With the Tampa Bay Rays home opener set for April 9 against the New York Yankees, locals have baseball on their minds. To celebrate, one local author—Michael Lortz, who’s been a freelance writer in the Tampa Bay area for over 12 years—is sharing an excerpt from his debut novel “Curveball At The Crossroads.”
Lortz has written about a variety of subjects, from local music, national defense, to cybersecurity. But his writing career is best known for covering Tampa Bay baseball. His love of the game is a big part the title recently published by Legacy Book Publishing in Winter Park, Florida.
“Curveball At The Crossroads” is the story of a young baseball pitcher who suffers a career-ending injury in his final high school game. After a few run-ins with the law, with his options for escaping his small Mississippi town diminishing, he makes a deal with the devil to resume his baseball career.
But every deal with the devil has a price—just ask Pete Rose.
“This story has been a labor of love,” Lortz told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. “It brings together two of my biggest interests, baseball and music, specifically the blues. I have always been fascinated by the story of Robert Johnson, and this is my twist on it. It is also fun to write about a fictional Tampa Bay baseball team.”
In this excerpt, JaMark Reliford has a visitor in his hotel room following his first Minor League win. Through his interaction with the tall man in the black suit, tie, and matching top hat, JaMark realizes the extent of the deal he made at the old dirt crossroads.
“Do you remember what you said after your great historical game?” the man asked. “Do you remember who you thanked for that masterful pitching performance?”
JaMark struggled to think back to that night. He remembered pitching, he remembered the results, he remembered his teammates congratulating him, and he did remember talking to the young reporter who wanted him to say something quotable. But after an arduous trip to Mobile, his exact words slipped his mind.
“I’m sorry,” JaMark said. “I don’t remember.”
The man stared at JaMark. “You thanked your manager who had to be convinced to give you a chance, your teammates who did nothing in the field, your grandmother who lectured you, a girl you never see, and an uncle who almost had you arrested for throwing fruit,” the man said, his voice growing sterner. “Where was my thanks? Who gave you back this talent? Who made you famous? Who made you who you are today? Me, me, and me.”
The man stood up and walked towards JaMark.
“It was all me,” the man said. “Who picked you up from a town drunk and made you something again? Me. Who gave you the ability to play again? Me. JaMark, where was my thanks? Where was the ‘oh, and thank you to the Devil for making me a baseball player again’?”
JaMark stood stunned. He knew there was something supernatural about the man considering he disappeared into a flaming hole in the middle of an old dirt highway, but JaMark wasn’t sure if he dreamt that or not. Although he wasn’t sure what kind of magic the man possessed, never did he think he made a deal with the Devil. JaMark tried not to divert his gaze from the man in black as he leaned against the hotel room door.
“Mr. Devil,” JaMark said. “Sir, how many athletes have you ever heard actually thank the Devil? It doesn’t happen. If there was an athlete interview rulebook, it would be in there. Never thank a deity but God or Jesus. You can’t thank Nammu, Ra, or even Zeus.”
The Devil peered at JaMark and considered JaMark’s point. JaMark peered back, attempting to hide the fear coursing through his body. But he held his composure, almost as tight as he held the door handle behind his back.
“You hurt me, JaMark,” the Devil said, his tone softening. “I read what you said, and it hurt. I felt like you didn’t appreciate me or anything I have done for you. I just want to know you are thankful for the gift I gave you.”
JaMark didn’t expect the Devil’s demeanor to change as rapidly as it did. He almost felt sorry for the ancient demon. He knew then he had the upper hand, and he wasn’t going to lose his soul or his ability to play baseball that night.
“Mr. Devil,” JaMark said. “I am always thankful for what you did. You know I am.”
“Then why couldn’t you say it?” the Devil said. “Just once, let someone know what I did for you.”
JaMark looked at the Devil. “Even if I did give you all the thanks in the world, people would look at me weird. That reporter might not have even believed me. No one would have believed me. You have to believe me on that.”
“Well, then,” the Devil said, regaining his composure and returning to the debonair flair with which he entered the room. “I believe our business here is done. I trust you will have a pleasant evening, and congratulations on your achievements.”
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