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August, 2008

February 19, 2011

FOR GUYS WHO LOVE THE GAME, THE HARDEST PART IS SAYING, “I QUIT”

His camouflage shirt is dripping with sweat and his arm is throbbing, like a ticking time bomb. “Black Betty”—Ram Jam’s one-hit wonder—blares throughout the park, this pitcher’s cue to gear up. He exits the bullpen, starting out in a stiff power walk before those creaky knees get up to full speed, the equivalent of a light jog. He should have retired years ago, but something just wouldn’t let him—must’ve been his Texas heart, pumping away with that cowboy bravado.

The bullpen’s empty now. It’s the 15th inning, and Tito’s exhausted all his options. His 7.68 ERA looms over the entire stadium, and he can see it in all of them: in the umpires, whose faces are flushed with relief—they’ll be going home soon, and they know it; in the White Sox players, who are itching to get their swings in, grinning at this golden opportunity to pad their stats; and in the fans, who stream for the exits, a rarity for this die-hard bunch.

This pitcher ignores all of this; his pride forces him to.

Born and raised in Midland, Texas, he’s spent forty-four long years on this Earth. And trust me, he’s seen it all. Now he’s just barely hanging on, re-signed this past off-season for strictly sentimental reasons. Out of respect. He’d earned it, you’d have to give him that much.

On the mound he takes a deep breath. Gonna be a long night, he can already tell before even throwing a warm up pitch.

Tek tosses him the ball; the bat boy tosses him a tin. He tucks ball and glove under his right arm, calmly swipes at the little black puck of Skoal Mint Longcut with his index and middle fingers, and packs in a thick horseshoe. “Thanks, kid,” he nods.

The buzz hits him immediately after the fourth warm-up pitch, and his tense muscles relax, the unraveling of an ancient boa constrictor. Pock marks dot his face, but his cheeks feel warm—on fire, almost. He mutters a quick prayer, points to the sky, and kisses the cross on his necklace, then unbuttons the top button of his jersey, revealing an ratty army camo T. If Selig dares fine him, he’ll pay, no questions asked. Bring it on.

Brian Anderson, the White Sox centerfielder, strides to the plate. Anderson is hitting .236, but instead of challenging him—for obvious reasons—Tek is tentative: he sets up on the outer half of the plate and signals fastball.

Back on the mound, the pitcher nods, takes a deep breath, rears back, and pumps an 88 mile-an-hour fastball, which glides across the inner half of the plate. It’s ripped foul. Anderson’s ahead of it. The next pitch, a badly-located cut fastball, is lined into center field for a single.

He wipes the back of his hand across his brow, leaving behind a streak of dirty sweat, and paces around the mound before toeing the rubber. After adjusting his hat, he spits a wad of chew and zeroes in on the next batter: Juan Uribe.

Uribe raps the first pitch down the line for a double. A rain of boos from the crowd. The next four batters are a blur: double, single, single, hit by a pitch. When the damage is done, Tito strides to the mound. Cora’s pitching.

Number 50 stoically retreats to the dugout with long, purposeful strides.  The stragglers in the crowd pepper him with jeers and heckles, but it all fails to register. He’s thinking about one thing, and one thing only: the cold six pack of Bud on ice by his locker. He’ll crack open a couple, pack another lip or two, and watch the rest of the game from here, wondering when—if—he could ever throw in the towel.

I’m not a super hunter. I’m an avid hunter. I enjoy being out amongst God’s creations.—Michael August Timlin

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