Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, May 7, 2016, 8:44 a.m.
This is starting to seem like a movie. Hoosiers comes to mind.
While I sit behind a table behind the plate of The Sponge, Clinton High School’s ancient baseball field, I hear drums beating and see, in my mind, an old schoolbus rumbling through the countryside, followed by a line of DeSotos and Mercurys.
The Red Devils have yet to take to the road in the Class 3A playoffs. The people following them are riding mostly in lawn chairs. Any similarity between Sean McCarthy and Norman Dale is coincidental. They’re different sports in different times. One is fiction. One is stranger than that. Mark Twain said truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense. Today I write fiction, but this isn’t it. There’s truth in what Twain said.
Clinton was picked to finish fourth in Region III-3A before winning all 10 games in it. A few weeks ago, the Red Devils were 15-1 and still unranked. Now they’ve won District III, won all three games in it, and advanced to Upstate district play, which begins Monday against Belton-Honea Path. The record is 23-1. The winning streak is 20. The loss was on March 3. Some have forgotten it. They’re a band of brothers, something like the Avetts.
It’s early yet. They have so much left to do. B-HP is a perennial power, but the Red Devils are a power, and The Sponge is a tough place to play. Shortstop Aaron Copeland threw out A.C. Flora’s Brendan Greene at the plate, and catcher Chandler Todd was briefly shaken up after tagging him out.
Someone in the stands yelled, “Hey, ump, this ain’t football! This is baseball!”
The Flora batter, Josh Hernandez, mimicked the fellow’s accent. He didn’t yell it, but it wasn’t under his breath, either.
“This ain’t footbawul,” he said. Flora is a Columbia school, presumably more cosmopolitan than Clinton, and the Falcons were playing out in the sticks on a field with a dirt infield, one that’s going to be replaced next year. I think I would have rather enjoyed the atmosphere, but I live here, and all I do for a living is write. Hernandez, whose younger brother Jonnie also starts for the Falcons, is an excellent player who also has a sense of humor, though not one that plays particularly well in This Ain’t Footbawul It’s Basebawul Country.
That having been noted, as a Clinton resident, I was really happy that the elder Hernandez, who had singled in the first and second innings and tripled in the fourth, had struck out to end the sixth and was five batters away when Todd, his counterpart, threw out Luke Botkin trying to steal third, and the game ended.
As tough as it’s been — Clinton’s three victories have been 2-0, 3-0, and 7-6 — it’s about to get tougher because that is what happens in the playoffs, when the masters of one geographic region are pitted against those of others. The Red Devils are game, but the games get tougher.
Clinton’s curveball-twirling lefty, Tristan Smaltz, had a rough night, but he battled for 6-1/3 innings. It reminded me of the old Johnny Horton song, “You Fought All the Way, Johnny Reb,” the exception being that, in contrast to the Rebs, he won with last-ditch relief from Aaron Copeland. Smaltz has struck out 83 batters this year.
Every player has been a hero at what seems to have been the opportune moment. One such example was Taylor Bailey, who started the game Friday in left field and ended it at shortstop, which Copeland vacated to move over and fire fastballs while Smaltz trotted out to left, and Bailey trotted in to short. Bailey, occupying the ninth spot in the order, cleared the bases with a double at a time when Clinton trailed, 4-0. He also scored the tying run in the sixth and went 2-for-3.
The Red Devils trailed, 6-4, entering the fifth, when second baseman Charlie Craven’s sacrifice fly brought Clinton to within one. Sacrifices are common for bands of brothers, and Smaltz had laid down a successful squeeze in the third inning. The Falcons (16-11) were playing their fourth game of the week and would have had to play another had they won this one.
Brayden Gibbs singled in both the fifth and the sixth, when the team most needed it. I’ve detected a pattern.
When Clinton took the lead in the bottom of the sixth, the local basebawul fans did everything but dance around a May pole. It was a lovefest. While the postgame dance marathon was going on in the stands, and the team was kneeling in prayer down the right-field line, two players snuck away so that they could interrupt McCarthy’s meditation and douse him in ice water, and this got the party rocking even more.
If this team goes down, it will likely do so in a blaze of glory, and that’s literarily appropriate for a team nicknamed Red Devils.
Here’s my GoLaurens/GoClinton account of the game.
My book of short stories, all derived from songs I wrote, is called Longer Songs, and you can buy it here.
The Audacity of Dope is a tale about a pot-smoking singer-songwriter who becomes a reluctant national hero. He prevents someone from blowing up the plane he’s on, and both hilarity and drama ensue. My first novel is an irreverent, fun read.
The Intangibles is my most personal. Set mostly in 1968, it draws on memories from my childhood and teen-aged years. It’s a story of civil rights, bigotry, and high school football.
Crazy of Natural Causes has a main character who is an outrageous football coach at the beginning, loses everything and has to start over. It’s a fable of life’s absurdity.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a yarn about a corrupt, ambitious politician who wants to be governor and will do anything to achieve it. It has a parallel story of a good cop who’s trying to stop the monster and another of kids gone wild.
To peruse all my books, including most of the non-fiction ones from my NASCAR years, click here.