Chapter 14 - Double Steal
Tony pulled his arm back to throw and started his motion forward. I took off running. Andrew had managed a huge lead off third and now ran for home. Mattress at the plate saw me running, probably heard Andrew bearing down on him from behind and stepped out of the box -- well, pit in the soft dirt of the field where the batter's box would be on a real field. Walking backwards up the slope, he sort of tripped on a clod and sat down hard in the dirt.
The pitch bounced once on the ground behind home, Amy scooped it into the big first baseman's glove she was using as a catcher's mitt, looked up and saw Andrew coming home and Mattress falling onto his butt practically right in front of her and, well -- she panicked. A first baseman's glove is designed to hold the ball tight, it's not as easy to get the ball out of as a real catcher's mitt is. Amy tried to stand up and dig the ball out at the same time while yelling, "He's stealing home! He's stealing home!"
"Ah-hoo-gah! Hoo-gah! Hoo-gah!" Andrew screamed like a car alarm, scaring the heck out of a lot of the little kids watching. He came toward the plate with his arms in the air above his head, waving around like a maniac -- bad technique, except with a panicky catcher.
Tony ran toward home from the pitcher's pit, too, yelling at Amy to toss him the ball. Mattress tried to get out of everyone's way, crabbing backwards on his heels and elbows. Amy, really rattled now by the yelling, finally managed to get the ball out of the glove and threw it to -- Andrew!
"No! No! No!" yelled Tony. A lot of the spectators and other players were yelling, too. I barely saw this as I ran toward second but it made me laugh.
Surprised to see the ball coming at him, Andrew slapped at it with his hand. He got a good swat and it flew back toward Amy, hit the plate, hit Amy in the head as she stood up, bounced off her and hit Mattress in the chest just as Tony dived for it and Andrew collided with -- well, everybody.
While they were all lying on the ground laughing and yelling at each other, I turned the corner at second and stole third, still giggling, I guess.
"Dead ball! Dead ball!" called Jimmy, running in from right field again. He didn't want me to keep going and steal home, too, but he was laughing like everybody else.
I knew the rules. It's not a dead ball unless it's out of the playing area or in the umpire's or pitcher's hand or someone is injured and with no ump to make a ruling I might as well keep running for home. The worst that could happen was I would get sent back to third. So, I ran, whooping and laughing.
I yelled something, maybe "Corn Flakes!" as I dived into the pile of kids at home. I wiggled around, got my arm under Tony and Andrew and touched the big piece of flat plastic being used as home plate. "Safe!" I screamed into Andrew's ear.
All the little kids sitting on benches or the ground watching ran in then and jumped on the pile, too, yelling things like, "Rhinoceros!" and "USA! USA!"
It took a while to get everyone sorted out, what with all the laughing and fielders running in to join in the dogpile. I got tickled several times; once by Jimmy as he dragged me out by my foot.
"Where's your hat, Tinker Belle?" he asked after putting me on my feet.
I checked to see if I still had my barrette then looked for the hat. Delia had it, someone had already rescued her and she had the hat on, standing by the bench near the sump-thing. "I gots your Twinkie Bell hat, Annie," she called, holding it up and giggling.
I dodged around the still kicking and laughing mess of kids in the pit around home plate. I took the hat from Delia's hand and put it on her head, then tickled her ribs quickly. Her shriek of glee nearly caused me to fall over, surprised but laughing, too. We sat on the bench and she climbed in my lap again.
Jimmy eventually got everyone back to the game and since there is no scorekeeping in work-up, everyone just stayed where we were so Andrew and I got away with our double steal. He came over and sat on the ground near the bench, winking at me. He had a mark under one eye, maybe someone kicked him in the face during the dogpile.
Okay, I know I meant to laugh at him but it came out a sort of strangled giggle so he laughed and Delia shrieked again, deafening both of us bigger kids.
"Hogfat!" Andrew shouted. "Kid, you need a muffler." He darted one hand at her belly as if intending to tickle her again which, of course, produced more shrieking.
I covered my ears and she slipped off of my lap to run around chanting, "Hogsfat! Hogsfat! Piggie, piggie, pig!" And then a shriek. Andrew and I laughed.
After Nacho grabbed Delia and told her to not be such a noisy brat, she quieted down and sat in the dirt to play with some of the other little ones. Nacho gave me my hat back again and I put it on carefully, tucking some loose hair up inside.
"I guess you can play a little," said Andrew.
I grinned at him. "You play a lot?"
He nodded. "I'm on a Pony League team back home. We're just here visiting my grandpa."
I realized his accent had more Texas in it than the local version. "I'm in Little League," I said.
"You're little all right. Jim says you're eleven?"
I nodded then thought of something and added, "Well, almost. In a couple of months." No sense letting him know my real age.
He grinned. "I'll be sixteen next month, myself." He laughed and lay back on the dirt. "Man, I love baseball. I want to make it to the Big Leagues."
"Me, too," I said. "Except...."
He looked up. "They don't take girls, not even at second base."
"Rats," I said, like I hadn't already known that.
Andrew laughed. "Don't worry about it, Tinka. In a few years, you're going to be so pretty, you can have a boyfriend who's a star in whatever sport you like. You'll probably end up marrying a Triple Crown winner," he teased.
Yikes. I didn't really intend to stay disguised quite that long. He laughed again, probably at the face I made.
"Maybe you're still too little to care about boys, huh?" he said. "I got a little sister about your age, she went from 'boys, oh, gag' to," and here he did something really funny, fluttering his eyes and pitching his voice up, 'oh! boys!'"
I got the giggles and pulled my hat down over my face.
About that time we heard the crack of the bat and looked up. Mattress hit a long fly ball out to right field, Jimmy ran to get under it and let it fall into his glove. Which meant Mattress went to the outfield and Jimmy was now up. Except Jimmy waved it off and yelled, "Work-up!" meaning everyone move up a position. He went over to center field and Mattress trotted out to right field.
Andrew shook his head. "That Jimmy, he's probably going to grow up to be governor or something."
"He's always trying to make everyone happy. Either a politician or a minister. Priest, I guess, in his case."
"Oh," I said. I looked out toward Jimmy and thought about that.
"You like him?" asked Andrew. He grinned at me and I know I blushed.
Nacho popped out to the pitcher. Another quirk in the rules, pop-ups to the pitcher are just outs, not swaps. Before Nacho headed for the outfield, he rounded up Delia and carried her over to sit next to a slightly older girl who looked to be another sister. "You're supposed to be watching her," he said. The two girls stuck their tongues out at each other and giggled.
What would it be like to have a sister, I wondered. Or be one?
"You're up, Tinka," Andrew reminded me.
I grabbed the too heavy bat and headed to the plate, holding my hat on against a sudden gust of damp-smelling wind.
The first and third basemen came way in, almost halfway to home. With no one on base, it wasn't a risk. Nacho at right and Jimmy at left now moved in to cover the corner bases.
Andrew started laughing behind me. I looked back and he pointed. Mattress had moved in from centerfield to stand behind Luz-Maria, the new pitcher. Tony and Amy, the other two up-players now were laughing, too.
"Five-man infield," said Andrew. "You're a bunting terror, ain't you, Tinka?"
"Her name is Annie," I heard Delia say. Her sister shushed her, and she shushed right back.
Luz-Maria, not the same girl as Luz or Lucy, glared at me. "I'm gonna walk you, you so little," she said, like she was complaining.
"I can't help that," I said.
She tossed the first ball and it bounced on the plate. "Ball one," said Andrew.
I moved to bunt the second pitch then pulled back because it went wide. "Ball two," said Andrew.
"Aw, crap," said Luz-Maria. She threw two more balls and I took my base, trotting out toward Julio, standing near first. He put a fist out and we did a bump. I think I giggled again.
I took a lead off first and Luz-Maria threw to Julio. I dove back to base and Julio touched me on the back of the neck with the ball. "No stealing on my watch, unnastand?" he said.
I just lay there for a moment and giggled at him. I got up and dusted myself off after he threw back to the pitcher. He pretended to try to grab my hat and I pretended to kick him in the shins.
Luz-Maria stood and held the ball for a while, waiting out a big gust of wind. Maybe she didn't wait long enough. When she finally threw the ball, it sort of seemed to hang there in the air, held up by the wind, before it came down near the plate.
Andrew reached out with the long bat and popped it foul. Julio and the catcher ran toward it, trying to catch it in the air. Another gust of wind carried it deep into foul territory, almost to the trees. Everyone gasped when it disappeared into the top of the sump-thing.
"Holy crap," Luz-Maria said and Julio laughed like a dog barking at the mailman. I just stared at him -- that was one weird laugh.
Andrew said some really bad words. "Doesn't that thing have a lid on it?" he asked after he got through cussing. He started toward the sump-thing.
Julio shrugged, pointing at a broken concrete circle lying under one of the trees. It looked kind of like a manhole cover with a rusty iron handle sticking out of it.
Two little kids had been sitting on it earlier. One of them went over and kicked at it. He missed, which was good, it would have hurt his foot. But missing caused him to lose his balance. His friend grabbed him and they both went down, crying.
I figured the ball was dead -- no one was going to tag me out with it in the sump -- so I started over toward the two crying boys to see if they were hurt. Luz-Maria came, too, and we knelt down. "Qué pasa?" she said to the boys. "Are you guys okay?"
"Bien," said one of them and they both giggled so Luz-Maria and I giggled, too.
I saw Delia running toward me with her sister chasing her, so I stood up to catch her. "We winned! We winned! Annie, we winned!" she shrieked.
"We sure did," I said, grabbing her to keep her from starting a new dogpile by jumping on top of the boys lying on the ground.
Jimmy came trotting up. "Game over," he said.
Andrew stared at the sump-thing. "That was our only ball? Hogfat! I'll climb in and get it." He started up the iron loops that made a ladder on the side of the concrete cylinder.
Jimmy touched his arm and motioned toward the clouds that had gotten a lot closer. "No, man," he said. "Flash flood fill that sump up like lightning, man. Fill it up from the bottom, even if the rain is miles away."
"Huh?" said Andrew.
Jimmy tried to explain but I stopped listening; a police car had turned onto the side street and pulled to a stop against the curb, facing the wrong way. I pulled my hat down tighter and started walking around the outside of the crowd, heading back toward the motel.
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