The Man on the Mound
By Tyler Kalmakoff
A pacific coast breeze drifts through the confines of the park, teasing the man with a relief of coolness that leaves as quickly as it comes.
Someone somewhere switches the stadium speakers on; rock music muffles the grunts and cracks, and for a moment the day seems almost routine.
The music stops.
Two women start singing into a microphone next to the stands; a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner begins. When they get to the end, harmonizing about the land of the free and the home of the brave, a bullpen door swings open.
The walk is fateful, and from the bullpen to the mound he trudges.
It doesn't have to be Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. It can be any field, anywhere. It can be the field behind his community grade school, or the field where legends once roamed. But what they all inherit is the loneliest spot in the world: the pitching mound.
On it stands a man. And on it this man can win or lose a game all by his self.
He breathes deep. And like an orchestra of moving parts he rocks, his leg lifts, his arm reaches back with two fingers on the seams of the ball, and all at once—in a flurry—everything moves forward. POP!—the catcher's mitt snaps. Then he resets to do it again, and again, and again.
He is the man on the mound and he'd be damned to have it any other way.
But there is so much more to it than that. So much he doesn't want you to know.
He may grimace, he may curse, he may limp and he may appear to sulk, but, then again, he would do anything for the chance to pump his fist. If only just once.
Up at the plate a batter stands-in; a catcher behind him; an umpire behind him; plastic seats filled with fans behind him—fans everywhere—runners on the bases, players in the field. But to the man on the mound it doesn't matter.
To him the field is empty. To him it is the field behind his community grade school. There are no stands. There is nothing; just him, the mound, the ball, his glove and his calloused fingers, and the brim of his cap to keep out the sun.
There is nothing because he isn't pitching to the obvious.
Longtime Dodgers announcer Vin Scully baritones over the radio broadcast in your car, “He's pitching against time, he's pitching against the future, against age, against ending.”
He's pitching against himself.
Then the moment he's been dreading comes: It's the 9th inning—the last one. Two outs. Two strikes on the batter. The crowd of 36,853 has thinned. A boy eats peanuts with his father; a child sleeps on his mother's shoulder. The third pitch to the batter is fouled away. Over the loud speaker a sound bite of a car window being smashed echoes throughout the ballpark. Laughter in' sues.
But the man isn't laughing, he is just grateful. Grateful and relieved that he gets to throw at least one more pitch.
And so he resets again, for the 100th time in the game. Because despite being the loneliest spot in the world, the most terrifying part to the man on the mound is leaving it. ♦
Photograph by Thomas Huston