As the burly clean-up batter approached the batter’s box, Irene played “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” to the delight of the few hundred people in the stands. Moments later, after the slugger took the fourth pitch for a called third strike, “Hit the Road, Jack” blared from the vintage Hammond B3 organ. The crowd cheered, and she smiled in appreciation.
The enclosed booth where Irene played the organ during Sunday afternoon games was about the size of a motel bathroom with barely enough room to hold the small end table on which she kept her sheet music, a bowl of cashews, and a bottle of mineral water. Because she was so short she had to sit on a couple of pillows in order to reach the keyboard. And taped on the wall behind her was another pillow which she used as a backrest between innings. The booth was not air-conditioned so often she kept the door open to get some ventilation and to chat with some of the fans.
Smiling, she recalled one ardent fan who presented her with a birthday card last year addressed to “The Barefoot Contessa.” Always she played the organ in her bare feet, even on cool days, because it was easier for her to move the pedals.
A ball hit deep in right field struck the top of the wall then bounced back into play and immediately the umpires conferred to determine if it was a home run or a ground rule double. As they did, the strains of “Three Blind Mice” carried across the field.
“Irene, you haven’t played the theme from The Addams Family yet,” a balding man observed as he poked his bright head inside the booth.
“Be patient,” she counseled him. “It’s only the third inning.”
“There has to be someone on the other team who deserves to be compared to Lurch.”
“Oh, I’m sure there is.”
“I hope what I’m hearing isn’t true,” an older woman with him said almost plaintively.
“And what have you heard, ma’am?”
“That they are going to replace you on Sundays with canned music.”
She grinned. “Oh, I don’t know about that. I’ve been hearing that rumor ever since I started working here.”
“Well, child, I hope it isn’t true,” she said earnestly. “Half the fun of coming to a game is hearing you play.”
Another opposing pitcher was relieved in the middle of the fourth inning and again, accompanied by the Hammond B3, the fans serenaded the banished pitcher from the mound: “Na na na na. Na na na na. Hey hey-ey, goodbye.”
Irene hoped the rumor the older woman mentioned the previous inning was just that, a foolish rumor, because she definitely needed the little bit of money she earned from playing the organ at Sunday games. Along with what she got from giving lessons and from playing various services and functions at her church, it helped her pay the bills every month. Without it, she was sure, she’d be back in debt. This was her second season playing at Wild Turkeys games. And this season she hoped that, if her playing generated enough interest among the fans, Mr. Gjelten, the majority owner of the ball club, might hire her to play some games during the week. So far, though, he had not mentioned anything about her work other than to compliment her, on occasion, about the cleverness of some of her musical selections. Still, she kept her fingers crossed, which was why she refused even to consider that she might be replaced by recorded music after this season.
Ever since her husband returned to Jakarta two and a half years ago, she had been struggling to make ends meet. Already she lost her home, which went into foreclosure less than a year after Kumar left her, along with most of the furnishings, including the organ her mother taught her to play on when she was a little girl. And two months ago her Pathfinder was repossessed late one night. Before, she had not had a worry in the world, never thought twice about buying whatever she pleased in stores, because Kumar had a very well paying job as the food buyer for three major hospitals in the metropolitan area. It was a position he had held for nearly six years before his abrupt departure. He fled back to Jakarta when it was discovered he had received close to half a million dollars in kickbacks from food vendors.
She was devastated, not having any knowledge he took the bribes. Nor was she aware of his intention to leave the country while his lawyer was negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors. One afternoon she returned from visiting her sister and found a note he had left on the drainboard saying that he would not be home for dinner. She never saw him after that and only every now and again received a postcard from him inviting her to join him in Jakarta.
Ridiculous, she thought every time she got one of his cards, and always tore them into the tiniest of pieces. There was no baseball over there, no homes plates, no dugouts, no backstops and rosin bags and pitcher’s mounds. Those were things that mattered to her now.
“You ought to apply,” her sister said after Irene mentioned she had heard the Wild Turkeys were looking for an organist to play at Sunday games in a turn-back-the-clock promotion.
“But I don’t know the first thing about baseball.”
“They want someone to play the organ not keep score.”
“But I think I should know at least something about the game.”
And learn she did, becoming as rabid a fan as anyone in the stands. Almost out of necessity she discovered the pleasures of baseball, the little quirks and ploys that cause so many people to fall in love with the demanding game. Certainly she hoped to continue to play at the ball park because she needed the extra money but she also very much enjoyed going there and watching the games. It was something she would miss terribly if she were let go at the end of the season, miss much more than her husband she suspected.
“Na, na, hey, hey, goodbye.”
T.R. Healy was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and has had baseball-related stories published in The Boston Literary Review, Midwest Literary Review, Slurve, and Superstition Review.