The phone rang again. No one moved so the visitor took it upon himself to answer. He listened for a moment and then hung up.
Who’d they want, said one of the pitchers.
None of you, said the visitor. He called to say none of you are fit for the purpose at hand. He has chosen the one called La Tortuga.
That mean we’re off the hook?
No. Your fate is entwined in his. Should he allow any runs, all of you must answer for the indignity.
They watched benumbed as Tortuga indolently and repeatedly lobbed the ball skyward in such a fashion so as the batter had time to ruminate on each bloodred stitch and its function in perpetuating the ball’s arc toward his lumber, each revolution drawing it that much nearer to its violent and predestined lot. And yet.
The first two batters made outs and the bullpen thought its deliverance was at hand. Then: three straight misses to the next batter. On the fourth the batter propelled the ball for a home run into the same spot in the smoldering ashes as the one moments earlier.
The visitor turned to the pitchers. It is done. I will give you a choice: to perish under the blade or the cudgel.
Whoa there, said one of the pitchers. That one shouldn’t count. That was on 3-0.
The pitcher went on to explain some recondite edict that decreed that batters should not swing in a situation such as this so as not to give offense to their opponent.
The visitor started to say this fiat was without warrant when he was interrupted by a stir on the field, as Tortuga heaved a fullspeed ball at the next batter, striking him on his backside.
Both teams spilled from their benches and bullpens to meet each other on the field of battle, faceless hordes unconstrained now that nothing of value was at hazard. The visitor and his mount quickly descended upon this legion of horribles, causing them to part and then to listen as the visitor pulled the reins.
This absurdity exists without my consent, he said. The run that just scored means I will now exact my requital.
Hold on. The voice came from a decrepit man, a revenant — the visiting team’s manager. I caint let you do that. That round fella had every right to do what he did. The batter had it comin.
Was the target not one of your own, the visitor asked.
The manager explained that yes this was true, but that he had long ago sworn a blood oath to protect the esoteric precepts that governed all man’s actions on the baseball diamond and that violating them would be like admitting that the common denominator of the universe was not harmony but chaos.
The visitor contemplated the madness that surrounded him and decided it was no longer worthy of his craft. He rode out headed east with the dustveiled sun sinking behind him and vowed to himself that those who were practicing kicking footballs at Vikings OTA’s would not be so fortunate.