After a quick inning of throwing smoke to the Rockville Jaycee misfits, Eddie Feigner stands near the row of aluminum chairs on the third base line and sips from a can of orange soda, calculating three more strikeouts, three more innings.
The King of the King and His Court is 58 years old, 20 pounds overweight ("By the end of my tour, I'll be a good 10 pounds under, though; gaunt, kinda frail-like with circles under my eyes, then I'll start eating big time again . . . ") and sweating like a caged hog in his stars-and-stripes-forever softball suit.
A cold brewski would do him good now. Pretty soon, it'll be dark, time to throw his headlights on the freeway and let the road find another team of good old boys to mow down. Feigner, considered perhaps the greatest pitcher in fast-pitch softball, has been doing these exhibitions around the country for decades.
"We gotta go, boys, we gotta go," Feigner shouts to the three young hosses he hired to fill his four-man roster. "I still got my pitching show and the moon's coming quick."
As the sun dips behind the line of gum trees in center field, Feigner rubs his big belly ("Two hundred and fifty games in six months, some of those triple- and doubleheaders, it's true about me losing all this extra weight . . . ") scratches his ears, then sips seriously on his Sunkist, staring at the barnstorming van in right field and the baby boy in diapers dancing in the arms of the pretty black-haired lady behind the picture window. That boy's one of nine grandkids, his son and catcher Eddie Jr.'s boy, and he's looking more like a pitcher every day.
"Don't call Eddie's boy Junior," Tom Semler, the King's road manager, said earlier. "He wants to be called J.R., ever since he went to law school nine years ago. Actually, he's still in law school. J.R.'s intelligent, highly intelligent, but there's serious doubts that he'll ever get his degree."
Up in the bleachers, there are 800 folks who paid $4 a seat to watch the King. And higher still, behind the hurricane fence where the Blair High School back basketball lot is strangely silent save the happy crowd telling Fast Eddie fast pitch stories, everybody looks down on the King in utter marvel.
"I'll tell you how good he is," says Suzanne Rubin, a pitcher on the women's team at George Mason University. "Eddie Feigner's so good he can do anything whatsoever he wants with a ball. Just anything whatsoever."
Later on, when, as he promised, the King lines up his admiring horde down the third base line stripe and signs his name across the image of his own strained, sweating face on souvenir programs, Feigner will look any and everybody eyeball to eyeball, the way he does a hitter, and let them squeeze the hard muscle of his famous pitching arm.
It seems this afternoon there are more players on the field than spectators in the stands. Nobody knows the score and nobody cares as long as the King throws a couple of hateful fireballs behind his back and one or two mean curving spinners from second base.
He humiliated a grown man in a clean, new uniform by striking him out while pitching blindfolded, another with three offspeed hummers launched between his legs. The team challenging the King and his Court is supposed to be comprised of the Rockville Jaycees and the Silver Spring Boys and Girls Club All-Stars. But there's a guy in a necktie and penny loafers swinging a heavy bat now, preparing to take his turn at the plate, and nobody pays him any mind.
"Now, you little people buy that program," the King says into a microphone, bouncing the echo of his peddler's bark across all of Silver Spring. "There's some truth to it. And buy the Court's T-shirt and the shoulder patches just like I wear. That shoulder patch'll make you an honorary member of my Court. And we got my new videotape out, too. Shows the world for the first time how to pitch a softball fast like me. Things bound to be a collector's item. And my book, the only one of its kind, published in five different languages, on sale now. And buy my . . . "
You can purchase these items in the back of the station wagon that the wife of the King's shortstop, Dave Barnett, works. She'll climb into the stands during the King's pitching show and help her husband and the other two plebes of the Court, Gary West and J.R., sell programs. "That videotape," barks the man who can throw a softball 104 mph, "I'm telling you, people, it's bound to be a collector's item . . . "
Feigner has been all over--38 years working the rubber, more than 1,000 no-hitters, close to 200,000 strikeouts, nearly 6,000 wins, traveling over 3 million miles and across 50 states, conducting over 78 foreign tours--but he grew up in Walla Walla, Wash.
"You know Batman, Adam West?" he's asking somebody. "He's one of two very famous people to come out of Walla Walla. I knew his daddy. The man worked a junk yard on the edge of town. And I guess you heard whoever named my hometown liked it so much he gave it two names. I guess you knew that, huh? Walla. Walla Walla."
The other very famous person to come out of Walla Walla, Wash., claims he keeps in shape by playing a little golf and by chasing his wife around the living room. He hopes his book on pitching, published in Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish, sells well overseas. "Not only for financial reasons," he says, "but because it is my goal in life to get fast pitch softball into the Olympics."
Feigner, however, says he's a pro, could never play on that team and makes a helluva lot more money than any major leaguer. "Softball, you see, has been so good to me," he says, "I'd like to give it something back."
So, as darkness falls, the crowd wanes. A few stragglers gawk at the man with the crew cut who pitches underhand. First, he wants a beer, then the King wants to know how many video cassettes the shortstop's wife sold.