Janice J. Heiss

Family of Champions

"One out in the top of the eleventh, men on first and second, in what's gotta be one of the most exciting World Series play-off games ever!" blares the transistor hidden inside my jersey pocket. Even though she's playing deep center, and I'm playing left field, I turn the volume down so Mom won't get on my back about listening to our game while playing it.

Sweat is dribbling down my weary, wired legs. "Please, God, let our family win this game, win the World Series," I say under my breath.
"Hang in there, Dex," I shout to my father on the pitcher's mound.
Dad winks, chews on his wad, spits, and throws me a kiss. But how does he do it!? "I'll be able to
see more pictures in my mind's eye now" was his reaction to going blind five years ago.    

"Dexy-Dan looks dead-tired. After pitching eleven innings, he's gotta be!" says the sportscaster.
I'm so sorry, Daddy, that you wasted your life in sales at the Landiron Scrap Company. But, you know, you've always been a hero in my eyes.
I can vaguely hear Dad saying something like: "Yep, the way your mother spent money back then, you woulda thought that I was made of the green stuff!" He can even hear what I think!
"Dexy walks `the Splinter,' Roger Esperando. Bases loaded, one out, game tied, four to four, between two all-time great teams, the Pilots and the Family." I turn up the transistor. Heat's on.
"Remember, sweetheart, this is just a game," Dad says looking over his shoulder into left field. Sweat is raining down his face. "But when you were sick in the hospital, now, that was serious. I couldn't live without my darling daughter."  
"I love you too, Dad, no matter what. Always have and always will," I reply.
Kenny, our shortstop - because Mom's always favored him, he gets the best position - yells out: "Who's the loser who let Snuffles out in the field?"
"Who do you think? Your sister, of course," mocks Mom.    

"God damn it, I have a lot at stake on this game. I placed some four- figure bets back in the office!" Kenny complains.
"He's not hurting anyone!" I shriek. "Here, Snuffles, come here, Snuffles," but Snuffles goes his merry way, like most cockers, into the dugout. I ask my brother in hushed tones: "What happened to you anyway, Kenny? Remember our old brother-sister team at U. of I.? How we fought the mad running capitalist dogs?  Look at you now - you filthy rich corporate lawyer!"
Next thing I know, I hear the crisp crack of  wood on ball and a fly ball is coming hard and fast into mid-left field. Mom's yelling at me from center. Her shrill voice registers loud and clear as she motions me
further back in left field, too far back.  "Decisions, decisions, you must make up your mind about things, Alice!"
Great time for one of her lectures. "Mom, can't you see I'm trying to play ball!"
"And don't catch with your mouth open. It's not becoming to a lady!" she shouts.
I catch the ball despite Mom and make a perfect throw to home where the catcher tags Willie Jones out. Two out, two on, top of the eleventh.
"Way to go!" hoots Mom to the catcher and, "lucky play," she says, nodding my way.
"Good play," I hear someone root. Wow! It's Andy, my ex, bumbler in the bleachers always out to have a good time, picking at peanuts and swigging beer. Is that blond bunny hanging on him Jazmin, the office-mate he was screwing around with three months into our marriage?

"I told you, hon, he'd never amount to anything and that you're too good for him," Dad comments from the mound. "Tell me - I just betcha - he probably has a pot belly by now?" asks Dad.
"Two outs, and here comes... yes, looks like they've picked Jesse Wilkins to pinch hit here, folks. Wow." Adds the sportscaster in a whisper, "Jesse has a phenomenal .379 batting average this season."  
I can't believe it, but here comes another one, a long fly ball way far out, deep in left field. "This could be outta here, folks," says the announcer. Instead, the ball bounces off the wall less than an inch away
from my raised glove, and a run comes in.
"What are you doing out there, my little Sandinista Sis? Falling asleep? You coulda caught that!"
"At least I didn't vote for Bush!" I holler back.
"Hey there, Kenny, come on and lighten up on your sister!" says Dad.
"But, jeez, Dad, she even thinks competition is wrong!" replies Kenny.
The next player grounds out to Kenny, and the inning is over. "Five to four, the Pilots ahead, as we go into the bottom of the eleventh, folks, in this awesome final game of the World Series!"
Mom looks brokenhearted as we hustle into the dugout. "You didn't have that damn transistor on distracting you out there, did you?" she asks me. I shake my head "no."
"It's all your fault, you old lefty," Kenny whispers in my ear. "Grow up!"
"Oh, shut up! What about that error you made in the fifth inning, dear heart?" I respond.
"Mom, don't worry, I'll hit one out of the park," I vow, yet surprised at my words. And maybe then she'll love me...
"Well, watch me Mom. This one's for you!" says Kenny as he goes to bat.
"Attaboy, Ken," shouts Dad. "Where's the dog? Here, Snuffie-dog, here, boy!"
Mom sidles up unusually close to me. "Do me a favor, Alice, and let's just win this World Series, OK, hon? Then, I'll feel more special, not just another suburban housewife. This would mean so much to—"
"But, Mom, you've never complained...You always seemed content with" I don't know what to say. Mom, the rock, revealing all this out of nowhere. I don't know how to handle it. "When I met your dad, just back from the war, when he was thirty-one and I had just turned nineteen, all I knew was to get married and have children. I didn't even know who I was at that age. I was still a baby myself. Next thing I knew, I was pregnant with you. By the time I was twenty-one, I had two babies, not including your dad, of course, and a sick one - you - and a miscarriage and... What in the hell did you all expect of me?" Is it tears or sweat on her cheeks?
"Mom, I'm like, like really surprised. I thought - I didn't have the slightestum..." But suddenly the crowd rises, all 50,000 of them.
Kenny's hit a hard line drive between first and second and takes off running. But then I see something that almost makes me laugh, if it weren't so sad. Snuffles, our dear beloved Snuffles, has snagged the
ball Kenny just hit.
Snuffles runs back to the dugout with the ball, toward Dad who doesn't realize what's going on. The crowd goes wild, cheering, laughing, booing, and then throwing bottles and popcorn onto the field.
"Damn it, Snuffles, you idiot!" yells Kenny, looking as if he's ready to kill him.
Next thing I know, the umpires huddle on the mound and take the ball from the Pilots' pitcher while 50,000 people hold their breath. After short deliberation, the umpires call for an end to the game and a
default win to the Pilots. Kenny gets steamed and runs out to the mound where he stands toe to toe with the umpires.
"What are you talking about, game over? I've never even seen that dog before! Isn't it a rule of the game that we start play over? I swear, I'll sue"  But the other team is already leaving the field giving each other half-hearted high fives.
I won't give up, and I go to the batter's box since it's my turn up. After all, I still have to hit one out of the park for Mom. We will still be a family of champions. All winners. Happy together. A real family, a together team.    

I stand in the batter's box but no one seems to notice me swinging wildly over home plate as they leave the field. "I'm up. It's my turn up!" I scream. "Damn it, it's my turn up!" but all the players turn away
from me, the numbers on their backs getting smaller and smaller as they move toward the dugouts, until they are too far away to read.
"Wait, wait, the game can't be over. It's my turn up! Hey, the game can't be over. It's my turn. I'm here. It's my turn up!" But I'm all alone in the batter's box.

Janice J. Heiss' writing has appeared in various publications including Urban Spaghetti, Poetry Motel, Black Dirt, Women's Words, the Rockford Review, Passages North, and The Lullwater Review, and others.


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