing up at second.


The keyboardist is at it again and the crowd is fired up. They sense a recovery for the home team. The elements are in place now. The runs needed to tie it up are standing on the bags. You represent the win as you stride toward the plate. No pressure you think. The whole damn thing is now riding on my head. Regardless of what other mistakes were made in these nine innings of baseball, it all now comes down to your turn at bat. In a matter of seconds, you can become a hero or be well on your way to achieving permanent “bum” status if you go down for the count and leave those runs on the bags. No, there’s no pressure here.


You hold clear of the box and take a couple of swings then glance out at Charlie Williams on the mound. He stands on the rubber studying the seams on the ball patiently waiting his round with you. You think how nice it would be to get into Charlie’s head right now and see his plan. Pitchers study hitters and try to work their weak sides. You wonder what Charlie thinks your weak side is today. Charlie looks up and glances your way indicating that he is ready. You look him straight in the eye, adjust the batting helmet one more time and step in the box.


A quick glance down the line to the coach indicates that you will take the first pitch, let it go. On the first pitch, that’s about a given in this game so there is no surprise when you see the sign. Charlie winds up here it comes. A curve ball, no a slider and a damn good one too you think as the umpire yells “Strikkke!” and does his little dance. Damn you, Charlie, if they didn’t have me under contract, I would have taken a cut at that one you think as you ready for the second pitch.


With runners on base, Williams works from the stretch wind up. He takes his first motion of the stretch, checks the runners and then fires a throw to second. Jennings gets back to the bag in time but he’s been warned. In your mind, you know the throw to second had nothing to do with Jennings, it was all about getting into your head and breaking up your rhythm. Charlie was not pitching to a fool. You step out of the box as a countermeasure. Baseball is a battle of wits.


The umpire gives you a look and says, “Let’s play ball.” Yeah, you think, let’s do. You step back in the box and Charlie Williams delivers the mail. It’s a high rambler and you feel the urge to go after it. You always feel that way when you see those high ones. They joke about you in the locker room saying that you have a drinking problem. Yeah, you can’t lay off of those “high balls”. But you check yourself on this one and the umpire makes the “ball” call just like you predicted.


One and one is the count; you and ol’ Charlie are even up now. Here he comes with the next pitch. It’s the slider again. You wait and see that it will find the zone. You swing only to hear the ball snap into the catcher’s mitt. “Strike Two!” the umpire roars. The umpire signals you out of the box. He wants to brush the dirt off the plate; do a bit of house-keeping. His interruption plays to someone’s strategy, maybe yours, maybe Charlie’s; only time will tell. The umpire nods and takes his position and you step back in the box and set your feet readying yourself for yet another pitch. The noise from the crowd is gone now. Your world is silent. It’s just you and ol’ Charlie out there on the mound and both of you know that it’s gettin’down to nut-cuttin’ time.


What’s in your head Charlie? you wonder as you gaze out at him taking his time shaking off the catcher’s signals. You check down the line to the coach for the signal. “Hit away” he signs to you. The wheels are turning in your head rapidly. Charlie has you down in a 2 and 1 count. He is ahead of you and you are only one pitch away from his day being over if you figure him correctly. Charlie could hold back on this one and throw a change up; take a chance on a ball or two and still be alive. On the other hand, he could also serve up the heat and send that night-train fast ball blasting past you while you stood in place. Yeah, you think, come on Charlie, bring the heat, bring it! You are ready to go for broke and stop the drama.


Williams goes into his familiar stretch, checks the runners, and hurls the pitch with an audible groan. The night-train is on its way once again coming down the gut at blinding speed. It’s all you can do to just keep the ball in sight as it blasts toward the plate. You set your feet, shift your weight, and unconsciously pull back on the bat a bit and then swing. The crack of the wood making contact with the speeding ball pierces your ears before any of your senses tell you that you have hit the ball.


The stitched orb rockets on a rising arch toward center field gaining height, speed and distance. Time seems to almost come to a standstill. The center fielder is moving in a run back toward the wall. The elements are taking shape. The ball continues on its path well above the top of the wall and far from the outstretched hands of the center fielder. It careens into the center field bleacher seats and fans go diving for the precious souvenir. You watch with satisfaction and relief. You trot off toward first base for your victory run around the bags. As you head down the line you glance out toward the mound and catch Charlie William’s eye. He grins and winks. “Night-Train” knows you’re a sucker for a fastball.


(copyright)WBrown2010

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Comments 11 comments

thevoice profile image

thevoice 6 years ago from carthage ill

powerful write great emotion thanks


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 6 years ago

Fantastic story, Wayne.. You had me from the first word to the last. I always look forward to reading your work.


Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

I am a sucker for baseball!! Wow - a walk off homer! Doesn't get any better than that! Loved your play-by-play descriptions - sights, sounds - all so realistic. My boys were always instructed to take the 1st pitch . . . and then often to bunt. They were fast, and almost always got on base. Today was a real baseball bonanza for me. Several TV channels working America's favorite past-time. Hard Ball (Keanna Reeves - sp?) was sad; Major League (Martin Sheen) was a silly lovestory; and the Astros won - miraculously (is that a word?). Are you a Rangers fan? Thoughts for this season?


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@Truckstop Sally...Wrote this one a long time back. It was a failure...only 27 people including yourself have read it. I thought it was a good baseball story but it did not draw a crowd. We all have failures...this is one of mine. I am skeptical of the Rangers in terms of their pitching ability this year. They really lost big time when Cliff Lee got away. I think he wanted to get away so I am not sure they could have kept him. If they can produce on the offensive side and the rest of the team can carry the pitching defensively, they might have a decent season. I don't look for them to make the playoffs. WB


Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

Failure and WB -- just don't go together. Perhaps you only had a few followers at the time. So glad you didn't throw in the towel (will be on my next idiom list - clothing and body parts).

C'mon -- baseball is America's pastime! Who doesn't love listening to a weekend radio broadcast rooting for the home team. We play each other in June -- there and here. Maybe a friendly wager???

Can't feel sorry for you on the pitching front. Still sore over Nolan Ryan heading north a few years ago. You know, he was #34 for us and you, and his number was retired both places (more than anyone except Jackie Robinson . . .) I may have told you that I am very supersticious, and so is my eldest son. He was #34 in football and lacrosse through-out high school. That number was taken when he got to college, but it is available next year . . . He has jerseys from lots and lots of famous 34's -- Akeem Olajuwan (sp), Earl Campbell, Ricky Williams . . . and outside Texas -- Walter Payton, Franco Harris . . .


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@Truckstop Sally...Hey, search me! I thought this would be a favorite just like hot dogs and beer. Did not work out that way! Ryan is one of my all time personal sports heroes and human beings. If I had a child who wanted to worship a sports figure, he would be among the few that I would pick for him. He labored a lot of years honing his skills for those short moments of fame that he so deserved near the end of his career. And he did it all with a humbleness that would humble most men. Apparently there is some magic in that number as well as evidenced by those who have worn it. I guess you would have to come up with a list of all who have worn it and never accomplished much of anything to really bring it back into perspective. We'll have to consider that friendly bet. The Rangers have only dumped one so far but they are living off of the production of their hitters moreso than being saved by the pitching. Sooner or later that will come to a halt and I am not sure that our pitching staff is strong enough to carry the day. Our top reliever, Oliver, is on temporary leave from the wax museum! LOL! I can tell that you have an enthusiasm for sports...probably driven by your boys, huh? WB


Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

Just saw your Rangers had 6 double plays to beat the Yankees - Wow! The Astros are 4-10 . . . and the only NL team not to have consecutive wins. Ouch! You should have taken me up on the wager! Ha!

I have been a baseball fan since I was little. My Dad had a box (8 seats) in the first 2 rows behind 3rd base in the Dome for years and years. And before then for the Colt 45's (although I don't remember them). Doug Rader was my favorite player back then! I too am a fan of Nolan Ryan. I have a teddy bear dressed in retro (ugly) Astros' uniform with #34 on the back!

My boys introduced me to football and LAX. There are so many important lessons to learn in sports -- sportsmanship, perseverance, teamwork, effort . . . I do try to encourage them to keep a balance between academics and sports though. The oldest one was recruited by lots of East coast schools to play football. He was actually coming home from Yale when we discovered Jackson MS. His flight was cancelled, and they re-routed him thru Jackson . . . on flight #34 . . . While he could have played ball at some of those schools, the academics along with a sport would have been a struggle. And Mom is glad he is closer to home. Ha!


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@Truckstop Sally...That win over the Yankees was an ugly one from what I saw. The pitching on both sides was horrible. I am waitng for our "slump" to hit that seems to come around each year...then we can't buy a game! Boy, you had it good as a kid...box seats! Wow! It's good that you did develop that love of sports. It helps you connect with your sons in a way that would never be possible...that will be a lifelong connection too. Glad to hear that you the mind on the books too! WB


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 4 years ago from Hereford, AZ

Wayne, this lovely story will hopefully see new life, thanks to our share with followers button. I shared and hope it reaches it's potential.


ThomasBaker profile image

ThomasBaker 4 years ago from Florida

Another good story!


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 4 years ago from Texas Author

@Becky Katz...Excellent...I appreciate the exposure. I love going back and reading these as it has been a couple of years since I wrote them. Thanks for the share! WB

@ThomasBaker...Thank you for the read and the comment! WB

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