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5/8/77

May 7, 2022

Three members of the Worcester Birds are speeding along in a large American car. It’s after a day game, a 1-0 win highlighted by six scoreless innings by the team’s aging maestro, Luis Tiant. The three players are headed home, or to what will always be home for one of them and what will be home for just this one strange season for the other two. They’re headed to Northborough, just outside Worcester. They come upon a figure on the side of the road. He holds a large white sign that has on it nothing but that day’s date:

5/8/77

“What kind of a way to hitchhike is that?” the front seat passenger asks.

This is one of the team’s pitcher’s, Bill Lee. Despite pitching well throughout the first few weeks of the season, he’s been used sparingly, which has often put him in a caustic mood, especially when the team’s manager is under discussion. Lee refers to this person, Josh Wilker, as The Ostrich, frequently explaining at some length the idiocy, lack of fortitude, and repulsive appearance of this flightless animal.

“Who’s ever getting a ride with that ridiculous sign?” Lee says now. But the driver, Mark Fidrych, is already slowing the vehicle to a stop.

“He needs a lift,” Fidrych says.

“Christ, you can’t catch a ride to today,” Lee says. “If you aren’t here yet, you never will be.”

The passenger in the back, Dan Thomas, remains silent. The team has been up and down with its pitching, but nearly everyone has been hitting well. The exception is Thomas. He’s been getting quieter and more removed from other team members as his slump persists. Fidrych insisted he ride with him and Lee back to Northborough. Fidrych has been struggling as well, but he seems determined to keep after it until he gets to whatever is on the other side.

“Roll down your window,” Fidrych says to Lee. “Hey there,” he says to the hitchhiker.

“A miracle,” the hitchhiker says. He’s a young, thin man with an intense gaze.

“So where are you headed there, Chief?” Lee asks. There’s a sardonic edge to the question. He eyeballs the sign.

“I was just at 5/7/77,” the hitchhiker says. The flat intensity of his gaze shifts to a glassy-eyed smile.

“You were what?” Lee says.

“Back there.” He motions with the sign toward a nearby road that leads to Boston. “It was . . . “

The hitchhiker’s glassy-eyed smile increases its intensity. He doesn’t finish his thought, or else he’s too busy thinking it to put anything to words.

“Well, get in,” Fidrych says.

“Where are we supposed to take this character?” Lee says.

Fidrych leans closer to his teammate and keeps his voice at a respectful murmur.

“He probably just needs some grub,” he says. “Some rack time.”

“Negative,” the hitchhiker says. “I don’t require sleep. Anyway it is I who will be leading you to the next stop.”

“Yeah? How do you figure that?” The sardonic tone has dropped from Lee’s voice, or most of it has. He’s curious.

“Why else would you have stopped?”

The slumping hitter in the backseat, Thomas, mutters something. Fidrych looks up into the rear view mirror.

“What was that, Sundown?” he says.

“The sign of God is that we will be led where we did not plan to go,” Thomas says.

***

***

Worcester Birds notes, games 19 through 24:

  • G19: L 5-3
    • Tiant roughed up over 5; Geronimo with two hits
  • G20: W 6-4
    • Morgan 2 hits and a home run; Campbell with 2 scoreless innings for the win
  • G21: L 6-3
    • Fidrych shaky; Campbell with 2 more scoreless innings
  • G22: W 8-3
    • Soderholm with 2 home runs; Munson with 2 hits and a homer
  • G23: W 4-3
    • Munson with 3 hits and a homer; Dixon with a strong 7 innings for the win
  • G24: W 1-0
    • Tiant 6 scoreless innings; Morgan home run is his 5th in 7 games

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