Note from the author: so I’ve begun my latest creative writing project. As per usual, who knows how long it will last. Years, months, a week, or maybe it ends right here (but I like to think I’m better than that). The plan is to get some participation from the readership (i.e. whoever stumbles in here every now and then). Every “episode” (or chapter, or column, or situation, or what-have-you) will end with a sort of decision box for one of the characters (who are going to come in and out of the storyline pretty much whenever I feel like it). Then, it’s up to you folks to decide what happens next. Leave comments here, drop me your vote via an IM, whatever you want. Whenever I feel like writing the next part (I’m definitely not running with any set schedule since it’s just for fun), I’ll tally up the votes and whatever was decided on will be the starting point for the next posting. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Away we go…
Brian Hawthorne could feel his heart beating in the left side of his chest. He swore he could actually hear it pounding in his head and it felt as if his stomach had crawled its way up into his throat. This couldn’t be happening. Not to his team. Not to the Tigers. Not to him. Not in his senior season. They had fought too hard as underdogs all year. The decisive game of the SEC Tournament had seemed so wrapped up.
Brian’s Louisiana State team had jumped to a 6-0 lead in the first three innings. Hawthorne himself had cranked a two-run home run into the left field bleachers in the top of the second. The Tigers pitchers had worked into jams all night long, but had kept coming out unscathed. This was a team of destiny. The last team to qualify for the conference tournament, they were about to upset everybody and punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament. Tonight’s victory over the top-ranked, host Alabama squad was simply going to be the exclamation point.
But then it fell apart.
One unearned run in the fifth. A two-run home run in the seventh. A run in the eighth. And just now, a two-run, two-out, two-strike triple to tie the game 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth. Suddenly it had all evaporated. It all led up to the scene Hawthorne saw in front of him from his position at third base. The potential winning run, the run that could end the Tigers season was standing at third base. LSU manager Lenny Menkler was on his way to the mound to make yet another pitching change, his fourth in three innings. This time, his walk had no swagger to it. He had no answers. He couldn’t find anybody who could get an out and it showed as he laboriously made his way to the hill.
Waiting for him there was sophomore pitcher Hal Prosser, who could do no more than stare up at the stars. His eyes watered over as he handed the ball over to his skipper. He trudged off the left side of the mound and made his way to the dugout, which was no more than a watery blue blur in his eyes by this point. This couldn’t be happening.
The Tigers were tight right now, and all of Alabama knew it. They had felt all week long the Tigers had to crumble under the pressure eventually, but for the first time all week they could see it with their own eyes. Also for the first time all week, the crowd caught Hawthorne’s eye from third base while the new pitcher (junior left-hander Kyle McDermitt) took his warm-up tosses. The stands in Tuscaloosa were an overwhelming sea of crimson. The fans of the Crimson Tide had seemingly multiplied as the game went on and Alabama rallied. They all had seats but at the moment, nobody was using them. The sea of crimson was roaring, but not with the gentle crashing sounds of waves from a normal sea. The Tide fans were riding anybody within earshot who was wearing a Tigers uniform. The din was unlike anything Hawthorne had ever heard before, or at least unlike any crowd he had ever noticed. And they were in his head. Bigtime.
One tiny corner of the stands deep down the right field line was the only part of the stands which was not adorned in that damned crimson red, and it couldn’t be any farther from Hawthorne at third base. Though, to be truthful, the section of LSU fans could have been right next to him and it wouldn’t have mattered at the moment. They were despondent. Heads hung, arms draped over railings, backs slumped against the hard, plastic seats. The Tigers fans could feel the season slipping away. Like Menkler, they had no answers and it showed. Hawthorne swallowed hard, trying to force down that lump in his throat as McDermitt fired his final warm-up pitch.
The right fielder!… Number six!… Harrrrrrooooooolllllllldd Jeeeefffffffffersooooooooon!
The announcement boomed over the public address system as an already raucous crowd whipped itself into a frenzy for the man who needed no introduction. Jefferson, a senior who had been born and raised right here in Tuscaloosa, was the consensus SEC Player of the Year and had been fending off major league scouts with a stick ever since his junior year of high school. Perhaps the best left-handed bat in the nation, Jefferson was a physical specimen: six-foot-two-inches, 200 pounds of sheer muscle. He had all five tools, but all the Crimson Tide wanted him to do now was what he had been doing all year; hit the ball.
Hawthorne turned around and faced left field. “Two down,” he uttered meekly, the words barely having enough force to escape his mouth. He held his right hand to the air, index and pinkie fingers extended. He got the same signal back from his left fielder, but he already knew. Everybody knew. There had been two outs for the last three batters, but that third out continued to prove elusive.
As Hawthorne was about to turn back to the infield, the lights of the scoreboard caught his eye. Specifically, he found himself reading the line which displayed Jefferson’s season stats. A .365 batting average, 21 home runs, 76 runs batted in. Jefferson had been on a hot streak for what seemed like the entire season. For the first time all week, Hawthorne thought to himself, “This guy’s going to beat us. We’re going to lose.” For the first time in his career, the stadium lights suddenly seemed oppressively hot bearing down on him.
McDermitt rocked and fired the first pitch to Jefferson. Fastball, in at the knees. Strike one.
“Alright Kyle,” Hawthorne yelled from third as he pounded the pocket of his glove with his right fist. “Here we go kid!”
Again McDermitt threw to the plate. Slider off the plate low and away. One ball, one strike.
“Looked good,” crowed Hawthorne as he kicked the dirt with his spikes. “Keep working, two-four.”
Working from the stretch, McDermitt took a long look at the runner at third, but went to the plate yet again. The 1-1 slider fooled Jefferson and he checked his swing. However, the bat still caught a piece of the ball.
“Shit!” muttered Hawthorne as he broke in from third towards the ball. The potential winning run on third base broke with him, down the third base line toward the plate. Clump after clump of sod flipped through the air behind him as Hawthorne raced in for the ball, which was dribbling ever so slowly towards him on the infield grass. The SEC tournament, the season, Hawthorne’s career; it had all come down to this play. The potential winning run was on his way to the plate. Jefferson had his head lowered and was busting as hard as he could down the line towards first. Hawthorne bent down and bare-handed the ball…
What will Hawthorne do next? Does he throw off his right foot and against his body to try to get Jefferson on the force out at first base? Or does he go with his momentum and toss home to the catcher for a tag play and potential collision at the plate? The decision is up to you. Leave your votes as comments here, or drop me an IM, or get in touch with me whichever way you know how. Whenever I’m ready to write the next part of the story, I’ll tally up the votes, find out what you have decided Hawthorne’s decision should be and go from there.
Let me know what you think.