A League of Tony’s Own; A Freedom Lane Special

Paulie came out of his office of Paulie’s Pizza on State Street, with Da’Quarius, who was carrying a large box for his uncle. “They’re here!” he called to the group of young girls, around six and seven years old, in the main area of his pizzeria. They cheered as their parents looked on, some taking picture and some just texting on their phones. Da’Quarius set the box on the table and opened it up, taking the first item out.
 
“The honor is all mine,” Paulie said, taking the red softball jersey from his nephew and holding it up. “Paulie’s Pizza” was written across the back in large, white letters above the number one. The front read “East Rock Girls’ Softball” with the league’s logo on it. “Thank you for being the first ever Paulie’s Pizza team!”
 
“And thank Luca DiGenovese for goin’ outta business and abandonin’ da’ league,” Da’Quarius muttered.
 
The girls cheered, and the head coach of the Paulie’s Pizza softball team, Coach Ray, passed out the shirts assigned by numbers. The girls all put them on over their regular clothes. 
 
“Why can’t I talk?” Helen asked her wife and life partner Rose, sitting well away from the festivities in a booth in the corner, continuing an argument that had started all the way back at home, in a little house on Freedom Lane.
 
“Because I know you,” Rose sighed. “You’re just going to tell them that playing softball is going to turn them into a bunch of lesbians.”
 
“Isn’t that what happened to you?”  Helen asked.
 
Rose sighed again. “Yes, I used to play when I was younger, through high-school even, but that’s not what made me a lesbian.”
 
“Well then what did it?” Helen asked.
 
Rose replied with another sigh.
 
“I used to play little league when I was a kid,” Tony said, talking to Alice, the head of Paulie’s waitstaff, and Sal, one of the chefs. “ I hate to brag, but I was pretty damn good. I could have gone pro with it, too.”
 
“Why didn’t you?” Sal asked in his usual deep voice.
 
“They don’t let you play little league when you grow up, Sal,” Tony said.
 
Alice rolled her eyes and walked away.
 
“But I’d love to do something with baseball again,” Tony continued. “I begged Paulie to let me sign up to help coach, but he said that was a job for the parents. And he’s the one to told me to pull out all those years. I could’ve had a daughter in the league with one of those sexy, thick softball moms.”
 
Now it was Sal’s turn to roll his eyes and walk away.
 
Paulie passed out the polo shirts to the coaches, and took a red one out for himself, throwing it on over his clothes like the little girls had done. He smiled widely at his team as they laughed at him. “I’m sure you’re all going to knock them dead out there!” he exclaimed.
 
“I just want to say a few words,” Helen said, walking next to Paulie.
 
“No she doesn’t,” Rose said, coming right behind her and leading her away. “Sorry, Paulie.”
 
Paulie raised his glass of water in a mock toast. “Here’s to the girls of East Rock Softball and Paulie’s Pizza, the finest team to ever grace the field!” Everyone raised their own glasses of soda or water, returning the gesture. Paulie’s smile widened. For the moment, everything felt perfect, but such moments only felt perfect because they were fleeting.
 
“Salud!”
 
 
***
Freedom Lane: A League of Tony’s Own
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
***
 
Tony and Sal came in early on a Saturday per Paulie’s request to start cooking pizzas for opening day of East Rock Girl’s Softball. Paulie was very proud of the team bearing his name, and he had offered to provide pizza for the girls for both the opening and final games of the season.
 
“Come on, Sal,” Tony said, yawning, wearing his usual wife-beater and old jeans. “We got a lot of pies to make.”
 
Sal nodded, being a man of few words. He started kneading and tossing the dough.
 
“And not too spicy,” Tony said. “We don’t need those girls blowing steam from their ears.”
 
Sal stopped and gave Tony a look that could have been dirty, but his expression doesn’t change much.
 
“Or their anuses,” Tony added.
 
Paulie came in a moment later. “Good,” he said, seeing Tony and Sal already working hard. “I was hoping to find you both here. I’ll lend a hand.”
 
“Sounds good,” Tony said, making way for Paulie. “I already told Sal not to put spicy peppers on the pizzas.”
 
“Sal,” Paulie said, shaking his head. “They’re little girls. Plain cheese only.”
 
Sal gave Paulie the same look Tony had gotten before going back to work on the pizzas. It took most of the morning, but they had the complete order cooked and boxed.
 
Paulie checked the clock on the wall. “Right on time,” he said. “Pimple Puss is probably there by now setting up the table and putting out the sodas. Bring the pizza and pass it out. Remember: you’re representing Paulie’s Pizza.”
 
“What?” Tony asked. “Why do I have to go?!”
 
“You’re going with Sal,” Paulie said. “We discussed this.”
 
“We did?” Tony asked, looking toward Sal. Sal nodded. “I figured you’d want to be there after that big speech to the kids last week, Mister Softball.”
 
“I have a business to run,” Paulie said. “I’ll be working through the Saturday lunch rush by myself if it helps ease your pain.”
 
“Fine,” Tony said. “I’ll enjoy the fresh air and sunshine anyway. See you later, boss.”
 
“And remember,” Paulie said. “You represent Paulie’s Pizza. No nonsense. And you’re going to wear something over that undershirt of yours.”
 
Tony groaned. “People wear these in public all the time. Also, what the hell do you think is going to happen?”
 
“Sal,” Paulie said. “Make sure Tony keeps his shirt on and doesn’t get into any nonsense.”
 
“Okay,” Sal replied, nodding once.
 
“Seriously,” Tony said, throwing his hands up. “It’s softball with first and second graders. What the hell is going to happen?”
 
***
 
Coach Ray lay on the ground, mumbling as he stared blankly into the sky. He had been pitching to one of the girls, and she had swung hard, letting go of the bat as she did. He didn’t duck in time, and the end of the bat had connected to his forehead.
 
“Whoa,” Tony said as EMT’s rushed toward the fallen coach. “Did you see that, Sal?”
 
Sal nodded, watching with morbid fascination.
 
“I can’t believe the coaches pitch to these kids,” Tony continued. “These little broads are friggin’ dangerous!”
 
The EMT’s got Coach Ray on the stretcher and wheeled him off the field as the girls of Paulie’s Pizza cried. The two assistant coaches talked softly with the coaches of the other team.
 
“Son of a bitch,” Tony said. “They’re gonna forfeit. I can’t let Paulie’s Pizza get its first loss on opening day thanks to a friggin’ forfeit.”
 
“Tony,” Sal said. “Paulie said no nonsense.”
 
“Tell me,” Tony said, turning to Sal. “Is saving the day nonsense, or is it heroic?”
 
Sal shrugged. “There is nothing I can do to stop you, is there?”
 
“These kids need a coach,” Tony said, ignoring Sal. He pulled off his shirt, exposing his wife-beater and started walking toward the field.
 
“Wait!” Sal said, an uncharacteristic exclamation. “At least put the shirt back on!”
 
“Don’t you dare forfeit!” Tony snapped, interrupting the meeting between both teams’ coaches.
 
“Who the hell are you?!” the coach of the Canner’s Restaurant team asked.
 
“Don’t you work for Paulie’s Pizza?” an assistant coach of Paulie’s team asked.
 
“Yeah,” Tony replied, “and as a representative of Paulie Ventriglio, owner of Paulie’s Pizza and sponsor of this team, I insist you do not forfeit the game.”
 
The assistant coach stared at Tony for a moment. “They just took Ray off the field in a stretcher. The girls are really upset. We’re calling the game. This is just a clinic anyway. We don’t even keep score.”
 
Tony groaned. “Don’t start with that new-age non-scoring bullshit either,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of changes going on here.”
 
“What the hell is he talking about?” the Canner’s coach asked, addressing the assistant coach.
 
“Look at me,” Tony said. “I’m the coach now.”
 
“Excuse me?” the assistance coach asked.
 
“Give me the ball,” Tony said. “We’re playing this friggin’ game to its end.”
 
***
 
“Tony,” Paulie said, fuming after Tony and Sal had returned. “I asked one thing: no nonsense. Why are you now the coach of Paulie’s Pizza’s girls’ softball team?”
 
“You actually asked two things, since you’re keeping score,” Tony said. “You made me wear a shirt too, boss.”
 
“Did you keep the shirt on?” Paulie asked.
 
“What’s this?” Tony asked in return. “The friggin’ inquisition?”
 
“Sal,” Paulie said, turning away from Tony. “Please tell me what happened at that field today.”
 
Tony spoke before Sal could open his mouth. “It was -”
 
“I ASKED SAL!” Paulie shouted.
 
Tony backed away, holding his hands up, palms toward Paulie. Alice, along with some of the waitstaff and kitchen workers came out to hear. They usually did once Paulie started shouting.
 
“Tony saved the day,” Sal said. “They were going to call the whole thing off, but Tony stepped in and took over for Coach Ray after he was injured. He pitched, gave pointers, and helped the kids the whole time. The assistant coaches even thanked him and asked him to coach their Tuesday night game in Coach Ray’s stead.”
 
“I don’t believe it,” Paulie said. “He didn’t screw me over?”
 
“Far from it,” Sal said. “Though I am concerned about Coach Ray’s condition.”
 
“Told you!” Tony shouted, a look of victory on his face. “I’m a great friggin’ coach! And you know Sal can’t tell a lie! He might start to dissolve if he did.”
 
Sal shrugged, moving into the kitchen area, evidently done with the whole exchange.
 
“Tony,” Paulie said, sitting in a booth, motioning for Tony to sit across from him, causing the kitchen crew and waitstaff to return to their normal duties, somewhat dissatisfied that Paulie hadn’t given Tony a full-blown reaming. “If you do this, you do it the right way. You can’t half-ass something like this. You owe it to those little girls to be a decent coach if you choose to be one.”
 
“Sure,” Tony said, his usual smart-ass expression long gone. “I used to play little league, and I took it very seriously. We even won the game today.”
 
“You did?” Paulie asked. “I didn’t think they kept score in a clinic league for the younger girls.”
 
“They do now,” Tony replied.
 
“Wow,” Paulie said. “I guess times must be changing for the better. The girls should learn how to win and lose gracefully after all.”
 
“That’s exactly what I said!” Tony said, pounding a hand on the table. “It’s great when you and I are in agreement.”
 
Paulie sighed. “Just promise me you’ll do right by these girls.”
 
“I will,” Tony said. He got up and went toward the kitchen. “I better get to work now.”
 
“Sure,” Paulie said, pensive.
 
Tony went toward the kitchen when Paulie sat up suddenly. “Oh!” he shouted, getting Tony’s attention. “AND NO BANGING THE SOFTBALL MOMS!”
 
“WHAT?!” Tony shouted, rushing back from the kitchen. “You’re not the boss of my dick!”
 
“The hell I’m not!” Paulie retorted.
 
The waitstaff and kitchen crew returned.
 
***
 
Tony stood, wearing a wife-beater with “Coche Tony” written across it in magic marker, hands on his hips. He watched the softball moms bringing their children to the field. “If you build it,” he said to himself. “They will come.”
 
“Is dat why you asked me to come help you out?” Da’Quarius asked. “So I can watch you stare at da’ kids’ moms? You don’t need me here to be a creepy-ass mo’ fucker.”
 
“It’s not the only reason,” Tony replied.
 
“You know you spelled ‘coach’ wrong, right?” Da’Quarius asked. “But I’m startin’ to think you’re doin’ dat shit on purpose.”
 
“Look,” Tony said. “You gonna help me or what?”
 
“I came all da’ way here, didn’t I?” Da’Quarius asked. “You already got two other dudes helpin’ you coach. What do you need me for?”
 
“There’s a wig and dress in my car,” Tony replied. “I need you to put them on and play for my team.”
 
Da’Quarius stared at Tony. “Are you serious?”
 
“We won the last game, but these girls are sloppy,” Tony said. “I need to get the edge.”
 
“OK,” Da’Quarius sighed. “One: I ain’t doin’ it. Two: I’d be too old to do it if I wanted to. Three: I ain’t doin’ it. Four: Why da’ fuck you buy a dress? None of da’ girls are wearing dresses.”
 
“Is number five ‘I ain’t doin’ it’?” Tony asked, chuckling.
 
“There is no five,” Da’Quarius said. “Four was enough numbers. Unless you actually need me to help, umma go home.”
 
“Fine,” Tony said. “Get outta here if you’re not gonna be a team player.”
 
“Not a team player?!” Da’Quarius snapped. “Mo’ fucker, I’ve been playin’ basketball on a mostly-white team, carrying ‘em to one whole win dis season. Dey finished with zero last year!”
 
“Just go,” Tony said. “Who needs help from a loser like you anyway? One game? Shit. I’m going to make these girls unbeatable. Get lost with your one win, kid.”
 
Da’Quarius grunted something under his breath and walked away.
 
“Shit,” Tony muttered. “Kid acts like he never saw ‘Ladybugs’ before. This whole kid in drag thing worked for Rodney Dangerfield and that kid from The Never Ending Story who offed himself.”
 
***
 
“Fuckin’ Tony,” Da’Quarius said, walking down Freedom Lane toward the home he shared with his adoptive mothers, Rose and Helen. He kicked an empty soda can with his boot, sending it into the street. “Dis some bullshit!”
 
“What’s up, Daq?” Antonio Garcia said from his driveway. Him and his brother, Manny, were washing their Honda Civics. “Something pissing you off?”
 
“Nuttin’,” Da’Quarius said. “Just Tony bein’ Tony I guess. I had to walk home cuz I refused to wear da’ dress he bought me, an’ he’s runnin’ his mouth ‘bout shit he don’t know shit ‘bout.”
 
“Back up a bit,” Manny said, coming to stand next to his brother, wiping his hands. “Tony has been making you wear dresses for him? God, I hope that’s not true.”
 
“He’s coachin’ dis girls’ softball team,” Da’Quarius said. “But he’s bein’ stupid, askin’ me to dress like a girl to help him win an’ shit. He cain’t even get it through his head dat dey don’t keep score in clinic leagues. What the fuck does it matter?”
 
“Like in Ladybugs,” Manny said. “I gotta see if that’s on Netflix.”
 
“Wait,” Antonio said. “Tony is coaching a softball team?”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Did you listen to anythin’ I just said?”
 
“How old are the girls?” Manny asked.
 
“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said. “Six or seven or eight.”
 
The Garcia brothers looked at each other. “That bastard,” Manny said.
 
“What I miss?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“He knows how much we love baseball!” Antonio said. “Why didn’t he let us in on this?!”
 
“It’s coaching little girls for da’ Paulie’s Pizza team,” Da’Quarius said. “Tony’s da’ only dumb-ass without a daughter dere.”
 
“It’s the principle of it is all,” Manny said. “Come on, Antonio. I got a plan to get back at Tony.”
 
“I’m all ears, bro,” Antonio said, following Manny into their house.
 
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “I didn’t think dis softball stuff could get any dumber, but I think it’s ‘bout to be taken to a whole new level.”
 
***
 
“Come on!” Tony shouted, as a little girl named Bailey ran the bases during his third game as coach. “Head to third!”
 
The girls of his opponents team, playing for a business called “R&R Utility Solutions”, scrambled to get the ball. One girl picked it up and hurled it toward first, completely missing her teammate. 
 
Tony laughed. “You teaching these girls any fundamentals?” he asked. “We’re about to cream your asses like a can of corn.”
 
“Hey!” the coach of the other team, who was doubling as catcher, shouted, walking toward Tony.  “We’re not sore winners in this league!”
 
“Tell me about being a ‘sore winner’ when you actually win a game,” Tony said, chuckling.
 
The coach walked up to Tony. “Look, buddy,” he said. “I know you’re filling in for Ray, and we all appreciate you stepping up, but there’s a reason we do this without taking scores and this age. We only use ‘winners and losers’ when we’re at the point where we want to tell teach the girls how act when they do win or lose.”
 
“Not in this league apparently,” Tony said. “They don’t even keep score.”
 
The other coach groaned. “They do keep score when they’re older and have learned how to play on their own, without their coaches pitching to them. So please, let’s teach them how to behave and practice good sportsmanship.”
 
“Said the loser,” Tony muttered.
 
“That’s it!” the R&R coach said, throwing his hands up. “We’re done here. I refuse to play against you or your team.”
 
“Forfeit!” Tony exclaimed, throwing his arms in the air. “Oh, the two greatest words in the english language: forfeit. We win, girls! Beat them so bad they went running home to their mommies!”
 
The girls of Paulie’s Pizza cheered, throwing their mitts in the air in celebration.
 
“You’re doing these girls a huge disservice,” the R&R coach said, turning back toward Tony.
 
“I thought you were leaving,” Tony mocked, his team still going on with their loud celebration. “Or did you want to take a walk to the parking lot and settle this?”
 
“What?” the R&R coach asked, a look of genuine confusion on his face. “There’s little girls here. My own daughter is here, and you’re challenging me to a fight?”
 
“I didn’t think so,” Tony said. “Good night, coach dick-stain. See you in the finals.” He turned and left.
 
“There’s no finals in a clinic league!” the coach retorted. “Dumbass.”
 
“WE WON!” Tony shouted, throwing his hands in the air.
 
***
 
Tony was getting ready to leave after Paulie’s Pizza’s creaming of R&R Utility Solutions. He had congratulated the girls once again on their win. Afterward the assistant coaches came over to him. “Tony,” Ralph said. “We need to talk.”
 
“Yeah?” Tony asked. “Good win today, right?”
 
“No,” Rick, the other assistant coach, replied. “Jack was right.”
 
“Who the hell is Jack?” Tony asked.
 
“The coach from R&R,” Rick replied.
 
“Oh,” Tony said. “You mean Coach dick-stain?”
 
“Coach Jack,” Ralph corrected. “Rick and I have been getting messages from the other coaches. Some of the other teams are refusing to play against us too.”
 
“Good deal,” Tony said. “More forfeits. More victories.”
 
“I’m sure Jack is going to go to the East Rock officials,” Rick said. “We’ll likely get kicked out of the league if the other teams refuse to play us.”
 
“They can’t kick us out!” Tony said. “This is the first year Paulie’s Pizza has had a team!”
 
“Well if there’s no other teams who can play us…” Ralph said, trailing off. Something caught his eye: another team approaching with orange jerseys.
 
“Well, well well,” Antonio Garcia said, walking up to Tony and the two other coaches with his brother. “Look who we have here, bro.”
 
“It’s Tony,” Manny said. “We were coming to see him, remember?”
 
“Shut up,” Antonio replied. “We’re supposed to be trash-talking him, remember?”
 
“Oh yeah,” Manny said. “Well, well, well. Look who we have here.”
 
“I already said that!” Antonio snapped.
 
“I lost place!” Manny shouted. “Let’s start over.”
 
“OK,” Antonio said. “Well, well, well…”
 
“Hey, guys,” Tony said. “What are you doing here?”
 
“Girls,” Antonio said. “About face!”
 
The girls stood perfectly still.
 
“That means turn around!” Antonio snapped.
 
The girls all turned. In big, black letters on their back was the term “GarciaTube” above their numbers. Antonio and Manny beamed with pride at their very own girls’ softball team.
 
“GarciaTube?” Ralph asked. “Is there a team in this league for that?”
 
“No,” Ralph replied. “Isn’t that a porn site?”
 
“Porn and webcam site,” Manny said proudly. “Watch porn much, pervert?”
 
“It’s your site,” Ralph mumbled. 
 
“You cut us out of this deal, Tony,” Antonio said. “Now we’re in, and we’re taking you down.”
 
“What deal?” Tony asked.
 
“There he is!” Coach Jack said, pointing a finger toward Tony. “He’s still here!”
 
“Who’s this asshole?!” Manny asked.
 
“That’s my rival coach,” Tony said. “I don’t know who this mook is with him though.”
 
“That’s Gene Gorodetsky!” Ralph said. “He’s the head of the ERGS league!”
 
“What’s that?” Tony asked.
 
“The softball league you coach for!” Ralph replied. “Dammit, I miss Coach Ray.”
 
“Is what I’m hearing true?” Gorodetsky asked, crossing his arms and glaring at Tony.
 
“That Coach Jack-Ass needs an attitude adjustment?” Tony asked. “You’re right.”
 
“See!” Coach Jack roared. “He talks like that in front of the girls too!”
 
“Calm down,” Gorodetsky said, “the both of you. I will not have my coaches fighting like this. Why don’t you two shake hands and pretend that… What team is that?”
 
“This is the GarciaTube team,” Antonio said.
 
“GarciaTube?” Gorodetsky asked. “Isn’t that a porn site?”
 
“He’s heard of us, bro,” Manny said, chuckling, addressing his brother. He turned toward Gorodetsky. “Watch porn much?”
 
“Where did all these girls come from?” Gorodetsky asked.
 
“They’re the daughters, nieces, and sisters of our actresses or cam girls,” Antonio said.
 
“A couple of them might be Antonio’s kids,” Manny added.
 
“Dude!” Antonio snapped. “Shut the fuck up! They’ve never proven that!”
 
“Why are you here?” Gorodetsky asked.
 
“We’re challenging Paulie’s Pizza to a grudge match!” Manny declared.
 
“And we accept!” Tony exclaimed.
 
“No!” Gorodetsky shouted, waving his arms. “Absolutely no unsanctioned games with unsanctioned teams. These girls are six and seven years old for God’s sake. This is anarchy!”
 
“This guy would get along with Paulie,” Tony muttered.
 
“You won’t let us play in your precious league because we’re Puerto Rican?” Manny asked. “That’s discrimination.”
 
“YOU CAN’T PLAY BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT A TEAM IN THIS LEAGUE!” Gorodetsky bellowed. “I’ve run this league for fourteen years, and I’ve never, ever, witnessed this kind of blatant audacity!”
 
“Fine, mister vocabulary,” Antonio said, waving a hand absently at Gorodetsky. “We’ll go, but this grudge is not forgotten.”
 
“Yeah,” Manny added. “We’ll forgive, but we won’t forget.”
 
“Bro,” Antonio replied. “We’re not forgiving them.”
 
“So we’re not forgiving, but we’re forgetting?” Manny asked.
 
“Are you stoned, bro?” Antonio asked.
 
“Dude,” Manny replied.
 
“Come on,” Antonio said. “Let’s just go and pretend we ended on what I said.”
 
“Alright,” Manny said. “What was it again?”
 
****
 
“Den what happened?” Da’Quarius asked, sitting at the outdoor table in his backyard. Tony had stopped by after the game to let him know what he had missed, asking him to speak privately outside.
 
“Antonio and Manny just argued for a few more minutes about what the last thing Antonio said was,” Tony replied.
 
“I mean with da’ softball commissioner or whatever,” Da’Quarius said. “What did he say ‘bout all dis?”
 
“He was pissed,” Tony said. “What a friggin’ baby. He won’t let us cream the hell out of those Garcias and their makeshift team of porn offspring, and I’ve been warned about the other teams not wanting to play us.”
 
“You know what you gotta do, right?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Yeah,” Tony said. “I gotta step down as coach, let the girls play without me, get Antonio and Manny to back off, and make sure Paulie’s team doesn’t get kicked out of the league.”
 
“Hell no!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “You gotta have yo’ grudge match, den you do da’ other stuff. You think Paulie wants his team rollin’ over like a bad dog?”
 
“Good dogs roll over,” Tony said. “For treats and belly rubs.”
 
“Fuck belly rubs!” Da’Quarius said, slamming a fist onto the table. “Kick their asses. You know you’re a great coach.”
 
“I am,” Tony said, standing up. “And it’s time they all saw what I can do with these rag-tag little girls. This league is gonna be sucking me off!”
 
“Calm down with dat ‘suckin’ me off’ shit,” Da’Quarius said. “It’s still a league of little girls.”
 
“You go tell those two mooks across the street that they got their match,” Tony said. “Saturday. Noon.”
 
“I’m on it,” Da’Quarius said. He left his yard and walked purposely toward the Garcia brothers’ home. “Try an’ make me wear a dress, insult me, an’ make me walk home,” he muttered. “You messin’ with da’ wrong mo’ fucker, mo’ fucker.”
 
***
 
“Yo,” Da’Quarius said, coming into Paulie’s on Saturday for his shift.
 
“Hey,” Tony said, looking up from the counter. “We on with the GarciaTube team at noon?”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “You better bring the best out of your team too. Antonio an’ Manny ain’t fuckin’ around.”
 
“Neither are we,” Tony said. The sound of the toilet flushing came from Paulie’s private chamber. “Clam up. I don’t want Paulie to know who we’re playing. He might not understand that this is the only way to get the girls to play until the league comes around.”
 
“Okay,” Da’Quarius said, smiling. “I definitely won’t tell him who you’re playin’ against.”
 
“Good deal,” Tony said. “Thanks, kid.”
 
“Hey there, Da’Quarius,” Paulie said, coming from the restroom. “You ready to work?”
 
“Sho am,” Da’Quarius said, rolling up his sleeves. “Let’s do dis.”
 
***
 
Tony had left later in the morning to fulfill his coaching duties. Paulie was okay with it since he was coaching the Paulie’s Pizza team after all, making Tony promise he’d return as soon as he could after the game.
 
“You all set, kid?” Paulie asked. “You can get some lunch and head home if you’d like.”
 
“I got a better idea,” Da’Quarius said. “How ‘bout we head over to the field an’ watch yo’ team in action.”
 
“I can’t,” Paulie said. “I got the lunch rush coming on, and I’m already down one guy.”
 
“Come on,” Da’Quarius said. “It’s just for an hour or so. You got Alice and Sal here to pick up the slack.”
 
“Yeah,” Alice said, unknowingly playing devil’s advocate. “You’re so proud of this team, and you haven’t seen them play one game yet. Besides, I can handle the counter and Sal can handle the cooking. Go take some time for yourself. You work so hard.”
 
“Well…” Paulie said, thinking it over. “Okay. I’d like to see Tony coaching these kids too while he’s still filling in. I’m proud of what he’s done. Usually he’d just find a way to screw it all up.”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said, smiling. “I cain’t wait to see Tony in his element.”
 
“Okay,” Paulie said. “You’ve convinced me. Lets go.”
 
***
 
Paulie’s Pizza took the field, the girls all wearing their red jerseys and looking serious. Tony watched with pride, arms crossed against his “Coche Tony” tee-shirt. “Good hustle, girls,” Tony said. “Remember all we’ve learned. This is a huge game.”
 
Assistant Coach Rick sighed, standing next to Tony. “You really think this is a good idea?” he asked.
 
“I don’t know either,” Ralph, the other assistant coach said. “Gorodetsky is going to have our asses in a sling if he finds out about this.”
 
“Stop being a couple of betas,” Tony said. “I can handle that prick if he comes by. He’s not kicking us out of the league just for playing. It’s those other coaches fault for refusing to play us. They should all be ashamed.”
 
Ralph and Rick gave each other a worried look before running into the outfield to get the girls in the right positions.
 
“I’d wish you a good game,” Antonio said, coming up to Tony, “but we both know you won’t have one.”
 
“Hey, Tony,” Manny said. “Check out the chicks in our stands.”
 
Tony looked over, shielding the light with his hand above his head. “Holy shit,” he said. “Those chicks are friggin’ stunning!”
 
“We even brought the better softball moms,” Manny said. “Have fun over here with your curvy moms.”
 
“Hey,” Tony said with a quick shrug. “I like ‘em with a little more padding. It’s better than nailing a sack a bones.”
 
A woman gave the trio a scathing look from a folding chair. 
 
“What?” Tony asked. “That was a compliment.”
 
“See you on the field,” Antonio said. “We’re up at bat first. I hope you got a good pitcher.”
 
“Idiots,” Tony said. “This is coach-pitch softball. One of you ding-dongs has to do it.”
 
Antonio and Manny looked at Tony for a moment and then had a two-man huddle. They came out a moment later, smiling. “Thanks,” Antonio said. “We just decided we’re going to give them some nice, easy, underhand pitches. Those bases will be loaded in no time.”
 
“Dude!” Manny snapped. “Don’t tell him our strategy!”
 
“Doesn’t matter,” Antonio said. “We’re going to run this game.”
 
The Garcia brothers laughed as they went back toward their own dugout.
 
“Geez,” Tony said. “I hope I didn’t sound like that when I was learning the moronic rules to this league.”
 
***
 
The bases were quickly loaded. Antonio held the ball in his hand, watching Bess, a young girl on the GarciaTube team, stand at home plate, her bat ready, Manny behind her acting as catcher. Antonio gave his brother a wink and threw another easy pitch. Bess swung, connecting with the ball, sending it toward second base.
 
“RUN HOME!” Antonio at the girl at third, who had been kicking the dirt when the hit happened. “GO!”
 
The girl ran toward Manny and home plate while Paulie’s Pizza’s girls all ran for the ball, abandoning their positions.
 
“NO!” Tony shouted. “We talked about this! Stay on your friggin’ bases!”
 
“SCORE!” Manny shouted as the little girl jumped and stomped on the plate. “Antonio is probably your dad!”
 
“Dude!” Antonio snapped. “I told you to shut up about that shit!”
 
“They don’t have the ball!” Manny shouted.
 
Antonio turned to see at least four girls going for the ball in the outfield. “Fuck it!” he exclaimed. “EVERYONE RUN HOME!”
 
All the girls screamed and ran the bases. One of the girls from Paulie’s Pizza got the ball and started chasing after the others, trying to tag them.
 
“THROW IT TO A BASE!” Tony shouted. “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! THEY’RE GOING TO GET A GRAND FRIGGIN’ SLAM!”
 
***
 
“What the hell am I watching?” Paulie asked, standing near the home team’s bleachers. “I thought he had this coaching gig under control. Why’s he shouting at the girls like they’re wild animals? And is that those Garcia brothers? I don’t remember them sponsoring a team.”
 
“Dis is some shit,” Da’Quarius said, trying hard to hide his smile. “How da’ hell did Tony end up playing against a team sponsored by a porn site?”
 
“What?” Paulie asked. He read one of the orange jerseys. “GarciaTube? There’s no way the league would have allowed this.”
 
“I’m sure Tony has an explanation,” Da’Quarius said. “You should ask him.”
 
“I should ask him now before the commissioner steps in,” Paulie said.
 
But Gene Gorodetsky was already there, no doubt summoned by one of the parents or assistant coaches. He put a whistle in his mouth and blew it loudly, getting everyone’s attention. 
 
“Dude!” Manny snapped. “We’re trying to play softball here!”
 
“YOU’RE DONE!” Gorodetsky shouted. “THERE IS NO GAME SCHEDULED FOR THIS FIELD, AND THERE IS NO GARCIATUBE TEAM. I TOLD YOU THIS GAME IS NOT SANCTIONED, AND I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS!”
 
“What is going on here?” Paulie asked, coming up to the ERSG commissioner. 
 
“Oh shit,” Tony said. “Paulie’s here.”
 
“You’re the owner of Paulie’s Pizza?” Gorodetsky asked.
 
“I am,” Paulie replied, “but I have no idea -”
 
“Get your team off my field!” Gorodetsky said, waving an arm through the air. “You’re banned from this organization!”
 
“Hey!” Antonio shouted. “We were ahead when they got banned! We win!”
 
“You leave before I call the police!” Gorodetsky shouted. “I already told you you’re not a team here!”
 
“Because we have a boy on our team?!” Manny exclaimed. “Now you’re anti-trans?!”
 
“He hasn’t even gotten up to bat yet!” Antonio added.
 
My girls haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!” Tony argued.
 
“That’s it!” Gorodetsky said, taking his phone from his pocket. “I’m calling the police!”
 
“Shit,” Manny said, running away. “Let’s go.”
 
“Later!” Antonio called, running off with his brother.
 
Gorodetsky gave one last scathing look to everyone and walked away. “Never in fourteen years,” he muttered angrily.
 
“Boss,” Tony said.
 
Paulie just walked away.
 
***
 
“Come on!” Tony shouted, running after Paulie in the parking lot. “Can I at least explain and apologize?”
 
“No!” Paulie snapped, turning around. “You know what this meant to me, what it meant for my business! You promised me you wouldn’t fuck around with my business anymore, and then you go pull some shit like this! Don’t even walk back into my pizzeria unless you’ve somehow made all this right.”
 
“But I live there!” Tony called as Paulie walked back toward his car.
 
“I don’t give a shit!” Paulie shouted. “The worst part is what you did to those girls. They were supposed to learn the fundamentals of the game and learn about the comradery of being on a team, learning how to win and lose as a team, pick yourself up as team, together, and you took that away from them. To hell with this. You don’t get it anyway.” He kept walking, getting in his car and driving away.
 
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said, walking up to where Tony stood. “I didn’t think he’d get dat pissed. He even forgot he drove me here.”
 
“Wait,” Tony said, turning to Da’Quarius. “You brought him here? You set me up!”
 
“Not intentionally,” Da’Quarius said. “I just wanted you to get embarrassed fo’ talkin’ all dat shit to me. I didn’t want you guys to break up.”
 
“Shit,” Tony said. “You even talked me into this friggin’ stupid game. You’re a vengeful shit, you know that? What the hell is wrong with you?”
 
“I’m sorry!” Da’Quarius snapped. “But you needed to be taken down a peg. You were actin’ like a real asshole.”
 
Tony sighed. “I really fucked up, didn’t I?”
 
“Yeah you did,” Da’Quarius said. “For what it’s worth: I’m sorry I set you up.”
 
“Don’t worry about it,” Tony said. “You’re right. I deserved it.”
 
“So wha’chu gonna do ‘bout Paulie?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Tony thought for a moment. “There’s only one thing I can do,” he said. “I need to talk to that asshole commissioner into letting bygones be bygones.”
 
“Good idea,” Da’Quarius said. “You should start by not callin’ him an asshole.”
 
***
 
“So I spoke to that commissioner,” Tony said, sitting across from Paulie in his office a day later. “He reinstated Paulie’s Pizza as long as I agreed to be banned from ever coaching in the ERGS ever again.”
 
“Is that all you had to do?” Paulie asked.
 
“No,” Tony said. “I told him all that stuff you said when you were flipping out. You know: that stuff about being on a team, winning and losing on a team, picking yourself up as a team. Then I told him how you and I and the rest of the crew here work as a team, and how I lost sight of that.”
 
“Oh,” Paulie said, softening up. “Well I’m glad something I said sunk in.”
 
“There’s one last thing I agreed to,” Tony said. “But I need a favor to do it.”
 
Paulie sighed. “What is it?”
 
***
 
Da’Quarius went up to the Paulie’s Pizza stand at the fields where the team with the same name on their red jerseys were playing their final game of the season. The sign said the pizza was free for all ERGS players and their guests. “Wow,” Da’Quarius said, walking up to the booth. “Paulie really went far to keep his name on dose jerseys.”
 
“This was my idea, kid,” Tony said. “And it’s all on me. This cost me a month’s worth of pay, but at least the girls of Paulie’s Pizza will be able to play and learn to win as a team.”
 
“ARE YOU FRIGGIN’ BLIND?!” a young girl in red shouted at the umpire of her game. “I WAS SAFE, YOU ASSHOLE!”
 
“I’m glad Coach Ray is back too,” Tony said. “He’s going to have a handful getting my bad habits out of that team.”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius agreed, watching the little girl kick dirt as Coach Ray dragGED her toward the dugout. “I wouldn’t want his job right now.”
 
“Me neither kid,” Tony said, chuckling. “Me neither.”
 
 

 

THE END
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