The ear crunching chords of heavy metal music shattered the quiet, Kansas evening. The music crackled a bit, coming as it did from old, creaky speakers. When these speakers were designed, heavy metal hadn’t yet been invented. It was no wonder the rhythmic bass and electric guitars strained their mechanical limits.
Karin jerked awake and sat up straight in bed. From her bedroom on the second floor of the farm house, the music roared into the dark corners and echoed off the walls.
Say your prayers little one,
Don’t forget my son
To include everyone
Karin threw back her covers. A faint light was filtering in through her bedroom windows. The ballpark! Karin grabbed her bathrobe from the chair by her bed and shrugged it over her shoulders as she ran down the stairs.
I tuck you in
Keep you free from sin
‘Til the sandman he comes
When she was a little girl, Karin’s father Ray plowed a corner of his cornfield and built a ballpark. At first it was a left field only, finely manicured Bermuda grass and a rickety old section of grandstand. Over the summer he labored and tilled and planted and painstakingly built a baseball diamond. Just across sagging chain link fences and creaking bleachers, tall ears of Iowa corn reached to the starry skies.
Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight
The screen door banged against the door frame as Karin breezed out of the house. Her bare feet slapped against the brown dirt path that led from the front door to the left field seats. Though her father had long ago completed other sections of the grandstands for spectators, she always sat in left field. It was where the magic had first manifested, and though it had spread, it still always seemed strongest there.
Take my hand
We’re off to never never-land
Karen stomped up the bleacher stairs and sat down, out of breath and staring into the night. Her breasts were heaving as she gulped air. Her flaming red hair was unkept and tangled from sleep and the midnight wind. There, in the centre field wall where on enchanted nights the ghost men walked in to play baseball and out to rest until the next mystical “Play ball!”, a new shimmering baseball player was entering. His cleats shifted from translucent and grey to solid and black as they crunched the dirt of the warning track. Head down, he tucked his glove under his arm, and began to jog from centre field towards the pitcher’s mound.
At first, Karin didn’t know who he was. His pinstripe uniform wasn’t immediately distinct, but then she saw the bold big numbers on his back. 42. Karin gasped. Could it be?
Her gaze remained locked on the new pitcher emerging from the cornfield, but she acknowledged the arrival of her parents with a distracted wave of her hand. Annie, her mother, was an aged, mirror image of her daughter, though her red hair had faded and was streaked with the silver of age. Her father moved with the slow, creaking joints of a lifelong farmer. Though his face was deeply grooved from long days under the summer sun, his smile was still bright.
“Did I hear ‘Enter Sandman’?” he asked, a slight rasp in his voice.
“Yep. I wonder what Joe thinks of ‘modern music’?” Karin replied.
“Is it…?” Ray let the question tail off into a whisper.
Karin just pointed to the pitcher warming up on the mound. He was focused, quick, deliberate in his delivery to the catcher. His number was clearly visible, and though there was no name on the jersey, Ray immediately knew who was making warm-up tosses on his cornfield ballpark mound.
He didn’t so much say the name as breathe it with a holy reverence. From left field, Shoeless Joe lobbed a toss to the centre fielder, and turned to throw the Kinsella family a wink. He had heard Ray’s whisper. Joe enjoyed introducing new players to his magical baseball fans.
Rivera, the greatest closer to ever pitch in organized baseball, was warming up for the 1918 Chicago White Sox in a cornfield in Iowa.
“Watch this, Karin,” Ray said, leaning down from his seat to whisper in his daughter’s ear. “Mariano Rivera is the greatest pitcher to ever close a game. He throws a cutter, primarily. It comes in hard and straight like a fastball and at the last moment cuts hard. He discovered it by accident, they say. Chipper Jones, he played third base for the Atlanta Braves in Mariano’s time, called the pitch a buzz saw. They said Rivera broke more bats in a single season than any pitcher before him.”
Karin listened and watched with rapt attention as Mariano Rivera stood tall on the mound. He stared into the catcher for a brief moment before turning, and hurling a pitch towards home plate. Even from left field, above the crickets and the leathery flapping of corn husks, Karin heard the zip of a baseball, and the loud *snap* of the baseball smacking into the catcher’s mitt.
“Striiiiike one!” the umpire yelled. Mariano simply caught the ball from his catcher, kicked the dirt on the mound, and stood, foot pressed against the rubber, ready to go again.
“If you build it, he will come,” a ghostly announcer once said. Then “he” was Shoeless Joe Jackson. Tonight it was Mariano Rivera, the last ball player to ever wear number forty-two, and the greatest to ever pitch the ninth inning.
Karin smiled. The magic was still alive in the Iowa cornfield.