My wife and I lived in a 28-foot camper. We were parked on a vacant lot on a rundown street. Our neighbors’ homes were mildewed doublewides. Each trailer’s front yard featured a fashionable Pontiac sitting on concrete blocks.
It was raining. And it wasn’t just a storm. This was a West Floridian squall. Hurricane season in Florida lasts from June until the following June. It was June 1, 2016.
Tropical Storm Bonnie was making its way up into Carolinas like a runaway boxcar. We were getting the outer bands of rain.
I looked out our camper windows it was flooding. Our bedroom window was leaking like a screen door on the Titanic. One of our windows had shattered earlier that night, I had fixed it with duct tape and aluminum foil, but a miniature Niagara was spewing in.
The Atlanta Braves were on the TV, locked in a battle against the Padres. The game had gone into extra innings. I am a diligent Braves fan, I rarely miss games.
When I used to work in a restaurant as a dishwasher, I carried a transistor radio with me. I listened to games while I was elbow deep in hotel pans caked with burnt cheese, scrubbing like a maniac.
When I played music in beer joints for a living, I kept a radio earpiece in my ear, tuned to the games while I played piano for line-dancers who had consumed too many five-dollar pitchers.
On the screen in our camper was Number Five, our first baseman, Frederick Charles Freeman, exiting the dugout. He was everyone’s favorite. He was the all-American poster child of Atlanta. He’d been with the Bravos since before his voice dropped.
“C’mon, Freddie,” I said. “You can do it.”
I always talk to ballplayers on TV. It helps them.
“C’mon, Freddie,” said my wife.
Freddie took strike one.
My wife cussed openly for morale.
Before we were married my wife didn’t care for baseball. Two weeks with me cured her. I had created Frankenstein’s monster.
Freddie took strike two.
My wife said an even worse cuss word.
I remember when the Braves picked up Freeman in 2007. He was a boy, lanky and loose built, with a prodigious swing that could undo the 108 stitches on a horsehide ball.
Over the years he had made his way all over the South, playing the minor-league gauntlet. He played for the Gulf Coast Braves, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Rome Braves, the Mississippi Braves, the Gwinnett Braves.
I had seen him play twice in Gwinnett with my uncle Roger, we were seated behind the dish. To watch Freddie Freeman was like watching a William Randolph Hurst poem.
The kid’s legs were so long they were triple jointed. His swing was unorthodox. He moved his shoulders slightly before lowering his hands, then he chopped the ball like the tennis forehand from hell.
Something slammed into our trailer. A piece of debris maybe? A flying bicycle? A neighborhood Labrador? Then a gust ripped the satellite dish from our trailer roof and carried it to Venezuela. Then our power went out and the entire camper went black. Our TV was deader than ragtime.
This couldn’t have happened at a more pivotal moment in the game.
“NO!” I shouted at screen.
“Honey,” said my wife, “I think I just felt the camper tires lift off the ground.”
“NO! NO!” I banged the TV with my palm. “NO! DON’T DO THIS TO ME!”
“Sweetie,” said my wife, “I think I hear the warning sirens outside, maybe we should…”
But I was already digging through a drawer. I found my old Zenith transistor radio, about the size of a deck of cards. I located the game on 104.3 WGSX out of Panama City, and set the dial just right.
My wife and I huddled in the corner dinette of our trailer while lightning and thunder threatened to tear the world apart, debris whipping against our ambulatory estate.
We were in the eleventh inning now. Tied. Four-four.
It was getting late.
Freeman stepped into the batter’s box. I could visualize him, digging his cleats into the dirt, making little trenches for his feet. I could imagine him rocking back and forth on his heels, bat held high, the barrel moving in tight concentric circles, like the tail of an excited dog. He was keeping the wood limber.
Freddie was “oh” for three. Meaning, he had made three appearances at the plate, and each time he’d swung at nothing but the Georgian humidity.
“C’mon, Freddie,” whispered my wife.
“C’mon, Freddie,” I said.
The transistor radio made that beatific sound that makes baseball so magnificent.
It was a walk-off home run. With one swing, Freddie did it. The game was over.
“BRAVESWINBRAVESWIN!” hollered the announcer.
The little radio speaker distorted beneath the roar of 42,000 fans. My wife and I were shouting. She high-fived me hard enough to draw blood.
And it was the best game I ever saw.
Goodbye Number Five. It won’t be the same without you.