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PSU MFA student publishes "The Knuckle-Curve" in The New York Times Magazine
Author: Eben Pindyck, The New York Times
Posted: October 21, 2013

Read the original piece here in the New York Times.

Batting First and Playing Left Field . . . Jim Gilliam

My dad imitated a P.A. announcer, crescendo and all. He grew up in the 1950s in Belle Harbor, a narrow spit of land on the outermost edge of New York City. He was the son of an invalid, a three-packs-a-day smoker who developed cancer and was confined to a chair in the family living room for most of my father’s childhood.

Batting Second and Playing Shortstop . . . Pee Wee Reese

I loved that name: Pee Wee Reese. It sounded diminutive, jittery, quick-footed — all the archetypal qualities of a shortstop. I imagined Reese flying out of the box, stretching a single into a double, sliding into second in his billowy pants. He was a good fielder, too, that much I knew, although, of course, I’d never seen him play.

Batting Third and Playing Center Field . . . Duke Snider

My father moved our family to the Midwest when I was 6. Before that, I slugged whiffle balls in the back of an apartment complex on 62nd and Park in Manhattan, surrounded by concertina wire.

Batting Fourth and Playing Catcher . . . Roy Campanella

Campy was one of the great catchers of all time, but he is best known for spending much of his life in a wheelchair. He was paralyzed during a car wreck the winter before the 1958 season. As a child, I owned a baseball card of him in that wheelchair with the heading “Symbol of Courage.” I never met my grandfather, but when I saw the card, I imagined that it was a picture of him.

Batting Fifth and Playing Right Field . . . Carl Furillo

My dad threw “junk.” His favorite pitch was a knuckle-curve. He would bend his index and middle fingers so that the knuckles were pressed against the skin of the ball like claws. Then he would carefully align his other digits flat with the seams. A hand looks grotesque, misshapen in this grip, but the ball moves in a ghostly, spasmodic way when thrown correctly, as if being pulled by an invisible string.

Batting Sixth and Playing First Base . . . Gil Hodges

He didn’t throw the knuckle-curve consistently. Sometimes it would wobble or veer and land in the strike zone, but mostly it would end up in the dirt or far overhead. Sometimes I would wait six or seven pitches while balls sailed out of reach or spit up clouds of dust. When a pitch was anywhere near the plate, my father would become exasperated if I didn’t swing — even if that meant my jumping clear in the air.

Batting Seventh and Playing Third Base . . . Jackie Robinson

When I really got ahold of one, it would fly over the tops of the pines in our yard and ricochet off the street. I almost hit cars many times — the trajectory of my moonball and the speeding automobile arriving at the same coordinate. My father wasn’t worried at all about a wreck, and as I got older, more and more balls bounced high off the street. He wanted me to shatter someone’s windshield, I’m convinced.

Batting Eighth and Playing Second Base . . . Don Zimmer

He fed me balls from a five-gallon bucket, and when he reached the last one, we would search the woods near the street for balls lodged in the undergrowth or hidden in piles of decaying leaves. After we combed through our own yard, we would hop the fence, cross the street and gather balls from the neighbor’s woods, hunched over and intent as if looking for a wayward key.

Batting Ninth and Pitching . . . Carl Erskine

I was born in 1980, 25 years after the Dodgers won the World Series, but these were the names of my childhood: Pee Wee Reese, Furillo, Hodges. There were others. Moose Skowron. Elston Howard. Bill Dickey. The language of my father’s childhood must have been very different. It would have included words like carcinoma and metastasize and terminal. He certainly never had a father to pitch him knuckle-curves. So when we played baseball on our front lawn, he and I were both kids, happily there for the first time.

Eben Pindyck is a graduate student in the master of fine arts program at Portland State University in Oregon.

E-mail submissions for Lives to lives@nytimes.com. Because of the volume of e-mail, the magazine cannot respond to every submission.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 21, 2013

 

An earlier version of this column misstated the number of years between 1980, the year the writer was born, and the Brooklyn Dodgers’ World Series win, in 1955. It is 25, not 35.