The Softball Preview – Short Story by Jim Toner

Gil Leduc was about to lower his wiry six foot four-inch frame into his black Pontiac Grand Am when his cellphone chimed. School had just ended for the day, and he had hoped to watch a cop show before doing his homework.

Who would send me a text message now, he wondered. He looked at his display and saw a message from Liz Manuel, a close friend of his girlfriend and the editor of the Griffon, the school newspaper. The message read: Room 337-911.

A few minutes later he entered room 337 where the students prepared the newspaper. What could be so important, he wondered.

Liz stood behind a desk drumming on a computer. She wore a Niagara University softball pullover and blue jeans.  “Thank goodness, you’re here.”

“What’s up?”

“I need an article about the softball team by first period tomorrow.”

Since the beginning of the school year, Gil wrote sports articles for the school newspaper. He, however, did not like baseball and softball. After all, few people played those sports in France, his native country. “Why can’t someone else write it? You know I can’t stand softball.”

“Gil, please. Stop being such a brat. I promised Mr. Wesley the article. Kim is down with the bug.” Liz was referring to her close friend Kimberly Tanner, another reporter for the paper. “Softball practice starts in five minutes. Please write the article.”

Gil tugged on the bottom of his flannel shirt he left open. “I really don’t know what to write.”

“Just ask Coach Bianca about it. I’m sure he’ll tell you what you can write. “

“Why can’t you write it?”

“Because I’m on the team. I don’t want to be accused of bias.”

About five minutes later, members of Niagara East’s girls’ softball team gathered at the softball diamond.

“To the track,” shouted Coach Bianca. He wore a Seattle Mariner baseball cap and jacket and gray sweatpants. His face looked morose due to a deep frown.

The girls jogged to the quarter-mile track which encircled the football field.

Gil approached the coach. “Hi, Coach Bianca.”

“Who are you?” The coach’s voice reminded Gil of a dog snarling.

“Gil Leduc. I write for the Griffin.”

“Well, that and one dollar will buy you the Niagara Gazette.”

“Liz wants me to write…”

“I don’t care if President Trump wants you to write something. I’m a busy man, and I don’t do interviews.”

“Please. The students want to know about the team.”

“I don’t care what it’s for. Take a hike, young fellow.”

The girls ran four times around the track before jogging back to the diamond. They then did some wind sprints.

Jan Barrio, Gil’s girlfriend, grabbed her mitt. “Pay no attention to him, buddy. I know Lizzie needs that article.”

The coach looked at Jan. “One more peep out of you, and you’ll be running extra laps.”

Gil shook his head. The coach could sure use a personality transplant, he thought.

Jan trotted to the outfield where she then threw pop flies with her fellow outfielders.

The first baseman, second baseman, shortstop and third baseman gathered at the infield where the coach stood next to Tina Valenti, the team’s catcher. He threw to each one of them, who in turn threw to Tina.

A few minutes later each player took her turn hitting off a tee. From what Gil could see Jan, Tina and Jennie Rodriquez, who Jan knew since kindergarten, could possibly hit the most home-runs for the team. Just about every time, these three hit the ball it would travel deep into the outfield. Alyssa Rowe, who Jan met in junior high school, played second base. She jumped up high and grabbed a few balls. She also dove for some and caught them. Maybe all her dance lessons helped her with softball, reasoned Gil. Liz played right field and made a few diving catches out there, as did Jan.

Coach Bianca pointed to Gil. “I thought I told you to leave.”

Liz waved her arms. “Coach, please. I need that article.”

“Coach Haines, lead Manuel to the track. Two more laps from her.”

The short, thin coach brushed back her long, brown hair. As she approached Liz,

she motioned with her hand. “Pay no attention to him. You’re in better hands with me.”

Coach Haines was a coach who related well to the girls, unlike Coach Bianca.

She played a few years prior at Niagara University, where she was an all-star infielder.

Gil had heard stories about tough coaches, but this guy was starting to make Vince Lombardi look like a Salvation Army guy.

The coach tossed his clipboard. “Get out.”

Gil continued to watch the practice from a distance. He watched Chrissy and Sue Casey, who were cousins, pitch to the batters. A few of the batters could hardly hit what they pitched. Alyssa seemed to fare better when the players were told to bunt.

Realizing he could not get any further with the coach, he went home. He still had time to watch a rerun of Major Crimes, one of his favorite police shows.

Later that night Gil sat at his desk finishing his German homework. He rubbed his forehead wondering just what he should write for the article.  Jan called him.

“What’s up with the coach?” asked Gil. “He treated me like I was some double agent.”

“I know what you mean. He’s strictly business. Tina told me she wishes Coach Sutton would never have retired. That’s life I guess.”

“I really don’t know what to write.”

“Tell me what you saw. I’ll help you.”

Gil briefed Jan on what he had observed at practice.

“Not bad, buddy. I’m the number three batter. Jennie bats clean-up, and Tina bats fifth. Sara Baker will lead off since she’s fast and can also hit for power. We expect to hit a fair amount of home runs this year. With Sara, Alyssa, and also Dena Catalano, the shortstop, we expect to steal many bases as well.”

“Thanks. That helps me.”

Gil finished the article before going to bed. He googled the coach’s name. No John Bianca appeared as a past major league baseball player. The coach had supposedly played a few seasons as a back-up catcher for the Seattle Mariners. Gil was beginning to get suspicious. Was the coach a phony?

The next day Gil got a pass from his study hall monitor to go to room 337 where he met Liz. She greeted him with a hug. “Wow! You did great. I couldn’t have written a better article, and I’ve been playing softball since I was eight. Plus, I’m a true softball fan.”

The Mr. Wesley, the Griffon’s faculty advisor, entered the room. “Let me see it.”

Liz handed him the article. The teacher skimmed through it. “Good job, Gil. Looks like I’ve found someone to cover the home games.”

“Are you serious?”

“I am.”

“I’ll do it then.”

Gil was pleased Liz and Mr. Wesley liked the article. He just wished he would find out the real story behind Coach Bianca.

For More From Jim Toner, Visit His Blog HERE

For More About The Lewiston Writers’ Group, CLICK HERE

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