“Diamond Courage,” Part 17

 

Chapter18

The Same Game

September, 1862

The next morning, Adolphus told me the game would be played in three days, and that if I liked, he would let me practice my pitching with him. He had already spoken with some of the other players, and they agreed that I would be welcome. In fact, he told me that the pitchers for the team were not very good, so I would be a good addition to the team.

We went out behind the row of cabins, and he paced off the distance from the pitcher’s place to home plate. He had brought a ball, one of which I had not seen since our time in the prison, and threw it to me. “Let me see what you have,” he called, and I threw the first pitch in.

“Very good,” he said. “Now throw me a high one.”

I did, and he caught it and threw it back. “Now a low one.”

I threw this one too low, and it skipped between his feet and came to rest a short distance away.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I’ll do better next time.”

He threw the ball back to me, saying, “I am certain you will.”

I then threw a pitch that he caught at the level of his kneecaps. “That’s it! Bravo!”

I waved my hand by way of thanks and caught the return throw.”

“Now one in the middle.” I did what he asked, and we continued in like fashion for about half an hour.”

“I must cease,” Adolphus said. “I have not done this for months, and my arm is growing tired.”

I agreed, for in truth I had not played for over a year, and my arm was beginning to ache. I would need to practice some more so that would no longer be true.

We walked together back to our cabin. “Are you of the belief that I am capable of pitching against strikers?”

“I believe you will be in three days when we play our first game, but we must do what we have done today every day.”

“I believe so as well. I also believe it is time for a nap.”

“I am for you, my friend.”

With that we went into our cabin, lay on our cots, and soon fell asleep.

***

With each day, my pitching improved, and the morning of the game, Adolphus declared me ready. We were to play a team drawn from the Seventeenth Virginia Infantry, but no one could tell us how skilled they were at the game. We would have to rely on Providence and each other for a victory.

We were to meet at two o’clock, and so we made our way to the field at 1:30. Some from the other team were there, and in truth, they were about the largest men I had ever seen. “We stand no chance,” I whispered to Adolphus. “We are as the spies in scriptures who saw that the people of the land of Canaan were prodigious in size.”

“Perhaps so,” he said, “But remember that those small Israelites brought down the giants, as the boy David also did with Goliath.”

“I wish I could use a slingshot against them,” I muttered.

Our team fanned out and started throwing some balls back and forth to ready ourselves for the game. Other troops began to trickle in to watch the game. About the time we were ready to start, it looked to me as if the whole camp had come to watch us, although I knew that could not be true. I would say that very few of our compatriots did not come to watch us play.

A lieutenant had agreed to serve as umpire, and I must confess that I thought it out of place to see him in his uniform and not the top hat and tails I was accustomed to see an umpire in. Nonetheless, he would serve the same function, top hat and tails or no. As time drew near, he called the captains to home plate.  Adolphus listened intently as the lieutenant explained the rules, although he most likely knew more about them than our umpire that day did. That over, we went into the field, being designated the home team since Adolphus had come up with the idea to have this game. I nervously threw some pitches to Travis Hopkins, who, you will recall, was our behind. The rest of the team was made up of the same fellows I was with in prison. I count it a wonder that none of them had been killed or badly injured or had deserted. We were fortunate indeed.

I would say that the first striker was a large man, but they all were, so I will recall him by his distinguishing feature, which was a flaming red beard. Since I am given to naming objects and people by their most salient characteristic, I mentally call him “Red.” I’m sure you will agree that that is appropriate. Red waved his bat and looked at me menacingly, why I do not know, since we were in the same army. Perhaps he was excited to play and wanted to show something to his team. What that something is, I do not know.

I pitched him a low ball that was barely off the ground, but he managed to reach down and strike it a good stroke so that the ball flew towards David Andrews in right field. David ran over and grasped the ball before it hit the earth. Red slammed down his bat so hard that it broke. I would say he was disappointed.

Next man at the plate was a thin specimen, as tall as he was thin, so that he looked as if he might break apart at any moment. For a name for him, I hit upon the term, “Twig,” since he resembled one. I thought that his fellow might not be able to hit the ball very hard,  just judging by his appearance, but he proved me wrong. After he had swung at two balls and missed both, I became overconfident and, seeking to take him by surprise, I threw him a ball as slowly as I could, thinking he could not hit it as far as a fast one.

The ball reminded me of one of the rockets that we use when he hit it. It flew so high none of us could see it for a moment, and when Travis did spot it, he yelled to Otto Frantz, who was in centerfield, “Otto! Otto! To your right! To your right!”

Otto either did not hear him or understand him, for he stayed right where he was. The ball landed with a mighty bounce, and, having some forward motion as well, skittered across the ground in a way that put me in mind of seeing a frightened rabbit when it is the object of the hunt. It rolled over a slight hill, with Otto in hot pursuit. Alas, he could not reached it in time, and Twig touched all the bases and scored for his team. This was not a propitious beginning, so I resolved to bear down harder. But then something happened that made me forget about the game.

A familiar black carriage was coming towards us. I stared at it, frozen. As I did not make the next pitch, Adolphus called from his position on the sidelines, “Caleb! Pitch the ball, else the umpire should grow impatient with us.”

I did not move.

Adolphus came out to where I was. “What is wrong with you?” We were joined by the umpire.

“Is there something preventing you from continuing the game?” the lieutenant asked.

I pointed at the carriage. “That is.”

The umpire looked around. “‘Tis but an ordinary carriage.”

“Aye, that it is. But it is not the carriage that confounds me so, but what lies in it?”

At that moment, Adolphus understood the cause of my hesitation. “Is it Eleanor who is within the carriage?”

“I fear it is.”

“Give me the ball, then. I shall become the pitcher.”

I gave him the ball, not caring any longer about the game. I would not finish it because who knows what would happen from this point? I walked like a man in a trance toward the carriage.

The door opened, and Eleanor leaned out. “Caleb, you prodigal son. Do come in and sit with me.”

She spoke calmly and even pleasantly, but I feared her demeanor would change once the door shut and we left. Reluctantly I climbed inside and sat down. The driver closed the door and went to climb up to his seat.

Eleanor’s face became a mask of anger and hatred. She thrust it in mine and hissed “Did you really think you could escape me for long? I shall have to think of some way to punish you, and you may be certain it will not be pleasant.”

My head dropped, but she lifted it harshly with her hand. “Don’t you dare look down when I’m talking to you! After all the good I have done for you, you have treated me badly! Soon we shall be back at my mansion, and then the punishment will begin.” She let my head drop and sat back, satisfied that she had frightened me properly and all that remained was to administer the whipping or hanging or whatever she proposed to make me see the error of my ways.

“By what right do you come to a soldier’s camp and take one of them away?” I asked.

She sniffed. “By the right of the wealth that I hold. It opens many doors. It was a simple matter to communicate with your commanding office and obtain his permission to take you into my custody.” She sat back, satisfied with her explanation. God help me, I thought, with women such as this and an evil system that permits them to do as they will.

And so it was that we started on our journey to Georgetown.

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