Jim arrived at the ballpark early. He was so early that he was the only fan in the stands yet. He had camped out overnight in front of the park in order to be the first one inside on game day. It was a big moment for his hometown team. The Coreville Mammoths were playing a huge wildcard game against their most hated rivals, The Strandberg Stallions. Jim had taken two days off of work to be at the game. It had been over 90 years since the Mammoths had made it to the play-offs and Jim couldn’t imagine missing it. Nothing could stop him from missing the game, not his job, not his wife, absolutely nothing.
The game wasn’t scheduled to start until 7:30 and seating wasn’t supposed to start until 5:00, but Jim had made friends with the managing grounds keeper, Hop Chu. Hop Chu was the only member of the mammoth’s staff that was alive the last time they won a championship. He was a die-hard fan even in his old age, so he understood Jim’s eagerness to get into the park early and get fully settled in his seat. Hop Chu had let Jim in through the employee’s side entrance and warned him to be cool. No matter what happened, to be cool. It was a big deal to be let in so early, so he had to be cool.
Jim thought that was a strange warning from Hop Chu. Jim felt that he was always a cool ballpark patron. He never ripped his shirt off to expose his big beer belly, or harassed the bikini girls that often sat three rows in front of Jim’s season held seats. He was a proud fan and kept score in the program, knew about all the ERA’s and BA’s and trade rumors along with the regular gossip that could help or hinder a ball club. So Hop Chu’s warning seemed almost insulting.
Jim made his way to his seat and set up his drink holder, his Mammoth’s fan gear, made sure his John 3:16 sign was not bent in any way. He finally sat down and looked out at the empty stadium. It was glorious. The grass was plush and green; the infield was perfectly reddish brown. The chalk lines were fresh. Jim could almost smell the pine tar in the air. He took long deep breaths of it and was reminded of his own little league days of glory.
The weather was gray and overcast for the game. The stadium lights were already on over the field, giving the whole place an ethereal feel. Jim felt like this really was his church. His safe place. His refuge in the storm. It was where he felt his best. Plus he knew his team wouldn’t let him down this time, not like they had for the last 90 years. Jim looked up to heaven and said a little baseball prayer in his head then mumbled a quiet, “Amen,” out loud.
“What’s that you say,” asked an old man, three seats over from Jim’s.
Jim jumped a bit. He wasn’t expecting anyone else to be in the ballpark this early. He thought he was the only one crafty enough to get in good with Hop Chu.
“Oh hey, I didn’t hear you arrive. I was, um…, I was just saying a little prayer for our Mammoths,” said Jim.
“Ah, I see. Well, young man, I hope it was a good prayer,” said the old man.
The old man was wearing a battered Mammoths baseball cap and had a corncob pipe tucked in the corner of his mouth. Jim looked at him and couldn’t help but be amazed at the frailty of the old man. His skin was nearly transparent. Jim could see the blood moving through the veins in his wrinkled old face. He looked like he was made out of paper, wet, thin paper.
“Me too,” said Jim.
Jim opened his fanny pack and made sure he remembered his multicolored pens for the program. Which he had. He looked at his Mammoth’s wristwatch. It was only three twenty-two in the afternoon. So much time to cover before the game got under way. Jim felt his stomach rumble with excitement. He fixed his Mammoth’s hat and rubbed his hands together against the October chill. He’d forgotten his Mammoth’s knit gloves. He thought he’d left them with his wife, but they got in the way of scoring the game anyway.
“Bit of a chill, eh,” asked the old man.
Jim looked up and over at the old man to his left.
“Yeah, a bit. But you know, October baseball, so…...” said Jim
The old man smiled and nodded. The old man pointed up toward the huge overhead lights.
“Look at that,” said the old man.
Jim followed the old man’s arm up toward the lights. Jim squinted his eyes against the bright lights over the right field wall and just for a second thought he saw a baseball fly in front of the lights, as if someone had hit a foul ball. Jim looked down at the field and it was empty. He hadn’t even heard the crack of a bat, or seen any player come out for a little batting practice. He didn’t hear the ball hit the empty upper deck seats, or any sound at all.
“What the heck was that? A Bird,” asked Jim.
“Oh no young man. They’re warming up,” said the old man. A ring of smoke puffed from the end of his pipe.
Jim was annoyed at the old man for smoking a pipe since smoking was banned in the seats four years ago, but he was an old man and there wasn’t anyone else in the stadium so he could be forgiven.
“Who is warming up? There’s no one on the field,” said Jim. He sat forward in his seat, fifth row from third base.
The old man stayed silent and was looking out over the field. Jim figured it was probably a bird that flew in front of the lights and this old man was probably senile as hell. He looked back down at the cover of his program with a picture of the amazing, Jimmy “Jaime” Rodriguez-Alanzo, who had revitalized the Mammoth’s pitching when Jim heard the crack of a bat against a baseball.
Jim looked up at the field just in time for a foul ball to land hard against the plastic seats two rows to Jim’s right. The sound echoed through the empty ball park and made Jim jump. He looked toward the batter’s box. It was empty.
“What the hell…,” said Jim.
“See. I told you. They got a lot of warming up to do. They’re just hitting the ball all over the place,” said the old man.
Jim looked around the ball park to see if someone was playing a prank on him, maybe one of those hidden camera shows or something to embarrass regular people. He didn’t see any cameras or other folks around.
Another sharp crack of the bat against a ball and Jim looked back toward the field. He just caught a glimpse of a blurred backswing near home plate. A ball then hit the center field upper deck railing and tumbled to the lower decks below. The noise echoed less as there was the gentle sound of what seemed like, cheering starting to roll through the stadium. The old man stood up and was weakly clapping, as if someone was rounding the bases. Jim couldn’t see anyone on the field again.
“What’s going on guy,” asked Jim as he started to stand up.
“I told you. They just needed a little warm up and they’ll be right as rain,” said the old man.
“Who? Who needed to warm up,” asked Jim.
“The team. The Mammoths. They needed to warm up. Don’t you see them out there,” asked the old man as more pipe smoke circled around his old hat.
“I don’t see anybody mister,” said Jim.
The old man sort of frowned and sat back down. He rubbed his chin and took the pipe from his mouth.
"I thought you were a big fan,” said the old man.
"I am a big fan. The biggest. I just, I just don’t know what’s… what’s going on here,” said Jim as he looked around the park again.
“Right. The biggest fan,” said the old man.
Jim felt insulted. This old man had scowled at him and made him feel like a jerk for not being in on the gag.
“Hey old man, I don’t see anything going on out there and I know you or some Allen Funt type jackass is just screwing with me because I’m here four hours before the game. So you can just quit it,” said Jim.
“Do you miss your wife,” asked the old man.
Jim stopped his scanning of the stands. He looked at the old man. The old man had turned his withered body and was facing Jim.
“What the hell are you talking about old man? Shut up,” said Jim.
“Answer the question, do you miss your wife,” continued the old man.
“Hey. Buddy. I know you’re old but I don’t want to have to come over there and shut you up,” said Jim.
“You couldn’t lay a finger on me, wuss,” said the old man, “Where’s your wife?”
Jim started to get up out of his seat. No man, old or young, was going to talk to Jim that way. There was another crack of a bat. A baseball streaked across the field and Jim just had second to duck out of the way as the ball smashed into the seat next to his. The old man was laughing.
“She’s got a hell of a swing,” said the old man. Smoke rings puffed from his pipe and the air was filling with mist. Jim straightened himself and started moving toward the old man.
“What do you mean, She,” asked Jim.
The old man pointed toward the field. He pointed at home plate. Jim waved some of the thickening smoke away from in front of his face. At home plate was his wife, head caved in from where Jim had struck her with his collectors bat. She was standing in the batter’s box, in her robe still, covered in blood, holding the bloody bat. She took a practice swing and squared her shoulders. A ball came from the fog now covering the mound and she rocketed another ball straight at Jim in the stands. He dove out of the way as the ball slammed into the concrete steps just inches from his feet.
“What the hell! What the hell! What the Hell,” shouted Jim.
The overhead speaker system came on and the old man’s voice echoed through the stadium.
“Now batting, number one, Mrs. Jim Cobbbbbbbbbbb…….”
Jim stumbled over the steps leading to his section and looked over his shoulder. His wife, Jane, spit blood into the reddish infield dirt around the batter’s box. She tightened her grip on the bloody bat and swung. Jim stumbled back as the ball shot right past his face. He could feel the seams of the ball just graze him. He screamed and started to run toward the exit. He dropped his Mammoth hat, his colored pens spilled from his fanny pack.
Hop Chu stood at the front gate, there were two policemen standing with him. Jim ran toward them, arms waving, shouting, “Take me in! Save me! Save me! I did it! I killed her! I killed her! She wouldn’t let me come to the game! She wouldn't let me! She didn’t understand!”
Jim was tackled by the two police officers as he crashed through the turn style. They threw him to the ground and placed the handcuffs on him.
“You’re under arrest for the murder of Jane Cobb,” said one cop with his knee in Jim’s back.
“Go Mammoths,” screamed Jim, “GO MAMMOTHS!”