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Excerpts

THIRD INNING

"A replaced Designated Hitter shall not re-enter the game in any capacity."

--MLB Miscellany: Rules, regulations and statistics

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There was nothing wrong with Terry Daulton. That was his problem. He did feel at times as though he were losing his mind-that he had become detached from himself and the world-but it usually passed with a hot cup of coffee and a swift panic attack. He was working on a feature about Cooperstown's residential gardens. The focus was on Mrs. Coxey's ability to prune Juniper bushes into the shape of baseball bats, despite suffering from benign essential tremor. Mrs. Paquette had pitched him the story and he had decided, against his better judgment, to run it. Daulton was a local reporter, a post that was benign, but essential. He was generally addressed by his surname, he supposed because everyone in town had known his father. Or maybe there was just something about small towns: Calling people by their last names lent the illusion that there was more distance between you and them.

 

Daulton had abandoned his former aspirations to become a baseball writer. He left Manhattan, returning to 'The Coop' where he now worked for The Journal, a paper with a history that, he cringed to recall, began with publishing a memo from Jesus that someone had 'found' tucked beneath third base on Doubleday Field. Daulton's father, Chuck, displayed the memo for years in a case at the Fenimore Funhouse where he worked, insisting unto his dying day that it was legitimate. Because it said Cooperstown was 'Paradise on earth,' no one seemed to mind that it was written on the back of a Breck Shampoo ad. No one but Daulton.

 

His beat included the war memorial parades, the annual Frost Fest ice sculpture contest, the cotillion and whatever minor misdemeanors occurred in the wee hours of night, in a town where O'Mihops beer was as plentiful as lake water. What he did not want to write about was baseball. Little League and high school home games maybe. But the thought of covering the Hall of Fame Game-two major league teams going head to head on Doubleday Field, a tradition that dated back to 1940-that was another story. Daulton was done with professional sports writing before his career had ever begun, perhaps because it hadn't been his idea to begin with. 'You haven't got the balls to play ball,' his father had said, more times than Daulton cared to remember. In high school, his old man was constantly comparing him to the kids who could play, kids like Manny Barrett. 'If you can't join 'em, write about 'em,' was Chuck's attitude. And it was just that attitude that convinced Daulton to leave town the summer after his high school graduation and never look back.

 

He spent the summer of '57, helping Chuck out at the museums he ran and then come fall, left with only a small duffel bag, a typewriter and a copy of The Last of The Mohicans, a rare edition Chuck gave him as a going away present. It was the last thing Chuck would ever give him, aside from a relentless stream of unwanted advice, and Daulton was ashamed to admit that he had never even read it. He had idolized Cooper as a boy, but now that he was thirty-nine? Reading Cooper in Cooperstown, much like playing baseball, seemed rather akin to eating where you shat. Besides, Chuck's inscription (DON'T READ THIS!!!) had hardly been encouraging. Assuming it one of his father's manipulation tactics-get the kid to read it, then quiz him on it later, to see who knew their Cooperstown history best-Daulton opted to take the inscription literally, deriving a perverse pleasure from having the last word when he buried the book with Chuck. He regretted it now that he was a parentless prodigal son, returning home too late to say goodbye to his father, and too soon for anyone else in town to notice he had ever left in the first place. The old folks in town still treated him like he was a kid and the women? They were about as interested in him as they'd been when he was an awkward seventeen.

 

Daulton was extremely interested in local politics: rising tensions between the town and the State of New York over plans to build a theme park. He eyed a crumpled draft of his latest article, which lay in the wastebasket on top of yesterday's New York Times. He kicked the basket away from his desk. Seeing The Times brought to mind all those rejection letters he had received from big city editors uninterested in hiring some hick to cover sports. They criticized him for being 'subjective to a fault,' for an inability to distance himself from his subjects. 'You are NOT Reggie Jackson,' one editor wrote.

 

Daulton knew he had a different take on things. He viewed things from afar. So far that he could not always tell if people were who they were supposed to be, including himself. Ever since the summer he first left town it was like he had been demoted to the role of a minor character in his own motion picture: a man confined to running without actually moving until whatever it was he was ran from caught up and bit him in the ass. He had a tendency to forget who he was around people. Not in the usual way people forget themselves, wanting to impress, to be something they're not. He really had no idea sometimes if he was himself or the person he was talking to. He felt like a jigsaw puzzle scattered across a table: all the pieces were there, but there were too many of them and they were too jumbled up for anyone to give a damn about what their sum portrayed. 'You CANNOT write interviews entirely in the first person,' another editor wrote, 'what about the other guy? Are you both of you?' That editor had also written 'seek counseling.'

 

Such feedback only made Daulton determined to excel. The trouble was, at what? He wanted to be a journalist, not a lousy beat writer. He wanted to seek out strong stories and pitch them to someone who trusted that there was a market for them. At The Journal, they cut him a lot of slack, but he covered what they said to cover. He needed a position that would allow him to use his unique, if faulty, perspective to an advantage. The trouble was, baseball was in his blood. He hated to admit it, but he still felt a surge of pride whenever a new someone, a colleague or a girlfriend, asked where he was from. The response to his 'Cooperstown' was always the same: 'Baseball Hall of Fame! My dad took me there when I was a kid!' At least that was the response in the city. Daulton wouldn't have left the city either if Chuck hadn't died. Nor would he stay in Cooperstown now if Chuck hadn't made it so easy: telling everyone he was going to be a big-time writer, building him up until the editors at The Journal practically begged him to stay. That was the other thing about small towns: the slightest fact got blown out of proportion; every time a man came home for a reality check, he discovered what he'd gone off and supposedly become behind his own back.

 

Chuck was the curator at the Farm Stead and the Fenimore Funhouse; the local non-baseball history museums. Both his time and his loyalties were often divided; the museums were run by the state historical society. He lived alone in the end in the same stone cottage near the museums on West Lake Road that Daulton had grown up in. Chuck was a local icon, a staple. Everyone knew him and everyone admired him. He was the keeper of the town's history, along with the mayor, Duke Cartwright and Francis Paquette before he, too, had died. They were the last of a breed, a species that seemed to fade more and more each year as the town's quaint, old-fashioned charm succumbed to the crunch of commercialism, baseball museums and memorabilia shops replacing a previously more subtle appreciation of the sport. Daulton couldn't believe how much Cooperstown had changed since he left. It was like returning from abroad to find your boyhood home smack dab in the middle of Disney Land. His last article predicted that the movie theater would probably eventually be replaced with one that only showed baseball movies. It seemed fitting, now, to have buried The Last of the Mohicans with one of its last true 'natives.'

 

Daulton picked up the pocket watch he had inherited from Chuck. It ticked so loudly that he expected it to explode. He liked that about it, though, for its original owner had been loud too.

 

'It's your dad,' is what Manny had said when he called Daulton in the city just a few months ago with the news about Chuck's demise, 'It doesn't look good.' It was the first he and Manny had spoken since they graduated from Cooperstown High, though Daulton had heard more than enough about Cooperstown's former Golden Glove from Chuck in his letters. Chuck had been battling high blood pressure for months, but the diagnosis had always included room for improvement. Whenever Daulton vowed to come home, Chuck refused saying, 'Absolutely not! Having you here will just make me feel guilty when we find out it's nothing.' The last time Daulton spoke to his father, Chuck was being admitted into the Selma Wellmix Sanatorium. The doctors wanted to run some tests to be sure it was what Chuck claimed, mere indigestion and stress. He just needed rest, he said, to unwind and get his blood pressure down. And the next thing Daulton knew, he was dead.

 

Manny was there with him when he died. He called Daulton a second time to say Chuck had suffered a sudden massive heart attack right before barking out two orders, the first and loudest being that under no circumstances should they notify his son. Manny had already defied those orders, however, and he told Chuck so, though he warned Daulton that there was no point in him rushing home: Chuck was barely conscious and the doctors said he'd be dead by nightfall if another heart attack occurred, and they were sure it would. They did all they could but it came. Daulton rushed home, but a blizzard stopped him in his tracks. By the time he arrived Chuck was long gone. And if there was one reason that he now wished he and Manny were on speaking terms, it would be to find out what Chuck's final words, what that second order, had been. Was he alert? Afraid?

 

The coroner's report stated the first heart attack was shock-induced. But Chuck had been in a hospital for a routine check-up, surrounded by experts, friends and nurses in cute white uniforms. That's how Daulton liked to imagine it anyway. Why the sudden distress? He had asked Manny about it as soon as he arrived in Cooperstown. Manny tried to soften the blow, saying Chuck probably hadn't wanted him around because he didn't want him to see his tough old man so weak. That sounded like Chuck, but Daulton didn't believe it. Nor did he believe that Chuck didn't care. He had never doubted Chuck loved him. The problem had always been that he loved him too much. He had been downright smothering ever since Daulton's mom died of cancer when he was just a kid.

 

When he got to town, Daulton agreed to meet Manny and the mayor at the morgue. Mayor Fusselback was standing beside the cold steel table on which Chuck's body lay covered in a white sheet, shaking him and shouting, 'Wake up! Wake up! I need you!' Amos and Chuck had been so competitive for so long that Daulton figured they had probably even argued about who got to die first. He had expected Cooperstown to wither up and die along with Chuck, but Fusselback had kept it going, and, in the back of his mind, he supposed he was grateful. He moved back 'temporarily' to arrange the funeral and await the burial, which was postponed until spring when the ground thawed. Spring came and he was taken aback by how beautiful Cooperstown was. He had been urban for so long he had forgotten about the barn swallows rocketing to and fro from the cottage roof, the yellow daffodils lining the walk to the Funhouse, and butterflies everywhere he looked. It had been a long time since he felt so inspired. He decided to milk it while he could, taking a freelance gig at the paper. He even fantasized about writing a book to see if, like his old hero Cooper, he had any talent in that direction.

 

His fantasies were cut short, however, when the mayor insisted he leave town immediately following the burial. Fusselback played the guilt card, saying Chuck wouldn't have wanted his son to forfeit his future in order to sit around grieving. 'Don't worry about a thing,' he had said, promising to pack up Chuck's belongings himself and ship them to the city. The mayor made quite a show of wanting to spare Daulton any more pain, saying that it was too much for a man to have to ransack his childhood home. It was an odd choice of words, ransack, but Daulton let it slide. The mayor was grieving too. But then the more people told him what to do, to leave, the more it reminded him of Chuck, and the more determined he became to stick around and find out why...

 


SIXTH INNING

'first base', 1. Baseball. a. the first in counterclockwise order of the bases from home plate... 2. get to first base, Informal.

a. to succeed in the initial phase of a plan or undertaking...

b. to engage in petting that goes no further than kissing."

-Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1996

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Dusty Paquette was proud to be a resident of 'America's Ideal Village,' almost as proud as she was to be a representative of America's ideal make-up company: Home-Run Cosmetics, an industry leader since '58. Like the company's founder, she believed in two powers, the power of self-confidence and the power of concealer, preferably one with an oil-free base. She, in fact, was the company founder.

 

Dusty launched Home-Run, a door-to-door cosmetic service available strictly in Cooperstown, after her husband Frank died. It had always been her dream, and one he supported. Frank taught her to take pride in Cooperstown's history, and, although she didn't know a baseball from a monkey wrench, she knew plenty about Cooperstown, especially its residents. It was an honor to be such a prized citizen in a town so significant to American history. Dusty's ancestors had come over from France and had added a little something to American culture themselves, mascara. That's how the family lore had it anyway-cosmetics were second nature: Show Dusty a blemish and she'd show you a toner that would have you looking like as flawless as Hepburn in no time!

 

 

Frank was great at helping her dream up clever names for her products, but that's all it had been at first, a dream, until his funeral when Dusty noticed that her skin was looking sallow. Not 'oh God, my man's gone!' sallow, but ashen like a woman pushing fifty-three years of age, and one who had foolishly used cheap beauty products for most of them. It seemed to her if your man was dead, you had every right to splurge on the good stuff. Whatever it took to make you feel fine enough to bear life without him or to catch a new man, if that was your mindset. Since Dusty was a woman prone to sharing, a door-to-door service seemed ideal. She created Home-Run and now she was successful at seventy and her skin was vibrant as a rose.

 

Home-Run was more of a distraction than anything. Dusty's real work was a part time job at the Hall of Heroes wax museum. It was just so isolating-She didn't want to be around wax people. She wanted to be around fresh, pert, living people in need of a good moisturizer; the more forthcoming those people were with their personal information, the better. She considered herself the eyes and ears of Cooperstown, even if certain other, jealous, people said she was just the mouth. She could keep secrets, she simply chose not to. Secrets made life more interesting, especially life in a village. Collecting information about people, inspecting it for imperfections, then scattering it back around like so many precious seedlings was her specialty until that psychotherapist arrived to ruin it. What kind of doctor encouraged people to look inside themselves for answers instead of outside where other people could hear them and offer suggestions? She had yet to have a proper sit-down-and-chat with that Chylak.

 

She sat in the breakfast nook of her home on River Street, chewing the end of the lip-liner pencil she used to scribble down names for new products. The view of the Susquehanna was inspiring. It was just this view that had led to the creation of the Dust Bowl, which Frank taught her is what they call an under-watered ball field and which could hold three shades of foundation in one compact: ivory, bronze and peach. Why a ball field needed watering was beyond Dusty. It wasn't like it was going to grow bigger, or retain a nice dewy glow. It seemed to her that Doubleday Field belonged to everybody and thereby should be used for more than just baseball. She wanted to hold a ladies-only pep rally there-have each gal pitch her old, unwanted cosmetics into the bonfire they would build on the pitcher's mound before offering themselves up eternally to the goddess of Home-Run. She was always coming up with clever promotional ideas like that; That one was shot down by the Town Council who said if she set fire to the ball field they'd throw her in jail; you couldn't wear eye shadow in prison. All she had wanted was an itty-bitty bonfire and to make a few sales! She could target the mothers at the Little League games, but Little League meant children and children meant acne-Dusty avoided both.

 

She predicted the Dust Bowl would be her biggest seller yet, aside from Left-On Base, which acted as foundation during the day and emollient at night. Nothing said 'welcome!' to big city tourists like a good, rich emollient. Tourists were her best customers: all those baseball-loving men and boys dragging their poor women folk to the Hall of Fame. Those women deserved a little something special in the souvenir department-Something with a drop of Vitamin A and a trace of rose-scented talcum for instance?

 

At the Hall of Fame Game this year, she planned to give away free blush samples that came in the Clutch Hitter, a pink plastic case useful for toting toiletries. She had to remember to ask the mayor which teams were playing. Each year there were different teams and a different famous somebody (last year it had been the president!) threw out the first pitch. Maybe she'd have Clutch Hitters designed to match both teams' uniforms. She smiled, reading the slogan on the back of a tube of R.B.I., Retinal-Based Injection serum, a serum she wasn't medically licensed to sell, but still.

 

BUILD CONFIDENCE! BE SEEN!

 

Dusty knew how to build confidence all right. She made it her business to build confidence in those around her, too. She had a way with people, a certain Dusty kind of charm. As for being seen, people could spot her a mile away-what, with her claret-colored hair (claret being more sophisticated than red) and penchant for yelling, 'Yoo-hoo! I know something about you!' She liked to think people skittered off when they saw her coming because she inspired a certain youthful enthusiasm. She prided herself on her youthful nature and her looks. Her complexion wasn't perfect. But, why fuss over complexions when you had fabulous hair that had yet to turn gray at seventy? And so what if were compliments of Home-Run Bleachers Claret-Colored Dye No. 7? She didn't care who knew it. Honesty was the key to sales.

 

HONESTY AND TRADITION!

 

Dusty knew all about tradition. She had been coiffing her hair in the same style for over fifty years now, thanks to the trusty iron crimper she had used since she was a girl. Old things lasted and new things bust up good after being used, just once or twice (new things were being made with nothing but a quick buck in mind by the cheapskates who made them). Dusty used the best ingredients in her own products, sometimes even ingredients borrowed from the wax museum, like the paraffin sticks used to mend broken limbs, which, when melted down and doused with peppermint oil, created step three of the Home-Run Relief Pitcher manicure. Relief Pitcher was named for the little plastic vanity pitcher she jammed the wax into before affixing her smiling face to the label.

 

She patted her hair, tucking the curls inside the kerchief she wore frequently of late, having to rise early to make those sales, which meant less time for crimping.

 

Last night she had attended the Otsego County Film Festival to catch The Deerslayer, based on one of Cooper's books, the original, not that crazy German version Mada Nauss from up the lane loved, starring Bela Lugosi. She would, however, like to see what kind of foundation they had used to make Lugosi look like an Indian. She had been drawn to the gal who played Judith Hutter in the film she saw, and who managed to obtain a certain girlish glow despite being shroud in a kerchief. The movie made her sad, however, for it reminded her of the remake she had seen with Frank. Why were they always remaking things, like nothing was good enough the first time around? That film had starred Rita Moreno (no one had skin like Rita). Last year they had done it again, created yet another version, a made-for-TV movie with Dusty's favorite part played by some dark haired young beauty called Madeleine Stowe who needed a touch more rouge.

 

The phone rang and she went to answer it, stopping briefly to examine herself in the hall mirror. Her new striped muumuu made her hips look a little too wide. She considered slipping into a nice, pink Laura Ashley frock, but the phone kept ringing so she settled for blowing her wide-hipped self a kiss in the mirror-Why not? She blew another. During that second kiss she noticed a series of fine lines around her mouth. She leaned in closer to inspect them. "Hello?" she said into the receiver, puckering her lips and gasping as the lines stretched clear to her chins.

 

"Oh, my!"

 

"Dusty? Are you there? Are you all right?"

 

Dusty blushed despite her Home-Run Brush Back Blush. It was the mayor, and she was certain he was finally going to ask her to dinner. She had no intention of letting it go further than that of course. He could hold her hand but that was it. She lifted her face in the mirror, spotting a canker on her upper lip. There would definitely be no kissing. She attributed the canker to having foregone Home-Run Triple Play, which acted as blush, eye shadow and lipstick, in favor of a discount gloss she had picked up at the drugstore. If you were cheap, you could just buy Double Play, but that meant no lipstick for you.

 

"You know me, I'm fine as silk," she cooed, and then inquired about which teams were playing at the game. She was surprised when the mayor said he'd get back to her on that. She didn't like surprises. Not since the day she had found her Frank hanging by his necktie in the garage. It was awful and it was her fault. He had looked right at her before he jumped, screaming like he couldn't stand the sight of her.

 

Satisfied she would know what Amos was up to before anyone else in town did, Dusty put the phone down and fluffed her hair while the mayor prattled on. She stifled a brief urge to silence him with a smooch-the kind of obscene smacking sound people made in the movies. It had been years since Dusty had been kissed, over twenty. Her husband had worked at the Hall of Fame as top security guard and, in the summertime, gave tours around town for anyone who wanted a taste of local lore. Cooperstown had plenty of that and Frank had taught her that if you ever found it lacking, you made it up. He had used an old walking stick as a prompter, pointing out the sights, wearing what Dusty had not wanted to believe were lederhosen, or pea green hot-pants, which he had bought off Mada Nauss's husband before he, too, died. Frank always was a terrible dresser.

 

She rested the phone on her shoulder, coating the canker, gently, with concealer.

 

Dusty felt guilty about her interest in the mayor, even if that prune-faced old undertaker, Stanley Auffswich, said Amos had called her a 'yakker' (which she didn't for one minute believe was a complimentary comparison between a curve ball and her sumptuous-for-seventy figure). She felt bad because Amos had been Frank's friend. Then again, Frank was dead and wouldn't know better. Nuzzling up to Amos might be like having a piece of Frank back to contend with. Or it might help her get over Frank. Amos was a cutie-pie. They were of the same stock, Frank and him, along with Charles Daulton before he died of being so bossy, and Daffy Duke Cartwright before he went clear off his rocker. Dusty had always suspected the three of them were bad influences on Frank. She was certain their sneaky late-night pow-wows the year preceding his death had less to do with plotting the preservation of the town like they claimed and more to do with drinking, playing poker and crabbing about their wives. Frank was so melancholy and secretive toward the end. She cursed herself for not seeing the signs. Depression overcame him like a rash from cheap deodorant and darned if she wouldn't find out why before she met her own maker. Death made Dusty squirm. With no children, Frank gone, and all of her relatives back in France, she was bound to one day wind up a victim of Stanley Auffswich, and that undertaker had about as much skill with cosmetics as she had with a bat and ball. Blast him if he stuck a cheap wig on her like he had done with poor bald Frank. Then again, it served Frank right for killing himself because he no longer found her attractive. At least she knew how to dress.

 

She thought back to that night. She was mad at Frank and he had not come to bed so she went looking for him, hearing something in the garage. He was in there, standing on a ladder. He screamed when he saw her, then jumped, hanging himself by that stupid Roy Rogers' necktie. She remembered thinking that probably meant they weren't going to the matinee showing of I Want to Live! in the morning. Susan Hayward had such perfectly plucked brows. Then suddenly those fierce furry brows were bearing down on her, that ugly old moose head- Frank was dangling from the antlers. Dusty had froze, fascinated by the way his face turned the prettiest violet, then a most disturbing blue, his body jerking like it wanted to dance. She gathered her senses and cut him down with a pair of toenail clippers, which took forever, but that is all she had on her and she couldn't think of what else to do. He flopped to the floor, his head bouncing on the cement, and she knew then that if he hadn't been dead before, he sure as heck was then. She called Chuck immediately. She was in shock and didn't want an ambulance to come take away her Frank. She needed someone familiar to make that call. Someone Frank trusted who could be counted on to remain calm. But Chuck hadn't been calm at all, he held Frank, cradling him like a baby and screaming 'what did you do? Oh, God, what did you do?' And Dusty just assumed he meant her, that she'd killed her own man. When the ambulance arrived, however, Chuck was more interested in the book Frank had been clutching in his stiffening hands than the fact that he was being taken away, forever. Everyone had their quirks, their secrets, even Frank, and Dusty suspected Amos Fusselback knew what they were...