Matthew Levine and
Robert Haydon Jones

Matthew Levine
“Survivor”

Inspiration piece

One Bad Day
By Robert Haydon Jones

Response

The pitch that broke Jimmy O’Hara’s left forearm was an ordinary fastball in the mid-80s hurled by a nineteen-year-old American Legion pitcher. When the ball hit Jimmy’s arm, the immediate pain was shocking. Jimmy ducked away and bent at the waist and embraced his left arm with his right as if trying to hug the pain away.

It didn’t work.

“I’m sorry sir,” the catcher said. “I thought I gave him the signal for a curve ball.”

The pain was escalating! Jimmy couldn’t believe it. He straightened up, bent over and hugged himself again. In all his 43 years as an umpire, he had never been hurt like this. His eyes teared up. He wanted to groan but there was no way he would.

“Are you okay Blue?” The opposing coaches had yelled out the stock “concerned” phrase simultaneously.

“Oh, I’m great,” Jimmy growled.

He looked at the catcher’s coach. “I’d be a lot better if you could teach your players how to catch.”

The catcher said, “I’m sorry Blue. I’m actually a sub catcher. Our regular guy went to the Yankee game tonight.“

The ball had skipped on back all the way to the backstop. “Run it down,” Jimmy barked at the catcher. “Then come back here and play your friggin position.”

The kid hustled back for the ball. His coach, a thin, sharp featured, young man just promoted from the junior team, yelled that Jimmy was way out of line insulting his coaching ability. Jimmy turned away, bent, and hugged his arm again. No dice! The pain was constant and on the edge of unbearable. It was only the second inning!

Jimmy got through the game. Later, a doctor told him it was truly amazing he had hung in there. Jimmy was surprised. It had never occurred to him that he could take himself out of the game. That would have left them with one umpire. And what if Joe Zito, his partner tonight on the bases, hadn’t brought his plate equipment?

So, Jimmy stuck it out. He didn’t know for sure his arm had been broken. Only that it hurt a real lot. (Next day, the orthopedist said it was a “classic billy-club fracture.”)

Jimmy soon found that if he wanted to continue, he had to make adjustments. He couldn’t put new balls into play with his left hand as usual. He had to reach across and do it with his right hand.

He foolishly tried to use his whiskbroom left handed to clean the plate and the pain bashed him. He tried his other hand and had a hard time getting the motions right. (Jimmy would discover over the next couple of months that he was a lot more left-handed than he thought.) In the end, he used his shoe to brush the dirt off. Later, he asked the catchers to use their big mitts to clean the plate.

During the next changeover, Joe Zito beckoned Jimmy out and asked him if he was okay. Joe told him he was definitely not okay.

“I think my friggin arm is broken,” Jimmy said.

“Jesus, that’s too bad,” Zito said.

Jimmy could tell Zito didn’t really believe his arm was broken.

Hell, neither did Jimmy!

He raised his arm so Zito could see. There was an ugly, red, lump, about four inches long, right on the outside bone of his forearm.

“If you kissed my boo-boo it would be all better,” Jimmy said.

“That’s against union regulations,” Zito said.

“Do you really think it’s broken?”

“Yes, I do. And what I want to know is where’s the justice?”

Somehow Jimmy got through the game as it wended along, pitch-by-pitch, out-by-out, inning-by-inning. In fact, he had one of his better games with balls and strikes. When he concentrated extra hard on each pitch, it insulated him from the pain. And he needed relief. The pain had not subsided at all. At one point, he wondered what would happen if he keeled over in a faint.

In the last half of the final inning, the home team, down by five runs, mounted a 2-out rally. Two walks, an error, a hit batsman, and a double were good for two runs and brought the tying run to the plate.

The batter was the sub catcher. He swung at the first pitch and blooped a pop up in back of third. The shortstop, third baseman and left fielder all converged on the ball but it ticked off the fingers of the shortstop’s glove and bounced down the line. Two runs scored and the batter ended up on second. The home crowd was standing and cheering wildly.

Jimmy called time and waved the runners back. “I called that foul,” he yelled. He had raised his arms and shouted, “Foul.” But he didn’t have much energy left and with all the crowd noise, evidently no one had heard his call.

As Jimmy had seen it, when the ball ticked off the shortstop’s glove, the ball was over foul territory even though the shortstop was standing in fair ground.

The home team coach screamed, “That was fair Blue. There’s no way it was foul.” People in the crowd were yelling, “Fair ball. That was fair by ten feet. Bad call. Terrible. Way fair.”

Jimmy told the coach to calm down and to send the players who had scored back to the bases they had occupied at the time of the pitch. As Jimmy talked to the coach, the crowd’s protests grew even louder. Jimmy wondered if maybe he had missed the call. Had the pain blinded him?

Jimmy signaled to Joe Zito, that he wanted to confer. But Zito shook his head. He was saying that he hadn’t seen the play – Jimmy would have to make the call on his own.

So, Jimmy stayed with his call of foul ball and sent everyone back to where they had been at the pitch. It took quite a while. As they emerged from the dugout, the players who had scored stopped at the plate and argued with Jimmy. Their coach, emboldened by the crowd, joined in.

Jimmy told the players to shut up and take their bases. He warned the coach that if he said one more word, Jimmy would eject him. Finally, the batter stepped back into the box. On the very next pitch, he hit a sky high pop up to the third baseman. Suddenly, the game was over.

Jimmy had to walk through the home team’s dugout to exit the field. The coach yelled at him as he went through and even though Jimmy could have ejected the coach post game, he let it go.

“You were in a hurry to get home – that’s why you called it foul,” the coach shouted.

It was a big insult. Jimmy could tell that some of the players were uneasy.

He kept on going out of the dugout and up to the sidewalk away from the field. Now some in the exiting crowd walking beside him were getting their two cents worth.

“No way that was foul!”

“Bad call, Blue.”

“You should have your eyes checked.”

Jimmy finally got to the parking lot and veered away to his car.

As usual, Joe Zito was parked right next to him. Jimmy needed Joe to help him get off his jersey and his equipment. It was an awkward, painful, process.

Then Joe helped Jimmy into a fresh, dry shirt. Jimmy wondered if he would be able to drive but he didn’t say anything. Joe looked freaked out.

“Jimmy,” he said, “your arm is really friggin bad broken. I don’t know how you did it. In case you’re wondering, I thought you got them all right.  On that foul ball, I didn’t see it. Maybe I should have followed it, but I was
checking base tags.”

Jimmy was able to drive home. He took two Advil and ate a little pasta.

As he was heading for his shower, the Chief Umpire called to say the young coach had called and complained. Jimmy didn’t say much. He didn’t want to talk about his broken arm. He was by far the oldest active ump in the union.

He asked the Chief Umpire what he had said. “I told him he was lucky you didn’t eject his ass. I told him that even the best umps can have one bad day.”

Chris thanked the Chief and headed on into the shower.

Two days later his, arm was set in a cast. He floated a story he had been called away on an assignment. He didn’t want anyone to know he had broken his arm. He cancelled his games for two weeks. When he resumed his schedule, he had the plate again, with the same team he had all the trouble with. Only this time, the first string catcher was behind the plate.

Jimmy told the catcher he was glad to see him.

The catcher told Jimmy he had heard there was trouble.

“I hear you got hurt real bad. I hear our coach was a real asshole. I’m sorry. We didn’t think you would be back this season.”

“Well,” Jimmy said, “You’ve gotta love it. Promise me: Nothing gets by you tonight.”

——————————————————

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8 Comments

  1. Posted December 14, 2015 at 11:22 am | #

    It’s really hard to write a good baseball story and avoid all the cliches (the dramatic home run, etc.), but Bob has certainly done it. No reader will ever see the umpires in the same light, or for that matter a high school or legion baseball game.

  2. Jack Orth
    Posted December 15, 2015 at 3:20 am | #

    No body has the array of stories that Robert has! That’s why we all await whatever he writes–doesn’t matter what it is–it’s always a home run! Even Ted Williams struck out once in a while–not Robert! Write a lot in 2016!–Happy Days–Jack

  3. Chris Egan
    Posted December 16, 2015 at 5:48 am | #

    A great story! The writer must know some officials who’ve seen some tough days. Superb!

  4. Malachy McCourt
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 5:49 pm | #

    I learned a lot about baseball from the story.umpires Are the most anonymous species in the world they
    re not respected but in the story they become human with all the suffering entailed bot physical and mental Minutely graphic anD as always superbly written

  5. Sean Beaudoin
    Posted December 19, 2015 at 4:08 pm | #

    Sixty feet, six inches of gut and heart. Nicely done.

  6. Dave Monroe
    Posted December 28, 2015 at 10:56 am | #

    Great story about pushing through pain and doubt and sticking it out. Excellent painting, too.

  7. Charles DeFanti
    Posted January 2, 2016 at 11:25 am | #

    Fine writing makes baseball enjoyable — even for people who don’t like baseball, like me.

  8. Ed Lambertson
    Posted January 4, 2016 at 9:22 am | #

    A tight little story that pulled me in, had me in the game, gritting my teeth for the final out………well done!

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