Gopher Night in Birmingham – D.W. Davis

Lennie knew almost immediately this wasn’t going to be his night.

It shouldn’t have mattered, of course. Exhibition games were meaningless, and he was getting paid regardless. Plus, it wasn’t like he had a star status to defend, like Satch did during his token first inning appearance. Lennie was just a kid, sixteen passing for eighteen because Satch knew better than to ask stupid questions. Probably no one here—most of the crowd being white, except for one small section of Negroes near the Negro dugout—had seen him pitch before. It was miraculous, to someone so young, that Satch had seen him, called him up one night and asked hey kid, wanna make some money and have some fun? And Lennie had only thrown in four games, all down the final stretch of the season.

So it didn’t matter, not in terms of keeping his place with the team; Satch wasn’t going to cut him on this tour, no reason to. Lennie could throw hard and fast, and most of the time he found the strike zone. Problem was, he often found too much of it. He managed to strike out the first batter, but the second took him deep. So did the third. He got out of the inning without his head hanging too low. Down 2-0 wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

The hell of it was, solo home runs weren’t supposed to beat you. And it’s not like his team didn’t score in their half. The white team rarely brought their best, though there were faces that night Lennie recognized from the papers, whose exploits were documented on the radio he listened to when he was back home or, this season, wasn’t playing. Like the guy funding the whole expenditure, Bob Feller, who’d pitched his first professional game not much older than Lennie was now. Feller, the starting pitcher, took Lennie deep for the fourth white home run of the game. At this, the white dugout started chanting “go fer home, go fer home!” and eventually the audience took it up too. That was by the sixth home run. Even the Negro audience joined in, though Lennie didn’t blame them. He would’ve done the same.

After two home runs in the fourth inning, all solo shots, Lennie stood on the mound and stared back at home plate. He knew he wasn’t pitching that bad—he’d lost count of his strikeouts, maybe six or seven—but he didn’t like the way his luck had turned. He stared at some faceless white man holding a bat on his shoulder, maybe someone he should’ve recognized, maybe just some kid looking for an easy dollar like Lennie himself. A guy who was probably having a luckier night than Lennie.

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