Huggy and the Eggtones

X marks the spot

People talk about the challenges in the variety of sporting arenas and proceed with a litany of the most difficult feats within those arenas. Many folks claim hitting a baseball is the most difficult task while others are convinced expertise in skating or swimming or gymnastics is the pinnacle of athletic accomplishment. Don’t let anyone tell you different: the proficient and successful activity of horseshoe pitching is a blood sport. A simple game in which stakes are placed forty feet apart and by using standard size horseshoes, you have to demonstrate more accuracy and consistency that your opponents and by doing so, you win and they are vanquished. If you throw more horseshoes onto and nearest to the stakes than your opponent, you win.

The pits are located at each end of the forty-foot rectangle. Most of the good ones are filled with clay and are moist enough to allow for a slightly yielding surface that rewards accuracy and minimizes lucky bounces. The usual depth of the pits is about six inches deep and if you are so inclined, you should be able to push a shoe all the way to the bottom. A feeling of fresh brown sugar is the ideal texture and once you achieve that type of surface, keep doing what you are doing. Too many municipal parks will have untended areas which rock hard surfaces that send the shoes ricocheting in all directions. You can tell a good community whose backstops are pristine and the pits cool and smooth. The hitting of a backstop is an amateur move: uninitiated throwers always start too aggressively and expect to be rewarded for a shot that bounces off and lands on a stake. The rules clearly disqualify that type of throws but just as novice pool players just smack the balls and watch balls careen into a pocket and look around like it was planned. Good pool players call their shots and good pitchers know what is planned and what is luck and both share the disdain of random act of physics.

There has never been, and never will be a lucky horseshoe champion. There are too many tosses to maintain luck; the champions are mostly grinders that consistently pitch quality innings and make the other contestant lose. The momentary oddity of a rookie landing ringers vanishes quickly as the cold-blooded elite players engage in a competition of cutthroat match play. You can run for awhile but you cannot and will not hide from a professional.

The distance is thirty-seven feet from one foul line to the stake. Contrary to popular opinion and ignorant parents, the stakes do not stand perpendicular to the ground. They are slightly bent, pointing towards the pitcher, almost begging for a ringer. Stakes are one inch in diameter and are either made of cold-rolled steel, mild iron, soft metal or synthetic material but iron makes the best noise. The sound of iron squarely hitting iron is a sound not easily forgotten. There are hundreds of glancing blows that result in some odd clank but when a ringer smacks the stake full on and lands on a solid and perfectly prepared pit, it is truly a joy forever. In addition to my apologies to John Keats, the simplicity of two pieces of iron meeting in collision simply can’t be ignored.

The ringer, and all other earned points for that matter, is achieved with the only tool you have: the horseshoe. In the early years, actual horseshoes were used and for the most part, it worked pretty good but those types today would be declared shoes and disqualified even before you warmed up. Today, the shoes are manufactured strictly for the game with strict weight restrictions with size limitations of width, length and depth. The main improvement has come from the balance of the shoe, which makes for consistent rotation and distance. Like dart throwers, golfers and pool players, good equipment doesn’t give you any advantage but bad equipment dooms you.

The rules of the game are simple: each player pitches both shoes followed by the opponent doing the same and alternating throws continue throughout the match. Point limits vary with ranges of twenty-one to forty points but in championship matches, the first one to get to twenty-one points wins. The loser goes home. Scoring is also pretty straightforward. Any shoe must be within one horseshoe-width of the stake to be considered for points and the closest shoe to the stake gets one point. If you have two shoes closer than any of your opponent's, you get two points and the infamous ringer is worth three points each and must completely encircle the stake.

That is were the fun begins because these three scoring recipes begin to work together and different combinations bring different things. For example, if you have the closest shoe and a ringer, you can earn four points. However, if your opponent throws a ringer on top of yours, they cancel and only one point, for the closest shoe, is awarded. The last element is the leaner. Leaners are worth one point and are considered closer than any adjacent shoe except ringers. As each inning continues, both combatants throw and then wander down to the other end to sort it out. The random landings of shoes tell a story as you can see who threw first and how the challenger reacted. If you outscore your opponent, you have the honors to throw first in the next inning. The pros rarely say anything, as the score is determined as a mutual agreement. Some of the younger ones will chatter as they arrive at the scoring area and yammer some nervous little monologue of "I got two" or "The score is…" but the experienced pros know the score and can, if challenged, provide a toss by toss review of a match. The important matches will have scorers at both ends so the players don’t have to worry about anything but throwing ringers. In one match, two men approached the pit.

"Nice match, Huggy," said an older man in a sincere tone.

"Thanks," said Huggy, "It was a lot of fun playing you."

The younger man bent down and picked up all four shoes from the Pitcher’s box and cleaned the toe caulk of each shoe owned by his vanquished opponent. It was an understated and classy move on Huggy’s part. He was glad he won his match but he never took enjoyment in beating anyone when pitching shoes. He finally cleaned off his two shoes, inspecting them for cracks or burs, and placed them into his shoe sack. He shook the hands of both judges and wandered over to the scorer’s tent to notify them of his victory. In the horseshoe-pitching crowd, Huggy was an up and comer and his respect of the game was rare at his age.

Edward "Huggy" Huggington is considered an elite player with several tour victories in his pedigree. At 30 years old, he has been throwing professionally for ten years and has gained respect in the game and was considered a favorite by the inside group. Some players would peak and fade but over the last several years, Huggy always was near the top and his consistency made him a feared challenger. When Huggy won, he pitched with a quiet confidence and only a once-in-a-lifetime performance by someone else denied him of several victories.

A quiet and freakishly consistent thrower, Huggy has always been viewed as a favorite to win any tournament because his approach to each match was the same. He remains polite and cordial but quiet to this day but his failure to call attention to himself made him stand out even more within his small circle of friends. When his opponent threw, Huggy stood quietly behind and made no noise that would distract his opponent’s throws. During heated matches, he had endured distracting noises from challengers but he never said anything. For every time he was surprised by someone clearing a throat when he was in his back swing, he smiled and tossed a ringer.

"Hi, Hug," said a scoring judge when Edward sat down and completed his scorecard. "I watched the last couple of innings of your match, you threw good."

Huggy smiled and signed his card and slid it over to the judge for him to review it and accept it. "I got lucky," whispered Huggy, "He started off strong but cooled off a bit so I had a chance to catch up." When he said the phrase "catch up," he added a non-verbal handclasp as if he was trying to grab something out of the air. Huggy’s hands were slender and long and were perfectly suited to play music. Growing up, Huggy began playing the viola when he was younger but the calluses caused him to lose his touch when he threw so he switched to the piano to keep his touch sensitive and acute. He always wanted to feel what he was doing.

"Who am I up against next?" asked Huggy.

The scorer looked up and said "either Donovan or Wisnewski. They are still going at it."

Huggy knew them both and respected their games. As he was, they were both rock steady professionals that rarely played outside of their skill level. They were proud of their consistency and avoided the peaks and valleys of the game. Huggy was ambivalent on which one he would face but he enjoyed both of their company and he knew it would be a nice match either way. He viewed the competition between himself and the game: his opponent would never beat him, he could only beat himself and he was a peace with it. He rarely over-thought or tried to adapt his game depending on whom he would face as he took pride in playing steady no matter the match or no matter the player.

His mannerisms are unassuming and he always spoke in a soft and hushed manner. When he won, he remained down to earth and spent most of his post-victory interviews lauding his opponents. When he lost, he accepted the fact quietly and quietly went about his business. His voice, once heard, was hard to forget because it so fragile and gentle. The voice was coined at one tournament as "eggtone" which immediately stuck because it was the only way to explain his voice. Rounded like eggs, the timbre in his voice would rise and fall gracefully in an arc and a distinct rounded tone came along with the words. It was attached to Edward and his persona evolved into a hybrid of his gentle nickname and his voice. When the one-named celebrity became all the rage, Huggy took the path less traveled and became a phrase. He wandered out to a vacant pit and started slowly visualizing his throws. Huggy rarely threw shoes outside of competition because he felt it was a waste of time. He would practice with friends or play against himself as a method to keep his mind alive. His motion was hard coded into him and all he could do was to add anxiety if he kept practicing.

Huggy had come up through the junior leagues and could always be counted on to make any match competitive, no matter the opponent. Like every other horseshoe pitcher, his entire family threw and many of them still were active. Horseshoe pitching was accommodating enough: there were junior leagues, senior leagues and the sport reacted to assisting physical disabilities well before the law mandated less sincere efforts. His father was a respected pitcher in the late 1950’s but like most of the old guys, got swept out when the new breed of physically fit pitchers hit the scene in the middle 1980’s with planned regimens and quality equipment. These guys had studied the physics of the game and were products of rote mechanics with unrelenting and freakish muscle memory. The early pioneers of the sport we know today started in World War Two with makeshift pitches while killing time in the European theatre and the sport came home with the boys, especially in the ethnic neighborhoods, when bocce ball and lawn bowling were snubbed as the old school. There were hundreds of thousands of horseshoe pits across the country after the war but the vast majority of them became overgrown with weeds due to disuse and the advent of other activities. Horseshoe pitching takes some effort and practice that put it a disadvantage to easier and less challenging recreation.

When asked about tips and suggestions, Huggy would always emphasis the critical nature of footwork and wouldn’t go into a lot of further elaboration. Horseshoe pitching was a varied and chaotic of a sport as any and for everyone that claimed a certain release was the guarantee of success, someone else could cite an example to the contrary. Questions about different grips, training strategies, release points and all the rest would bombard Huggy and the other elite players but Huggy would not argue different schools of thought on pitching but he would try to emphasize footwork. Good footwork resulted in good balance, which resulted in consistency. Other fundamentals were worthwhile but nothing for Huggy to get excited about in interviews or when a fan stopped him for some quick advice That was his view on the game and he felt that he was giving up a deep secret with his answers but people, for the most part, overlooked his answers and continued to investigate other exotic methods that were more alluring, such as new equipment or other costly antidote for their game.

Between and after matches, there was an obvious caste system in place for tour professionals. The established players would lay claim to a corner in the hospitality tent and the rookies and local fans would make up a series of outer rings. A right of passage would occur when the established stars would wave someone in closer and allow them to join their exclusive club. There was always room for the chosen and the people who were positioned closer than their appointed rank would be ultimately pushed outward from the core. The touring pros enjoyed each other's company because it was true that the game of horseshoes had nothing to do with an opponent. You pitch well, you win. You pitch like a nervous banshee, you lose. Your opponent was always viewed an inconsequential because you would have to play almost everyone to get to the championship match so the grudge match attitudes never develop.

Huggy remembers the day he was invited into the inner circle. There was a tournament stop in Toledo, Ohio in the middle of a hot, muggy July. Huggy had won two tournaments that summer and was won them both in an elegant and consistent manner. His throws and strategy were not viewed as luck but rather of a thoughtful student of the game. He had been on tour a little over a year and was known as a talented kid that respected the game and his opponents so looking back at the day nine years later, Huggy was destined for the corner table. Huggy had just finished his final match of the day and came into the hospitality tent to cool off and collect his thoughts. He walked toward the player’s area and sat down at the first available space. He wasn’t being coy, just practical. There was no sense squeezing in a group of equally tired and equally sweaty players and he knew he wasn’t yet allowed so he showed deferential respect and took a place amongst a group of second and third tier players that he masterfully conquered that day. He said hello and took a long drink from a bottle of beer and heard a request from the deep recesses of the corner.

"Hey, Huggy," said a booming voice, "you threw real nice today." A series of supporting compliments accompanied the initial shout from other parts of the corner.

"Thanks," said Edward Huggington, as he drained his beer and stood up to grab another one. "It certainly wasn’t my coolest performance." His voice was soft but clear. There was a wave of laughter and the chairs parted. Huggy saw a narrow but distinct path appears towards the back of the corner.

"Come on, have one of our beers," said the voice, "I think they are cooler."

All touring pros have access to the same perks and Huggy knew that was his opportunity to join the inner circle. Forty feet away, the beer in the corner was the exact brand and exact temperature of the beer that was less than three feet from his hand. The Promised Land, similar to when a young comedian was waved over to sit on Johnny’s couch, was just ahead of him.

"I certainly hope so," said Huggy in a calm and measured manner, "I will likely place a few in my pants to cool me off so I will apologize now for anyone who gets one of those bad boys later tonight."

Bathed in laughter, Huggy made the move into the inner circle and sat with his heroes. The conversation wasn’t aimed towards him but he was allowed to add his two cents. A few times, he agreed with someone and when asked a question, he answered with confidence and sincerity. For the most part, Huggy was content to surround himself in the fraternity of professional horseshoe pitchers and talk about the game he loved. There was a discussion about the legends of shoe in counts. A shoe in count is not a ringer but comes to rest with any portion within six inches of any part of the stake. A shoe in count has a value of one point and the most famous shoe in count is a "leaner." A leaner, as you should know, is a shoe touching the stake (but not a ringer), is considered a shoe in count and has a value of one point.

In the history of pitching horseshoes, there has been thousands of stories about disputed shoes in count, foul shoes, broken stakes, broken shoes and crazy leaners that defied both physics and gravity. This group had seen it all and their stories were richly woven with obscenity and panache. The older guys would reference some legend from decades gone by and begin a pitch by pitch narrative of some hall of fame match. Huggy was transfixed because these were the fellows that his Dad played against and to hear the stories surrounding the legends was euphoric. Huggy ended up with a third place in the Toledo tournament but came away with much more: he was in the club.

A contestant must deliver both shoes within thirty seconds. It is in the rulebook and in tournaments, the judges all have stopwatches. Huggy always throws his shoes well within the time frame. With a pendulum arm motion, the first shoe is released and its position is assessed. Whether it lands on top of an opponent’s ringer, and negating it, or landing first on the stake, Huggy would recalculate his second throw and send it into the pit with an elegant but efficient motion. Some of the more annoying players would not step onto the platform, and starting the clock, for several minutes. They would stare down the court like they were seeing everything new for the first time. Huggy found these delays annoying but not disturbing. These players did it to everyone and after awhile; their style was accepted but never enjoyed. When Huggy would look down a tournament bracket and see several of the methodical, Bernard Langer-type pitchers, he knew the day would be a long one.

Huggy was looking at the day’s draw and a deep voice said, "Jesus, you will be out there all day."

The voice was that of a three-time world champion, a modest but bright-eyed man named Philip Schwartz. He always liked Huggy and he was the unquestioned champion of modern horseshoe pitching. Huggy also knew that the only way he would meet him would be in the championship round, optimistically scheduled for the day after tomorrow. Horseshoe tournaments were notorious for their rarely accurate scheduling as matches could go on indefinitely if both pitches were throwing well. Phil was king of all tournaments and a fixture at the top of the verifiable ringer percentage champion posted on NATSTATS. He was the man.

"Hello Bermuda," said Huggy, "It certainly looks that way. My fear is that those three," and Huggy’s finger glided across the upper brackets in a diagonal motion, "make it to me, I might have to eat my lunch out there."

"I have a quick run to the money round," said Phil. "I got a few hotshots who are about ready to cool off."

Huggy didn’t elaborate but he agreed with Phil. Some of the potential opponents had came out of nowhere and did extremely well in the last several weeks but they both knew it was just a matter of time for them to come down to Earth. Even these pitchers mainly knew they were running on borrowed time as the confidence and skills would ebb and flow. If they continued to win, their anxiety would grow because the fall was inevitable.

Huggy smiled knowingly and said, "I’ll see you soon Bermuda. I will take care of the slow ones and you can take care of the lucky ones." The cruelest comment between pitchers is to refer to someone as being lucky and these guys were lucky. Huggy was just stating a fact and with the complete agreement of Bermuda Schwartz.

Huggy went out and did well. He viewed the pacing of his opponents as just a quirk of the game that embraced and documented dozens of quirks. There were rules for everything: odd rules justifying a complete re-pitching on an inning, the ability to carry tools, different ways to count scores, different ways to pitch in an inning and that had nothing to do with the different ways of actually pitching the shoes. The oddity of structure was the fun part and knowing the rules just set the stage for the impending collisions of uniqueness and circumstance. Judges made the final call and just when you thought it was all written down, some crazy circumstance would occur and a precedent setting ruling would be established. Horseshoe pitching was a lot of things, but it wasn’t caught up in its past.

The first match of the day pitted Huggy against a mid-tier player who was on his way down. Primarily due to a loss in concentration and focus, the player would perform consistently (and at time brilliantly) but each time he would finish an inning there was a sense of relief. Each throw, although technically perfect, lacked confidence that separated players from champions. He could choose to pack in the tour and become the king of his local club. But his love for the game was still evident but it was just his internal gyroscope that was faulty. When he through good, he was relieved. When he threw poorly, he turned inward.

There is an unspoken rule of silence a match. However, players would talk a bit and try to assist their opponent if asked. It was not uncommon for a player to seek advice from his challenger if the issue was psychological. Any player on the tour had pitched a half a million shoes and they all had forearms like Popeye. The call for help was an unsaid request for a moment to collect their thoughts and attempt to block out the yips. Even the aggressive players showed deference when their opponent would ask how something looked or whether or not he looked balanced. The players looked out for each other and if one were faltering, the other one would take their time prior to stepping on the platform while clearing a caulk point just so the momentum of a downward slide wouldn’t harm their rival.

Huggy dropped two ringers in the middle innings with two distinct and solid clanks. The sound of the second shoe landing on the first was loud and intimidating. That sound permeates the surroundings as well as dealing a mental deathblow to the opponent as it signifies a player moving into the zone. The landing of a second shoe on top of a first show means the pitcher replicated perfectly the hold, arms swing, release and follow through and placed it exactly on the same place.

"Hug…that was beautiful," said a voice behind Huggy. It came immediately after he had finished his follow-through and it was from someone he was beating badly.

Huggy smiled because the comment was pure and without ulterior motive. His opponent was taken off guard and instinctively commented without any concern to the silence rule. Huggy had taken it as such and even if asked by a nearby judge, would wave off any opportunity to seek relief for the violation.

"Thank you, it felt great," said Huggy in a perfectly egg-toned comment.

"Hey, Huggy," said the voice again, "Can you watch me and see if you see anything in my back swing? I feel really hitchy today."

"Of course I will," said Huggy. "I will watch you in the next inning."

The two men went to the opposite end of the court and Huggy said, "Two ringers."

Huggy, having honors, threw again and placed a perfect ringer and a severe leaner on the stake. A potential point bonanza without any outward effort.

Huggy then retreated behind this opponent and looked at him critically. It wasn’t going to be anything significant and it likely was in his head but he cleared his mind and fixated on the stance and subsequent release of his rival. The first shoe released in a level position, leaving the hand cleanly. The release exemplified a deft and delicate wrist-motion with no jerk or hitch of the arm and wrist. After releasing the shoe, the player's hand swung up, above the head, in a graceful follow-through. At no time there was any lost-motion in the delivery. The shoe floated lazily through the air in an arc that was about eight feet high at its highest point. Wobbling as it traveled; the shoe opened just before it crossed the foul line of the pitcher's box. It dropped open-end-first onto the stake with a sharp clink as it encircled the stake.

"No hitch there," said Huggy.

"Man, that was fun," said the opponent.

There is little or no luck involved in pitching ringers. Nor is there any shortcut that will quickly transform a novice into an expert player. Hundreds of hours of patient and correct practice are necessary to develop a good pitcher and Huggy one time estimated that he had spent three years of his life playing horseshoes. As a young kid, he fought his father, as young men are prone to do, regarding the proper hold on the shoe. It is impossible to establish a fixed rule relative to the grips but there are two basic schools of thought. There are several ways of gripping a horseshoe to make it land "open" at the stake. With the grip for the one and one-quarter turn and the one and three-quarter grip but there are many unorthodox methods including the single and double flop shoes. These are frequently called "tumble" shoes. Sometimes a turn and a flop are combined. The number of revolutions it makes in flight indicates the "turns" given a horseshoe. To make a shoe turn either 1 or 1 times around in flight, it must be held by one or the other of its two shanks. When picking up a horseshoe, the proper way to hold it is with the fingers wrapped around one of the shanks. The thumb extends across the top of the shank. It is very much like holding a dinner plate between your finger and thumb. The index or forefinger and middle fingers go underneath. But here, the comparison with the dinner plate ends because the first joints of the fingers curve up over the edge of the inner-circle of the shoe. The third finger may be used like the index and middle fingers. Or, if the little finger is small and unable to balance the shoe alone, the third finger is used to assist the little finger. Some authorities call this the "gun-handle grip." That is a good definition too because the grip is very much like that used on a pistol-butt, with the forefinger acting as "the trigger finger." Huggy hated the lecture on holding the shoes and just wanted to throw. His father, realizing the brutal truth of strong fundamentals decades too late, persisted and forced Huggy to go against fun and instinct to learn the proper method. Huggy hated him and the sport for several years until the epiphany came. Once the science was mastered, the consistency established created the art.

After the match, the losing opponent shook Huggy’s hand and thanked him for the advice. Obviously, Huggy gave no advice but that description and use of that word implied the opportunity to refocus and take a momentary pause.

"I really enjoyed the match," said the player, "I am thinking about going out and throwing a few more."

"Don’t overdo it, man," said Huggy with a clear but tactical tone. "You are just getting it back. I would think about reviewing other things for now and let the good feeling live inside you for awhile. And think about your footwork."

"You are right, Hug. I have been sweating my grip mechanics for the last two weeks. It has to be ‘firm, yet flexible, neither too tight nor too loose. Holding too tightly causes undue strain on the hand and wrist,"' said his opponent, listing a litany of grip fundamentals in one breath.

"Work on your stance for awhile," suggested Huggy, "or maybe your footwork. Just stay balanced with the game and strive to get easy with the sport."

His friend left and Huggy took some time to shut his eyes. He was visualizing his game and thinking about how peaceful he felt. He remembered the feeling on the platform under his feet, the smell of the well-kept lawns, the rich darkness of the pit dirt and the beauty of the glint of the shoe as it traveled towards the stake. That is why he threw horseshoes; it made him feel as if he was part of a painting, a beautiful scene of art and nature.

The match ended up being well balanced and his accuracy and ability to overcome an improving player was comforting. He reviewed his score sheet, signed it and handed it over to the judge. The judge checked it for accuracy and added his confirmatory signature. Huggy was into the money round and definitely a factor in tomorrow’s matches.

A professional can make moderately good money. Appearance fees, tournament winnings, endorsements and other incentives allow for the top fifty players to be paid in the same category as bowlers, skiers, and elite shooters. It is a good life and the players travel with minimal distraction. They are popular around the world and many of the elite pitchers can make tremendous appearance money in international exhibition matches.

As in boxing, there are "right and left hooks" in horseshoe pitching and Huggy was in the left-handed minority on the tour. Right-handed players tried to make their ringers hook onto the stake from the left-handed side and consequently, left-handers try for right hooks. That way, the shoes do not go too straight on the stake, thus lessening the hazard of rebound. The hooking-type shoe, with a good wobble, will stay on much better than one that is thrown too flat and too straight on the stake. A good flight-wobble helps break the shoe's momentum in landing. The wobble imparts enough twists to the shoe to keep it from going on too straight and rebounding. A shoe will usually stay on when it hooks the stake from either side, just off center of the toe-caulk. Huggy knew this but he didn’t think about it. He felt that the beauty he derived from the flight of the shoe was enough and any more analysis would strip the beauty of the art form.

Although horseshoe pitching is one of the most healthful of all sports, tournament pitching builds up more pressure than most other athletic endeavors. A golfer has plenty of time to relax between strokes and a baseball pitcher can miss the plate any number of times and still pitch a fine game. But to get anywhere in a big horseshoe tournament, a player must throw an average of seventy-five percent ringers and a good opponent will cancel over seventy-five percent of those ringers. A match is won incrementally, with consistency and precision. Similar to a boxing match, you have to counter punch effectively but canceling ringers and then, at the right moment, switch to the offense and take them down.

An average tournament will cause a player to pitch slightly more than four thousand shoes during the course of a National Tournament and that number grows exponentially with the quality of the competition. In the championship match, it is common for both contestants to cancel out over ninety percent of ringers and the match can literally go on for five hours. The pressure and competitive tension is on every pitch because in elite play, all one player needs sometime is to find a weakness and begin to exploit it.

Huggy found himself in the championship match earlier than he originally thought possible. All his fears of slow play disappeared due to a combination of his excellent pitching and very disappointing performance of his opponents. Huggy was disappointed to win so fast because the fun was derived through the journey and these journeys were quick and without a lot of drama. He found himself in the last round early and there was really nothing to do but watch the other side of the bracket slowly conclude and resolve. He didn’t like to watch a lot of other pitchers because he began to tear down their game and technique and he had to constantly remind himself to just enjoy it for what it was: a beautiful performance.

A significant upset occurred in the semi-finals when Philip Schwartz lost to a red-hot opponent who was pitching completely out of his head. Philip stayed close for awhile but the rain of ringers never stopped and Phil, still human, was forced to lose with a look of confusion on his face. The opponent knew he was running on borrowed time because no one has, or could, been able to pitch perfect for that long of a stretch. After the match, Philip saw Huggy in the tent and sat down next to him. He had hoped to keep pitching, buying time, until the kid came down to Earth but that time didn’t come and eventually Phil folded.

Huggy, drinking water due to the stifling heat, wanted to stay hydrated for the next round and was getting ready to take on the kid that had sent the king packing. Philip, tired and frustrated, drank a beer and took a deep breath.

"I have seen that type of performance only two or three times in my twenty-five years of pitching," said Bermuda as he finished beer number one and hoisted beer number two with the same motion.

Huggy nodded and said in a quiet voice, "That was beautiful but scary. I couldn’t stop looking at his throws and even before they were released, I knew he would hit nothing but ringers."

Phil agreed and told some other stories of past players that found themselves in the momentary zone of perfection. "Perfection is maddening," said Phil, "maddening and frightening." At that moment, Phil’s opponent came into the tent and sat down far away from the elite players. He was still a novelty and certainly not worth an invite to the corner table. Huggy pitched against him a few times that summer and felt no connection other than respect for another talented pitcher. He continued to watch him and see that he was coming apart inside. The kid knew he had nothing left and was trying to figure out how to summon the pitching Gods for one final match. He was amazed he was going to be in a final but he also saw the future and saw himself losing to Huggy. The match had not begun but it was over before he started and the kid knew it.

Huggy walked out of the tent and paused behind the scared kid. He tapped him on the shoulder and introduced himself in an eggtone voice.

"Hey there, Man," said Huggy, "Great performance out there."

The kid smiled, because he knew Huggy was sincere.

"Thanks, Hug," said the kid, "I appreciate the kind words."

"Take your time, you had a long match." said Huggy, "When you are ready, let me know and we will go out together. This should be a lot of fun."

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