The team ran out to the field to take their positions prior to the National Anthem. When the music stopped Jason climbed the mound but Kevin could sense his mind was elsewhere. Kevin ran back to home plate. When Kevin turned around the ball in Jason’s glove dropped to the ground, rolling off the pitcher’s mound. Jason sauntered down the mound to pick it up, bending down like an old man. He climbed back up the mound as if he was climbing Mount Everest. His look was vacant and sad.
Kevin shook his head. He was at a loss to figure out what he could do to get Jason to focus on the mound. He wondered if Jason was telling him everything the voices inside his head were communicating to him. He regretted being silent for so long about the voices. When they were predicting fortune it was so innocent. Now that they are predicting a purge they were not so nice. Jason needed psychological help.
The warm up pitches were all over the place, two of them flying way above his glove into the back stop. The home plate umpire chose to stand back from the warm-up tosses rather than bend behind Kevin to take a look at a few pitches. He was probably thinking this didn’t look like the Jason Woo so many had bragged about.
On the last pitch Kevin was denied the opportunity to throw the ball to second. The pitch bounced into the dirt, ricocheted off his chest protector and rolled to the first base dugout. The umpire flipped him another ball, which Kevin threw towards second base but it was not the same.
The leadoff batter came up, clicked his bat against Kevin’s shin guards. “Kid looks a little wild,” he said with a worried look on his face.
“Thanks for noticing.”
The batter did not bother to dig in. Kevin called for a fastball and the first pitch from Jason flew over the umpires head and hit the backstop. “Time,” Kevin asked the umpire.
He ran out to the mound. “Are you going to stop feeling sorry for yourself? If you can’t get it together I’m going to ask that you be taken out of the game.”
“I be okay.” Kevin was not convinced. Jason spoke with little conviction in his voice. He was also looking down at the dirt on the mound. He didn’t want Kevin to look into his eyes.
“You don’t sound like you’re okay. You’re on a short leash.”
Jason kicked the dirt with his shoes, his head hanging down. When he put his foot on the rubber he gave a big sigh and looked up at the sky. It was clear and blue. There appeared no threat up there.
The next three pitches were not as bad, but they were off the plate. The first hitter walked on four pitches. Kevin called all fastballs and they lacked any velocity or accuracy. He glanced at the scoreboard to see the velocity readings for one of his fastballs. It read 92. That confirmed what he felt from the lack of pop in his mitt after the ball was thrown. The crowd seemed stunned into silence. They were getting restless. Those seeing him for the first time must have been wondering what all the hype was about.
Kevin called for a curve to the next batter. If he didn’t have his fastball maybe his curve was working. The pitch hung in the air, coming straight at the hitter. The batter dove to the ground to get away from the pitch. It never broke across the plate. The batter dusted himself off and glared at Jason. Kevin returned to the fastball for the second pitch. It got too much of the plate and was raked into right center for a single. The runner on first stopped at second.
Kevin took off his mask and stared at Jason. Jason failed to acknowledge his stare. After he threw four fastballs way off the plate to load the bases Kevin called time again and slowly walked to the mound. With great anger he motioned for Wendell to come out.
Wendell jumped from the bench. His skinny legs shuffled to the mound. Jason and Kevin stood silent on the mound, Jason with his arms crossed looking down at the ground. “He’s done,” Kevin said with anger as Wendell stopped at the mound.
“I be okay,” Jason protested, but again he lacked any conviction in his voice.
“You’re done,” Kevin repeated, his eyes glaring at Jason, shooting lasers into his soul. Jason refused to return Kevin’s glare.
Wendell kept looking at Kevin and then back to Jason as if he was watching a tennis match. Finally he said in frustration to Jason “Give me the ball.”
Jason handed him the ball and walked slowly off the mound. A crowd of college kids sitting near the dugout chanted, “Over rated. Over rated,” while clapping their hands in unison. One of them yelled “You want to watch some porn?” They had their shirts off, and when Jason was near the dugout they stopped clapping, waving their shirts above their heads like victory flags to celebrate Jason’s failure. They seemed to be the only ones in the stadium excited over his struggles. Kevin didn’t know if Jason was really focused to hear them. Kevin was so angry he wanted to go over there and strangle them one by one. He let out a deep sigh of exasperation as he waited for the relief pitcher Trevor to come in from the bullpen.
He took a glance at the video screen above the scoreboard. The video screen showed an Asian girl about twelve years old trying to fight back the tears as she watched Jason walk off the mound to the insults of the college kids. She looked like the same girl named Jasmine who had asked Kevin for his autograph at the Future’s Game. She was looking up at her mother trying to find an explanation for this quick exit. Kevin had to quickly turn his gaze away from the video board to keep from losing it.
One event that did not happen after Jason left the game was the thunder. The sky was silent after Jason walked off the mound. Kevin kept listening for it, but all he heard was college kids chanting “Overrated.” It was the first game Jason pitched in which not a crackle of thunder was heard as he walked off the mound. The fans looked up at the sky, but it remained silent.