This piece is appearing as part of a fiction series here at The Hardball Times. We’re thrilled to highlight the baseball-related fiction of seven talented authors and think you’ll enjoy these works, curated by Jason Linden and Amy Ryan, as much as we did.

Mike stares forward with his hands down in front of him. The runner on third is dancing for him, hopping back and forth, sometimes pretending to break for home. After thirty long seconds of stillness, Mike looks down at the point where the front of the mound meets the infield grass, then something grotesque happens: his wind-up.

Mike’s shoulders lurch down and around as if they’d both turned into jelly, then snap back into place down where his belt was just a second ago. His left leg lifts up slightly, and his right leg goes all Leaning Tower, with both arms back far enough behind him to maintain balance in this unnatural pose. If you saw a silhouette of this moment from the top of his wind-up, you’d think his name was Igor.

With his torso turned so far back the batter can read his name and number, Mike starts his stride forward while his right arm flies loosely up into the air like a fishing line. His left foot lands, his torso twists, and his arm flies around in a sidearm delivery toward the plate. All the force from every part of his body transfers up into his shoulder, then through his elbow, then down into the wrist, and all the way out to each fingertip. At the very last second, the fingertips tell the baseball to spin like a good fastball, with just a touch of cutting action down and away.

The radar gun says “84.” The batter says “Fuck.”

How does he do it? What subtle secret has he found to make it all work? Mike trots into the dugout, giving high fives and receiving butt pats. He passes through a doorway in the back, strips down to just his boxers, then slides into bed next to his wife, Rohena. She’s already asleep. He thinks about waking her up, talking to her, sharing a life together. But she’s got an early morning. Better to settle in and try to sleep, alone.

Rohena wakes up exactly five minutes before her alarm, just like she does every morning. She believes it’s the subtle noise of the phone waking up from its energy conservation state five minutes pre-alarm that wakes her, but nobody really knows how she does it. She looks at Mike’s sleeping face for a moment, just barely visible in the early morning darkness but decides not to wake him up. His body needs the rest, because every day brings another sixth inning. She gets dressed and ready, and steps out the front door into her classroom.

Two dozen fifth graders talk all at once. Within the past year, the students have learned how to do long division, how to write a persuasive letter with multiple paragraphs, and how to be cruel to others. And yet, all Rohena has to do is clap once, not even a loud clap, and every eye turns towards her. In just the first few days of the school year, she conditioned them to pay perfect attention at all times.

She tweaks her approach every day like a stand-up comedian on the road, learning what works and what doesn’t and applying that to give a better lesson the next day. Every day she entertains and enlightens, and no student is too bashful to say she’s their favorite teacher.

How does she do it? What subtle secret has she found to make it all work? The last bell rings, she steps out the door, and makes dinner for herself, alone. In six hours, she’ll be asleep, and Mike will come home.

Last year, Mike was in Double-A, and Rohena was a substitute. They lived in Birmingham, Alabama, and Mike never played more than a few hours away. Rohena would drive a few times a week to places like Chattanooga, Montgomery, Mobile, or Pearl, and be there for Mike’s successes and failures. The two could stay up late in the team hotel at away games, ordering food and flipping through channels and fitting together the way they always had.

Rohena got offers to teach full-time in Birmingham but turned them down, knowing any day her life could be uprooted and planted somewhere else. Mike kept throwing, waiting for the call he’d waited for his entire life.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Mike takes a short walk behind the mound, rubbing the ball with both hands and looking up at the scoreboard. It’s the sixth inning, as always. He’s playing away at Oakland, and his team is down five runs. He hasn’t seen Rohena or heard her voice in eleven days.

He steps to the mound, looks for the sign, and slings his body down to deliver his pitch. His slider tumbles over in the zone. The hitter sees it well, and swings, and hits it.

Mike scoops the ball up off the ground with his glove, flinging it to the first baseman for the out. Then his conscious thought has to rewind through what just happened: it was a line drive just off to his right. His subconscious reached out towards the ball and then reached out just a little bit past it. The baseball hit his wrist dead on, and he could feel the force of the impact all the way up in his right shoulder. The ball ricocheted off into the grass on his left, and he had to scramble to get the out.

He slings his glove off and grabs his right wrist, kneeling on the ground. All the writers and fans and teammates there talked about the horrible grimace on Mike’s face, and they wondered what it must feel like to know your baseball career is over.

Nate Edwards is a FIELDf/x Operator for the Durham Bulls and the author of Fielder’s Choice, an interactive baseball novel for smartphones.

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