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Last Call · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Rafael Martínez steps into the batter’s box with his usual swagger and gives the catcher’s shin guards a little tap with his bat. Just the usual greeting.

Rafael’s a good kid. I remember him from my days in the minors. We kind of moved up together, through double-A and triple-A. Then he made the big time two years ago. I finally got my chance just this season.

“How’s it goin’, Dale?” he asks me, but he’s watching the pitcher.

Out on the mound, Mills still peers in for the sign, shakes his head once, twice. “You must have heard. Right?”

Then the windup, and a fastball, low and in. “Ball, inside.”

Rafael backs out of the box, takes a slow swing, and runs his hand up the bat. “Yeah, I heard. Sorry, man. That’s gotta be rough.”

In the box again, and he twists his heel into the dirt. Runners on second and third, two outs, bottom of the ninth. Rafael’s team is down four. Good young kid, and if that pitcher isn’t careful, Rafael will quickly make it a one-run game. Future of the franchise, they say.

He takes a hack and fouls one into the visitors’ dugout.

So I give the catcher a new ball. “I tell ya,” Rafael says, “that’s what all this is for. If that happened to my mami—” he raises his eyes to the heavens and crosses himself “—I could afford to have twenty-four seven care for her. No problem.”

The catcher sets up outside. Then the pitch—a curveball, it skips in the dirt, and Rafael swings halfway. As soon as the catcher grabs it, he points down the third base line, so I do, too, and my crew chief, Doug, holds up a clenched fist.

“That’s a swing. Strike two.” Another new ball.

Rafael sends a glare down that way, then unfastens and tightens his batting gloves. “C’mon,” he mutters.

There’s an underlying truth: umpires are the enemy. “You don’t have to retire, Dale. I mean, umpires don’t get paid too bad. Hiring a nurse shouldn’t be a problem.”

He’s right. But it also means I’ve saved enough to do what I feel I need to.

Mills keeps shaking his head at the signs his catcher flashes him, and soon enough, the catcher pops out of his crouch and heads for the mound to talk things over.

“Y’know,” Rafael says, “if you ever need anything from me, please ask. I’d do whatever I could.”

Lots of people say that kind of thing, but how many ever actually take them up on the offer? Thing is, I think he would. I think he’d really help me.

“We go way back,” he adds.

“I know. Thanks, Raffy, but it’s just the kind of thing I feel like I have to handle myself, y’know?” He wouldn’t have said all that with the catcher still here. And we don’t have any of those microphones around the plate that the TV crew likes to set up. It wouldn’t sound right for a player to offer help to an official.

I don’t think he’s ever met my wife. But when she had that stroke last month, I…

She was the one who encouraged me. She told me not to give up, that I’d make the majors, that talent rises. I can’t give up on her now. And I can’t pay someone else to be the one who doesn’t give up on her.

I have to do this myself. I owe it to her.

She’s not getting any worse, but not any better, either, and someone has to help her do all the things she can’t anymore. And I won’t let a stranger fill that role.

The ball snaps against the catcher’s glove, and… shit, I wasn’t even looking. But the catcher doesn’t bother trying to hide the fact that he had to reach way to his right for it. “Ball two, outside.”

“Shame, though,” Rafael says. “You finally get to the bigs this year and have to go.”

Yeah, future of the franchise. Last day of the season, and no playoffs for them this year, not even close, but next year. Raffy’ll get ’em there. He’s that good. And I’ll tune in for every game.

Then the catcher returns. A slider, just nicked the outside corner. “Three!” I bark.

The visiting team converges on the mound and jumps and hugs and laughs and smiles.

Rafael’s quirked eyebrow says it all: “Really?”

And just as quickly, I’m the enemy again.
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#1 ·
· · >>Fenton
I’ll have to abstain on this one. I don’t know anything about baseball, nor am I motivated to learn. It’s just a game that I couldn’t care less about. As a result, this story simply left me totally unconcerned.
#2 ·
· · >>Zaid Val'Roa >>Monokeras
Another that'll go:

At or near the top of my ballot. But could someone tell me what the title's supposed to be? All I see is a rectangle with a couple litle marks inside it...

#3 ·
· · >>Monokeras >>Haze
>>Baal Bunny
It's a reverse K, I'm told. No idea what it means.
#4 ·
· · >>Haze
>>Baal Bunny
>>Zaid Val'Roa
Cassius told me it’s supposed to mean something in baseball, like strikeout or whatever. It’s a symbol reminiscent of the lines drawn on the pitch.
#5 · 5
>>Zaid Val'Roa
It's a strikeout, marked backwards only when the batter didn't swing at the 3rd strike.
#6 ·
Count me with >>Monokeras here, I don't care at all about baseball, so I'll abstain.
#7 · 1
I know how to play baseball, but I'm not a fan of conversations. I abstain.

well written.

I have no idea what it means.

I guess it's kinda weird that they're having a conversation in the middle of a Major League game, but I guess I can roll with that. I want to say that you don't need to know anything about baseball to read this fic, but I'm not 100% sure on that. Maybe it's just a clever way to work in the prompt without having a conversation in a bar, so I'll give it credit for at least being different. Though the mysterious backwards K title makes me wonder if it's meant to be more significant than that? The strikeout is an important metaphor for.... for....

The conversation about the wife is maybe a little too coy at first, but then it spells everything out halfway through. Not that I have a problem with it, but I don't really feel anything about it, not forming a connection with this narrator. He has some internal tension, but it feels very distant to me. It's not overcome with a narrative arc, but it doesn't make for much of a revelation at the end either. This is sort of a slice-of-life, but it's not a successful one to me. There's hints at the umpire's backstory, but he's not interesting enough to relate to.

Maybe it's because the baseball game going on is a little distracting. The "umpire as the enemy" thing stands out, but I can't figure out how it ties into the theme.
#8 ·
Not much to say about my own piece. The prompt just got me in the mind of calling balls and strikes for the last time, but it's not a topic most people here would know much about. Not that you have to, really. The umpire's issues with his wife don't hinge one bit on any understanding of baseball, but understanding what he's giving up for it does take knowing what it takes for him to get into the position he has. in any case, I wrote this very quickly and didn't edit, so I 'm surprised it did as well as it did. It didn't finish much higher than I figured. After seeing the finalists list, I was guessing I'd get 5th, and hey, I did! But I thought georg's and possibly devas's would have finished higher. And I did exactly what I advise others not to and pick a title that's not easy to decipher. For those who don't know (which is about everyone), "K" is the notation used in baseball for a strikeout, and it's written backwards when it was a called strike, i.e., the batter didn't swing at a pitch he should have.

In any case, time to post the rest of my reviews.