I lost the game. I lost the fucking game for ‘em. Jim Buckley came up to me and said it best: You lost the fucking game, Chatworth, and he was right. I lost our team the championship.
Five years later I was walking around the high school hallways all stoned like I usually was and I ran into this kid named Ripley Knox, a bigger stoner than me. He showed me what he had in his bag and I told him I had two bucks and he said that was enough to get a little buzz anyway so we went to the park, just ditched school like we did all the time anyway and sat under a tree and he lit up a joint and we passed it back and forth and when I tried to give him the two bucks he said fuck it so we enjoyed the joint together on this the first sunny day of three weeks when I finally said to him,
“Ripley, you remember that game I lost for our team back in the majors?”
“Yeah, what of it?”
“Well, it just don’t seem right that one person can lose a game for a whole team does it?”
He looked at me all stoned and shit and just nodded and then said,
“Yeah, why not?”
I agreed enough with him, but I was suddenly angry that he would believe something could be so, then thought again of it, and remembered that day and how it was all my fault. There was no question about it. But I wanted to ask Ripley now that we were more grown up and shit. Ripley played right field more than me back then so he would be honest with me. His mother grew his pot. So I say to Ripley,
“Yeah, I guess so.”
I know so, but I say it that way. Sometimes one guy can screw it all up for everybody. He had me at second base because Ricky Tynesdale was out with the flu. Ricky was good, consistent, but he wasn’t the star of the team. Right off this kid hits me a grounder. It goes through my legs. That’s cool. Shake it off they tell me. But I could see that the coach was pissed. That kid finally made it in on a triple hit by another kid. 1-0.
Then we got a rally and tied the score. We were doing good when I get up to the plate and take a walk. That’s good. That loads the bases and this kid named Kenny was up who wasn’t too bad, but batted seventh. There were two outs and I was leading off a little bit when I see Cindy Miller. I’ll never forget the moment. Because just as I stepped off that base there was Cindy in her little junior high cheerleading suit bopping up to the stands. I think her brother played on the other team. I just got a real quick look at her tits when all of a sudden I hear “bam!” and this kid playing first base just smacks me right in the chest with his glove and then sticks his hands up in the air and gives out the biggest “yeaaaah!” I’ve ever heard. He was like some sort of Viking warrior or something. We all trotted in and I sat down on the bench. Nobody said anything to me except for one kid. Vincent Trollo. I think his family was in the mob. I don’t remember what he said except that it included the fictitious name “Wackworth”and it was a direct allusion to my own name of Chatworth.
I went back to second base and prayed nothing else bad would happen. But God had taken a little vacation for those two hours I would soon learn. Another ball did come to me which I fumbled. That man on base did score so that we lost our lead. The next kid up hit it to center field and he got on first. The next kid hit it to the shortstop who lobbed it directly at second base because he was unable to call it back after it left his hand. He had just assumed I would be there.
For some reason and to this day I still don’t know why, when he hit it to our shortstop, Randy Valasquez, I knew, I mean, I really knew where I was supposed to be at, but the trouble was that I was right in the running path of this kid going to second and I jumped back because I was scared and he passed me. The next thing I knew I was trying to beat this kid who had been running hard for a good three seconds. There was no way. When Randy threw that ball to me I wasn’t even close to the bag yet and it bounced on the ground and this kid just kept running. I couldn’t believe it. He must have thought he was like the big running guy on that team so he just kept running and finally I threw the ball to our third baseman, Vic Green, but the goddamned ball just twisted or something and I threw that thing about ten feet over his head and this kid just kept running all the way home. The kid who hit the ball made it to third and then someone knocked him in. When we got back to the bench I sat down like usual and didn’t say anything. Vincent Trollo was all belligerant then.
“You oughtta take that glove, Wackworth, and whack with it because it ain’t doing none of us any good out here.”
Then the coach cut in and told Trollo to shut up and sit down. I wasn’t afraid of Trollo. He could kick my ass, but first he’d have to kiss it. It didn’t matter much. The coach took me out for a few innings. The score was five to three. I was involved in every one of their runs and every one of their runs shouldn’t have been a run. I was ready to give up sports. I was twelve and soon to be thirteen. My big brother smoked cigarettes and I would too. He told me about this girl who he made out with in the back of his Blazer. How her tits just popped out of her shirt and then just sat there bouncing around and around like a couple of water balloons. That’s what I’d do. So I sat there and waited for the game to be over and for me to be thirteen and then fourteen and then maybe fifteen and by then I’d have watched more water balloons bounce around than Trollo or anybody on my team. But sitting there thinking those thoughts, trying to rescue myself from my low opinion of myself, I knew I’d just about lost the game for us and I prayed the coach wouldn’t put me back in. Then came the fifth inning of a game of seven.
“Chatworth, right field.”
I was back. I was back in right field. Nobody hit the ball to right field. They took out little Jimmy Grove, a kid whose hand was backwards so after he caught a ball he would take it off, place it on his backwards hand and throw it. His good hand was his left one, but I think he was a natural righty because where Jimmy would throw nobody would feign to know. He once threw a ball behind himself, over the right field fence. Before anybody could tell him not to climb over to get it he had already done so, failing miserably yet in an original fashion because on the fall to the other side his belt got caught on the chainlink and the umpire had to unhook him. The kid who hit it to him got a home run. Our coach protested, but he lost the argument. It was just not worth pursuing really. It’s one of those arguments that because it had to become an argument at all we all stopped and thought about what we were doing out there in the first place. It was the most absurd thing we’d ever seen, any of us, except perhaps for the day when I lost the championship for us.
So I was in right field. The fifth went by. No problem. Then came the sixth. We got a run. They didn’t. Then came the seventh and we score two on a home run by Vincent Trollo. I was closer to being able to go home. It’s six to five. Us. We get up again but we don’t score. It’s the last at bat for the other Tigers. My team, the Giants, hadn’t won the championship ever as far as anybody can remember. And that’s how it was, but then I saw Ripley lighting the roach and thought to myself even if it was my fault it couldn’t have been completely. We were a team. The other guys could have hit more or done more of something good but they didn’t. They just didn’t make as many errors as me.
“You believe that, Rip?”
“Yeah. You lost the game for us, man.”
“And you didn’t? You only played two innings before your dad came and got you.”
“So. At least I didn’t make any errors.”
“You didn’t play, man!”
“Yeah, but I played.”
“I just don’t know anymore, Ripley.”
It’s not that I wanted to vindicate myself to Rip. Rip was always a bigger loser than I was. I was ten times better than him and there he was sitting all smug smoking the last of his joint like he was Mark McGuire or something. This little runt made me sick. But, you know, I couldn’t shake it. He was right. I made too many errors and therefore I had to take blame for the loss. I remember it differently now than it actually was. After so many years you turn events into happenings. It’s like your first kiss. You remember every moment. Every sensation. Unfortunately, that ball was like that. That ball was like a big sailboat floating over my head. I remember my hand reaching out for it and then suddenly realizing it was easily ten feet away from me. Why I reached for it I don’t know. I can imagine what I looked like as if my memory of the situation included a camera angle from the benches. I saw that thing up in the air so high and I started running in. I was running in because I was going to catch it. It was hit so high and I would get that thing so I ran and ran until I started feeling this weird something in my limbs. It was like my limbs were calling me stupid or something. I didn’t feel right. I felt like I was being torn in two because I’d run way too far in and I was suddenly aware of this ball coming back down to earth behind me. I know I should have run sideways, but I didn’t. I started running backwards as fast as I could. By this time Tim Rowe had started running for it and he was calling me off but I couldn’t tell where he was so I just kept running backwards as fast as my waddling little legs would take me until I plowed right into Tim and our heads knocked together and I knocked him out. Swear to God.
I remember seeing that ball rolling away from Tim and Tim’s eyes sort of rolling up in his head a little bit. I remember turning around and looking at that kid running those bases, heading for home and then back at Tim and then back at the ball which had stopped. Vincent Trollo was running out to right field from first base so I knew I was going to be in deep shit, but I still didn’t go for the ball. All I could see was Tim’s little white boy face, the nose all upturned and red and a little snotty with those eyes half open and his arms spread out to his sides and suddenly I didn’t care about that little ball standing there in the grass like it was. I understood better the absurdity of the game, why God would make a child like Grove, with that one arm, want to be equal to the Vincent Trollo’s of the world and I thought just for that moment that if that ball never moved again then the world would be a better place.
Then David Rice got it from left field and threw it to Vincent Trollo who was about two feet from me and he threw it way high over the catcher. The kid had gotten his home run already. It was a waste of time. We’d already lost. I remember Vincent Trollo then. It was like he wasn’t even aware that Tim was knocked out cold. He comes up to me and pulls me up by my shirt and looks in my face and calls me the worst thing a person can call another which I won’t repeat here. And I look at his ugly face and the next thing I know I’ve spat in it and he’s on top of me hitting me and me looking over there at Tim all knocked out as I tried to block the punches from my face and then the coach stopping Vincent Trollo and a bunch of people trying to revive Tim, including Ripley.
“You were there,” I told Ripley.
“You know what happened.”
“Yeah. Tim got knocked out and you got beat up and you lost the game for us.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes you did.”
But I was through arguing with Ripley. He’s just like everybody else in this world who thinks that winning is the only thing in the world that matters.