Out at Third
Bobby Hodges was an up-and-coming southpaw for the Dunlap Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are part of the double A league, which means the team travels by bus to every series of games. Unlike the major league teams, the minors don't offer the frills of the big times. However, young players, with stars in their eyes and a love for the game, don't mind the hard times as they dream of and reach for the rung of the latter up.
That day's bus ride takes them back to Dunlap from Springfield for three weeks of home games. All the players were anxious to get home to family and friends. Unfortunately, the bus left early, and five players and their coach were left behind. Needless to say, they weren’t at all happy to stay behind and wait for another bus to be sent.
"This is what happens when you knuckleheads stay out all night chasing skirts," Buster Paulson, the coach, said. He stood in the open door of the backup bus and ushered the handful of ballplayers on board. "Get in here so we can catch up with the rest of the team."
Bobby climbed aboard first, followed by his friend and roommate, infielder Buddy Sakata. They were followed by first baseman Rhett Black. Next were outfielders Mark Nenad and Steve Anderson. The bus driver, Jake, tossed their gear into the bay and boarded last. He finally pulled out of the motel's parking lot. Coach Paulson warned the driver that he would be unhappy if the bus didn't arrive on time for the next game.
"Hey, Rhett," Buddy called to the back of the bus. "Did you get a homerun last night or strike out again?" he asked. All on board knew that Buddy referred to the redhead at Louie's Bar.
"If it's any of your business," Rhett answered. "I did all right; the girl climbed all over me."
"What he's saying is," Bobby translated. "He was lucky to get a double. I saw her leaving with that big trucker who flashed the roll of bills at her."
"Ah, shut up," Rhett said indignantly. "She wasn't up to my standards. Let the trucker have her.
The right fielder, Mark Nenad, laughed at the banter, along with everyone else. He then noticed the speed of the bus. "Hey, we're going much faster than usual," he said. "What’s the big rush?”
“You want to get to town before the games start, don’t ya?” Paulson said. “Relax, nobody else is complaining.
“I don’t like it either,” Bobby Hodges added. “I know Highway 3. It’s got some treacherous curves ahead.”
“You mean like the curves Rhett chased after last night?” Jimmy Anderson said from the back of the bus. He started laughing and tossed a folded newspaper at Bobby. “You worry too much.”
Right after Jimmy threw the paper, the bus hit one of those tricky curves. The ballplayers let out a wide range of cuss words as they held the seat bar in front of them as tight as possible. The vehicle righted itself after the curve with the aid of Jake, the driver. The tight curve in the road changed the attitude of the passengers. They no longer antagonized one another with sharp barbs but were genuinely fearful.
“Maybe Bobby’s right, Buddy Sakata said. “Tell the bus driver to slow down.”
But his warning was too late. The bus hit another curve on Highway 3. This time, Jake lost control. The bus lifted itself on the two right wheels and skidded around the bend.
“I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” Jake screamed as he held tightly to the steering wheel and jerked it to the left. He didn’t have it! The players felt the bus tip to the side as it careened forward. They looked out the right windows and could see the boulders and trees below them as if floating above the ground at fifty feet. A sick, gnarling knot developed in their guts as the bus fell from the sky. All went black.
Bobby opened his eyes and looked around him. He layed outside the torn and twisted pile of metal that once made up the bus. At first, he saw no one else, but when he tried to move, searing pain ran through both legs and pierced his brain like a hot knife.
“Don’t move, Bobby,” he heard from behind him. He moved to see who spoke to him, despite the pain it caused, and saw Jimmy Anderson pulling the long back seat from the bus out and towards him. “We’re gonna get you out of here.”
All his teammates hovered around him and discussed what to do. They spoke in whispers so they wouldn’t scare him. Bobby felt confused and looked at his friend Buddy. “Is everybody all right?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
“Do as Jimmy said. There’s been an accident. I’m afraid you’ll be out for the rest of the season.” Buddy tried to smile to ease the tension, but it didn’t work.
“Look,” Coach Paulson intervened. “You are the only one with injuries; the accident caused you to break both legs. “We’re going to lay you on the seat cushion from the bus and drag you up the hill to the road. If we stay down here, no one’ll find us.”
“Okay, let’s do it,” Bobby said.
It took little time to strap Bobby’s broken body on the makeshift stretcher. The worst and most painful part was dragging him up the hillside. Searing pain enveloped his body each time they lifted him over a rock or a log. He looked up at the strained faces of his teammates and friends. They encouraged him with each step of the way. They peered down at him with pity in their gazes. On the way up, he felt as if he were standing. All the blood rushed to his broken legs, causing even more pain.
Finally, they reached the summit of the hill and Highway 3. Mark Nenad looked down into his face after they placed him on the ground. “There will be help for you soon. Hang in there, my friend. You will do great things when this is over.” Another burst of pain grabbed his legs. Bobby Hodge's vision went black as he passed out.
Bobby fluttered his eyes open again. A big man in a uniform prodded him. The guy squinted down the road and saw the flashing colored lights of an assortment of emergency vehicles.
“What’s happening?” Bobby asked.
“You’ve been in a terrible accident,” the paramedic said as a police officer approached them. “We’re gonna get you to the hospital. You’ll be fine, son.”
“You're one tough cookie.” the policeman grinned at him. “How did you pull yourself up to the road from the crash site?” That must’ve been damn painful.”
“Of course, I didn’t do it on my own. My teammates got me up here. It hurt a lot, but I could never do it on my own!” Bobby said. He looked at the two men standing over him, his eyes wide with confusion. "Where are the guys already at the hospital to be checked out?”
The policeman and the paramedic looked at each other with pale faces. The policeman gazed at Bobby somberly. “Your teammates didn’t make it. They’re still on the bus below. You’re the only survivor.”