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By Dennis Carlson
I got to play a lot of softball in the Navy. We played softball with a lot of beer. We had leagues but often played pickup games with visiting reserve units.
The reservists had a pretty good gig. One weekend a month and two weeks a year they lived as we did year round and then went back home. The limited time they spent together seemed ideal to me. If they had a problematic crewmate they’d go home soon enough and could forget about them.
Or so I thought. Apparently the unit we played against in Puerto Rico in 1983 had a different view. They really didn’t like their captain. I found out how much when I became the instrument of his karma.
It started well enough. We were ahead by 11 beers when the captain showed up and demanded to play pitcher.
After a short delay our big first baseman hit a liner between first and second and made it to first without getting lost. I was next. The pitch came and I swung for the fence. The ball blasted straight toward the hapless pitcher. It skipped off the dirt like a Phantom jet on a missed approach and hit him right in the mouth. It sounded like a watermelon hitting concrete. Time slowed as the ball plowed through his mug like a meteor.
I can still see his contorted face and the mist of snot and blood that hovered around his head like a halo. The skin of his face seemed to cling to the ball like it didn’t want it to leave after the sudden introduction. Then the ball careened off over the dugout. He stretched out mid-air and hovered there for a moment before plunging to the dust with a thud.
The damage was obvious as he lay there spouting blood into the air. His face had taken on a pear shape. One side was clearly double the size of what it had been.
His nose was piggish-looking and a tooth stuck straight out from his fat swollen lips. He made noises like a percolator.
Now came the strange part. One by one, his players came off the field, not to check on him, but to shake my hand, slap me on the back, and say thanks. I didn’t know what to do. I hope when karma catches up with me it’s in a good mood.
After working for the railroad all the live-long day, Denny Carlson sometimes is struck by the inspiration to share his view of the world in words. Sometimes it’s a fastball, sometimes it’s a curve. But mostly, it’s a knuckleball. If you’d like to send a note back at him, the last we heard email was still getting through to Holt. Write him at email@example.com.