I’m going to be working on portraits this year, and abstract portraits at that, when possible. Portraits are not a genre I’ve done much with previously, so this will be a process …
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He walked onto the field on a warm March afternoon under a painfully blue sky, tentatively but nonetheless with confident airs. Some of the established players, the ‘stars’, sneered as he did, and he knew they did, but he ignored it. Once he determined where the ‘walk-ons’ were to report he strolled across the field like he owned it, a slight smile, to the coach holding the clip board, logging players in.
The coach stared at him like he was nuts. He was short, slight, skinny, walking in shoes likely also used for everything from yard work to attending class and carrying a worn mitt that looked barely heavier than cardboard. He gave his name as “Smith”. The coach asked if he had a position. “Up the middle,” Smith told him, “Short and Center.”
“Those are tough positions,” the coach told him. The team’s two best players, both conference all-stars returning for their senior years, played short stop and center field.
“I got ‘em,” Smith said, and he meant it.
The shortstop and center fielders heard that, nearby tossing a ball back and forth, and traded malevolent smirks. They’d both already been embarrassed by Smith since he showed up at school just a few weeks ago. His family, they thought, were some kind of migrant temps, living in subsidized housing. Smith sat himself two seats away from the shortstop in algebra class on his first day when a test was scheduled, and the teacher told him he didn’t have to take it as he just got there and hadn’t studied, but he did anyway. The shortstop hated math of any kind. His mother had helped him study the night before, as much as that was possible given the shortstop’s wandering attention. When the grades came back the shortstop had a C-minus. Smith had an A-plus. “Have you already had this class at your last school?” the teacher asked him.
Smith said, “Not this exact one, I just like math.”
The same sort of thing happened in an economics class with the center fielder the next week, a pop quiz, which the center fielder flunked, which Smith aced, and the teacher embarrassed the center fielder by asking if he’d been paying attention at all, at which the center fielder made the class laugh by telling a joke. Which Smith had ignored.
So the check-in’s accomplished, the dozen returning from the year before and the score-plus hoping to make the team, the coach set up fielding trials. Right off, Smith began gobbling up ground balls like a terrier sucks up treats. A shot up the middle, to the other side of second base, and Smith was right there. A roller into the hole under the third baseman’s mitt and Smith gathered it from the outfield grass, spun and threw a bullet to first in one motion and the assistant coach actually dropped his glove and rubbed his hand in pain after catching it. Coach and he traded glances. “You can play center too?” coach asked, and without saying a word Smith trotted out there. Coach tossed the ball into the spring-scented air and whacked it with his fungo bat. It towered deep to the warning track, and Smith sauntered over and camped under it like it was nothing. Coach began spraying the ball all over the outfield; Smith caught every single one. Basket catches, over-the-shoulder jobs, diving grabs, covering huge swaths of ground with incredible speed. Smith seemed to contort his body into whatever form was necessary to get the ball to fall into his mitt. The ‘star’ players watched with mouths agape as Smith demonstrated what none of them could accomplish. “Throw this next one home”, the coach called and hit it deep into center. Smith caught it, took one step, and fired a rocket on a straight line back to coach. By now both coaches were salivating – a natural player and a straight-A student they wouldn’t have to coddle. “Can you pitch?” the coach asked.
Smith said, “Of course I can pitch. But maybe I’d better hit first.”
Coach, who’s spent a couple years in the low minors as a pitcher, moved to the mound. Smith picked up one of the heavier bats, so coach’s first pitch was an 88-MPH fastball coach expected Smith to swing late on. Smith drilled it over the left field fence; not only not late but almost too early as he’d pulled it down the line. Now coach’s mouth was gaping. A couple more fastballs, same deal over the fence, and Smith had adjusted his timing and sent the balls over the center and right field fences as well. Coach tried inside, outside, high, low. Then he sent Smith a breaking pitch; Smith let it go by, let the bat casually swing off his shoulder as he reset, and smirked. Coach delivered another breaking pitch but used a different spin and sent it a little outside, only it hung just that little bit. Smith sent it into orbit. It finally came down a hundred yards beyond the center field fence and bounced onto the boulevard beyond, barely missing passing vehicles.
The team’s ‘stars’ traded terrified sideways glances. It was the end of their worlds. They’d spent the cold winter believing they were the best players in school, cocks of the walk, destined for the Majors, and now in the warmth of Spring sunshine they cast only ordinary shadows. Egos deflated. They were supplanted on the field; they were supplanted in the classroom. Would girls be next? Nothing was real, now. Things would never, ever be the same again no matter what happened, even if the ground opened up and swallowed Smith whole.
And, in fact, that night, it did. When Smith returned to his family’s subsidize home, his father was waiting to announce he’d found a new position a state over, and by 9p they had packed their belongings, loaded their old vehicle, and rolled out. They never saw him again.
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BTW: The photo art and prose included in any given post are separate creations and rarely have anything to do with each other. Duality and such …
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.