His name was Curtis J. Smith and he was your average, normal kid for the most part. Curtis was a little large for his age, but other than that it would be hard to pick him out of a crowd. He did all the things other kids did like play video games and eat junk food and resist learning much in school. He had a sister and his parents were yuppies and they lived in suburbia and owned a mini-van and a dog. Dad ran a hardware store and mom worked at the local hospital in the billing department. Together they made a comfortable income and wanted for little. They went to church on Sundays, and were active members of the neighborhood association. But then, in the summer of his tenth year, Curtis’ life, as he knew it, fell apart and it was all because of baseball.
Curtis’ father had played a lot of ball growing up and even went to college on a baseball scholarship. He was kind of a fanatic. So, when he arrived home from work one day and announced that Curtis would be playing baseball this summer and not lying around the house in a stupor like every other year, Curtis was not at all surprised. He was pissed off, but not surprised. And, the news just kept getting worse. His father would be managing the team. Practices would be at eight AM and last two hours. No cell phones or Ipods or video game players. There would be written examinations. Jeepers, thought Curtis, this is worse than school!
Fifteen kids showed up for the first practice and two quit before it was done. They had to run six laps of the entire ball field before practice started, and then did twenty minutes of calisthenics, and then got twenty minutes of baseball theory and rules. Three other dads had joined Curtis’ father as assistant coaches, and one of them obviously had no clue. They made that dad “shag” stuff and keep the cooler full. The other two dads, all decked out in official coaching type clothes, were sticklers and acted like they were being paid. All of them didn’t exactly yell all the time.
Curtis hadn’t listened to anything and had been “screwing the pooch” for all the physical stuff. He’d stayed up most the night playing Call of Duty with his buds. The sunshine was killing him. He was chewing bubble gum just to stay awake.
It was obvious this collection of kids was not exactly adept at any sports, let alone baseball. They would be dead meat in dodge ball, or at least that is what one of the dads kept telling them. Three more kids didn’t show up for the second practice, and by the third the team consisted of exactly nine kids, seven of whom belonged to the coaches. The other two were related to the coaches. Every kid had tried out at every position and had numerous at bats and all this produced was a black eye, a swollen finger, a stubbed toe, and nine cases of sun burn. And then the worst thing of all happened.
Since none of the kids could pitch, one of the dads stood in during batting practice, and this dad had obviously been a real pitcher some time in his life. Curtis saw a couple of those pitches sail across the plate, freeze the batter, and nail Billy square in the facemask and knew he wanted no part of batting practice. He dodged it great for the first couple of practices, but finally his dad caught up with him and stood him at the plate. Curtis damn near pissed his pants when the first pitch vectored in. It was a curve. First it was headed right at his head and then it veered into the plate and snapped sharply into Billy’s chest protector.
“Strike one!” yelled his dad from first baseline.
Billy was down for the count, so one of the other dads stepped in and that asshole changed Curtis’ life forever. He mouthed the magic words before the pitcher delivered again, and even in his total state of terror Curtis’ brain went off like a million gigs of RAM and his body became a machine.
“This guy’s an asshole,” said the catcher. “Just keep your eye on his throwing hand and start swinging the second the ball comes out.”
And that is exactly what Curtis did—ten times in a row, and ten times in a row he knocked the cover off that baseball. He didn’t even know how he was doing it, but he just couldn’t miss. The pitcher got so angry he started throwing at Curtis and that is when his dad stopped it. Everyone was amazed, and said so. All Curtis could remember is that getting hit by a baseball hurts. There was a large bruise on his butt to prove it.
When Curtis learned, or remembered, or was somehow reminded that it was coach pitch baseball, he about had a panic attack. Billy the catcher, who miraculously was becoming an acceptable catcher, shared his fear. They discussed it over PowerAide and decided that every coach couldn’t be as much of an asshole as their pitcher. Ten minutes later they learned, or were reminded that their asshole coach pitcher would be the guy pitching to them, and they were again panicked. In fact, every kid on the team was panicked. And then they learned that Curtis’ dad would be pitching to them instead, and they were relatively calm again. They were on an emotional rollercoaster that day.
So, Curtis’ dad pitched a few practices and kids actually started connecting. Curtis continued on his tear but only because his dad promised him a brand new Playstation 4 when they came out if he kept hitting like that. So he did. He hated it. He hated everything about it, even hitting. He’d stand in right field with a weed in his mouth and stare at clouds and airplanes as they went past. They had to assign a coach to him just so he’d know when a ball was hit in his direction. When he didn’t hit a homerun, which was rare, he always managed to get picked off at whatever base he landed on, or not even make it to first base in time. It drove the coaches crazy.
He took a can of Coke with him into right field one day, and the coach took it away and told him to quit sitting down. He forgot his glove so often the coach just started carrying it. He took a pee in right field during a game and some idiot got it with his cell phone camera. But, when Curtis stepped up to the plate, look out. His line drives were especially vicious. Most kids would just duck, but a few would freeze and be lucky when it didn’t hit them in the face. The League decided Curtis had to start using a wooden bat because he was just too much of a terror with the aluminum kind. It didn’t matter. Curtis drove a line drive into the groin of an umpire behind second base and they had to call an ambulance and call the game. Curtis’ dad couldn’t manage to wipe the smile off his face. His kid was going to be a star.
The article in the local paper decided Curtis had exceptional hand-eye coordination. Curtis didn’t know what that was and spent hours moving his hand around in front of his eyes trying to figure it out, but he stopped when he got a headache. The article also referred to him as “Babe”, and he caught Hell for that in school forever after, yet another reason to loathe baseball for sure.
But, Curtis held on and good to his word, his dad got him that Playstation after the season. Baseball was over and Curtis easily put it in his rearview mirror. He half-assed another year of school and again his dad bribed him for another year of baseball. Curtis gave in for a flat screen TV, and batted .890 and sent three more people to the hospital with his line drives.
The next year the League forced Curtis to join the 15 year old division. He was just too dangerous for kids in his age group. This made his dad proud, but scared Curtis to death. He did not want to play with high school kids! But his dad offered him a motor scooter and the deal was done. He batted .733 and sent another six people to the hospital with his line drives. He got to go back to an aluminum bat again, and with the usual results.
The next year his dad offered a wave runner, but Curtis was through with baseball. His dad wanted him to join a traveling team and by now he knew enough about youth baseball to want no part of that. Besides, what good would a wave runner do him if he were playing ball all the time? It didn’t make sense. So, Curtis stood his ground and his dad went on the blink. He offered Curtis two wave runners. He told Curtis he could quit school. He even offered a trip to Disneyworld, but still Curtis would not be swayed. “I don’t want to play baseball anymore,” was all he could say.
One day Curtis came home to find his mother sitting at the kitchen table. There was a plate of freshly backed chocolate chip cookies and a tall glass of cold milk on the table, and she was smiling that sly smile she always used to charm Curtis. Ten minutes later they were playing catch in the backyard and he had signed up for another year of little league. Dad came home and was so happy he took the family out to Applebee’s for dinner. Curtis hit .857 and sixty homeruns. He couldn’t field, throw or run bases for crap still, but he could whack the shit out of that baseball and apparently that was enough.
The black Corvette in the driveway really didn’t surprise Curtis. He was sixteen now and that was about the only thing left to bribe or charm him with. He still hated everything about baseball, a list that grew by the season, but he also hated the notoriety his hitting was bringing on, as well. And then, there were the college coaches who were now recruiting him relentlessly, and his dad who was feeding into all this like a man possessed.
Curtis found himself behind the wheel of that Corvette and in no time down the street and onto Liberty. And somewhere between second and third gear, at about forty-five-hundred RPM, Curtis smiled because he just decided what to do about baseball. He was downright giddy.
Usually Curtis would just walk right up to the plate, get into his stance and swing at anything in the strike zone—as he understood the strike zone, that is. He did have extraordinary hand-eye coordination, that was a fact, and since he always used a heavier bat it was simple physics. But this year Curtis used the lightest bat he could. This year was all about perfect bat placement. Curtis J. Smith was about to become the greatest directional hitter the world had ever known. The direction was foul territory, and Curtis was a magician. At one at bat in his first game of the season he took a pitcher twenty-seven pitches—and fouled off every single pitch before hitting a blooper single into left field. He was thrown out trying to steal second base a few seconds later. In that single game alone pitchers threw 117 pitches to Curtis. He fouled off 108, and went four for four with four singles. He was picked off at first twice, and left stranded twice. It made all the papers.
And so it went for the entire season. Curtis J. Smith became the biggest pain in the ass batter in the history of the game—which in his case lasted a lot longer and were infinitely more boring. Spectators were avoiding any seats in line of fire of Curtis’ wicked bat. More than a few learned the hard way. It got so good to Curtis that he would go after pitches that were obvious balls just so he wouldn’t have to walk to first base. He hit just good enough to keep himself in the starting lineup. He’d crack off a homer or two at home games just to please the fans and keep the coach off his ass, but other than that it was singles and foul balls. In a couple of games opposing teams ran out of pitchers and had to forfeit. Curtis’ dad brought in hitting coaches galore to try to correct his son’s swing, and that always worked in practice, but not in the games. The coaches told him Curtis was a head case—whatever that means. The old man didn’t know what to do.
Of course, no one could prove Curtis was intentionally hitting foul balls but any other explanation was just as feasible. He was hitting .743—how do you argue with that? Then, two things happened. One, ESPN did a short story about Curtis the night he fouled off 127 pitches and still went four for four with four doubles—and got picked off twice, left stranded once, and actually scored once. The second was he fell in love.
Bambi was five foot five, 95 pounds and blonde as an ear of corn. She did not give a flying fuck about nothing, but in a care free sort of manner. She was deliciously funny and flirty and flaunty. Bambi sold cotton candy at the carnival operating adjacent to one of his away games in Fleming Creek. Curtis didn’t care about that, or the fact that she was 27, married and had three bench warrants on her. “I got a Corvette,” he stammered. “Let’s go for a ride, Sugar!” she replied, and off they went. Curtis never even saw the guy with the shotgun. He was lost in the smoke of burning rubber and the scream of good old Detroit horsepower.
A few hours later Bambi knew everything there was to know about Curtis J. Smith and he knew nothing about her except that he wanted to marry her. He was too shook up after the sex so Bambi was driving and she was telling him exactly what to do with his life and he was eating it up with a spoon. Bambi wanted to see how fast the Corvette would go, so she hopped on US23 southbound and put the pedal to the metal. As the needle on the speedometer climbed she told Curtis, “You shouldn’t hate baseball, you should love it. After all, you is good enough where you could play pro ball and never have to work a day in your life ever. I like that. I will marry you if you do all that.”
That is exactly when the speedometer hit 155 and the blue flashing lights appeared in the review mirror. Bambi laughed. “They’ll never catch us!” she announced, and they never did.
Well, Curtis’ dad did not like Bambi until he learned she made his son keep playing baseball. She was extorting the kid with her body and technically it was rape, but he was hitting .763! Instead of pressing charges, he offered to move Bambi into the family home. Playing coy, Bambi said, “Oh, you don’t have to do that Mr. Smith.” But, Mr. Smith insisted. At that time he did not know about Bambi’s legal or marital dispositions, or that she carried Colt .380 in her waistband. By mid-season Curtis was batting .790.
And then one day the scout from the New York Yankees arrived at the front door and guess who was the only one home? Bambi. The conversation went something like this.
Bambi: Who is you?
Scout: I’m Jasper Jones from the New York Yankees. We are very interested in Curtis. Is he here? May I talk with him?
Bambi: You got some ID?
Scout: Um, yes I do. Here, let me show it to you.
Bambi: Them things easy to fake.
Scout: I assure you, it is real and I am here to make a serious offer.
Bambi: What offer?
Scout: I really need to talk with Curtis and his parents actually. Will they be back soon?
Bambi: Well, I’m his wife.
Scout: You are? I mean, we didn’t know he was, is married. I apologize…Mrs. Smith? Is that right?
Bambi: Bambi Smith, Misses.
Scout: Oh, okay. Very nice to meet you, Bambi.
Bambi: Mrs. Smith to you.
Scout: Mrs. Smith it is.
Bambi: Come in and sit down, Mr., what did you say your name is?
Scout: Just call me, Jasper.
Bambi: That’s a child molester name I do believe.
Scout: How about, Mr. Jones, then?
Bambi: Okay, Mr. Jones. What’s your offer? Money wise, I mean.
Scout: Well, without Curtis here….I mean, he’s really supposed to be here.
Bambi: I am also his agent and manager, and his wife. So, I have a powerful attorney. Talking to me is like talking directly to Curtis.
Scout: Um, how about I throw a ballpark figure at you for right now?
Bambi: I don’t even know what that is. I don’t know all that baseball talk, Jasper, but I ain’t by no means stupid. Give me your best guess.
Scout: If he passes the physical, and if he passes the background check we could make an offer of close to a half a million for the first year with another half a million signing bonus.
Bambi: Is that a lot? I mean, is that what all high school kids get?
Scout: Um, probably not. I mean….
Bambi: I ain’t takin’ your first offer, Jasper. So, give me your second offer.
Scout: Um, well, I suppose we could sweeten the signing bonus a bit. Say ten percent?
Bambi: SOLD! Write that shit up and I’ll sign.
Scout: Um, I, well a contract would have to be written first. I just came today to make an offer.
Bambi: And we accepted so write that shit up so I can sign, sign, sign.
Scout: The lawyers do all that. I’m just here to….
Bambi: Lookey here, Jasper. We got the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angelas Dodgers coming by later to make offers and we don’t be needing to finagle with you over minor details.
Scout: But, I don’t have a contract with me.
Bambi: Well, that’s what the internets are for. I’m sure we can find one serve our purpose and for free. We don’t need those greedy law talkers involved.
Sure enough, within fifteen minutes Bambi found a suitable contract, by her own standards, for the scout to sign. Bambi simply modified it with a Sharpie after printing it out. The scout was nervous as a mouse in a litter box and was sweating buckets. He’d been sent to lock this kid down, not surrender to the Tigers or Dodgers. Yet and still, he really didn’t have a contract and really had no authority to sign one even if he did. Bambi was holding out a Parker Brothers ball point when he hit upon his exit strategy.
Scout: I’m only authorized to initial contracts, not sign them. That’s the best I can do for now.
Bambi didn’t care. Jasper had been under video surveillance the whole time. She had his every word on tape. Of course, she also had her every word on tape, as well. You would think that not an insurmountable obstacle. Only half of you would be right.
That night when Curtis got home from practice, Bambi showered him off, dressed him, and wedged him into the Corvette. They were going to Canada. She knew a guy there who would legally marry them. As so it was. Bambi officially became Mrs. Curtis Bambi Smith. You see, it was also Curtis’ eighteenth birthday. He’d got held back in first grade so as to give him an unfair advantage with his parentally determined cohort. The ceremony started five seconds after the time of birth as stated on Curtis’ birth certificate which Bambi had pilfered from the family safe in the wine closet. Now all she had to worry about was Chuckles her both former and current husband.
When they got back home they kept the marriage a secret Bambi wanted no one with a perfectly clear memory of the event, for some reason. Curtis didn’t really care. He wasn’t looking this gift horse in the mouth. How many other eighteen year olds were banging a hot, older babe? None, that’s how many. He kept his mouth shut. So, when he answered the phone one day and it was some dude claiming to be a lawyer for the New York Yankees and he wanted to speak to Bambi, he handed her the phone and went back to his sandwich. The verbatim record of that conversation is just too long and annoying to recapture here, so I will just try to keep the story going freestyle for a while.
Long story short, the Yankees were in a bind. They could fight it in court and it would look bad all the way around and probably destroy their chances of getting Curtis. The scout had no legal bla bla bla and so on and so forth, extraneous blather and whatnot, adjourned. Or, they could honor the contract, which financially wasn’t exactly a disaster—especially if that kid could hit pro balls. But, they would definitely need to put forth a legitimate, iron clad contract with ALL PARTIES signatures. They were willing to waive the physical examination. But, like morons they didn’t demand Bambi and Curtis come to New York to square the deal. They let Bambi have her way. So, they sent a couple of Teflon type law talkers with gold plated ink pens and the bullet proof contract to meet with Bambi. The following is a brief glimpse into some of the phone conversations between the law talkers and New York.
Law Talkers: She wants to change the deal again.
NY: What is it this time?
Law Talkers: She wants us to make a Curtis Smith shoe.
Law Talkers: A shoe. You know, like Air Jordan or something.
NY: Okay, tell her we’ll do it. Get Arne over in marketing to glue some initials on some cleats.
Law Talkers: She wants to be paid in cash.
NY: We can’t do that.
Law Talkers: She claims it is a game changer.
NY: No. We’re not drug dealers.
Law Talkers: She says we do it for the black players.
NY: Who told her that? We do not do that! Ever!
Law Talkers: She needs a lawyer.
Law Talkers: She needs us to buy her a lawyer so she can get rid of her first marriage certificate.
NY: What? Her first what? What is she talking about?
Law Talkers: Some guy named, Chuckles. He’s a rodeo clown or something, married her in Reno five years ago.
Law Talkers: Yeah, one of those Rhesus Monkeys from India she saw advertised on TV.
NY: How much are they?
Law Talkers: Five hundred dollars.
NY: Okay, go ahead. Put it on your credit card, we’ll reimburse you.
And finally, five hours after it started it was over. There was a signed contract and everything. Curtis, Bambi and the two law talkers went out for drinks and diner. The two law talkers paid for everything. Bambi ordered five lobsters so she could take some home to Curtis’ parents. The evening was a tremendous success indeed.
The plan was to make Curtis into a designated hitter. So they told him this on his first day. They would work on three things and three things only. First, was his hitting which what the fuck? Curtis shrugged his shoulders and farted. Secondly, they would work on his running. He was unusually slow for someone his age and size. They wanted to improve that. Curtis again shrugged his shoulders. Thirdly, they wanted Curtis to take a drug test. Curtis told them to fuck off.
Bambi said there wasn’t nothing about no drug test in the contract, but of course there was so Bambi said that didn’t count because she and Curtis both was stoned when they signed that contract. But, the New York law talkers was adamant about it. After practice the next day Curtis had to report to the clinic for testing. Bambi joked, “Me and Curtis be up all night studying for this test!” Maybe it was a joke. Anyway, in batting practice the following morning Curtis sent no less than five balls out of the stadium. No one had done that for a while. Afterward, Curtis stroked his bat like it was his penis and declared, “That was my drug test, fellers. Anyone high couldn’t never do that!” Basically, he was right.
Somehow Curtis passed a banned substances test without ever having actually taken it. The team was happy. Curtis was happy. But Bambi was nutting up like a fruitcake. “I wanna renegotiate the contract!” she declared. That took like a week.
By now it was near the end of the season and it looked like them Yankees were fixing to put old Curtis into his first major league game, and against them old polecats the Boston Red Sox. In fact, they were letting Curtis lead off! The Yankees came up to bat in the bottom of the first and out struts Curtis like King Kong’s wingman. He plants himself at the plate, grabbed his nuts and then cocked his mighty bat and pointed at Center Field. The Boston pitcher wasted no time and immediately delivered a wicked hot curve ball that Curtis jumped on like a fat kid on a trampoline. CCCCRRRR-RRAAAAAAACCCCCKKKK! The ball and the top third of Curtis’ back shot out of the batter’s box like laser guided missiles. The ball reached the pitcher’s face a split second before his glove. His nose evaporated like a popped balloon but his orbital bones just rocketed back into his cranial cavity like shrapnel from a hand grenade. He was dead before his body hit the ground, and the crowd knew it right away.
But there’s more! The broken part of Curtis’ bat helicoptered toward the Boston dugout where the Manager was standing on the steps. His reaction was to try to lean back but that presented a larger target of his neck for the errant bat part. It hit him, pointy end first of course, square in the throat and immediately spurts of blood splattered out. At first the Manager staggered onto the field with his hands clasped to the bat part. And then, how he did this I will never know, he managed to yank out the bat part from his neck and throw it to the ground, which actually made him bleed even more profusely. He got off about four or five more steps before toppling onto the first base line chalk. His legs kicked for at least twenty more seconds.
About this time Curtis is rounding second and though he sees all the carnage he figures, what the Hell, I’m gonna score! So, he proceeds around third and even turns up the steam a little while heading home. At the last second he goes into a head slide and just barely slid far enough to tag home plate with his outstretched hand. He jumps up, thrusts both fists into the air, and trots over to the dugout.
The crowd is absolutely stunned. The only people moving are the trainers who are pretending to be curing the dead guys while they think of what to do next. The announcer is speechless. The color guy is hyper-ventilating, but saying nothing. The camera guy froze on the exploded face of the pitcher. The other camera guy wasn’t so lucky. The blood spray got his lens. He had no shot left. The producer in the booth was puking into the cold, gray steel trash can. Then, the home plate umpire made the safe signal, which confused everyone because they forgot about Curtis scoring. The stadium fell deathly silent.
Finally, seemingly out of nowhere, amidst all that silence, Bambi yells, “Fuck them Red Sox!” and the crowd went crazy. In a few minutes they’d drug the corpses off the field and play resumed in earnest. Curtis went four for five that day, and scored twice. The Yankees won two to nothing.