Brooklyn, New York, 1956.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was game seven of the World Series, bottom of the ninth inning, two outs. The crowd at Ebbets Field were on their feet. We were playing the hated New York Yankees, our arch nemesis. They were by far the toughest team we ever faced. The Yankees always beat us. But not this time. Not if I had anything to say about it.
We had managed to string the series out to seven games, which to be honest was more than anyone had expected from us. But our glimmer of hope was fading. It was starting to look as though the carriage that carried us this far might be turning back into a pumpkin; and it was up to me to get us to the ball before midnight.
I sauntered up to the plate, down by two runs, runners on first and third. A base hit would keep us alive, but for how long? No, a base hit was not what I was looking for. I knew what I had to do.
The crowd cheered as I reached the batter’s box. I tightened my grip on the bat, dug my cleats into the dirt, and slowly lowered into my stance. I glared out at the pitcher and he glared back at me. This wasn’t the first time we’d met, of course. Not by any means. We were old acquaintances. Dirt. That’s what they called him. Dirt Munkelwicz. The name fit him. I’m pretty sure it was a nickname, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if his mother had actually named him that. He was just about the meanest, nastiest, dirtiest guy you’d ever seen. What’s more, he didn’t much care for the likes of me. He didn’t really seem to like anybody, though, to be honest.
He interrupted his wicked glower just long enough to get the sign from the catcher. He kicked his leg high into the air, reared back and fired a fastball right past me. A lucky pitch.
He shot a sly grin my way, proudly displaying his ugly, yellow teeth. I tried to ignore it. I adjusted my grip, tapped the plate a few times, and tried to ready myself for what he had next. It was a curveball, low and outside. I laid off it. I was determined not to chase any bad pitches. I was going to make him throw me something I could hit, if it was the last thing I did.
He reared back and fired another fast ball. I swung at it with everything I had, but it was too high. I just couldn’t catch up to it.
Now he had me down: One ball and two strikes. The World Series hung in the balance. Old Dirt would’ve liked nothing better than to win the World Series with yours truly standing at the plate. Oh, he would’ve liked that just fine. You could see it in his eyes; his cold, black, lifeless eyes. He wanted to be able to laugh at us once again. But I wasn’t about to let that happen.
He reared back and fired another fastball, as hard as he could possibly throw it. I’m not sure, but I think I saw smoke coming off his finger tips as he let go of the ball. As I watched the ball getting closer and closer, I thought of all those times they had beaten us before; the way nasty old Dirt had gotten the better of me time and time again. I thought about how they used to laugh at us … and how they would love to laugh at us again.
I swung that Louisville Slugger with all my might, nearly ripping the skin right off the ball. I don’t know which felt better, the way the ball jumped off my bat or seeing the look on Dirt’s face when I hit it.
The centerfielder gave chase, but it wouldn’t matter. The ball sailed right over his outstretched glove … right over the centerfield fence … and right through Mrs. Finkelmann’s kitchen window.
The game was over.
The Yankees all scattered like rats. That was just like them. But I didn’t care. They could run if they wanted. The game was over. I knew we had won the game.
It cost me a whole summer’s allowance to pay for Mrs. Finkelmann’s window, but that didn’t matter to me. What did matter to me was that nobody was going to be laughing at us anymore. At least not the Yankees.
© 2003 John Ethier, all rights reserved.