Bubba & Junior
IT’S A GAME OF INCHES
It was the bottom of the ninth inning; the score was tied 4–4, with one out and a man on third. Bubba Lovejoy stood on the first baseline and studied the situation. As manager, coach, and relief pitcher for the L&S Hauling, LLC Vampires, the weight of the outcome of the Mississippi State Semi-Pro baseball championship fell on his shoulders.
With a 3–1 count, his cleanup hitter and business partner, Junior Swafford, stood at the plate. The Vampires had fought their way to the Northeast Mississippi Championship and were one of the last two teams left in the State Tournament. Laurel’s Oilers, their opponents, moved into double play depth, daring Junior to hit it out of the infield.
Bubba was presented with one of baseball’s rare opportunities. The runner on third was Mike Lomax, who stood 6’6” and tipped in at just over 300 lbs. No one in the stands would consider the big guy to be a threat as a base runner. Lomax might be huge, but he was deceptively quick and fast. Fast enough to be first team All-SEC as a defensive tackle at Mississippi State, as well as make it four seasons with the Chicago Bears.
Bubba asked the first base umpire for a time out, and it was granted. He walked to the batter’s box and said,
“Junior, I’m thinking about calling for a squeeze at home. Think you can lay a bunt down the third baseline?”
“Bubba, have you lost your friggin mind? All I have to do is get the ball out of the infield, and Mike can score from third. He’s way faster than he looks. The worst that can happen is I hit into a double play, and we go into extra innings.”
“I understand all of that, but the bottom of our batting order will be coming up, and they’ll have the top of theirs. Besides, they’ve read the scouting report on you, and they know 81% of the time you hit a grounder. They’re willing to play those odds and try for the double play. No one in the ballpark is expecting you to bunt.”
“Well, I’ll grant you that. Look, you’re the manager, so I’ll do whatever you call, but I think you’re blowing this one.”
On his way back to first, Bubba looked over to the box seats along the edge of the stadium and saw his girlfriend, Stella Stone shaking her head and mouthing “No!” Apparently, at least one person in the stands was expecting the call. He smiled at Stella and Junior’s wife, Lucy Lee, who was sitting beside her and took his place in the coaches’ box.
The umpire signaled that the timeout was over and play was to resume. Bubba went through the signaling ritual and called for the squeeze play. Mike Lomax nodded with a huge grin on his face. The Oiler infield moved a step in closer and Lomax took a slight lead off third, but not enough to cause concern. Junior stood with the bat at ready, showing no sign of a bunt. The Laurel pitcher came with a fastball, and Junior managed to get the barrel of his bat to meet it at the last second.
Later, Bubba would recall that the next ten seconds appeared as slow motion in his mind. Junior’s bunt hit hard between the third base line and the pitcher’s mound and stuck like a well-placed nine iron shot on the green. Junior broke for first, as the pitcher and the third baseman lunged for the ball. Mike Lomax charged down the baseline at his full sub five second forty yard dash speed. By the time the third baseman beat the pitcher to the ball, Mike was two-thirds of the way home.
The next five seconds had to be viewed from three different perspectives: Mike’s, who was concentrated on crushing the catcher if he managed to get the ball; the third baseman’s, who could not even see the catcher because of Mike’s massive hulk; and the catcher, who could only see 300 plus pounds coming at him at warp speed. All three reacted differently. Mike lowered his head and prepared to take the catcher back to the backstop. The third baseman had to take a stutter step toward the mound to clear a line to the catcher. That little hesitation gave Mike the nanosecond he needed, and the ball, the catcher, and Mike converged at the same point in space at the exact same time.
The ball ricocheted off the catcher’s glove and rolled down the first baseline. Mike and the catcher departed ways, just as Mike slammed his size 15 foot onto home plate. The catcher landed halfway to the backstop in a motionless heap. The home plate umpire signaled safe, and L& S Hauling won the championship. The fans from North Mississippi bounded out of the stands, and confusion reigned.
Bubba and Junior saw Stella and Lucy Lee climbing out of the box seats and helped them scramble down from the top of the dugout. Stella jumped into Bubba’s arms, kissed him, and whispered,
“That worked, but it was still the wrong call. You should have let Junior hit away.”
“You may be an excellent deputy sheriff, but leave the baseball strategy to those of us who’ve played the game.”
Bubba and Stella started toward home plate and saw Mike Lomax carrying the Laurel catcher to the waiting ambulance. The EMTs put the catcher on a gurney, and Mike climbed in as the van pulled out of the ballpark, lights flashing and sirens wailing.
Bubba and Stella were caught-up in the post-game celebration, so it was thirty minutes before things settled down. One of Bubba’s Mississippi State buddies suggested that the two teams meet at the Cherokee, a local beer joint, to have a brew or two. The Laurel manager thought that was a great idea, and everyone loaded up.
When they got to the Cherokee, Bubba told the barkeep that beer was on the house until further notice, then he and Stella joined the fellowship. They were on their second sixteen ounce frosted mug of draft when they saw Lomax coming in. He spotted them and pulled up a chair. Bubba asked,
“Well, did the catcher survive?”
“Oh yeah; he’ll be okay. Just a few minor injuries like a broken collarbone, three cracked ribs, and a mild concussion. It could have been worse.”
Junior Swafford broke into one of his signature grins and said,
“Yeah, you could have been driving your Volkswagen.”
Categories: As I Like It!