Old Kramer Lindorf struck the mound with his cleated toe — two outs, one batter up. The Baltimore Tigers were closing in on their first victory of the season and it was all thanks to Kramer’s seasoned pitch; twisting over the plate at speeds over 100mph. The only thing he needed to do was keep the batter on the plate; when who else should stride to it but young Smithy Smithers; fresh from his trade out of New York, cocky as hell, hat turned back, and black chew steaming in his cheek.
Old Kramer didn’t look upset to see Smithy. He didn’t seem interested, but we could tell. He must have been angry — we were all so angry with Smithy’s smug swagger. All the true fans felt shame at Smithy’s impudence after what Old Kramer had done for him.
In 1985, Old Kramer broke Smithy into the game, introduced him to the manager of the Minnesota Rocketeers, then of course to New York. But the first chance Smithy got he turned on Kramer, and let him get traded in his place over an offense with debated perpetrators. Kramer, to this day, publicly claims that Smithy gave false testimony against him, placing him with people and at places that he was not. This was their first face-off in three years. Before game time, Kramer tried to clear the air with Smithy, but was skillfully ducked.
Smithy leaned over the plate, unwilling to look Old Kramer in the eye. He waggled the bat round his ear. Kramer stared Smithy straight in the face. Smithy wore a greasy grin, mouth full of tar. He spat into the dust, stirred bat and rear-end in mocking rhythm, and gave Old Kramer not even the courtesy of looking him in the eye as he met him. No doubt, Smithy expected a meatball; Kramer gave him a cannonball.
Old Kramer offered his own subtler grin then curled the ball tight in his fist. He twisted his hat, his face lowered, he drew up his knee, wound back his shoulder and launched a backdoor slider over the field straight into Smithy’s fa— smack! Smithy lurched back and grabbed his face. His hands shook. They turned red with blood. Yet, Smithy calmly walked to a place by the batter’s box, leaned over his knees as if to catch his breath, and stood quite still.
After a shocked silence, the crowd swelled with cheers and overflowed with jeers. I watch the huge Smithy leaning over the bloody dust swamp he created by the batter’s box, and I replay the impact in my mind — whack! How is he still standing after taking Old Kramer’s famous 100mph pitch to the nose?
On the way home, I thought it couldn’t have been Old Kramer’s famous pitch. No one could survive that. No. But the best answer I could figure is that Kramer was reprimanding Smithy; a slow pitch to show things still weren’t right. And I thought that Smithy’s impotent reaction was something like an apology. I thought about the crowd roaring, their teammates rushing afield, auxiliary quarrels breaking out, medical units dispatching; and that these men alone; Kramer and Smithy, were smiling. And I’ll be damned if Smithy wasn’t laughing through that gruesome new maw of his. But I guess he had even more reason to be grateful to Old Kramer for that; and perhaps some new incentive to show it too.