Home Team Advantage
JACK C. HALDEMAN II
SLUGGER walked down the deserted hallway, his foot-
steps making a hollow ringing sound under the empty stadium.
Turning a corner, he headed for the dugout. He was
early. He was always early. Sportscasters said he'd probably
be early for his own funeral.
Slugger sat on the wooden bench. It was too quiet. He
picked up a practice bat and tapped it against the concrete
floor. Normally he and Lefty would be razzing Pedro. Coach
Weinraub would be pacing up and down, cursing the players,
the umpire. There would be a lot of noise, gum popping,
tobacco spitting, and good-natured practical jokes. The Kid
would be sitting at the far end of the bench, worrying about
his batting average and keeping his place in the starting
lineup. The Kid always did that, even though he had a .359
average. The Kid was a worrier, but he wouldn't worry any
more. Not after yesterday. Not after the Arcturians won the
series and ended the Lesson. Not after they won the right to
eat all the humans.
Tough luck about being eaten, but Slugger couldn't let
himself feel too bad about that; he had led the league in
homers and the team had finished the regular season 15
games out in front. Except for the series with the Arcturians,
it had been a good year. Slugger hefted the practice bat over
his shoulder and climbed the dugout steps, as he had done so
many times before, up to the field. This time there were no
The early morning wind blew yesterday's hot dog wrappers
and beer cups across the infield. It was cool; dew covered the
artificial grass, fog drifted in the bleachers. Slugger strode
firmly up to the plate, took his stance, and swung hard at an
imaginary ball. In his mind there was a solid crack, a roar
from the crowd, and the phantom ball sailed over the center
field fence. He dropped the bat and started to run the bases.
By the time he rounded third, he had slowed to a walk. The
empty stadium closed in on him, and when he reached home
plate he sat down in the batter's box to wait for the Arcturians.
He wasn't alone very long. A television crew drove up in a
large van and started setting up their cameras. Some carpenters
quickly erected a temporary stage on the pitcher's mound.
The ground crew halfheartedly picked up the hot dog wrap
pers and paper cups. Slugger started back to the dugout but
he didn't make it. He ran into the Hawk.
Julius Hawkline was a character, an institution of sorts in
the sports world. In his early days as a manager, the Hawk
had been crankier and more controversial than the legendary
Stengel. In his present role as television announcer and
retired S.O.B., the Hawk was more irritating and opinion-
ated than the legendary Cosell. True to his name, the Hawk
was descending on Slugger for an interview.
"Just take a minute." A man was running around with a
camera, getting it all on tape. "You owe it to the fans."
The fans. That got to Slugger. It always did.
"Okay, Hawk. Just a minute. Gotta get back to the locker
room. The guys'll be there soon.
"How's it feel to have blown the game, the series-to be
responsible for the Arcturians earning the right to eat all the
"We played good, said Slugger, backing away. "They just
played better. That's all.
'"That's all! They're going to eat us and you blew it four to
three. Not to mention Lefty--"
"Don't blame Lefty. He couldn't help it. Got a trick ankle,
"All! They're going to gobble us up-you know, knives,
forks, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, all that stuff; every
man, woman, and child. Imagine all those poor children out
there covered with catsup. All because of a trick ankle and a
couple of bonehead plays. Sure we can blame Lefty. The
whole world will blame Lefty, blame you, blame the entire
team. You let us down. It's all over, buddy, and your team
couldn't win the big one. What do you have to say to that?
We played good. They played better.
The Hawk turned from Slugger and faced the camera.
"And now you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the latest word
from down here on the field while we wait the arrival of the
Arcturians for their post-game picnic. Slugger says we played
good, but let me tell you that this time 'good' just wasn't good
enough. We had to be great and we just couldn't get it up for
the final game. The world will little note nor long remember
that Slugger went ten for seventeen in the series, or that we
lost the big one by only one run. What they will remember is
Lefty falling down rounding first, tripping over his own
shoelaces, causing us to lose the whole ball of wax.
Slugger walked over to the Hawk, teeth clenched. He
reached out and crumpled the microphone with one hand.
"Lefty's my friend. We played good." He turned and walked
back to the dugout.
The Hawk was delighted. They'd gotten it all on tape.
When Slugger got back to the dressing room, most of the
team was there, suiting up. Everything was pretty quiet,
there was none of the horseplay that usually preceded a
game. Slugger went to his locker and started to dress. Some-
one had tied his shoelaces together. He grinned. It was a
Usually coach Weinraub would analyze the previous day's
game~-giving pointers, advice, encouragement, and cussing
a few of the players out. Today he just sat on the bench, eyes
downcast. Slugger had to keep reminding himself that there
wouldn't be any more games; not today, not tomorrow. Never
again. It just didn't seem possible. He slipped his glove on,
the worn leather fitting his hand perfectly. It felt good to be
in uniform, even if it was just for a picnic.
The noise of the crowd filtered through to the dressing
room; the stadium was filling up. The Ardurians would be
here soon. Reporters were crowding at the door, slipping
inside. Flashbulbs were popping. Lefty snuck in the back way
and slipped over to his locker. It was next to Slugger's.
They had been friends a long time, played in the miners together.
"Mornin', Lefty," said Slugger. "How's the wife and kids?"
"Fine," mumbled Lefty, pulling off the false mustache he'd
worn to get through the crowd.
"Ankle still bothering you?"
"Naw. It's fine now.
"Can't keep a good man down," said Slugger, patting Lefty
on the back. A microphone appeared between them, followed by
the all too familiar face of the Hawk.
"Hey Lefty, how about a few words for the viewing public?
How does it feel to be the meathead that blew the whole
"Aw, come on, Hawk, gimme a break.
"It was a team effort all the way," said Slugger, reaching
for the microphone.
These things cost money, said the Hawk, stepping back.
The coach blew his whistle. "Come on team, this is it.
Everybody topside." The dressing room emptied quickly.
Nobody wanted to be around the Hawk. Even being the main
course at the picnic was better than that.
On the field the Arcturians had already been introduced,
and they stood at attention along the third base line. One by
one the humans' names were called, and they took their
places along the first-base line. The crowd cheered Slugger
and booed Lefty. Slugger felt bad about that. The stage on the
pitcher's mound had a picnic table on it and the Arcturian
managers and coaches were sitting around it, wearing bibs.
After they played both planets' anthems, George Alex, the
league president, went to the podium set up on the stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I won't keep you in suspense much
longer. The name of the first human to be eaten will be
announced shortly. But first I would like to thank you, the
fans, for casting so many ballots to choose the person we will
honor today. As with the All-Star game, the more votes that
are cast make for a more representative selection. All over
the country--the world for that matter--fans like you, just
plain people, have been writing names on the backs of hot
dog wrappers and stuffing them in the special boxes placed in
all major league stadiums. I'm proud to say that over ten
million votes were cast and we have a winner. The envelope,
A man in a tuxedo, flanked by two armed guards, pre-
sented the envelope.
"The results are clear. The first human to be eaten will be
... the Hawk! Let's hear it for Julius W. Hawkline!"
The stadium rocked with cheers. The Hawk was obviously
the crowd's favorite. He was, however, reluctant to come
forward and had to be dragged to the stage. The other
reporters stuck microphones in his face, asking him how it
felt to be the chosen one. For the first time in his life
the Hawk was at a loss for words.
The coach of the Arcturians held the Hawk with four of his
six arms and ceremoniously bit off his nose. Everyone cheered
and the Arcturian chewed. And chewed. The crowd went
wild. He chewed some more. Finally, he spat the Hawk's nose
out and went into a huddle with the other coaches.
Undigestible, was the conclusion, unchewable; humans
were definitely inedible. Something else would have to be
Slugger smiled to himself, thinking ahead to next season.
You had to hand it to the Hawk; he was one tough old bird.