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The Glove
© by James W. Hoddinott
When I took my usual route home from work over the Louise Bridge that spanned the Red River, I was surprised when I spotted a baseball glove teetering on the edge of the railing. I ran quickly to the glove and caught it just before it plunged into the water. The glove had the name Josh Turner, 51 Nairn Avenue carefully printed on it. I imagined how happy this young lad would be when I returned his precious baseball glove to him. I approached a weathered one and a half story house with a baseball bat and ball perched on the steps that led to the screen door. Peering through the mesh of the screen door, I spotted a young woman sitting at her kitchen table, head down, with tears dripping down her cheek. In the living room there was a tall, physically fit man pacing back and forth, obviously very upset. I started to go back down the steps, thinking this wasn’t the best time to return Josh’s glove, when a voice stopped me cold in my tracks. “Is that you Josh?” I squeezed the glove close to me and the images of Josh’s story filled my subconscious…
“I have never seen such a stupid play in all my years of coaching. If you don’t want to win the championship, just tell me and I’ll take you out of the game right now!” “I want to win the championship.” “Then go out there and prove it. If it isn’t too late! That stupid throwing error already cost us a run.” “I’m sorry, Coach Barnes.” Josh didn’t mind so much that the coach was yelling at him, he had become accustomed to his screaming tirades. What did bother him was seeing his father sitting in the stands shaking his head in disappointment. He knew that whether or not the team won, or lost the championship game, when he got home dad would hit him ground balls for hours. “How can you become a shortstop in the majors if you don’t practice?” His dad criticized him for lack of mental talent. He told him baseball was 10% talent and 90% attitude. If that was true, why then are there so many players in the majors who don’t work out, don’t hustle in practice, and yet still manage to stay on a major league team? Take Albert Belle from the Orioles. The guy was born being able to hit. Attitude though is lacking. Rarely hustles and his head never seems to be in the game, yet he always hit over 30 home runs and drove in a hundred runs. His 10% talent is doing him just fine. Yet, Albert Belle could have been immortalized, but his attitude, well it will cost him the Hall of Fame. Mind you, Ty Cobb, he was supposed to be one bad ass, and even with his attitude he is in the Hall of Fame. Josh rushed out to take his shortstop position, knowing that if they were going to have a chance to win the championship game they would need to hold them here. Being down one run with one inning left is one thing, but give up another run, and it would be game over. After all the other team wasn’t the Red Sox and Buckner wasn’t playing first base. Maybe that isn’t fair either. Bill Buckner was a great player and it certainly wasn’t him, despite how history paints it that cost the Red Sox the World Series. The highlight reel will always show that ground ball going between his legs and the Mets scoring the winning run, but even if he made that play, it meant extra innings. How had history been so kind to Calvin Shiraldi? Let’s be fair! He was a young pitcher and they had certainly placed a lot of pressure on him, but with two outs and nobody on base you thought it was game over. Man they even had the Rocket ready to pitch in the bullpen. Josh had known watching that game if the Sox had pulled Shiraldi and put in the ‘Rocket’ to get that last out, no one would be talking about the ‘Curse of the Bambino.’ This was the Red Sox though. When Josh made that bad throw last inning it felt like he was also cursed. Man, he had made that throw a hundred times before, and always right in the first baseman’s mitt. Josh liked to stay on his toes and from shortstop, he had a cannon and was always accurate. Rarely did Tim; their first baseman; need to even move his glove, but last inning, Josh’s head bowed down as his throw sailed over Tim’s glove out of play. As per the rulebook, the runner was safe at first and advanced to second on the overthrow.
Then, when the next batter hit a single up the middle just passed Josh’s outstretched glove scoring the run; he didn’t even look because he could feel both his father and coach’s fury. Mom always said the same thing when he left the house for a game, “Have fun son.” Then dad would put his arm around him and say; “Not much fun in losing is there son?” Well, he wished he could tell his dad that this year there is no darn fun in winning either. Crap, there’s no fun in playing anymore. All through peewee baseball, Josh had prayed to become a better player. No, he wanted to be a great player! He wanted to make the major leagues. Josh wanted to play for the Red Sox and end the ‘Curse of the Bambino. He could almost see the ticker tape parade to celebrate the end of the Sox’s 75 years of World Series disappointment. He could sometimes even hear the crowd roaring as he, Josh, the star of the seventh game, finally brought the World Series to Boston. Now, Josh found himself one run down, last inning, of the championship game wishing he had never played baseball, wishing he could just go home. His dad hadn’t even noticed that he’d quit watching baseball. His Mom had noticed that Josh no longer slept with his baseball glove under his pillow; so, he always knew where to find it. These days, the pre-game ritual included his dad screaming about: “what kind of baseball player doesn’t know where his glove is?” Josh had even hid the glove in his sister’s room one time sure no one would find it there and hoping beyond hope that he wouldn’t have to play baseball anymore, but they found it. The only good thing about that episode was that his sister was grounded for two weeks for hiding his glove.
If they hadn’t already been late for the game, his sister would have also gotten a good whooping, just like he did when he struck out looking with the bases loaded. “It’s okay to strike out dad would tell him with every swat of his hand, but never go down looking at third strike. You have to protect the plate.” When Nicholas, their pitcher, struck out the side in the last inning the team remained one run down. Josh was starting to feel good. He would be the sixth batter up this inning and he was sure they would have either won the game or lost it by the time he came to bat. He hoped so; anyway, because there was no way he wanted to be bat in this game with the championship on the line. When the first two guys struck out, Josh was starting to feel even better because at long last baseball season would finally be over. Josh’s panic returned as the next two guys walked. Tim then came to the plate. Josh looked to the heavens and prayed Tim would either get out or hit a home run, he didn’t care which, as long as he didn’t have to bat. When Tim hit a slow roller towards third base, he was sure the game was over, but it was bobbled and everyone was safe. Josh heard the coach from the other team yell, “Good try, don’t worry about it. Let’s get the next guy.” When Josh stepped up to the plate, he forgot all about the two home runs he’d already hit this game, or the two diving catches he’d made to end innings. He knew the only thing his dad would remember was the error and whatever happened with this at bat. The first pitch was a fastball right down the middle of the plate for strike one. Josh didn’t even attempt to swing. He was afraid to swing, afraid to get out–afraid what would happen to him if he did get out. The next two pitches were balls. Josh was starting to think if I could walk, maybe we would win. He decided to let the pitcher make the mistake. When the next pitch looked outside, Josh thought it would be called ball three, but the Umpire screamed, “Strike Two!”
Two balls and two strikes. The next pitch was in the dirt and their catcher made a great play just to stop it. Full count. One more ball and he walked one more strike and he was out. Josh saw the pitcher make his wind up and throw the ball. It was a fastball. He could see the seams rotating as it approached the plate. It look like it was going to be a strike, he couldn’t watch third strike. His dad would kill him. Closing his eyes, he squeezed the bat hard and swung! His bat cut through the air–and nothing. All he heard was the thud of the ball as it hit the catcher’s glove. The cheering of the opposing team’s fans let him know before the umpire screamed the final humiliation “You’re OUT!”
He stood at the plate, head down, as his coach said, “Thanks Josh! You just cost us the championship. A boy destined to play in the Majors would have got a hit, but Josh you will never make it.” Josh continued to stand there hoping beyond hope that his dad would come out and get him, pick him up, give him a hug, make this hurt go away, but he never came. His dad was furious. How could his son have cost the team the championship? How could his son have embarrassed him like that? “Josh you can God Damn well walk home. I didn’t throw pitches to you every night so you could strike out.” Josh felt his mom’s hand on his shoulder and could feel her breath against his ear as she whispered, “I love you Josh, I’m sorry you aren’t having fun playing baseball.” “Come on, Marge. Leave the kid alone. He has to be a man and take his lumps. He needs to toughen up. Maybe then he won’t choke.” Josh dropped his bat and started the long walk home. Josh didn’t turn to see the tears streaming down his mom’s face. He couldn’t feel the pain she was feeling. He couldn’t. He hurt too much. He just kept his head down and walked.
Reaching the Louise Bridge that spanned the Red River, he looked down into the water as it peacefully went on its journey towards Lake Winnipeg. The water looked inviting. It seemed to be calling him. Josh looked at the river, and then looked at the road that led to his house, then back at the river. He knew he didn’t want to go home and see his Dad. He knew he didn’t want to play baseball anymore. Josh thought he had no choice. He carefully placed his baseball glove on the bridge’s railing, climbed up and peered into the welcoming arms of the river. Thoughts of the game raced through his mind. The expressions on the faces of his father and coach were etched into his mind. The thud of the ball hitting the catcher’s glove. He didn’t care about the words his coach spoke to him. He hated baseball. However, the pain from disappointing his father, would never go away. How would he be able to tell his dad he didn’t want to play ball anymore? How could he ever look his dad in the eye again? How could he…It didn’t matter the answer was always the same. He couldn’t.

**** I slowly looked up from the glove to see Josh’s mom standing at the doorway. Looking at tear filled eyes, as she stared blankly at her son’s glove clenched next to my body, I realized something Josh hadn’t. He did have a choice.