At first they were delighted when the Enochville Swallows came from behind and won the game. The team had struggled all season. It felt good to cheer. A decisive victory on the following day was even more surprising.
They finished the season with eleven straight wins. This unexpected turnaround kept everyone talking all winter, basking in the warmth of new heroes. Photos appeared in bars and diners.
The following April, Mayor Davis threw out the first pitch and the Swallows won again! After four more victories, demand for tickets soared and there weren’t enough seats to accommodate the newly-minted fans. That was when the mayor lobbied successfully for eminent domain and the destruction of the nearby Walton apartments. The wrecking ball threw up clouds of dust; the additional grandstand beyond the outfield ensured that everyone could view the action.
How did Jerry Mercer make that incredible flying catch in the ninth? What accounted for Felix Romero’s uncanny curveball in his two consecutive perfect games? Who could explain Bobby Sheets, the light-hitting second baseman, stepping up to the plate and jacking a tie-breaking home run that sailed over the astonished faces in the new grandstand before landing in Walter Schmidt’s vegetable garden and bouncing over his hedge and splashing in Rose Kindley’s birdbath? The ball was brought back to Billy for an autograph and charitably auctioned off at a price to pay the city’s operational budget for schools, police, and fire department. Mayor Davis held a press conference and announced, “We shall abolish all taxes.”
On the Fourth of July, the Swallows were still undefeated, the longest winning streak ever. Families put out blankets on the grass to watch the fireworks show, recalling with incredulous laughter the previous season when Felix Romero had blown a game by walking in a batter with the bases loaded, or when the team had squandered a six-run lead and Bobby Sheets took a called third strike for the final out, whereupon he ducked his eyes amid the boos and slouched dejectedly off the field. A few people, though, claimed that he’d ripped off his helmet in disgust and dashed it to the ground, cursing the umpire. People enjoyed disputing different versions of that debacle.
But this season offered no such controversy: it was unstinting victory, game after game. One night near the end of July, the Swallows fell behind by nine runs in the first three innings, and it appeared the streak would end. Spectators leaned in closer, their throats going dry. The air was sticky, expectant, still.
Then gale winds descended upon Enochville, a thunderstorm with sheets of rain. Lightning struck the scoreboard and the roof of the concession stand got blown off. It was a wash-out.
The next day, skies were blue, the air pure. Wise folks who’d saved their rainchecks redeemed them that afternoon at a make-up contest where, starting afresh, the Swallows won. That evening they went on to take the regularly-scheduled game, to sweep the double-header.
By August, it was easy to spot empty rows in the grandstands. Ticket prices dropped, though the team’s record was still unblemished. In local bars a new fashion emerged for blindfold billiards. Conversations turned to cooking shows and dialectical materialism. Business was generally down as many patrons traveled to watering holes in other towns.
When school resumed in September, local teachers succumbed to pressure from Mayor Davis to organize field trips to the ballpark to watch the undefeated Swallows, whose example offered pupils lessons about life and success. These outings also helped to fill the empty seats. Kids grumbled that the games lasted an eternity, and numerous parents wrote them false notes of excuse in order to relieve them of this burden. People were sick of baseball.
Charles Holdefer is an American writer currently based in Brussels. His work has appeared previously in the Burningword Literary Journal, as well as the New England Review, North American Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. His most recent book is AGITPROP FOR BEDTIME (stories).