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Title: Pitcher Perfect

Pitcher Perfect

by Mizhowlinmad

2008

 

Rating: PG for minor flirting and cursing

Warnings: None

Disclaimer: once again, the A-Team belongs to SJC and I’m just borrowing them temporarily. I admit, part of this idea was an oddly burning desire to have Faceman wear a baseball uniform! And I really wanted to take a crack at a VA breakout scene. Based on an incident recalled not too fondly from my childhood. Also watch for brief homages to both Major League and Bull Durham, two faves. Sit back and enjoy!

 

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It was just another boring, uneventful Saturday morning at the VA for Nurse Traci Corea. And then he showed up.

Maybe she’d just grown used to the guys around this place, most of them vacant-eyed, muttering to themselves, their faces lifeless and gaunt. This guy; well, he’d get any woman’s motor running. Sure, she could tell already: he had a smile that could melt butter from a hundred feet away, the kind of blue eyes that could turn a girl into a quivering little pool of liquid, and a body that left you breathless and filled with anticipation. But that wasn’t just it.

He was dressed in a baseball uniform. And Traci Corea simply couldn’t resist a good-looking guy in a baseball uniform, especially Dodger blue. Wow, would you look at his…

“Hi there.”

Traci managed a high-piched “Hello,” then cleared her throat. “May I help you?”

“Sure can. I’m Linc Tolbert. From the Dodgers? Sorry I’m a little late. Traffic being what it is, well, I just got here as quick as I could.” He had a certain boyish quality to his voice, and it was just some more icing on the cake.

“Oh, yeah. I’m a huge fan! I catch all the games on the radio, you know, when I’m not working and all,” she said, relieved that she didn’t sound too much like a swooning, lovesick teenager. “I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of you. Are you on the active roster?”

He sighed and cradled his right elbow as if asking for sympathy. “’Fraid my pitching career is over. Blew out some ligaments in San Fran back in ‘76 and it’s never been the same.” He flashed his blinding smile. “No, I’m just an assistant coach now. Uniform still fits, though, so why not?”

“Yeah.” Now Traci was afraid her jaw just might be resting on top of her desk. She shuffled some manila folders in an effort to look occupied. “Now, Mr. Tolbert, what can I do for you?”

“I’m here for Mr. H.M., oh, what was his name? Murphy? Cormack?” Talbott said, and clicked his fingers in the air thoughtfully. “Something like that. Anyway, he wrote the winning essay in the ‘Take Me Out To Dodger Stadium’ contest, and he gets a free two days at fantasy camp. Paperwork was supposed to have been sent over by the front office yesterday by courier. I gotta tell you, we all had such a good time reading that essay of his!”

Dear God! Murdock wrote the winning essay? Then again, he did spend an awful lot of time by himself. And he’d been asking about extra paper lately. And stamps.

“H.M. Murdock?”

Tolbert slapped his forehead in mock amazement. “Yeah! That’s him. He must be some kinda guy. Know where I can find him? I’m, ah, kind of on a tight schedule and all, and so is Vin…”

“Vin Scully?” Traci squealed, almost knocking over her mug of tea in excitement.

“Well, yeah! Is there any other Vin?” said Tolbert with a wink. “He was especially impressed by this guy Murdock’s essay, and put in a request to meet him in person. Looks like this is the only day he’s gonna be able to swing it, though, so if I could go ahead and get the ball rolling…oh, sorry, little joke there…Nurse, ah, Corea?”

“Call me Traci.” She stared into his blue eyes. Oh, I could get used to that. “Okay, I’ve got it right here. Dr. Richter has cleared Murdock on a release through Tuesday morning. He’s a big Dodgers fan, too, has season tickets and everything.”

“Really?” Tolbert said, scribbling his own signature at the bottom of the form. “Sometimes I think some of the guys in the clubhouse could use a shrink. Maybe I’ll call him sometime. Well, that oughta do it. Now, about Murdock?”

Traci was speechless for a moment. “Right. He’s normally in room 104, but I believe he’s outside for rec time at the moment. They have it every Saturday morning. Down the stairs, take a left, and the rec field is just through the double doors.”

“Much obliged. I’ll give Vin your regards, ‘kay?” he said, doffing his cap.

“Um, Mr. Tolbert? Linc?”

“Yeah, Traci?” He smiled at her, milking it for all it was worth.

“Could I have your autograph?”

It was a good thing B.A. had thought of making those phony baseball cards after all. Who knew pro ballplayers got so much free publicity? Maybe I can talk Hannibal into sponsoring a Double A team instead of backing Aquamaniac vs. Temecula Tarantula…

Face paused for a moment to admire his reflection in the paned glass. The stirrups were a little tight, but otherwise, it felt, and looked, just like the glory days on the pitcher’s mound at St. Mary’s. It wasn’t Armani, but it had a certain…sporty appeal. Traci Corea sure thought so. He silently reminded himself to try and swing by her desk again before they left.

The rec field was just where she had said. Sunlight dappled the grounds through the foliage, and the grass was green even for September in Westwood. If you overlooked the two groups of patients noisily engaged in games of soft horseshoes and lawn bowling, it might have even passed for an arboretum. Face scanned the crowd quickly, but didn’t see the familiar tall, lanky frame he was looking for.

“Hey, Murdock! Where are you?” Face whispered frantically, not wanting the orderlies to overhear. “Please don’t tell me you’re practicing invisibility again…”

It’s the top of the seventh, still tied with one out. Valenzuela working hard but giving it all he’s got, folks…”

It sounded like a transistor radio somewhere nearby. The dulcet voice of Vin Scully drifted out across the breeze. And that meant…

“Murdock?”

Face came across a strange sight after a short time looking: H.M. Murdock, beneath his favorite eucalyptus tree, crouched in an agile squat and wearing a beat-up, mismatched set of catcher’s equipment over his black T-shirt (which appeared to read “Put Me In, Coach” in white lettering) and khakis. A protective mask was perched atop his old blue ballcap, which had been turned backwards. On each of his cheekbones was a stripe of blacking. He appeared to be waiting for the 1-2 fastball from Valenzuela, and even gave the appropriate sign with his fingers.

It took a moment for Face to realize that Vin Scully was, in fact, not talking at all.

“He delivers, a little low and outside. Thomas was taking all the way.”

At the same time he “caught” the errant ball, Murdock provided the appropriate narration for the action, his own voice perfectly duplicating Vin’s. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed the unseen pitch back to an equally invisible Fernando Valenzuela.

Just when we all think he’s getting better… Face sighed. After a moment’s hesitation, he waved one hand tentatively in front of Murdock’s catcher’s mask. Nothing.

“Murdock gives the sign, Valenzuela checks the runner on first. He’s ready. The 2-2 on the way. Curveball, just inside, full count.”

Face bent down and snapped off the silent radio sitting on the ground, which hadn’t been doing much of anything in the first place.

“Here’s the pitch…”

“Vin” trailed off, his jaw agape at the sudden loss of power. “Oh, and I don’t believe what I just saw!” Murdock’s chocolate brown eyes, aware and in the moment, met Face’s baby blues. “Heya, Faceman. Mind if I turn it back on? I don’t wanna miss the payoff pitch,” he said calmly, extending the catcher’s mitt in front of himself in anticipation.

“Murdock, it wasn’t even on in the first place! Isn’t this that radio B.A. threw out last month?” Face asked with growing exasperation.

“Yep. I couldn’t quite work all the bugs out, and they never give me AAA batteries when I ask for ‘em.” The taller man smiled sheepishly. “But I had it workin’ okay just now. What’cha think?”

I think you’re really crazy sometimes!

“I think,” Face said, taking a deep breath, “that I’ve got to spring you out of here pretty quick. The guys are waiting for us. You got your stuff ready?”

“Yeah. Got it right here,” Murdock answered without missing a beat. His bomber jacket lay in a heap underneath the eucalyptus tree.

“C’mon, Murdock, I’m not really taking you to Dodgers fantasy camp! I just said that because you’ve had impetigo and Haitian toenail fungus already this month! Let’s go!”

The captain stared at Face with that pleading, sad-eyed look of his. Pretty pleeease? “Can’t you at least stay a little while, Face? I don’t get to come out here that much. Wanna throw me the ball for a bit?” he asked, pointing somewhere in the direction of the pitcher’s mound and the unseen Valenzuela.

“Guess Billy’s not too much for playing catch, huh?” Face sighed.

Murdock shot him a stern glance. “You ever try to pick up a horsehide covered in dog saliva, Facial One?”

“I guess not. Hadn’t thought about that.” Humoring Murdock could be hard sometimes.

“Alright, then, you wanna pitch?” He thumped the catcher’s mitt eagerly.

Face couldn’t believe he’d been talked into this. B.A. was probably gonna kill him by the time he got back, and Hannibal would verbally harangue him when he tried to explain. But what’s the harm in it? Nobody would be checking on Murdock for the next half-hour or so anyway, so he might as well make use of this brand-new uniform he’d talked that blonde into giving him gratis.

“Um, Face?”

“Yeah?” he replied, taking one of the real baseballs he’d brought with him out of the equipment bag and tossing it in the air.

“Who’s Tolbert?”

Another sigh. “Linc Tolbert, for your information, Murdock, was a great pitcher before Tommy John surgery derailed his promising career. Now he’s an assistant pitching coach, and the special liaison to the Chavez Ravine Chicas dance team,” he explained.

Coming into the game out of the pen, and the crowd going wild, it’s Linc Tolbert! Valenzuela takes a seat after a valiant effort, and now this game sits on the shoulders of number…” “Vin” trailed off. “What number you wearin’, Face?”

“Oh. It’s, ah, 39.”

“Number 39, Tolbert! Let’s see if he can shake some of that rust off as he takes the mound. His faithful battery mate, ‘Crash’ Murdock, waits patiently…”

“’Crash?’ Gee, I wonder where that came from?”

“Whenever you’re ready, muchacho.” Murdock continued to squat, grinning, and lowered the mask once more.

Face trotted out to a respectable distance, adjusted his Dodgers cap, and looked for a rosin bag that wasn’t there. When you spend enough time around him, sometimes you start to think like him. Weird. Now, how does this go again? For a moment he took himself back to high school. It sure had been a while. In one fluid motion, he set, planted, and delivered a slider, his old specialty, at a respectable clip. Had to be a strike.

“He puts it in for a called strike. Gray was completely fooled by that off-speed pitch…”

“That was not an off-speed pitch! That was a slider!” whined Face.

Murdock flicked the ball back to him. “I’ve seen little old ladies in Newport Beach drivin’ faster than that pitch, Face. C’mon, put it in there!” he urged, giving the index finger sign for a fastball.

“Okay, ‘Crash,’ you want a heater, I’ll give you a heater,” Face grunted under his breath. He reared back and delivered hard. It landed in the catcher’s mitt with a satisfying whap!

“Just missed with the fastball outside. Tolbert looks like he’s having trouble adjusting…”

With hands on his hips, Face glared. “Look, Murdock, if we’re gonna play catch, let’s just play catch. No pressure, all right? It’s not exactly fun having Vin Scully describing my athletic deficiencies in exquisite detail…”

“’Kay, Face. If you say so.” Seemingly placated, Murdock tossed him the ball.

A few dozen pitches at a decent speed, and he really felt the old rhythm coming back. Templeton Peck’s still got it, folks. And I wonder if Murdock ever sat behind the plate before, well, before whatever happened to him? He seems to know what he’s doing.

“Just one more, Murdock, and then we really gotta get going,” said Face, amazed to feel a few drops of sweat running down his forehead. “It’s almost eleven. You know how B.A. hates it when I’m late.”

“Alrighty, Face, my man. Put it in the ol’ breadbasket.” He thumped the mitt and pulled his mask back down.

If Lincoln “Linc” Tolbert had been a real pitcher, he couldn’t have thrown a more perfect fastball than the one that Face delivered. It landed in with harsh finality. In his mind’s eye, he imagined the big, invisible slugger at the plate swinging his bat a half-second too late. Stee-rike! Shouted the invisible umpire.

“Hey, Face, second base!” hollered Murdock, springing from his crouch like a surprised cat. It all happened in an instant. The ball came back toward him as if shot from a cannon and made solid contact with his nose. With a yelp of pain, Face crumpled to the ground.

He looked up through a veil of agony and saw Murdock was by his side. “Oh, c’mon, Face, don’t you know you’re supposed to duck? That runner was goin’, and I couldn’t let him just…”

“Goddabbit, Burdock, shuddup! I dink you broke by dose!” he whimpered, holding a hand up and trying to stem the flow of blood, already staining the grass scarlet. “Gibbe sobething to put od it!”

With surprising calm, the tall pilot rummaged in the equipment bag and pulled out a clean blue hand towel with the Dodgers logo. “I thought you said you was a star pitcher once, Faceman,” he chided, holding the towel out with sympathy. “You should see a steal comin’ like that…”

“I’b goig doo kill you.”

Murdock gave his most winsome, charming, I’m-not-really-crazy smile. “Hey, it’s funny to hear that from you. Usually it’s the big guy who issues the threats, so it’s kinda nice for a change of pace.”

Wincing, Face held the bloody towel away for a moment. “How bad is it?”

“Oh, I dunno, maybe just a few stitches here, a bit of rhinoplasty there, and you’ll be good as new in no time. Give ya more of a rugged look. The girls’ll love it.” He was still smiling.

“RHIDOBLASTY?”

Murdock quickly gathered up the equipment bag along with his bomber jacket. “C’mon, Face, let’s get you inside. I think Nurse Traci’s on duty today; she’ll dig up some ice bags if I ask real nice.” Reaching down, he draped Face’s arm around one shoulder and helped him to his feet.

Madre de Dios! Is he all right?” This time, Traci Corea did knock over her tea.

“Robbie Gray hit a line drive right back up the middle. Linc here never had a chance,” said Murdock, his catcher’s gear flapping with every step. “Um, you got one of those ice packs anywhere, hon?” he prompted her, ignoring Face’s feral snarling.

“Hold on just a sec, guys.” She returned in an instant with a frozen blue bag. “Now here, hold it up, like this…that’s it…”

“Oh…oh…” The pitcher moaned. Spots of blood had landed on his pristine white jersey. “Draci, I’b id so buch pain!”

Before she could think, Traci reached up and planted her lips firmly on Linc’s. To her surprise, he lingered for a moment.

They broke the kiss. Murdock was staring straight ahead, slack-jawed, a curious glint in his eyes.

“Oh, God, I’m so sorry! I just want you to feel better, Linc, and…”

He smirked, holding the ice bag up to his nose again. “Blease. It’s okay. I’b a tough guy.”

“Mr. Murdock, you take care of him and have a blast at Dodgers camp, all right? I’ll see you on Tuesday, and I’ll be sure and look after Billy. You want me to bring around a wheelchair for him?”

“Dodgers camp? Is that where we’re goin’? Really really?” Murdock looked like a child on Christmas morning, hands clasped together. “YEAAAHOOOO!” It was the cry of joy he normally reserved for the cockpit. Face shot him a poisonous look, but Murdock was too busy jumping up and down with glee to notice.

Traci pushed a wheelchair in from the storage room. “Linc, it’s been so nice meeting you. Please get that nose looked at right away.” She hesitated, then added, “Stop by anytime, all right? And send me a postcard from fantasy camp?”

“Sure. Danks for the ice bag,” he managed.

Damn…she didn’t even give me her number. I guess there’s worse things in life; like having a broken nose on this property…

As Murdock wheeled him down the corridor, Face could only cringe in anticipation. B.A. hated bloodstains in his van.

“Y’know, Face, if you’d have just ducked…”

“Shuddup and keep pushing, Burdock.”

A moment passed.

“Do ya think B.A. could fix my radio?”

“Burdock, I said shuddup!”

Fini

 


Pitcher Perfect by Mizhowlinmad

 

 


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