Dynamite Creek is a small town in south Louisiana. It ‘s one of those towns where everyone knows everyone else. It’s Main street is lined with gigantic Oak Trees and small store-fronts. The town hall is located at one end and Mo’s Diner at the other end. Some of the shops are: Joe’s Barber Shop, Boudreaux’s Antiques, Diane’s Catering, Charlie’s Shoe Repair, Aunt Verdie’s Rooming House, Clarence & Lefty’s Sandwich Shop, and the local’s favorite watering spot, Dutch’s Saloon.
Sports are the biggest thing in Dynamite Creek and during baseball season their semi-pro baseball team, the Nutria, take center-stage. All of the players are former Dynamite Creek High players. Even the saloon owner, Dutch, played at Dynamite Creek High and once coached their baseball and football teams. Dutch’s Saloon is like the town meeting place; people of all ages frequent Dutch’s. On the weekends, the folks dance to local swamp-pop bands. People of Dynamite Creek love their sports, music, dancing, and their favorite beverage: beer.
The owner, Dutch, lives in an apartment above the saloon. He rents out a spare room to Pops and his pet cat, Jimmy. Pops is an seventy-five year old, frail looking, short, slender man with a full head of gray hair. He wears small rimless spectacles. He is a quiet man until he drinks. Then he’ll talk your arm off. Dutch hired Pops to help keep the saloon clean. The townspeople adopted Pops as sort of a mascot. He helped everyone, usually for little or no pay, whether it was grocery shopping for Miss Mary Grace or weeding Miss Barbara’s garden. The children of Dynamite Creek loved Pops. He entertained them with magic tricks, illusions, and sleight of hand that he learned from his days with the circus.
Pops ran away from home to join the circus when he was nine years old. He earned his keep by cleaning up after the animals and other odd jobs. The Great Karmac, the magician, took little Pops under his wing treating him as the son he never had. Pops learned magic and how to play baseball with the circus. As an attraction, the circus performers would challenge locals to baseball games. Pops developed into an outstanding baseball player.
At age seventeen, while in Cleveland, a professional scout saw him play and offered him a contract to play professional baseball. He left the circus to play baseball. Because of his nomadic life style with the circus, Pops easily made the adjustment. He had immediate success as a pitcher. In fact, his first year he was among the league leaders in strikeouts. A leg injury in his second season ended his professional career. He then kicked around with barnstormers and semi-pro teams, but would never resurface as a professional baseball player. It is not clear how Pops ended up in Dynamite Creek, but he found himself a home at Dutch’s Saloon.
Pops had lots of stories about his past; none of which could be verified, but they were nonetheless entertaining. Pops enjoyed bragging about his outstanding pitching ability. He claimed to have barnstormed with baseball greats. His stories always were bigger and better with each telling. The customers enjoyed hearing Pop’s tales of fame and fortune. With each drink, another story would come to mind.
Everyone liked Pops. Well, almost everyone. There was one person didn’t like him and that one person was Little Bill. Little Bill saw Pops as a moocher and an old drunken fool. He picked on Pops all the time. While others laughed with Pops, he laughed at him. Of course, that’s not the real reason Little Bill didn’t like Pops. You see, when Little Bill was in high school, his girl friend Meg got pregnant. She had a little boy named Bobby. Little Bill never did acknowledge that he was Bobby’s father. So Meg raised Bobby on her own without any financial help from Little Bill. She worked as a barmaid/waitress at Dutch’s and at Mo’s Diner to support Bobby and her disabled grandfather. Pops was always kind to Meg and Bobby and did chores for her and had been a quasi-father, and friend to Bobby.
Little Bill was not a popular guy around town. He was a big guy; 6’4”, weighing around 225 pounds and was a notorious bully. His father, Big Bill, owned the Sugar Refinery that employed many of the residents of Dynamite Creek and was very influential in the community. Little Bill was an outstanding athlete; he excelled in baseball and football. He received a baseball scholarship to Deep South Louisiana University. Had he spent as much time studying and as he did partying, Little Bill could have been a star. Instead, he flunked out of school after his second semester.
After every Nutria game, the locals would head over to Dutch’s Saloon to drink a few beers and analyse the play of their beloved team. It was like one big family either celebrating a victory or lamenting a loss. It was a time when lots of bragging about past and present heroics was common. The players would feed beer to Pops so that he would entertain them with stories about his past heroics.
The Nutria had just taken it on the chin from the Morgan City Catfish, 12-4. Folks were dancing to ‘Ernie the Attorney and his Bayou Boomers,’ the kids were playing shuffle-board, and the players were replaying the game. Skeeter Richard kept refilling Pop’s beer glass. After a few glasses, Skeeter asked Pops to tell him about the time he struck out three men with the bases loaded. Skeeter loved to egg on Pops. It didn’t take much to get Pops going.
A group of the Nutria gathered around to hear Pops story once again. Pops wound up as if he were getting ready to pitch and said, “I was sitting in the Bull Pen when the skipper, Duffy Wilson, called me in to pitch. He told me,”Pops, we got a bad situation here, the bases are loaded with nobody out. I need you to get these guys out.” I had to face the three best hitters on the other team. So, I struck out the first guy on three pitches. The next batter fouled off a couple of pitches, but I got him on a wicked curve ball. My curve was working like a sons-of-a-gun. I set the next batter up with a couple of fast balls, then I finished him off with my curve. I struck him out too. I struck out all three of ’em with the bases loaded and we won the game. The crowd went nuts. Those batters didn’t have a chance that night.” Skeeter and the rest of the boys, except for Little Bill, applauded Pops and Pops loved it.
“That’s a bunch of crap, Pops. You ain’t never struck out nobody. I’m tired of hearing all your crap. You ain’t nuttin but an old drunken fool.”
Skeeter and other players urged Little Bill not to start picking on Pops again, but Little Bill didn’t stop.
“You tell us this bull all the time, you ain’t done diddly.”
Pops answered him back, “Yes I did, everything I ever told you guys is the honest truth, so help me God.”
“You ought to hope the Lord don’t strike you dead right here for all this crap you always put on us. You’re making a fool of yourself with all these lies, you ought to just get your broom and mop and clean up and shut your trap. Cleaning up is about the only thing you can do.”
Pops was angered and embarrassed. He struck back, “You know, Little Bill, the way you looked out there in that game tonight, you shouldn’t be criticizing anyone. The way you swung the bat, I could have struck you out.”
Little Bill lashed back, “You can hardly walk, how you gonna strike out anyone? You’re an old fool just marking time till you die, and that can’t be soon enough for me.”
After a moment of silence, Pops returned the fire, “You talk a good game, Little Bill. But I am serious, I could strike you out. You ain’t as good as you think you are. In fact, I hereby challenge you. I bet you $20 that I could strike you out.”
Little Bill laughed, “I wouldn’t waste my time on a drunk like you. Besides $20 is an insult. Let’s say, if you could raise a few hundred dollars I might consider it. But you ain’t got a few hundred bucks to your name.”
“I think I can scrape up a few hundred dollars. Let’s say $500? What you say, Little Bill?” retorted Pops.
Little Bill answered, “I ain’t gonna lower myself to get into this with you.”
Pops said, “If you don’t want to put your money where your mouth is, maybe it’s you who should keep his trap shut.”
That got laughs from the crowd that had gathered around the two. Ed Becnel jumped in, “Little Bill, why don’t you bet him, he’s calling your hand?”
The rest of the players chimed in. “Come on Little Bill, you ain’t scared of getting struck out by an seventy-five year old,? are ya” They all laughed.
Pops then spoke up, “Here’s the deal. I’ll give you one turn at bat. If I don’t strike you out, you win. If I strike you out, I win.”
Ed Becnel asked, “Suppose he hits a fair ball or if you walk him?”
Pops answered, “Well, if he hits a fair ball or if I walk him in one at bat, he wins, I lose.”
Skeeter jumped in, “Little Bill, all you have to do it hit a fair ball. Or maybe just bunt the ball. Anyone could do that in one at bat,”
The crowd egged Little Bill on, “Little Bill, that’s easy money, you’d be crazy not to take that bet. If not Bill, people gonna say you’re chicken.”
Everyone laughed but Little Bill and Pops. Pops inserted, “Well big guy, you accept the bet or not?”
The crowd chimed in, “Little Bill, you ain’t afraid of Pops. You gonna let him back you down?”
Little Bill answered the group, “Ok, Ok, I accept the bet, just tell me when and where and I’ll be glad to take your money.”
Skeeter offered to set up the contest. The bet was on. Word about the bet spread throughout the saloon.
Once Dutch heard about the bet, he ran over to find Pops. “Pops, are you losing your mind? Don’t let these guys make a damned out of you.”
“It was my idea Dutch, they ain’t makin no fool out of me.”
Dutch pulled him on the side. “Pops, what are you thinking? You think you can strike out Little bill? C’mon Pops, maybe when you were younger, but not at your age.”
Pops countered, “Dutch, my arm is in pretty good shape. I been playing catch with Bobby a couple of times a week. I know I can strike out that big blow hard.”
Dutch continued to try to talk Pops out of the bet. Then Little bill approached. “Yeah Dutch, you heard about this old man gonna strike me out? He’s stupider than I thought he was. Not only is he a broken down drunk, but now he’s senile.”
Little Bill’s laughter angered Pops. Pops started to lunge at Little bill when he clutched his chest with both hands. His knees buckled as he slowly fell to the floor.
Pops was rushed to the emergency room. Meg, Bobby, Dutch, sheriff Bull, and several others, followed the ambulance to the hospital. Dr. Rene Pepper was the physician on duty. After several minutes, Dr. Pepper told everyone that Pops had appeared to have suffered a mild heart attack and that the staff would do everything to help Pops. Pops’ friends just sat around the waiting room. They started telling stories about Pops. Meg told about the time that Pops was going to take on three troublemakers at the saloon one day.
She told the story like this. “One afternoon, these three guys pull up in a late-model Cadillac Escalade with a Missouri license plate and parked out front in a no-parking zone. Pops was just about finished cleaning the floor when they walked in. Pops told them that they better move their vehicle before it would be towed. The tallest of the three told Pops not to worry about it and that he would move it when they left.
They sat at the bar and ordered drinks. They appeared to have already had a few drinks before they arrived. Then they started giving me a hard time. Pops got upset with them and told them to leave. They laughed at him and told him to go mop the floor. So, Pops walked toward the three men and started to swing at the tallest one when Meg stepped between them. Pops was ready to take on all three. I knew it was time to call Sheriff ‘Bull’ Billiot.”
Sheriff Bull is one bad dude. You don’t want to mess with him. He grew up in Dynamite Creek and was always in trouble; he loved to fight. He loved trouble so much that he decided to go into Law Enforcement. He played football and baseball. In fact, he was the center fielder for the Nutria. One thing though, Bull was only 5’4” tall; probably the shortest sheriff in the country. So here comes Sheriff Bull walking through the saloon door.
He asked,”whose vehicle was that parked illegally?”
The big guy answered, “It’s mine and I ain’t ready to move it until I am ready to leave.”
Bull said, “Well, you are ready to leave, so move it now.”
The big guy started laughing, “Can you believe it, they called for a sheriff and they sent a midget, a mini-police person.”
The other two men joined in the laughter. “Hey sheriff, I knew it was a small town, but I didn’t know they had a small sheriff.
Bull answered, “Well fellas, this is the last time I am gonna tell ya to get out while you can.”
They didn’t budge. So Bull told Pops to lock the doors. The men sneered as Bull walked toward them.
The big guy chided Bull, “What are you gonna do about it, shrimp?”
Bull approached the biggest of the three and suddenly punched him in the mid-section. As he grabbed his stomach and folded over, Bull followed up with three or four well-landed punches to his face and head. The man went down hard. The second man lunged toward Bull, Bull threw him down and hit him several times as he tried to get up. Both men were lying there bleeding from the mouth and the nose. Bull turned to the third man and he just froze. Bull told him to get on the floor, face down. He complied. One man complained about a broken nose and the other thought that his jaw was broken. Bull warned the men to stay on the floor, and they did. Bull pulled out his cell phone and call his deputy Horace.
“Horace, come on over here to Dutch’s with three sets of handcuffs.”
Then Bull called the tow truck guy. “Hey Hank, get on over here to Dutch’s, I have a pretty new Cadillac for you to tow. I want you to give it the T&C treatment.”
In Dynamite Creek, that meant to tow it and crush it. Bull’s third call was to Judge Delaune. “Judge, I got three visitors for you to try.”
“Damn, Bull,” said the Judge, “I’m going fishing today. They can wait till tomorrow.”
His last call was to Doctor Pepper. “Hey Doc, we got a couple of prisoners that might need some medical attention. Can you stop over at the jail and take a look see?”
The doctor said that he would be there in a few minutes. After Horace showed up, they shackled the three men. As they were leaving, Pops told them, “it’s a good thing the sheriff came here to save you guys, otherwise, you guys would really be hurting.”
Everyone in the waiting room erupted with laughter.
About an hour later, the Doctor came out to give those in the waiting room an update on Pops condition. Doctor Pepper said that Pops needed rest and would have to remain in the hospital for more tests and observation. He told everyone that they didn’t need to stay at the hospital any longer and that they could go home and pray for Pops.
The next day, the same group of friends plus several others showed up at the hospital. The doctor updated the group on Pops’ condition. He said that Pops had a good night’s rest and with treatment, he would be fine and that he would be able to see visitors as long as he didn’t over-excited. Dutch was the first person to see Pops.
Pops opened his eyes and the first thing he said was, “Dutch, I want you to set up that bet with Little bill. Make it for next month. I want to teach that youngin’ a lesson.”
Dutch told him to forget about that silly bet and get well. Pops told him that he was going to be fine and that he really wanted to go through with the bet and if he didn’t set it up, he would get someone else to do it. If only briefly, Pops was able to see most of his visitors. Pops was diagnosed with clogged arteries and he would be treated with medication and not surgery at this time.
A couple of days later Pops was released from the hospital with instructions to take it easy and not to get excited. Pops headed home to the saloon. The first thing he did was to make sure that Dutch had made arrangements for the bet. Reluctantly, Dutch had met with Little bill, Skeeter Richard, and Ed Becnel to iron out the details. The bet was set for one month from the next Sunday provided that Pops was feeling well. It would be after the first game of a Nutria double header.
The next few days saw Pops feeling much better. He slowly settled into his normal routine of cleaning up around the saloon, running errands, and playing catch with Bobby. The town was abuzz about the upcoming bet. Just about everyone, including the Mayor, tried to get it called off but neither Pops or Little Bill would budge. Little Bill was adamant about “teaching that old fool a lesson.”
The local bookie, Chick Landrieu, was taking bets on the contest. He was giving odds favoring Little Bill and not giving Pops much of a chance. The whole town got wrapped up in the bet. Emotionally, they were pulling for Pops, but their money was on Little Bill. Deep down, everyone wanted the bet to be stopped in fear that Pops would get hurt. But the thought of Little bill winning was not a pleasant one.
The day of the bet had finally arrived. It was a warm summer day without a cloud in the sky. All you could smell from the Dynamite Creek Ball Park was pop corn, cotton candy, and hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. Fans arrived early in droves to get a good seat. The bet would take place after game one of a double-header. Most folks were more interested in the bet than the game. Game one was close but the Nutria lost by the score of 3-2. It was not a good day for Little Bill. He went hit-less in three trips to the plate. Little Bill was more than ready to atone for his poor performance. He bragged how he was going to teach that old man a lesson. He took a few extra swings in batting practice to ready himself for the bet.
There was no sign of Pops. Fans were wondering if Pops would show. Maybe he had let his mouth run on too much. At the designated time, Little Bill grabbed his bat and stepped up to the plate. He told the umpire that if Pops didn’t show on time that he would win the bat. Just about that time here comes a black limo in from center field. The limo was blowing it’s horn and it had flags waving from the radio antenna.
The limo made a pass in front of the fans and then stopped behind the pitchers mound. Then the Dynamite Creek Brass Band appeared from the third base side. They played an introduction fit for a king. Out of the limo steps Pops. He sure had a flair of show-business in him. He waved to the crowd, took off his hat and bowed. He motioned to the limo and the band to exit as he took the mound. He asked the umpire to allow him to throw a few pitches to warm up. The umpire consented.
The seventy-five year old hurler struggled with each warm-up pitch that barely reached home plate. The umpire called a meeting with all the parties to review the be: Pops, Little Bill, Dutch, Ed Becnel, the catcher, and the scorekeeper. The umpire stated the following, “Little Bill gets one at bat. If he walks, or hits a fair ball, he wins, if he strikes out, he loses. It’s that simple. Does everyone understand?” All parties nodded and the umpire yelled, “Play Ball!”
Little Bill waved to the fans and was booed. The more they booed, the more he egged them on. Pops took the mound. He was very deliberate. He toed the pitchers plate and stared in at Little Bill. It must have taken him two minutes to deliver the first pitch. His first pitch came in very slow with a high arch. To Little Bill, it looked like a watermelon coming in. Little Bill coiled to unleash a powerful swing. He swung as hard as he could and missed.
The umpire yelled, “Strike One.”
Little Bill turned around to the umpire and wondered what happened. He was ready to rip that ball over the fence and yet his swing missed it. The crowd roared in amazement. Little bill was beside himself. He pointed his bat at Pops and said, “You got lucky that time old man, but I’m gonna knock this one down your throat.”
Pops took a very long time to rub up the ball and walk around the mound. Little Bill was getting aggravated, “Come on you old fool, throw the ball.”
Pops stared in at Little Bill and again took lots of time. His second pitch was very high and slow. He looked like it might not make it to the plate. It looked juicy to Little Bill. He stepped up in the batters box and took another mighty swing. Again he missed it.
“Strike two,” yelled the umpire. The partisan crowd cheered. Little Bill couldn’t believe it. He asked to see the ball.
“This must be some kind of joke or trick,” quipped Little Bill.
He checked the baseball and didn’t see anything unusual; it was a good baseball. He took a deep breath and took a few practice swings and was ready to step in for the next pitch. All Little Bill needed was a fair ball. He even thought of bunting the ball. If he did, he would win the bet. All Pops needed to win the bet was one more strike. The crowd was cheering, “Pops! Pops!Pops!” Again Pops took a very long time to prepare for the next pitch. Again Little Bill was annoyed by this delay tactic. He walk halfway to the mound and told Pops,
“You stupid old drunk. You been lucky, I don’t know what you are doing, but this next pitch is going out of the park.”
Pops was unfazed by Little Bill’s outburst. He stepped on the mound and looked in to the plate. He took a long wind up and let the next pitch fly. The pitch floated up to the plate. Little Bill was extra careful not to swing wildly. He knew it was the third and last strike. He focused on the ball and took a controlled swing just trying to make contact. For the third time, he swung and missed.
There was a momentary silence throughout the crowd and then the fans excitement exploded into pandemonium. Little Bill fell to one knee is disbelief. His head was hung and shook it side to side. The fans raced onto the field and raised Pops on their shoulders and carried him around the field. They were delirious. It was like David defeating Goliath. The little old man had defeated the big bad ogre.
Rip Daigle, the sports reporter for the Dynamite Creek Rebel Yell, followed Little Bill as he walked toward the dugout. A crowd had gathered around Little Bill. Rip wanted to be the first to ask him, “what happened?”
Little Bill took a seat and shaking his head replied, “ I don’t know. The ball looked as big as a beach ball when it was coming to the plate, then as I swung, it seemed to disappear.”
He turned to Rip and asked, “didn’t you see it disappear?”
Rip said, “No, the the ball just floated up to the plate and into the catcher’s mitt.”
Little Bill began rambling, “That old drunken fool took so much time out there that it had me light-headed. I would’ve hit those lobs he served up there with my eyes closed. I don’t know what he did, but I’m telling you that those pitches really disappeared.” He repeated those comments over and over again.
Meanwhile, the crowds cheered as they paraded Pops around the field in triumph. When they lowered Pops, Rip ran over to hear from Pops.
“Pops, how did you do it? You had him swinging at air.”
Pops looked over his eyeglasses and smiled and winked, and said. “My old friend and mentor The Great Karmac taught me that the hand is quicker than the eye.”
by Joe Polito