ZZZZZZZZZ! (Chapter Three of the Novella, “Ducky”)

{some strong language}

ZZZZZZZZZ!

There was a big crowd for a girls’ softball game. Nobody ever went to girls’ softball games. But attending a girls’ softball game when Joni Donald batted was a whole new experience.

Clarisse and Robin arrived after the game had started and Clarisse, who knew the game, quickly surmised that it was the bottom of the first inning and Lake Washington was at bat. She had a light stadium blanket around Robin as the breeze was cool and rain misted but not enough to stop the game. This was western Washington. If you waited for the rain to stop, then you waited forever.

“There’s some space in the bleachers right here,” Clarisse said and they sat on the second row near bottom overlooking the roof of the dugout. They were near the home team on-deck batter’s circle. They sat and Robin cuddled in close to Clarisse. She smiled and put her arm around the diminutive girl.

“You know that stuff we talked about on the way to the Target store to get me clothes? I really don’t want to tell Ducky about my foster homes,” Robin said looking up at Clarisse.

“She doesn’t have to know anything you don’t want her to. That’s totally between you and her.”

“But when you put in that paper for the emancipation everything is… well…”

“The shit’s going to hit the fan?”

“Ha! I didn’t expect you to say something like that.”

“Robin, I’ve defended men all my career and I’ve heard it all. I’ve been in some low places. I’ve been into the prisons, the shanties, the wharf houses, and every poverty-stricken project in several counties. Men prisoners, even in County lock-up, tell me what they want to do me and they’ve even thrown their ejaculate at me. A woman in a suit is treated several steps down than a man in the same suit.”

“Daaaang,” Robin said. “You’ve paid some dues.” Clarisse nodded.

The visiting team, the Renton High Indians, batted first and earned two hits and left a runner on first at the top of the inning. Now, at the bottom of the first, the first batter up for Lake Washington was Mirins Insinna, a scrappy little Indian-American girl with curvy hips who played short stop and usually got a base hit. The game was fast-pitch. It was as hard as a ball game can get, as hard as any man’s game. Mirins knocked some dust off her cleats, pulled on her long black ponytail for luck, then stepped to the plate.

Clarisse yelled, “Get a hit, Mirins!”

“Yeah! Get a hit!” Robin yelled, then muttered, “whatever that is.” Clarisse laughed.

“I didn’t know anything about softball, either, until Ducky came along.”

The crowd around them grew. There were people squeezing onto the bleachers with soda and hot dogs. There were people with microphones and cameras, shoulder mounted television cameras, and fans lined around the backstop.

The pitcher stepped long and pitched. It came right over the plate and Mirin swung. TINK! The bright yellow ball scooted out between the first base player and second. Mirin got on first base easily.

There is a sound that a softball makes when it comes off an aluminum bat like no other thing in sports. It makes a TINK!

More people came and brought their own chairs and the field next to the bleachers filled up with people.

“What is all this? All these news trucks? There’s NBC, FOX, even ESPN. What’s going on?”

“They’ve moved Ducky up in the rotation. She usually bats fourth, but today she’s going to bat second because…well…she’s tied the national record for home runs in a single season and today she can break the record. Everyone is anxious to see her bat.”

Robin looked around, then back at Clarisse, then back at the news woman near them talking to the camera. “I’m not…I’m not sure I can…haaaa,” Robin said quietly.

Clarisse put her arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “Don’t panic. All this will be over once Ducky hits her home run. They will leave.” Robin nodded.

The public-address announcer’s voice boomed out over the field. “Annnd, Ladies and Gentlemen, on deck now, batting for Lake Washington High is Joni Donald!”

The crowd stood and roared!

Everyone waited. Joni finally came out of the dugout with her batting helmet in her hand and waved at the crowd with her arm high above her head. Cameras flashed. She tried to smile but Clarisse knew that she was close to tears. She saw them glistening in her eyes. Joni had sat in the dugout an extra minute to dry her eyes. Then Joni spotted Clarisse and Robin.

“Robin!” Joni shouted and trotted to the backstop and waved Robin down to her. Robin slowly got out of the bleachers. Her and Clarisse went down to talk to Joni. Robin had to kneel some and put her fingers in the mesh to keep from teetering. “I’m so proud that you came,” Joni said. She looked up at her mother helping Robin, with concern.

“Mom?”

“I’m fine, Ducky,” Robin said. Ducky laced her fingers over Robin’s. That’s when all the cameras got close. The anchor woman got close.

Joni kissed Robin between the screen mesh and the world held its breath. The field was silent. The anchor woman for the local ABC affiliate stood wide-eyed, speechless. The girls did a couple small kisses and broke away.

Joni walked to the on-deck circle. The crowd stood and roared again. She put on her dark green batting helmet and picked up two silver and black bats. The Lake Washington Eagles colors were green and black. Today, they wore home-team white. Her jersey was white with green short sleeves and white pants with a green stripe down the legs with a black belt and black socks. She started working the bats around her shoulders and over her head, taking some swings with them from time to time.

“Why is she using two bats?” Robin asked.

“It’s to trick her arms,” Clarisse said. “It will make one bat seem light.”

Ducky put both bats overhead and stretched to the side. “Damn, she’s lean. I though her butt was fat, but that’s muscle. Her shoulders are all muscle. She’s trim and lean, powerful,” Robin said staring at Joni.

Clarisse looked at her out of the corner of her eyes and smiled. “She’s my lioness.”

“Play ball!” the umpire yelled.

The female anchor sidled up to Robin and held a microphone out. “Young lady, Joni’s friend, would you mind answering a few questions?” Since Robin and Clarisse sat at the end of the bleachers, the woman could stand on the ground and talk eye to eye with Robin.

“I’m her guardian in loco parentis and her attorney,” Clarisse said, interjecting herself into that conversation. “And no, you may not.” She turned to Robin. “Okay, Ducky has a tell. When she gets ready to hit, she will twirl the tip of the bat three times. Brett said it looked like a duck’s tail. It will go, twirl, twirl, twirl.”

“That’s why you call her Ducky,” Robin said. Clarisse smiled and nodded.

“Yes! Watch for it, twirl, twirl, twirl.”

“Ducky? I’m Denise Bateman from KIRO 7,” another reporter asked squeezing in, “are you Joni Donald’s mother?” Clarisse answered that she was. “Ducky Donald! It fits. Can I ask you about this tell? You said, twirl, twirl, twirl?” Clarisse let her interview her for a few questions.

At the plate Joni kicked the dust off her cleats and got into her stance.

“Hey, Duck. How you like sucking face with that Puerto Rican skank?” the Renton High catcher asked. Poomp! The ball hit the catcher’s mitt.

“Strike one!” The umpire yelled. The crowd booed. The catcher laughed. The catcher raised up a little at threw the ball back to the pitcher. “Damn, don’t get shook up, Duck. I wouldn’t mind getting a taste of her stuff myself. You have had your tongue in that, right Duck?”

Joni couldn’t see the pitcher for the flood of tears in her eyes. She whacked her bat down on home plate and stepped back. Clarisse and Robin stood. Oh, no! Clarisse thought. She instinctively opened her purse for Kleenex.

“Time!” the umpire yelled. The catcher laughed. Joni looked at the umpire.

“Do something about her mouth!” Joni yelled. “I don’t need any more trouble at school!”

Joni walked over to her coach. “Do something about her mouth!” Pointing with her bat.

The coach went to the umpire. The umpire had heard every word. The umpire called over Renton High’s coach. Things heated up, then the umpire threw the catcher out of the game with a harsh warning to Renton high’s coach about sportsmanship. The girl threw her face guard down and then her chest guard. She turned and flipped off Joni who continued to warm up in the batter’s circle. Some people clapped, some booed. There were mumblings in the bleachers that Joni could get a person thrown out because of her status. They didn’t know.

The new catcher finished warming up and Joni looked up at Robin. Robin smiled. Clarisse said, “Forget her, knock it out of here!”

Robin said, “Yeah, knock it out of here.” Her face was all serious. Joni chuckled. She knew Robin had no idea.

The news person continued to talk to the camera, “…Ducky Donald. The tip of the bat will twirl three times…”

“Play ball!” the umpire yelled.

Joni stepped to the plate. She looked back over her shoulder at Robin. “I’m hittin it outa here,” she said.

The ball park grew eerily silent. It was like there was a volcano rumbling deep under the bleachers. She turned and faced the pitcher. She set her shoulders in her stance and focused on the neon yellow ball.

“The other team’s coach is making a big mistake here,” Clarisse said.

“How is that?” the reporter asked standing near.

“It’s her set. She’s coiled like a snake. They should walk her right now. The other team, they don’t realize how strong she is,” Clarisse said.

The pitcher went into her wind-up. She let go of the pitch perfectly, below her hip and straight with her elbow. It flew hard and fast straight at the middle of the plate. Ducky’s arms rose slightly for her back swing. She lifted the bat.

“Watch. WATCH!” Clarisse yelled, “THERE IT IS! TWIRL, TWIRL, TWIRL!”

POW!

ZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

“HOLY MOLY!” The park announcer screamed over the PA system. If everyone could have seen Ducky swing in slow motion they would have seen her curl the bat down and level off in a swing so flat they could have put a carpenter’s level on it and the bubble would have been dead plumb. It only took a second for the ball to jump off the sweet spot on her bat and scream over the fence for a home run.

But the ball did not arch down. The ball continued to rise! Everyone stood and shielded their eyes straining to see the ball. They could not because the ball disappeared.

Robin stood up slowly chewing on a chocolate bar and a scene of her and Ducky standing in front of the trophy cases in the High School popped into her head. Ducky told her, “I play first base for the softball team, and I bat like a wild woman. You should come…”

“She wasn’t joking,” Robin muttered.

“What was that?” Clarisse asked.

“Nothing,” Robin said. She, along with everyone else grew quiet.

Ducky rounded second base and slowed, looking out across the fence. The crowd cheered for a while, then stopped. Her team met her at home plate. They team all high-fived her.

The public-address system came to life, the man asked, “Where did the ball go?”

A second later something landed on a car. Wirp, Wirp, Wirp. And the car’s lights flashed. A piece of the ball had bounced off the hood of a car in the High School parking lot – a football’s field length from the home run fence. People with cameras ran down the hill.

Once the crowd realized what happened, they started clapping. The news crew started chanting. Duuucky, Duuucky, Duuucky, Duuucky!

Crowds gathered. The umpires cleared the field. One of the grounds keepers retrieved a tape measure on a large spool and started measuring from home plate to the spot where the piece bounced off the car, but they ran out of tape and had to send someone after another spool. Officials ran down the hill toward the parking lot. The news person broke away from Clarisse and Robin and ran behind them. They photographed, diagrammed, measured, and recorded the distance.

The officials moved the game to an adjacent field. More news people arrived from all the major networks. It turned out that the softball had flown to pieces. The trail of softball parts was roped off with yellow crime scene ribbon by order of the Superintendent of Schools until it could be officially verified by The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). This was a world record.

The game resumed play after both coaches huddled with their players and told them to calm down and pay no attention to what just happened and focus on the game. The Renton Warriors’ coach intentionally walked Ducky Donald every time at bat for the rest of the game, amidst boos from the home town crowd. But that did not stop the crowd from chanting, “Ducky! Ducky! Ducky!” whenever it was her turn at bat. Joni laughed.

The name caught on fast. The Lake Washington Eagles won that game 7 to 1. Joni’s two run homer in the first inning was the highlight, of course. She also made a couple great saves at first on some badly thrown balls, but the team has come to expect that from her. To hers, and Clarisse’s and Robin’s surprise, the family was met by representatives from ESPN after the game. They escorted the family to a tent they erected for a quick press conference, if it was good with mother, of course. All the national news organizations were there and they held their breath until Clarisse gave the nod. She searched her purse for extra Kleenex.

They filed into the tent, Robin first, then Joni, then Clarisse. They sat at the table, cameras flashed and TV cameras zoomed in on them.

There were whispers in the room as they entered. Joni shed the jersey and wore her sleeveless team tank top.

“Look at her. Her physique. That girl is big and buff!” Cameras flashed.

“Give us one of these, Ducky! Bring your fists over your head like this!” the reporter said and did a double fist pump over his head. Joni grinned and pumped her fists over her head. The cameras flashed so fast it was like one long white light.

“Now turn around and do it again. Show us your back!”

Joni turned and pumped her arms up stronger than before.

The crowd applauded!

“Those arms and shoulders!” the reporter said.

“Are you training to box?” another reporter threw that out to her.

“Thinking about USA Boxing, you know, for the Olympics,” she replied.

“Do it!” a reporter yelled.

“Alright, alright, we’re going to get started here,” a man said as he walked into the tent. Another man followed with a microphone on a boom and wearing headphones. Joni sat at the table and scooted her chair.

“You’re on in five, four, three, two, and go!”

“Good evening, everyone, this is Les Neal reporting from Seattle, Washington, Lake Washington High, where upcoming superstar, Joni Donald has just gone into the high school, and possibly the world record books for the longest hit softball. And I’m telling you, when I say longest hit, it was by miles, the longest hit ball I have ever seen. Now we’ve learned that Joni has a moniker. Joni? If we may?”

She leaned into the microphone. “It’s okay sir, it’s out now, so go ahead,” she said smiling.

She’s not crying! Clarisse thought. She looked down the table at Robin. Robin pointed at her eyes and shrugged. She noticed it, too. Is Ducky enjoying this?

“They called you, Ducky. Ducky Donald.”

“Yes, that’s right. It’s not new. Um, I’ve been called Ducky at home almost all my life. It just now came out,” she said and worried about her choice of words. She squeezed Robin’s leg under the table and a tear fell down her cheek and she sniffed. Clarisse nodded and handed her a pack of Kleenex. There they come. She tried to be strong.

She wiped a tear.

“She’s cries easily. Duck? Do you want to stop?” Clarisse asked. She shook her head. She wiped her eyes with the Kleenex.

The room hushed. “We’ll start with the Associated Press.”

“David Harris, Associated Press. Ducky, go slow and tell us about that swing. Walk us through the hit. What went through your mind?”

“I was feeling good, you know. I wanted it. Before I swung, I looked back at Robin and I said, ‘I’m going to hit it outa here’ and then the pitch came and it was sweet, right there, you know, right there where you can just lay back and put your shoulders in it. That’s what I did, I threw my whole body into it. I didn’t think it, I just hit it.”

The reporters were scribbling, looking up at her, and scribbling more.

She continued. “The swing went around and I heard the ball, it made the oddest sound. The ball went ZZZZZZZZ,” she said and turned her head like she was watching it go.

“Excuse me? The ball went…?”

“It went, ZZZZZZZZZZ,” Joni repeated.

The reporters nodded, “The ball went, zzzzzzzzz.” A couple of them said. Clarisse put her hands over her face.

“Yeah, ZZZZZZZZZ,” Joni said. Robin tried very hard not to laugh.

They scribbled.

“We don’t know much about you, Ducky. How old are you and what grade are you in?”

“I’m fifteen, sir, and I’m a Sophomore. I turn sixteen in May. I have other interests besides softball.”

“Denny Yost, NBC Sports, talk about your other interests, Ducky.”

“Well, there’s Robin,” she said and smiled at her. “Then there’s soccer, volleyball, golf, basketball, maybe boxing, working out in the gym…”

Everyone laughed. “Sports,” one reporter said.

“She’s precious,” said another. The interview continued and overall it was a good afternoon.

The next morning, the headline in the sports section of the New York Times read, “The Ball Went ZZZZZZZ!” The subtext read, “Guinness Book Takes Measure!”

The sports section headline of the L.A. Times read, “Twirl, Twirl, Twirl!”

She was no longer a local hero.

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