by Gary Hoffman
With baseball season almost here, it is a perfect time for this never before published mystery short story!
I got my job as a batboy with the Pine City Pinkies not because my old man was somebody important, but because I didn’t have one. Most batboys are hired because their old man knows someone or is an important person in the community. Mine left me and my mom when I was two years old. May 13, 1950, was the date he bailed out for “parts unknown to seek his fortune.” Mom still gets dumpy when that date rolls around every year.
The Pinkies are a professional girl’s softball team. They came to Pine City because there was little else to do there during the summer. My summers included a lot of reading, like most of the rest of the year. During the winter months, the high school fielded a good basketball team and played girl’s volleyball, but that was it for sports in town.
I used to go watch the Pinkies when they started issuing free Knothole Passes to kids under twelve years old. It just got kids into the park, and their attendance was boosted. I think they also hoped the kids would buy things at the concession stand. My neighbor, Mr. Harris, told me one time that major league baseball parks used to have board fences around the outfield. Kids would punch out a knot hole in a board and watch the game for free.
I’d hang around as close to the Pinkies’ dugout and always ask the manager, and later I discovered part owner of the Pinkies, Billy Hoskins, if I could help in some way. One day he asked me to take a bucket to the concession stand and get it full of ice for the girl’s water cooler. After I dumped the ice in the cooler, I noticed a lot of bats just thrown in the corner next to what looked like a cabinet with compartments they would fit in. Each compartment had a number on it, and each bat was numbered on the end depending on who used it. There were sixteen slots for bats, but only fifteen girls on the team. I guessed number thirteen had been skipped because it was bad luck. I started putting them away.
“Who’s your dad, kid?” Billy said.
“Don’t have one.”
He looked down. “That’s a shame. Must be rough. You want a job?”
“The regular kid misses too many games. You want the batboy job, it’s yours. Don’t pay a lot, but you can eat free at the concession stand on game days.” I was pretty sure he felt sorry for me.
I’d have done the job for nothing, but to get paid for doing it was almost more than I could imagine. Pine City didn’t offer much in the way for a fourteen year old to do. Yeah, I was really fourteen, but small in stature, and my face looked younger. It was a good and bad curse. I’d been lying about my age for some time to get into the show cheaper. The Galaxy Theater was only open on weekends now since television was really taking over, but I could get in for a quarter if I was under twelve years old.
The regular bats were aluminum and pretty light weight and short. One was long, wooden, and heavy. It had the name Louisville Slugger and logo burned into its business end. All the chips and dings in the wood told something of its age. Billy told me ‘Old #32’ was used for batting practice. After the girls used the heavier bat, their own felt lighter, and they could hit easier. It was to go in the last compartment of the box holding the rest of the bats.
I was finished putting all the bats away, when the Pinkies got the third out against the opposing team and headed for the dugout. One of them asked Billy if I was the new batboy.
“Yep, and I think he’s gonna be a good one.”
“Well, aren’t you a little cutie,” the girl said as she pinched my cheek. I’m sure my face turned bright red, but she was a knockout herself, so I didn’t mind.
When most everyone was sitting, Billy said. “Girls, this is, huh …what’s your name kid?”
“Matt. He’s the new batboy. You need anything, just ask him.”
“How old are you?” a different player asked.
“Good. Not old enough we have to worry about.”
I didn’t understand what they were talking about right then, but it didn’t take me long to learn. When the game was over, Billy told me to come into his office so he could explain things to me. If I wanted to do a few extra chores, he would pay me more. Of course, I agreed. I would have probably jumped off the top of the grandstand if it meant keeping this job.
We heard one of the girls yelling from down the hall. “We need more towels.”
“They’re in that blue cabinet just outside my door,” Billy said. “Take them a dozen or so.”
I knew the girls were in the shower room and wasn’t sure how I was going to approach this task. I knocked on the door. “Towels.” That sounded weird.
“Come on in and put them on the table.”
I opened the door. The room was filled with steam and girls running around in various stages of undress. I took a few steps to the table, dropped the towels, and backed from the room. I think someone said thanks. My mind was too muddled to really be sure of anything. The only thing I was sure of was I now had a paying job, and it involved seeing half naked women who trusted me because I was just a ten year old kid. I had seen a few girlie magazines from time to time, but seeing actual flesh was a whole different ballgame.
I leaned against the wall and took a few deep breaths. I’m sure I could have hyperventilated with no problems. I shook my head to make sure what had just happened happened. The picture set in my mind seemed to be real. After a few minutes, I went back to Billy’s office.
“Got everything under control?” he said.
“Yeah. Sure. Under control.”
He frowned and cocked his head to the side. “Well, we only have one more home game this week before we head for Portland. Think your mom will let you travel with us?”
Travel? He said travel. I was going on the road with the team? I was kid-with-a-new-bike happy right then. I knew convincing Mom wouldn’t be a problem.
Mom worked as a cashier at Bobby Gene’s Truck Stop out where Highways 47 and 61 came together. Her hours were crazy, especially if someone called out sick. Sometimes I wouldn’t see her for days anyway, so surely she wouldn’t mind. Lots of times the only way I knew she’d been home was when there was a take-out box of food in the fridge. Other times, she might leave money on the table for me to eat out, or I’d fend for myself from the few groceries she kept in the house. I was sure she wouldn’t mind if I simply didn’t tell her. After all, we were only going to be gone for five days.
When I finally got around to answering his question, I said, “Sure, no problem.”
The five days on the road trip were glorious for me. There were a lot of firsts in my life. I had never been out of Pine City, never ridden on a bus, and never stayed in a motel. I even got my own room. Billy said he wanted his own room in case he had to conduct business, but I figured his business was mostly pleasure. We ate lots of good food, and it didn’t cost me a dime. In fact, I was being paid for all these things. My life was good. Great. Stupendous.
On top of everything else, the girls took three games in a row and were now very much in contention to win the league championship.
Gloria, the team’s shortstop, and I spent a lot of time talking. Her background was kind of like mine. With this in common, we could crab or brag to each other. One night, she confessed she was only sixteen but was supposed to be eighteen to play on the team. A couple nights later, she even kissed me on the cheek.
The girls got more used to me being in the locker room when I needed to be. As long as they at least had their underwear on, no one objected. Of course, I didn’t either. Actually, by the time we left Portland, it wasn’t a big deal anymore, but I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t look.
When we got home, I told my mom I had been staying at Tommy’s house. She said okay, but it would be nice if I at least left her a note.
We had a long home-stand coming up—twelve days. Billy gave me more things to do around the Pinkies’ clubhouse. He hired a couple of other kids to pick up trash in the park, but I helped. One of us would usually find money somebody dropped. The area near the concession stand was prime hunting ground for coins and, sometimes, even paper money. We would collect all the trash in a large bin, and then as the city requested, I burned the trash after dark.
I pretty much had the place to myself after games and all the trash was in the bin. Billy gave me a set of keys to unlock closets and other storage rooms. I discovered one was the supply room for the concession stand. Soda and chips provided me with many meals, even though my mom might have left money for me to eat.
The equipment room became one of my favorite places. Nobody, except Gloria, knew I stayed there. Not even Billy. There were some mats in there the girls used to work out. They made a great bed for me. I could get several books and retreat to this room. This was the perfect place for me to read. I never cared much for school, but was fortunate one teacher taught me the value of books.
Pinkies’ fever was growing in Pine City. The girls were on a winning streak, and the league championship looked possible. Of the two games left in the season, all they had to do was win one to tie or two to win outright.
I was in my space, as I called the equipment room, when I heard Billy’s voice as he came down the hall. Another man was with him. They came into the locker room. A quick look through the vents on the door told me the other man was Tony Lateral, the other owner of the Pinkies. I met him from time to time, but he never spent much time around the ball field. That was fine by me. I never liked him much, anyway. There was just something about him that gave a person the jivers.
“That’s a crap deal,” Billy said.
“I’ve never thrown a game in my life. Don’t want to start now.”
“Okay, let me put this a different way. You will lose those two games or a lot more.”
“And just what’s that supposed to mean?” Billy said.
“You’ve kind of taken that new little batboy under your wing. Be a shame if something was to happen to him.”
I saw Billy slam his fist into a locker. “And just how in the hell am I supposed to make the team lose? These girls want to win.”
Tony snorted. “You’ll figure it out, Billy. I have a lot of faith in you.” He turned and left the room. Billy slumped down on a bench. I wanted to run out and tell him not to do it, but I really didn’t know what to do.
As soon as Gloria got to the park the next day, I told her what I heard.
“Sounds like you better get your butt outta here.”
“I really don’t want to do that,” I said.
“Well, I don’t think Billy’s going to go along with Lateral’s idea. I just read the roster for today. All the regulars are starting, and Nacy is pitching. That’ll leave Williams to start tomorrow or do relief duty today.” Williams had a killer fastball, a mean curve when she brushed the ball against her leg, and a knuckler that usually resulted in pop flies if anyone could even hit it.
“I can’t just leave.”
“Why don’t you see what happens today? Maybe it will all clear up after this game.”
The Pinkies won the game 5-4. They were assured of at least a tie for the championship.
If they win tomorrow, they were in alone, and I was either dead, hurt bad, or on the road running for my life.
Billy caught me as I was cleaning up all the equipment. “You did a good job today, Matt. Make sure this place is cleaned spick and span for the game tomorrow. Should be a lot of reporters here. We want our stadium to have a good reputation.” He started to go back to his office, but stopped. “Oh, and by the way, you don’t have to burn trash tonight. I’ll take care of it.”
“I can handle it, Billy.”
“I know you can handle, but I told you not to. So don’t.” I could see the veins raising in his forehead. I knew what that meant. He also shook his finger at me, something he never did before.
“Okay, Billy. Okay.”
He slammed the door as he went into his office.
I went to the house that night. Staying in the equipment room just didn’t seem safe.
The next morning, I went to the park early. I didn’t just rush right in but held back to see if anything funny might be going on. It didn’t take me long to figure out something wasn’t right. There were several sheriffs’ cars sitting in the parking lot.
Walking nonchalantly isn’t easy when your knees are the consistency of rubber, but I did make it to the park gate. A sheriff’s deputy stopped me and said the place was off limits. I told him I was the batboy for the Pinkies, and he called for another deputy to come talk to me.
“One of the people I wanted to see,” he said.
“Yeah, come on down to the dugout with me.”
When we got there, he took me by the shoulders and turned me toward him. “Now I want you to tell the truth, son. This is very important.”
“Please just do as I ask.”
“Now, I want you to turn and face the box where you keep the bats, and tell me if they are all there.”
I had no idea what was going on, but I knew my answer would probably have some outcome on the situation. I looked at the box. One compartment was empty. ‘Old #32’ was gone. “Looks like everything’s there that’s supposed to be there.”
A few girls were in the locker room. They filled me in on what was going on. Tony Lateral was found beaten to death just a mile up the road from the ballpark. The police thought the weapon might have been a baseball bat, but they couldn’t find any with blood on them. I knew ash wood used to make baseball bats would burn easy, and now I knew why Billy wanted to burn the trash last night.
Tony’s death went unsolved, the Pinkies won the league championship, and we went to Charleston, South Carolina, for our world series. They won the series four games to one. Billy was now sole owner of the Pinkies—something in the contract he had with Tony.
My mom moved to California with some guy she met at the truck stop. I convinced her I wanted to stay in Pine City and that I could take care of myself. I wanted to graduate high school there, and Billy assured me I had a job with the Pinkies in the summer and a full-time job after I graduated.
Billy retired last year. Said he was going to fish every stream in the state of Wyoming. I bought out his ownership of the Pinkies—on payments—and manage the team. When I was twenty-one, I married Gloria, and we have two kids of our own, a boy and a girl. I told her if she got busy, we could raise our own girl’s softball team and have our son as the batboy. That got me a very nasty look.
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