It was the bottom of the fifth, during the Winkton Wingtips/Puttingham Red Sox game—just as the horizon treated the fans of Henkin Stadium to a dreamy pink backdrop—that Jimmy Spencer stepped up to the plate for the Wingtips.
Bill Hargis made the call from the booth.
“Hey Wingtip fans, remember that Thursday is WPD night, so come out and support those who protect and serve…Here we go…Jimmy Spencer to the plate…”
For twenty-seven years Bill had been the voice of the Wingtips on WRJC, 1060 The Light. It wasn’t ESPN, Bill knew as much, yet he managed to grab the fan by the ears–both purist and casual–so that whoever tunning in could picture that glowing sky, take in that popcorn in the stands.
Jimmy fouled the pitch off to the right. Fouled the next pitch left. Jimmy took his time getting back to the plate, digging in, working at something with his cleats while Bill stroked the canvas, painting the picture for the fans at home. An insurance guy by day, Bill’s voice took on a deep, folksy cadence with each swing, perfectly timed to the smack of the ball in the mitt. He worked wonders between the innings, weaving folksy, homespun tales that could cover the longest of rain delays.
But today, there were no tales. There was no magic. No popcorn. Only a deep, hardly audible sigh beneath the nighttime whir of AM radio. “Jimmy back in the box…bat up, butt out, looking to score…just as he has so many times with my wife….the pitch…”
Another smack of bourbon. Jimmy fell victim to a sharp curveball.
“Whoosh. Jimmy goes down faster than my wife at the Econo Lodge. Listen, folks, if you’re looking for a deal in lawn care, just remember, Franklin Lawn Care has got you covered. All four seasons. Call today or check out their Facebook page…”
Puttingham homered in the sixth, pulling away in the seventh, Bill Hargis, troop leader, youth minister, play-by-play announcer, managed twenty-two FCC infractions while referring to Mrs. Hagis and her insatiable feats of infidelity with no less than five batters.
“Ooh, the crowd didn’t like that call…” Bill deadpanned in the eighth, glancing across long stretches of empty bleachers. Some gray hairs chewing peanuts. “They’re downright feisty tonight.”
The top of the ninth got underway. Bill loosened his tie. “Folks what you may hear is the glass window being opened in the broadcast booth…”
Footsteps above the diehards behind home plate. Bill, roaming around up there, fingertips touching as he spoke. “See folks, I’m a man out of options. But don’t let that happen to you, slide by Pittman Plaza for all of your shopping needs. Okay, Burgman at bat…”
And old habit, even with his loafers at the ledge of the new grandstand, Bill Hargis—the consummate professional, was still plugging the sponsors. Out on the diamond, young men craned their heads, shielding their eyes with their gloves. The first base coach was pointing up to the deck. “Hey, what’s Bill doing up there?”
Heads turned to the man contemplating a jump—a plunge of maybe seventy feet tops, a distance that might to the trick or could just break a neck, certainly a leg. Bill, still with the headset, the cord snaking through the open window, gave the players a farewell salute. Spoke to the porches.
“Seems to be some commotion on the field. Play stopped momentarily. I’ll take this lull to mention that this is my final appearance folks. But first let’s all stand for the National Anthem. We can still do that, right, take a stand? Okay, tell you what, so long as we keep that anthem going I’ll stay right here, standing up, remembering what it means to make a commitment.”
Compelled by such a desperate request, the sound guy cued the National Anthem. Bill placed his right hand over his bourbon stained heart, swaying some as the song hit its stride.
When it did, the door to the luxury suite swung open. An attractive but frantic middle-aged woman rushed out, knocking a tray of popcorn from a cart as she scrambled for the broadcast booth. Her face was flushed and her makeup smeared. Trailing behind her was Marty Henkin, the withered owner of the Wenton Wingtips, looking winded with his shirtails flapping, his belt loose.
Henkin Stadium came alive. The diehards, hats over their hearts, attending to the flag while anthem played on. Security crashed the gates, unsure whether to storm the roof or freeze and fulfill patriotic duty. Two firetrucks had clogged the parking lot, while a shaky rookie cameraman zoomed in on the guy on the rooftop, hoping ESPN would pick up the story.