Authors: Chris Crutcher
Sometimes he remembers it as if it were unfolding inâ¦
On the Monday before the Crazy Horse Electric game, lateâ¦
By the bottom of the seventh inning, the Crazy Horseâ¦
Willie walks into his English class on the first dayâ¦
Willie tightens down the boat-trailer hitch and wraps the safetyâ¦
Willie pulls on two pairs of sweats in the early-morningâ¦
Willie sits in the small, darkened office just off theâ¦
The whistle blows to call time and Willie is offâ¦
Cyril encouraged the Weavers' family doctor to prescribe some pillsâ¦
The big tires of the Greyhound hum on the cold,â¦
In the Oakland bus terminal, Willie sits back in hisâ¦
Willie awakens to find himself staring into the eyes ofâ¦
Lacey's car pulls up in front of the old schoolâ¦
“So find your center,” Lisa says, and Willie watches theâ¦
Music blares from the tape in Lacey's stereo system asâ¦
“You're starting to look like a player,” AndrÃ© says, poppingâ¦
For a time following the night outside Lacey's battered son'sâ¦
Weekends during the first two months of school, AndrÃ©, Lisa,â¦
Willie looks at his watch and moves uncomfortably on theâ¦
Willie stands on the grass near the edge of theâ¦
Willie boards the Greyhound at 8:30 A.M., turns and waves onceâ¦
Sometimes he remembers it as if it were unfolding in front of him this very minute, all of it; event by amazing event. And sometimes it seems as if it all happened a long, long time ago, maybe in another lifetime. But the focal point, no matter how he thinks about it, is the Crazy Horse Electric game. He still doesn't know if it's the best thing that ever happened to him or the worst thing.
It's two summers ago and sixteen-year-old Willie Weaver walks through the front door of Samson Floral with Petey Shropshire and Jenny Blackburn, the girl Willie would like to be his girlfriend if he could figure out a sure way to make that transformation without destroying their friendship; their history together.
They have a mission.
Mr. Samson is in back, clipping and arranging flowers like he always is. He's seventy-five if he's a dayâpretty set in his waysâand Willie knows this won't be easy. The kids stand behind Mr. Samson for a few minutes, watching and clearing their throats and sniffing loudly, in hopes he will notice them, but his hearing aid is dangling from his hip pocket and there's no chance. Finally Willie steps into his field of vision and says, “Hey, Mr. Samson.” Mr. Samson jumps, decapitating the begonia he's clipping. He says, “Damn,” and replaces the hearing aid in his ear, letting the world back in. “Young Weaver. How are ya, boy?” He swivels on his stool, nodding to Petey and Jenny. “Gonna make my shop famous this year? Win some ball games for Samson Floral?”
“Hope so,” Willie says. “Looks like we could have a pretty tough team.” He pauses, looking for a better way in to what he wants to say, but Mr. Samson just looks at them all, smiling and nodding slowly. “Actually, that's kind of what we came here to talk to you aboutâ¦”
Mr. Samson's expression is unchanged, his head bouncing gently like that of a plastic beagle with lighted eyes mounted in the rear window of a '57 Chevy.
“Uh, we were wondering if we could talk to you
about the caps,” Willie says, flinching slightly.
“Of course,” Mr. Samson replies. “What's the matter? They too small? Need more caps?”
“No, they fit okay,” Willie says, looking to Petey for support. Petey's head hangs; Jenny's hand covers her mouth, stifling a giggle. Willie's on his own. “And there are plenty of them. It's the rose. We took a boatload of crap for the rose last year. We were wondering if maybe we could have a different logo. We'd put 'em on ourselves. I mean, it wouldn't cost anything.”
Mr. Samson smiles and turns back to his beheaded begonia; picks it up in a halfhearted attempt to reattach it to the stem, then lets it fall to the floor. “What did you have in mind?”
Now Petey speaks up. “We were thinking maybe an âS' over an âF,' for Samson Floral. You know, like the San Francisco Giants.”
Mr. Samson looks over his glasses. “You look at the box scores lately, young fella?”
Petey is blank.
“Giants are dead last. Giants are always dead last.” He shakes his head slowly. “Nope. No âS-F' for us. You boys follow me now. Just follow me out front.”
Their eyes roll toward the heavens as they dutifully follow Mr. Samson out onto the sidewalk, where he
points to the flashing neon rose above the door. “You kids know how long that sign's been there?”
“Thirty-four years,” they say in unison.
“That's the rose on your caps. Identical. You win some games, people see the rose, they make the connection and they buy flowers from me. That's called advertising.”
Willie makes a last attempt. “But you have the only floral shop in town. People
to buy their flowers from you.”
Mr. Samson nods, smiling. “Then the advertising should work,” he says. “I think we'll keep the rose.” He walks back inside, leaving the kids to stare at the flashing flower and marvel at his logic.
Willie turns to Jenny, who laughs out loud now. “You were a lot of help,” he says. “I'll come to
first the next time I need backup.”
Jenny grins and tweaks his cheek, her long blond single braid whipping behind her head. “I'm with Mr. Samson. I think they're cute. Besides, it makes you work harder to prove yourselves. You know, âboys named Sue.'”
“Great,” Petey says. “Another year of my big brother calling me âPetunia' every game day. Like it's not hard enough getting any dignity in this world when
you're barely five foot three. God, my dad made me wear that stupid cap in our Christmas-card pictures last year.”
Willie Weaver walks down the hot, dry two-lane highway with Johnny Riversâthe catcher, not the singerâto practice at Sollie Weaver Field, named after Willie's grandfather, who donated the land and put up most of the money to build it, and who was a legendary athlete around these parts in his day. He played football, basketball and baseball at Notre Dame back before the age of specialization, when an athlete could play as many sports as he was good at. Largely because of Willie, the rose on their caps now has dignity among all teams in the league. Samson Floral is undefeated after ten games.
“It depends on what you can do with Sal Whitworth.” Johnny is explaining how Samson Floral can beat Crazy Horse Electric and take the Eastern Montana American Legion Championship away from them. Crazy Horse has won it three years running. “Keep his bat off the ball and we'll own 'em,” Johnny says. “They got nobody else can hit you.”
“What're you talking about?” Willie says. “They've got hitters clear through the line-up. Jesus, Johnny, their
“They can hit,” he says, “but they can't hit
“They sure hit me last year.”
“Last year you were two inches shorter and about thirty pounds lighter and your arm wasn't a licensed nuclear weapon,” Johnny says.
Willie smiles. Not even his dad pumps him up the way Johnny does.
“Anyway,” Johnny continues, “Whitworth is the key. Blow him over with your fastball and the game is ours.” He pauses. “Why don't you just bean him in the first inning? You know, put a hole through his temple; apologize to beat hell, send him a nice card in the neurosurgery ward and we'll win this sucker the easy way.”
Willie nods. “Right.”
“He won't have to worry about old age that way,” Johnny says. “Wrinkles. Senility. Uncontrollable bowel movements. Boy, you oughta see my uncleâ¦”
They're close to the field now and the rest of the team is waving and hollering at them to hurry up. Petey Shropshire flips a ball into the air with one hand and whacks a high pop fly over the hurricane fence on the right foul line and down the highway toward them. As the ball descends, Willie turns his back, catching it over his shoulder, basket style, like Willie Mays used to do. He flips it to Johnny, who fires it back over the fence.
Willie feels like he can do anything. He's been carrying this team all summer. Samson Floral has some pretty good players, but it doesn't really matter because almost no one in the league can touch Willie's fastball. Over the past twelve months he grew like a weed and though he was expected to trade his quickness and coordination for an involuntary yodel and a forest of zits, it never happened. He just got bigger and stronger and better. He hits from both sides of the plate, thanks to hours of work with his dadâwho read that Mickey Mantle's father started working Mick into a switch hitter when he was sixâand he throws
Willie's mom often tells him he's been given gifts; that he should be thankful for them, but he's not, really. He's always been better at sports than any kid his age, so he's never felt any different than this. It's just the way things are; he's
to be a hero. He's humble and he seldom brags, but that's mostly because his dad won't have it. Down deep, Willie's a pretty cocky kid; just not cocky enough to mess with William Weaver Sr.
Back then, in those days when Willie was invincible, those days leading up to the Crazy Horse Electric game, his father was mythic to him; and to most other folks in Coho, Montana, too. Big Will played football for the University of Washington in the early 1960's when the
Huskies beat the Michigan Wolverines 19â6 in the Rose Bowl; rushed for more than 150 yards and threw a halfback option touchdown. He was voted Most Valuable Player. In Coho they had a day in his honor, with a parade down Main Street and speeches from several members of the state legislature. It was a big deal. And when Big Will finally came back to Coho to settle and raise a family, the town was overjoyed. He was a big man, over 210, and strikingly good-looking. He kept himself in excellent physical condition and was always polite and gracious; always willing to help in that way small-town people get together to build a garage, or mow the neighbors' lawn when they're on vacation, or care for each other's children when parents are ill. As far back as Willie could remember, folks looked up to his dad, and the reason it never required a lot of outside pressure for Willie to do his best was that he wanted Will Sr. to be proud of him. Yet the two of them were, in a way Willie never quite understood, somehow distant. There was a vague, uncomfortable feeling that Big Will lived through Willie, that Willie's successes were Big Will's, too; and likewise his failures.
Walking with Johnny through the gate, Willie senses the excitement about the Crazy Horse Electric
game. The chatter is loud and constant; everyone hustles. Coach Ivy hits flies to the outfielders and Mike Griffith, a sophomore shortstop at the university, works with the infield. Second-stringers play catch, throwing each other high flies and hard grounders.
“You guys are late!” Coach yells. “Where you been?”
“We just got started late,” Willie says as Johnny heads for the dugout to strap on his catching gear. “I thought my mom was going to bring us, but she didn't come home in time. Sorry.”
Coach Ivy lets it go. He runs a fairly loose ship and this isn't important. You don't rattle Tom Seaver before the '69 World Series.
Starters line up in their places; subs move over to the vacant field with Mike Griffith. Johnny crouches behind the plate to catch Willie's warm-ups while Coach Ivy talks about Crazy Horse Electric's hitters, relying on year-old memories and scouting reports because Crazy Horse Electric is from Billings and the two teams have not met this year. Everyone remembers Sal Whitworth, for both his hot bat and his hot head. “All his mistakes last year came from his temper,” Coach Ivy reminds them. “Might be a good idea to remember that, Willie.”
Willie's arm feels strong and loose. He won't be
throwing very hard today because the team needs hitting practice, and because he doesn't want to wear out his arm. He almost wishes the game were sooner because he feels so good, and he fires a couple of hard strikes while Johnny eggs him on. “Heat!” Johnny yells. “That was hot! Gimme another one of those; lemme warm up this ol' mitt. Ooooooh, Willie! Sweet heat!”
Coach Ivy sends a batter up and calls out a situation. “Man on first, one out,” and Willie lays one in right down the middle. Johnny's mouth is running loose. “Right down the pipe, big boy. Right down the pipe. Let 'em hit, big Willie; these are the good guys. Only ever played in one game this important,” he says, flipping the ball back to Willie, crouching in close to the batter. “Game down in California before I moved up here. Game for the Northern California Babe Ruth League championshipâ¦”
“He never played for any Northern California championship, Coach,” Petey yells in from second base. “This is one of those stupid things he tells. Stop him.”
The batter hits a one-hopper to third and Max Craig fields it, fires to Petey on second, who whips around and throws the runner out at first. Double play.
Johnny chatters on. “They had a pitcher, Eric Milfaymee was his name. Big kid. Fast. Almost as fast
as our own Dream Weaver. Not quite, but almost. True story.”
“Stop him!” Petey yells again.
“We were hitless at the end of the fifth inning and we knew if we didn't do something about this Milfaymee kid we were doomed for sure, so between innings I snuck back and dumped out their water, replaced it with beer; kill some brain cells, slow ol' Eric down a little,” Johnny continues, all the while popping the ball into his mitt, then firing it back to Willie, shutting up only long enough for Coach Ivy to call the situation, then forging on with what everyone knows by now will be one of those stupid things Johnny tells.
“It's a hot afternoon and Milfaymee is using up a lot of body fluids, drinking outta that ol' water bucket like there's a big drought comin', but clear through the eighth inning he's still throwin' screamers and we're swingin' at the wind.”
“Who wants my allowance?” Petey hollers. “I'll give my allowance to anyone who can stop him.” He pauses. “Two weeks' allowance.”
Willie's throwing and hitters are hitting and Coach Ivy calls out new situations and none of that slows Johnny down a lick. “But then, in the bottom of the ninth, with the score 0â0, the sun and the alcohol kick
in and ol' Milfaymee starts to lose it; walks two batters, then a third. He stops to go take a drink and his coach tries to calm him down. Coach has gotta wanna pull him, but he's got nobody to replace him with.
“So Milfaymee takes a hairy ol' drink and staggers back out to the mound and by now he's seein' double. And he's mad. I'm the hitter an' I'm just lookin' to keep my head. Milfaymee rears back and throws four straight ballsâone of 'em hits the backstop eight feet above the plateâand he walks in the winning run.”
“Here it comes,” Petey yells. “If he does it, let's get him! We'll give you one last chance to stop, Rivers. Oh, God, I'm gonna throw up.”
Johnny pops a pitch into his mitt and stands up; raises his catcher's mask to the top of his head and walks out in front of the plate. “Yup,” he says, “that was quite a game. Almost as important as this Crazy Horse game coming up.”