The Inside Pitch

Peter Hymans, Western Region, Legacy Discovery Shaman

One morning, one summer, after breakfast, Dad had gone to work and my sister was away at Girl Scout camp. Mom summoned me away from the TV to have a talk at the kitchen table.

Questions began bobbing to the surface in my mind.

“What could this possibly be about?” “Am I getting scolded for almost breaking the kitchen window with a foul ball?” ‘Will this be “the birds and the bees talk” I already had with Dad?’ “Is Mom about to conscript me into a big multiple-day-yard-work project?”

I sat, elbows on the thick oak table, feet curled around the chair legs. Time stretched and seconds seemed to be minutes.

As I watched her pour deep-black coffee for herself, I sensed something coming–completely different from any previous Pete & Mom moments. But what? This hunch gained momentum, when Mom poured a second mug of coffee. I thought; “What? Mom never gives me coffee and she only pours two cups when she goes to bed.” (She habitually took two coffees to the bedroom at night; one for while she read; the other to be drunk, cold, when she opened her eyes in the morning.)

I watched her pour-in Bosco chocolate syrup. Our milk was delivered to our home, in heavy “cream top” glass bottles. Each had a small goblet-shaped receptacle, so the buttery-cream could float to the top. Mom spooned about four tablespoons of luxurious cream into the mug, I was certain was for me. 

“Is Mom gonna tell me she’s going to have baby or something?” I wondered. 

She put the two mugs and a few of her famous “blonde cookies” on the table and sat in her normal place at the table. She took a sip of her coffee and made a motion with her head that I should do the same.

This was all foreign to me. I didn’t even know the term; “game face. But I had a good one on.

For effect–she said nothing for about 20-seconds.

Then it came: “Never lie, Peter!” Her tone was inscrutable–neither threatening nor pleading. It was as though she was reading from a sacred ancestral stone tablet.

“Your eyes will give you away. Some people can lie and get away with it. You are not one of those people.”

She sat still, imposing ten more seconds of silence for my thoughts to jell.

“Never lie, Peter.” Same again, in the same tone and cadence as before. That was it!

I felt as though I had been given a treasure. We both knew she’d sealed the deal by the intimacy of removing the taboo on coffee for me. In the past, Mom and Dad had, often said: “Coffee is for grown-ups. You’ll have some when the time is right.” Clearly the “right time” came.

For the next minute or two, the only sounds were: cookies crunching, a swallowing sound or two and the refrigerator motor.

Then from Mom: “So do you boys have some big baseball plans set for today?”

I do not recall my reply. I was still snow-globing; mom’s particles of wisdom required some time–to settle and alloy into a component of my character.

In concert with two of my best friends, Bill and Lewie, we formed a cluster of scrappers, engaged in teaching one another the alpha man’s art of “trash-talking the opponent.” We did a lot of not so gentle kidding of one another.

Each day, our backyard baseball was drenched in competition blended with the camaraderie of buddies. We had no way to foresee; our kids’ scratches, bumps and dents would turn into the scars of men.

The summer after my talk with Mom, I played third base on a Little League baseball team called “The Lions,” sponsored by the local Lions Club. Sadly, Bill and Lewie, were placed on a different team; Eddie’s Sports Shop–named after the store, where every kid we knew would buy his first glove, bat, ball and jock strap.

We, Lions, had a pitcher, Billy Fagan, who wasn’t from our school; he just sort of appeared on our team somehow. He was good, really good; 50% strikeouts with the one and only pitch all ten-year olds had, a not-so-fast ball. Lewie was a pitcher for Eddie’s.

Half the season passed and then, finally the big game; “The Lions vs. Eddies.” No one needed to tell us; this was a “man-to-man” confrontation. The young warriors were facing-off in symbolic battle.

Our Billy was pitching against Lewie. Both were pretty much on their game that day and by the end of the 5th inning it was 3–2 in favor of Eddie’s.

I remember going to bat, top of the 6th, last chance for us–men at first and second and 2-out. At that age, I stood at the plate with the context of; “I hope it doesn’t hit me.” And, even though Lewie had thrown maybe 2-thousand pitches to me before this game, in this setting, he was intimidating as heck. This was a REAL GAME and he had his game face on.

When I first stepped up to the plate, Lewie gave me the; “I’m going to get you” look, that was translated in my mind to; “Oh my God; he’s going to kill me!”

At first I wanted to run away. Then I felt like rushing the mound to punch the 6-months younger, Lewie, in the face. Then I swallowed hard, regrouped and took a couple practice swings before reflecting back to Lewie my own look, saying; “I’m gonna smack one right through you for a double!“

There were about 40-people in the stands and the sum-total of the two teams and coaches was another 30, or so. Seventy People were watching me–bat in hand–two on and the score in Eddie’s favor.

I swung wildly at a pitch in the dirt. Lewie giggled. I got pissed.

A ball flew over the head of the catcher, I did not swing and the two runners advanced to second and third. We were a hit away from tying the game.

The next pitch was the, forever-dreaded, smoking fast ball–way inside. It was simultaneously impossibly fast emotionally and ultra-slow, logically.

My spirit hovered overhead, as in a near-death experience. My baseball player stood, feet planted with the blurred white blob approaching fast–straight at me!

Somehow I made the right nerves fire, just enough, that my legs pulled me back a few inches. I checked-out, in the way a condemned person at a firing squad must zoneout before the volley takes him out.

I heard the ball bounce off the catcher’s mitt and hit the ground. I waited for the pain. It did not come.

I felt myself scanning the moment from all angles. I was the one person out of seventy, who knew what had just transpired. The clock ticked off, two seconds at most.

“Take your base”, the ump cried–joyous to give a young lad a free pass to first.

“For what, ump?” trickled out of my mouth.

“Hit by the pitch; take your base”–the umpire ordered.

The air turned to steel. I felt as though my new jock had gotten tighter. I can hear my words even now: I said, rock-solid and with assurance – “The ball didn’t hit me, Ump.”

Then … I realized the impact of my words as strange feeling engulfed me. It was worse than cutting a loud fart in a silent church!

Fifteen people in the Eddie’s Sport Shop gang erupted with laughter.

Fifteen Lions–groaned in unison.

Forty spectators gasped, bit their cheeks and giggled.

I felt every bit of it.

After about 3-seconds, the ump declared: “Play Ball.”

On the next pitch, somehow, I grounded-out … game over.

Emotions of all kinds churned within me … nothing really seemed to matter. I had yet to face the questions and attitudes of 70-people.

When I reentered the dugout, 12-team members sat, slack-jawed, staring at me–no differently than if my uniform had vanished and I were bare-ass naked.

Billy Fagan was the first to find words; “Are you crazy? Why in the heck did you do that, Pete?”

What came to me, I swear, was the smell of coffee, Bosco and blonde cookies as I remembered Mom’s eyes as she had delivered her own inside pitch.

I looked up, directly into our star pitcher’s eyes–conscious for the very first time of my pending growth into a man. Back straight–mind clear as a bell–I replied:

“Because it was the truth.”

Peter Hymans is the father of three adult sons. He lives in Gridley, California where he is a professional photographer and sales agent of commercial kitchen equipment. He is a graduate of EST, the Sterling Men’s Weekend and Alpha Leader Training. Currently Shaman for the Legacy Discovery in the Western Region.

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