Mental ErrorMENTAL ERROR
mental error n. A mistake made because the player is preoccupied, forgetful or distracted.
-The Dickson Baseball Dictionary
Lyse Doucet had his back turned to the plate and was rubbing up the baseball with extraordinary vigor. He held the ball in the palm of his left hand and with a counter-clockwise turn of his right he slowly and deliberately massaged the ball with the heel of the one hand forcing the leather against the palm of the other. He never thought about it for a second. Not that he didn’t know what he was doing; It was precisely because he was so comfortable in the act that he let his mind wander. Sometimes he even directed it. Lyse Fucking Doucet. Director. French Canadian left-handed goddamned prima donna. That’s what the newspapers called him. He didn’t give a shit. He was the meal ticket around here and everyone knew it. Tops in the league in appearances, saves, and ejections. And so if they couldn’t put up with his genius, it was their tough luck. This whole place is watching me, he thought to himself. They want me to bust this guy on three pitches. Nothing cute. No fooling around. Just Heat. And lots of it. But I’m gonna show that sonofabitch Pulaski behind the plate that I’ve been on the black all season and he better open his goddamned eyes if he don’t want to miss another good game.
Ten years ago he had been a hot shot high school star out of New York City. "The best of the lot," was the way the scouts derogatorily described him then. "But the lot wasn’t all that good," was the tag line that followed. Come on, nobody plays baseball in New York anymore. Especially not French Canuks. It’s a basketball town ever since when. City game, all you need is a hoop. Blah Blah Bullshit, was all he ever thought back. But he learned early on that this game of baseball was played on a lot of levels. The best players were also the smartest players; "And I’m not talking ‘bout school," Doucet challenged, "though lots of those guys were bright too. I’m talking ‘bout the fact that size and strength don’t mean shit to a tree next to boldness and cunning." It’s like Johnson told him. "Human beings! An incredible confluence of energies they; mechanical, chemical, electromagnetic. Capable of a billion binary decisions in a single instant. And yet, mass-produced by unskilled labor. Yeah!
He slapped the ball back in his glove and turned toward the plate. Doucet climbed the mound and placed his left foot astride the pitching rubber, his gloved hand holding the ball and resting on his right knee as peered in for the sign. Jos Lammers had his mask off and was standing erect looking over the field. Two on, one out, runners on the corners. Up two to one in the bottom of the ninth. Bloody hot day and Pulaski practically on top of him sweating out last night’s dinner. He flashed the sign and then the ritual began again. It was their communication. It happened in silence and it spoke volumes. Doucet watched as his catcher pulled the iron mask over his face, planted his right foot first and then his left, two feet over and six inches in front. Every pitch the same. Lammers was a mechanical freak. Everything he did had a purpose. You could talk to him about most things. But not catching. And Lyse Doucet loved him for it. He used to tell people that you never saw a guy so desperate to prove himself right as this Dutch Jew when he was confronted by the possibility of having to change his mind. Lammers always said it was a family thing. Used to brag about his ancestors being the founders of some 18th century Dutch trading company. Introduced cigars to the Russians of Empress Catherine II. Very precise people he warned solemnly but everyone knew he just loved the thin blue smoke of a fine Havana Cigar. The man was a prince all right. No doubt about it.
The catcher was the historian of the ball club. Doucet had taught that to Lammers. Everything past is his domain. Right up to and including the last pitch. "History was written by the winners," he always reminded him, but better remembered by the losers. You’ve got to have the daring to live in the memories of both places." But Doucet himself didn’t always take chances. He and Lammers cursed each other. They brawled with each other. But most of all, they pushed each other. In baseball they’re known as the battery, the pitcher and catcher. Doucet stuck out his chest and said it came from the telegraph. The sender and the receiver. Lammers laughed and said he believed it was military thing. Their teamates thought they were both nuts. The pitcher they could understand. He was a lefty. But the Dutchman should have known better.
The batter waits now, a star only in his own mind. Doucet doesn’t even look at him. Johnson taught him this was a simple game of pitch and catch between him and his receiver. Load up, lock on, and let go. Whoosh.
As Lyse Doucet goes into the stretch, he starts to count; Not numbers, not letters, not even fucking sheep, but breaths. Lammers watches closely and starts to nod his head in synch. Pulaski hates these two sonsabitches more than anything. He hasn’t got a fuckin’ clue as to what’s goin on - but with his hand practically pushing on Lammers to hold himself up - well, all this head nodding is making him lose his balance. And he’s havin a hard enough time in the first place without these two monkeys screwin’ him over in a tight game.
The lefthander looks over the runners. They wouldn’t know how to take a risk if it followed them home each night. Especially the guy on first. Great speed, they say, but his percentage sucks. Hasn’t been able to read a pitcher since he came in the league three years ago. All the hurlers on the circuit love it when he’s on first in a steal situation. You could practically see him pissing in his pants when they flash him the sign. Fuck him, thought Doucet. He ain’t goin nowhere.
Doucet lifts his right leg and kicks it high. Lammers shifts his weight inside on the batter. Just a little earlier than Pulaski had expected and the dumb fuck almost fell over. The Dutchman smiled to himself knowing the big # 1 was heading down the alley. Doucet’s fastball had a way of coming back in on a right handed batter. Anybody who knew anything about the game compared it to Matty’s fadeaway. Thing was, Doucet could bring it back in at a couple of different speeds and used to kind of custom blend it for each hitter. But this first one’s for Pulaski thought Lammers as the hitter started to back off the plate. Let’s see if he knows the difference between a strike and a ball!
Doucet used to listen in when Lammers went over the opposing hitters with the starter before each game. But when these two guys set up shop, they took it one step it further. They went over the umpire as well. And this was no scouting report. Doucet had this thing about pitching against the ump as much as against the batter. "All part of the same game" he growled. "If you can’t fool one, you better be able to fool the other." The ball came back in towards the plate as the batter turned his shoulder. But it was Pulaski that really flinched. He never saw it cut the corner and just waved with his left hand to indicate a ball. "Get your head in the game, blue," yelled someone from the home team bench. Lammers and Doucet stood up straight in unison and just nodded to each other. This hitter would be easy to set up. Too bad Pulaski might miss the show.
His eyes narrow
As he kicks the dirt below. A deep
breath his only ally. The tall, the strong,
the champion of time
Stands alone at the center of all
attention. The body hums the swaying tune,
the arms in concert strum
The batter waits
Futile as flying west to catch the
setting sun. It lights and shimmers and beckons
with promises of things to com
And the batter waits
In a single instant it is both hidden
and revealed. The magic of the twilight,
the mystery of the dawn
The eyes narrow
And another batter's gone