PseudoPod 861: Swing Batter Batter

Swing Batter Batter

by Richard Dansky

A baseball clubhouse is a weird place. You’ve got California prep school kids rubbing elbows with good old boys from Texas and Louisiana, and guys from the Dominican and Venezuela mixing with guys who grew up in the inner city and still found their way to baseball. Nothing in common, and yet, all sharing a love of the game. Most of us, anyway – every so often you run into a guy who’s just playing for the paycheck, but the truth is that baseball’s a beautiful game, and it’s fun. You want to be out there in the field. You want to get up to the plate and take your hacks. You want to play.

Which is why it confused the hell out of me when Caleb Swanson stayed back in the locker room instead of coming out for BP. “What’s up with Caleb?” I asked after I finished taking my hacks – I was working on going the opposite way, to mixed success – but no one had a good answer. “I think he’s sick,” said Jeury Lopez as he stepped up toward the cage. Jeury had started the season as our second baseman, but his bats didn’t have any hits in them and he lost the job to a hotshot rookie named Carter. Now Jeury was trying to reinvent himself as a utility infielder, hoping to string together a few games in a row so he could maybe get his bat going and catch some GM’s eye for a job next year.

I liked Jeury. He was a good guy. But the game is hard, and if you don’t hit, it’s merciless.

“Come on, Lopez! In the cage already!” That was Billy Miller, the hitting coach. He was standing behind a screen on the pitcher’s mound, sweating profusely in the late August heat, a bucket of balls at his feet. He was everyone’s favorite batting practice pitcher because he served up meatballs with the best of them, and you could put on a show.

Jeury gave me a shrug and stepped into the cage. A minute later, there was the crack of the bat, steady and rhythmic as Miller tossed them in there at 80.

I turned my back and went down into the dugout. The cluhouse attendant was placing buckets of bubble gum and sunflower seed at strategic locations. I waved at him, put my bat and helmet away and went up the tunnel.

Sure enough, Caleb was in the locker room. He was slumped in front of his locker half-dressed, his uniform pants still hanging up behind him. He was a big man, country strong, with close-cropped blonde hair and a square jaw that made him looked like’d stepped right out of Central Casting. He was our left fielder, a beast in the right-handed batter’s box, and our cleanup hitter.

And he looked like he was about to cry.

“Jesus, Caleb, what’s wrong?” I said.

He looked up, sharply, and then he wrenched his face into something approximating a normal expression. “Hey John,” he said. “Nothing’s wrong. Why do you ask?”

I resisted the urge to call bullshit, and instead said,” Oh, I didn’t see you at BP and I was wondering. You feeling okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Everything’s fine.” He took a deep breath. “Just got the old flu-like symptoms.”

Which I knew was bullshit. “Flu-like symptoms” is code for “too hung over to play”, and Caleb was a monument to clean living. It paid dividends, too – he was leading the league in homers and third in RBIs, second in slugging percentage and top five in a whole bunch of stats that I didn’t even pretend to understand. He liked to hunt, he liked to fish, but he didn’t like booze or chasing women.

I sat down in front of my locker, which was damn near on the other side of the room, and popped my neck. “That looked painful,” Caleb said.

“Naah, just a little tight,” i told him. “Had a good day in the cage, though. Hit a couple of dingers.”

That got a laugh, but not much of one. Then his face crumpled up again, and he looked away. “I’m fine,” he repeated, without a whole lot of conviction, and stood. “I’ll be out in a minute, don’t worry.”

“You going to put your pants on first?” I asked. He chuckled at that, a real one for a moment. Then he finished dressing and headed up the tunnel without another word. I watched his retreating back. His shoulders were slumped, his head was down. This was not the posture of a man with 47 homers on September 15th. But there’s only so much a fourth outfielder can get away with when it comes to poking the team’s star. So I let him go, and I wondered.

Caleb hit another homer that night, number forty eight and it put us up three going into the ninth. But he didn’t seem enthused when he came back to the dugout, and he high-fived the guys half-heartedly before taking a seat at the end of the bench. No one sat near him; no one wanted to mess with his homer hitting mojo.

So naturally I went down there. He glanced up at me, then went back to staring at the concrete floor of the dugout. I popped a piece of bubble gum into my mouth and grinned at him, the very definition of deliberate cluelessness. “Great swing, bro,” I told him. “I don’t think that sucker’s landed yet.”

He shook his head. “That was a wall-scraper. I barely got it out.”

“But it counts,” I said.

“Yeah. It does.” He sounded miserable.

“Is something wrong, bro?” I asked. “I mean, the way it looks to me, you’re the hero. Let me guess – you don’t want the Gatorade bath they’re gonna give you when you do the post game interview?”

“Yeah, that’s it,” he said, but without conviction. Then our first baseman struck out to end the inning, and Caleb grabbed his glove. He ran out onto the field without another word.

The next day, Caleb took BP with his group the way he was supposed to. He smacked line drive after line drive into the seats. He joked around a bit with one of the team’s radio guys, and everything looked right with the world. Then the game started, and he was miserable again. This time I didn’t pester him on the bench. Again, nobody did, but not because he hit one out. Instead, he swung at bad pitches in all four of his at-bats and got himself a golden sombrero, a four strikeout day. He didn’t look like the league leader in home runs. He looked, well, he looked like he did when he first came up, fooled badly by breaking stuff and late on fastballs.

I didn’t try talk to him after the game. Billy was already in his face about his approach and the last thing Caleb need was me butting in. But I watched them, and I was struck by the hangdog look on Caleb’s face, like he knew better but went ahead and flailed in the box anyway.

Weird stuff, but none of my business, really. I got changed – no need to shower, I hadn’t gotten in the game – and went home.

We had an off day, and then the day after that was when things got weird. I got to the stadium early to get some extra work in, and Caleb was already there. So was someone else.

The guy standing by Caleb’s locker was sharp-looking, and I mean that in every sense of the word. He wore a gray suit that had to be hand-tailored, shiny black shoes, and a blood red tie. He was pale, like he hadn’t been out in the sun in years, with close-cropped black hair, and a thin mustache and goatee. His eyes were dark and when he looked at me, it felt like he was focusing on a point two inches behind my eyes.

“Hey Caleb,” I croaked out.

“Oh, hey John,” he said, clearly relieved to have someone else in the room. “This is my agent, Nick Horner.” He gestured at the stranger, who nodded ever so slightly at me. I nodded back, even as the hair stood up on the back of my neck.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Horner,” I managed, though I didn’t stick my hand out for a shake. I got the feeling he wouldn’t have taken it anyway. “What agency are you with?”

“It’s a small boutique agency, you wouldn’t have heard of it,” Horner replied in a voice smooth as melted chocolate. “I have a small, select list of clients, individuals who have rare talent and discretion. Like Caleb here.” He smiled, showing perfect white teeth, and turned away from me like I was no longer worthy of his attention.

Which I wasn’t, to be honest. Not with Mister All Star League Leader client of his standing there.

“You’ll get them tonight, Caleb,” Horner said, and his words oozed certainty. “Last game was an aberration. I’ve got faith,” and he emphasized that word just a little bit, “ in you.” Then he patted Caleb on the shoulder, nodded, and walked out.

I didn’t watch Horner go. I was too busy watching Caleb, who looked frankly relieved that Horner was gone. I’ve been around the game for a while, and that was the first time I’d ever seen that reaction. I’d seen guys love their agents, hate their agents, and swap their agents without a second thought, but until that day I’d never seen a guy who looked afraid of his agent.

There was a moment of awkward silence, finally broken when I said “The year you’re having, that man is going to make you a lot of money, my man.”

Still looking at the direction Horner had vanished in, Caleb nodded once. “Bill’s gonna come due, that’s for sure,” he said.

And right then was when I crossed the line. I didn’t know it at the time, but I opened my big yap and asked a question, and once I did that, there was no going back.

“Say,” I said, curious as to how he’d react, “Is your guy taking new clients? I’m not real happy with the guy I’ve got now.” Which wasn’t true – my agent was great and had probably kept me in the bigs two years longer than I had any right to be there, but I wanted to see how Caleb reacted.

What he did surprised me. He laughed. Not a good laugh, either, a bitter one full of self-mockery. “I don’t think he’d be interested in you,” Caleb said. “Like he said, he’s got a very specialized client list, and no offense, man, but you’re on the back nine of your career. Be thankful for that. He’s good at delivering on his promises, but what he takes in commission is something else.”

I scrunched up my forehead in thought. “Isn’t there a hard cap on what an agent can skim? The union’s supposed to have rules about that.”

“Well, there’s rules and there’s rules.” Caleb turned to face me. “And there are contracts and there are contracts. The union only goes so far.”

“Now you’ve got me interested,” I told him.

He just shook his head. “Leave it alone, John. Trust me. You don’t want any part of Nick Horner.” And then he turned his back on me deliberately and started changing into workout gear.

That set off alarm bells in my head. Normally guys are all about recruiting other players for their agents. There were no finders fees allowed, but an agent who picked up a new client always found a way to show their appreciation – a new car, for example, or a nice set of fishing tackle. For Caleb to warn me off like that was just, well, weird.

So I decided to do a little digging into this Nick Horner guy, and that’s when I got caught.

“So why do you want to know about Nick Horner?” That was my agent, Ramon, and he sounded a little guarded. I didn’t blame him. I’d texted him with my questions and he’d called me back almost immediately.

“He’s repping Caleb Swanson,” I replied. “I met him in our clubhouse and wasn’t impressed. But Caleb was acting kind of weird around him…”
“So you figured you’d snoop. Got it.” There was a pause, then Ramon cleared his throat. “Horner’s an odd one. He doesn’t represent a lot of guys, but the ones he picks up are always the guys who are about to have career years. It’s uncanny how he picks them.”

“Uh-huh. Sounds like he knows something we don’t know,” I said.

“Or has a very good chemist on staff,” Ramon replied. “Anyway, he doesn’t mix much with other agents. Never tries to poach staff from anyone and keeps his client list small. Does the required dance moves to stay certified, but otherwise the guy keeps to himself. There’s your scouting report in a nutshell.”

“Thanks, Ramon,” I said. “I appreciate it.”

“”You’re welcome. If you want my advice, stay away from him. Whatever’s going on between him and Swanson is none of your business, and you don’t want to get caught up in it.”

“Believe me, I know.”

“Good. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Catch you later, Ramon. Thanks again.” I cut the connection and put my phone away. Horner was sounding more and more like a mystery I didn’t want to solve. I resolved to not think about it any more and got ready to play.

After my game, there was a text message on my phone from a number I didn’t recognize. Fourth outfielders rarely get stalkers and almost never get targeted for scams – we don’t make the big bucks – so I checked it.

It was from Nick Horner.


“Son of a bitch,” I said, and immediately dialed Ramon. He answered on the third ring. “Hello?”

“Ramon, did you tell Horner I was asking about him?”
Ramon sounded surprised and vaguely insulted. “What? No. Client confidentiality is a real thing with me, man. Why the hell would you think that?”

“Because I just got a text from him telling me to butt out. I didn’t give him my number. I didn’t talk to anybody about this but you. So how the hell did he know?”

I could practically hear Ramon shrug. “Beats me. But I promise, he didn’t get it from me. I don’t talk to the guy. Honestly, he spooks me.” The last was almost apologetic.

“I believe you,” I told him, and I did. “And I think you’re right. Time for me to back away slowly from this one.”

“Good man. You’ve got more important things to worry about than Caleb Swanson’s feelings. The guy is going to cash in big time after this year. He can hire people to care about him. He doesn’t need you.”

“Truth,” I admitted. “Good night, Ramon.”
“Night.” He hung up and I stood there, thinking. There was no possible way Horner could have found out, unless it was Caleb himself acting on a wild guess. That wasn’t Caleb’s style, though, and I dismissed the possibility.

Which left me with precisely nothing in the way of ideas. Sighing, I finished changing and headed out to the player’s parking lot.

Caleb was waiting for me by the player’s entrance. “Hey, John,” he said.

“Caleb,” I responded carefully.

“I just wanted to say sorry for the way Mr. Horner acted yesterday. He’s normally much more polite than that.”

I waved him off. “Forget about it. No harm, no foul.” Caleb looked relieved at that.

“Thanks. Glad you were able to get on the field tonight,” he said, and sounded like he meant it. Which I had, coming in as a defensive replacement for him in left in the seventh inning as we were on our way to winning a laugher. Caleb hadn’t homered, but he’d rattled the fences with a couple of doubles and drove in four. It was a good night by pretty much anyone’s standards.

“Yeah, Skip got tired of listening to me grousing on the bench, that’s all.” That got a laugh. “Sorry if I butted into your business. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“Good.” I nodded. “Wouidn’t want anything to get in between you and fifty dingers.”

He smiled at that, but it was a sad smile, and I could almost swear I heard him mutter “I would.” Then it was gone, and he was good old boy Caleb again.

“Right, I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.
“Night, Caleb,” I replied, and we walked to our respective cars. His was nicer than mine, a brand new SUV I hadn’t seen him driving before. Probably a gift from Horner, I decided, and therefore none of my business. I got into my car and drove away.

The next night Caleb hit number 49, a two-run walk off job that he absolutely crushed. They said it went 470 feet. but I think they sold it short. The whole stadium erupted, and the dugout emptied so we could meet him at home plate. Someone even brought out the Gatorade cooler for the traditional celebratory bath.

And Caleb? He was cool. Not cool as in “cool guy you want to hang out with”. Cool as in cold, like he hadn’t really wanted to hit the homer in the first place, and was embarrassed – or maybe worse – that he had. But with everyone jumping around and shouting and dumping sport drink on people, it was kind of hard to notice.

That is, it was until he got right next to me in the scrum. I looked into his eyes and so help me God, he looked haunted. “Help,” he said quietly, and then the celebration pulled him away from me and left me standing there, confused and more than a little afraid.

After the on-field celebration died down, and guys did their post-game pressers and showered, I decided to stick around a while. I’d gotten two at-bats and I wasn’t real happy with either of them, so I thought a little film work might help. So while other guys were filing out to their rides, I went up to the film room and called up the video of my at-bats. They were ugly. The first one I got caught by surprise on a two-seamer low and away when I’d been expecting a four-seamer on the inside half of the plate, and I looked awkward and slow striking out. The second one was marginally better. I’d managed to make contact on a 96 mile an hour heater from their closer and grounded to shortstop. I saw some things I could work on the next day in BP, but while I was writing down notes, the video kept running. The guy hitting behind me had walked, which wasn’t exciting to watch, but then up came Caleb.

I watched him swing through a couple of fastballs. Then the pitcher decided to waste one down low, to see if Caleb would chase.

He did. Only he made contact and golfed that sucker damn near out of the stadium. It was remarkable, but watching on video, something about that swing looked funny. I rewound the video and ran it forward again in slow-mo.

And as I watched, I saw it. Caleb had clearly tried to hold up on that last swing, but it was as if the bat had other ideas. The bat – beautiful, gleaming maple stained black – looked like it pulled his hands through the swing, instead of him powering the bat. I rewound and watched it again, and then another time to make sure. So help me, that’s what it looked like had happened.
There was a knock on the door. I turned, and Caleb stepped into the room.

“Hi, John,” he said. “You got a minute?”

“Sure,” I replied cautiously. “What can I do for you?”

“I don’t know,” he answered, and I could see the truth of it in his expression.

I stopped the video and stood up. “OK, let’s try this a different way. You said something to me on the field. Why?”

He hung his head, like a kid who was about to confess to something that would get him in trouble. “Because you’re smart. And because you were nice enough to ask about me when no one else did.”

I nodded. “Well, thanks. So what do you need help with? You did say ‘help’, right?”

He looked away. “Yeah. Though maybe I shouldn’t have.”

Shrugging, I tried to jolly him a little. “You’re here. You might as well tell me.”

Caleb shook his head. “You won’t believe me.”

“I believe I belong on a major league roster,” I told him. “So you’ve got proof I believe all sorts of crazy things.”

He didn’t laugh. Instead, he dropped into a chair. “It started last year, when I couldn’t hit to save my life.” Which was true. Caleb had arrived on the roster a little older than most prospects, which meant the shine had worn off him. There was a lot of swing and miss to his game, mostly miss, but the ones he connected with went a long way. That was why the team kept him around, even though he couldn’t lay off low and outside stuff on a bet.

“I remember,” I told him.
“Yeah, well I went to a couple of hitting coaches after the season and they couldn’t help me. So I decided I had to make a deal.”

“So you signed on with Horner as your agent? How did that help you lay off sliders?” I grabbed and other chair and eased myself into it.

“Yes and no,” Caleb said. “I mean, I did sign on with Horner. That’s the deal I’m talking about. Only he’s not really Nick Horner.”

“ I knew it! No wonder he pulls all that secret squirrel shit!”

“Language!” Caleb admonished me. I apologized, and he kept going. “I mean, Nick Horner is just a name that he uses. But he’s really the Devil.”

I sat back. “Bro, a lot of guys have problems with their agent, but they don’t call them the Devil.”

Caleb shook his head. “You don’t understand. He’s the Devil. I went down to a crossroads outside of my home town at midnight and I called him up and he made me an offer. And I took it.”

“You…what?” I was having a hard time processing. Caleb plunged onward.

“He told me he could turn me into a 50 home run hitter. All it would take was signing on the dotted line. And I was so afraid I was going to get sent down again, or that I would just get let go that I said yes. So I signed, in blood, and he gave me a bat. He said to use it and I’d get everything I wanted. And at first, I did.”

“But the closer you got to fifty, the worse the deal looked?” I observed.

“And tonight I got number 49. One more and he’s got my soul.”

I thought about it for a second. On the one hand, it sounded ridiculous. On the other, Caleb was clearly shaken, and he obviously believed what he was saying.

“So what can I do to help,” I finally said.

“Nothing, probably,” he answered, and all the hope went out of his voice.

“Can you try using a different bat?” I asked. “One that doesn’t have Devil magic in it?”

He shook his head. “Whenever I reach for a bat, it’s there. Doesn’t matter if I try to grab a different one. It just falls into my hand.”

“Huh.” I was starting to believe him in spite of myself. “Can you sit out? Claim an injury?”

“That’s part of the deal – no injuries.”
“Dumbass,” I said. “Fake one. Stomach flu is always good for a day off.”

“I don’t lie,” Caleb said stubbornly.

“My man, if you’re telling me the truth, you made a deal with the Devil. A little lying isn’t going to get you in more trouble.”

“I don’t know if I could do it,” he said miserably. “I just don’t know.”

I leaned over and patted him on the knee. “Well, I do. Play sick tomorrow and I’ll try to figure something out.”

“You think so?” There was a faint tinge of hope to his voice, and I hated to hear it. He was counting on me now, and I had no idea what to do.

“I do,” I said, because what else was I going to say. “You tell Skip that your guts are bothering you and he’ll sit you. About time you had a day off anyway.”

Caleb rose from his seat. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you so much.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” I warned him, but he was already walking out the door.

Which left me alone, to try and figure out what the hell was going on. On the one hand, Caleb’s story was ridiculous. A deal with the Devil? That was old-timey, “Damn Yankees” stuff. On the other hand, he was terrified and broken, and that was no good for the team.

Best that I humor him, I decided. I couldn’t believe, but I could help. Or so I thought.

Caleb took my advice. When I got to the park he’d already reported to the trainer, complaining of an upset stomach. Skip had already pencilled him out of the lineup. He hadn’t pencilled me in, which I didn’t much like, but it was something.

Caleb took a spot at the end of the bench. I wasn’t thrilled to see him in uniform and in the dugout, but there was nothing I could do.

I settled in on the top step of the dugout to watch the game. It was a back and forth affair. First we went out front, then they did, then we tied it in the eighth.

Which brought us to the ninth. The pitcher’s spot was due up third, and it was a gimme that we were going to see a pinch hitter. I looked down at Caleb. He met my eyes, and then looked away.

Cursing under my breath, I made my way over to where our manager was sitting. “I’m ready, Skip,” I told him.

“Grab some pine,” was his response. “I’m going with Caleb.”

“But he’s sick,” I protested. I was invested now. Maybe I didn’t believe Caleb’s story, or maybe I did, but I knew that him going up to bat tonight was going to be a bad thing for him.

“I don’t care if he craps himself while he’s up there,” Skip said. “He’s still my best option. Wait your turn.” And with that, he looked away to focus on the opposing reliever’s warm-up tosses.

I sat down. The ballpark was electric, a packed house humming with the sort of constant dull roar you only get when thousands of people get together to cheer on one thing. We were close to a playoff spot, and if we could win tonight we’d be that much closer – two back in the loss column. On a normal night, I’d be feeding off that energy. We all would. Tonight, though, I just had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Caleb! Grab a bat!” That was Skip. Slowly, Caleb unwound himself from where he sat and walked down the dugout. He grabbed his helmet and batting gloves, and started getting ready.

Our first batter struck out on three pitches.

Caleb finished putting on his gloves, grabbed a bat, and headed to the on-deck circle.

Only it wasn’t a bat, it was the bat. You could feel the power oozing from it as he pulled it out of the rack. That bat was hungry for fastballs. Caleb held it away from his body, like he was holding a live snake, and then made some half-hearted swings. It didn’t matter. You could feel the energy coming off it. He was just a passenger.

Our shortstop was the second batter of the inning. He rolled over on a first-pitch curveball and grounded weakly to short.

That brought Caleb to the plate and the crowd erupted. You could hear them chanting his name. The stadium practically shook. And Caleb got in the left-hand batter’s box, took a few more swings, and settled in like a man condemned to wait for the first pitch.

It was low and outside at ninety-six. The opposing pitcher clearly wanted no part of Caleb, and so he was pitching cautiously. The second pitch was ball two, also away.

And I swear. I could feel the bat getting twitchy from all the way over in the dugout. It didn’t want to sit on Caleb’s shoulder. It wanted to feast on something over the plate.

Ball three was a shoulder-high four seamer. I half expected they’d just signal for the intentional walk at this point, rather than give Caleb anything to hit.

I was wrong. The next pitch was a fastball right down main street. Caleb swung, and fouled it straight back. He stepped out of the box, stared at his bat, tightened his batting gloves, and then stepped back in for strike two, a wicked slider that caught the inside corner.

That made it a full count. The stands went crazy, the fans going nuts. The opposing pitcher shook off one sign, then another, then he stepped off the rubber. The catcher called for time, got it, and headed out to the mound.

And suddenly, I knew what I had to do.

I made my way to the bat rack. No one paid any attention to me as I grabbed one of mine. I took a look back. Skip was head down, talking to the bench coach. Everyone else was on the top step cheering Caleb on.

The umpire went out to the mound to break up the meeting. The catcher trotted back to his position and put down the signs. Once again, the pitcher shook him off.

And I ran for it.

Nobody stopped me. They were all too shocked as I sprinted out onto the field with my bat. The umpire and catcher turned. Caleb took a step back, and then I saw him mouth the words “Do it.”

So I did it. Ran right to home plate and took the swing of my life at Caleb’s knee. You could hear the bone break, and then he fell, crying out. The stadium was silent for a moment, then a wave of horrified booing swept over the field. I reared back to swing again, but the catcher grabbed me, and then our guys were piling out of our dugout, and well, that night didn’t end very well for me.

But I swear, as they dragged me away and tended to Caleb, he whispered, “Thank you.”

They say that Caleb’s never going to play again, that the damage I did to his knee was so severe he’ll be lucky to walk without a limp for the rest of his life. As for me, I got cut and arrested, and I’m not sure which took place faster. But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

And if you have any further questions, you can refer them to my new agent.

About the Author

Richard E. Dansky

Richard E. Dansky

Richard Dansky is 20+ year veteran of the video game industry, where he has written for games like The Division, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and numerous others. He’s published seven novels and one short fiction collection, and was a contributor to White Wolf Game Studios’ World of Darkness games. He lives in North Carolina with a cat named Goblin, whom he swears was named that when he got her.

Find more by Richard E. Dansky

Richard E. Dansky

About the Narrator

Eric Luke

Eric Luke

Eric Luke is the screenwriter of the Joe Dante film EXPLORERS, which is currently in development as a remake, the comic books GHOST and WONDER WOMAN, and wrote and directed the NOT QUITE HUMAN films for Disney TV. His current project INTERFERENCE, a meta horror audiobook about an audiobook… that kills, is now a Best Seller on His website for creative projects is

Find more by Eric Luke

Eric Luke