The Hazard Sparkplugs

Narrator: My apologies to those fans who truly believe that the "Dukes" reunion show in 1997 exemplified what really happened. Needless to say, these can't both be true. Or, can they? We could say that one of them is an alternate history. The point of divergence? Well, we don't know how Hogg died from the reunion, do we? He doesn't die in my timeline, and he fixes an election, which Roscoe didn't care about, so Cooter doesn't win a Congressional seat; Daisy's boyfriend's dad does, so he splits up with her and she doesn't marry. Or, on the other hand, maybe the reunion show takes place in 1995, Cooter loses the next 96 election, Daisy stays in town, and y'all can replace Hogg with Roscoe, give him a different deputy, and move Cletus up to sheriff. Nah, then you don't remember the show. This is Dukes of Hazard fanfic, not a "Dukes Reunion" novella, after all. Besides, as long as I credit the original creators with their copyright, I doubt there will be fights over canon as with some shows.

Okay, now that's out of the way. Where were we?

Oh, yes. With the Olympics so close to em, the fine folks of Hazard started pitching for a pro sports team. Nobody could believe it when the independent Homestead League promised a team to them; it was even more of a shock when the new owner was none other than Boss Hogg, one of the slipperiest characters ever to lead Hazard. Though he'd cut down on his fat intake considerably since nearly dying of heart disease several years back, he still looked like the widest politician ever, as well.

A crowd of over a hundred had squeezed inside a local eatery named the "Boar's Nest." It stood near the heart of Hazard County, Georgia, a very rural county where very little ever went on, including fair elections. Hogg had run the area for several decades, and many in the crowd wondered how the team could ever be run fairly.

Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrain, clad in police gear but now co-commissioner as well, to lighten Hogg's load, stood at a makeshift podium, waiting for Hogg to come out of his back room office. Seeing his friend and brother in law - how else could someone so inept have become sheriff, after all - nowhere, he decided to begin the festivities, anyway. "This is the moment you've been waiting for. Goody, goody, goody," came his excited utterance, a trademark of his. "All your votes have been counted, and we have a four-way tie for first for your new Homestead League baseball team!"

Desiring to steal some of the spotlight, Roscoe continued. "What will Hazard County choose to call the folks who will struggle to make the majors in places like Atlanta, fighting to overcome adversity, with the intense desire to win, without concern for million dollar contracts, and..."

A veteran race car driver, Luke Duke, hollered out: "Oldtimers, if you don't get on with it." Raucous laughter emanated from the crowd.

An odd noise that sounded like "ijit" accompanied Roscoe's scowl. "Just shut your moth and let me do this."

Luke's uncle, with a long, white beard worthy of Methuselah, shook his head and spoke from the same table, around which those adults who lived on his farm sat. "Roscoe, you and I both know this thing's rigged, so just give us the name."

"I'm surprised at you Jesse," declared Roscoe. "Why Boss' Hazard Pig Knuckles didn't even make the top 50." If he was younger, considered the gray-haired man, maybe he would have been able to push harder, and stuff a few ballot boxes, but he left me in charge of that, and by golly, I knew that was a really dumb name for a team. "Now, the names are the Flashes..."

"So, Roscoe rigged it," whispered Luke's cousin, Bo, to the others at the table, referring to Roscoe's dog, who was either Flash IV or Flash V, though nobody recalled the exact number.

"...the Bulldozers..." continued the sheriff.

Daisy Duke, yet another cousin of the other younger Dukes, smiled. She looked much younger than her forty-three years. "I hope that's it, that was my son's idea." She smiled, considering the fun the boy would have at the ball games this year. The new, independent league would appear at just the point when he was becoming interested in sports. And, with her own heart a little gunshy from a marriage that lasted several months before the fellow ran off, never to be seen again, she couldn't provide him with a very good role model. Oh, sure, her Uncle Jesse was very good, but one never knew how long one would live, and Jesse was pushing eighty. Her other cousins, Bo and Luke, had recently moved home to help with the chores around the farm, but they always seemed to wander back to the racing circuit. Yes, there was Enos, a heartthrob for a long time, but she wanted to take it very slow with him, for fear her heart would be broken again. After all, he had only moved back to town within the last couple years.

"What little kid wouldn't name one after a truck or some other big vehicle," Luke remarked as Roscoe fumbled with some papers. The crowd took this as a cue to begin talking again.

"You always were a sucker for those kids at the Orphanage," Bo addressed Daisy. "How come you didn't adopt the whole group of em."

Shaking her head, Daisy replied that "I don't know how I resisted, but the thought of having fifteen kids had something to do with it."

"Yeah, but think how much help that would be on the farm." Jesse laughed heartily at that comment from Bo.

Roscoe hushed the crowd and addressed the eldest Duke, having gotten his papers in order. "Jesse, will you tell your niece and nephews to cool it, they're the ones making these players grow old. Now then, the other two names are the Dairymen and the Sparkplugs Okay, so let's vote by applause. How many for Flashes." Light applause, the kind made when a golfer sinks a putt which gives him a 12 on a hole, filtered up from the crowd. His dog looked up sleepily and whimpered. "Sorry, Flash, I don't think we'll use that one."

Back to the people, he asked: "How many for the Dairymen?" More applause occurred, though it was not heartfelt. "How about the Bulldozers?" Less applause occurred than for "Flashes". "I don't blame you, I wouldn't want to have a team where folks shorten the name to bull'," Roscoe joked, and received a pleasant surprise - the crowd laughed. "How about the Sparkplugs?" Most people applauded this choice, and Roscoe announced that "Hazard County's newest baseball team will be call the Hazard Sparkplugs! And now, baseball's newest owner wants me to announce his first choice as general manager. Jefferson Davis Hogg!" Hogg entered without his usual white cowboy hat. Instead, he'd donned a baseball cap, a royal blue "H" in block letters on a red hat atop his head. Most of the crowd expressed disbelief.

Joining in that sentiment, Jesse rose quickly. "What?! What in tarnations does he know about running a baseball club?"

"Come on, Jesse. Most of the other baseball people don't even know where this place is, " Roscoe alibied.

"Gol'dangit, Roscoe," declared Jesse, "he's the greatest swindler since Al Capone." He walked up to the stage and turned off the mike, Bo and Luke following close behind him. "I don't even know if he ll honestly try and win with this ballclub."

Bo tried to soothe his uncle's fears, knowing a good deal about pro sports from his contacts on the racing circuit. "I don't think that'll be a problem; they bring FBI people in to talk to all the clubs, and they post signs everywhere in clubhouses warning about gambling. They want to keep players from even associating with people who could be gamblers. I don't think Boss Hogg can use this as a get-rich-quick scheme."

Jesse nodded slowly. He normally believed he knew best, but he readily admitted that one with more information could be wiser in that area. Roscoe implored him to "listen to your nephew. He can make money the old fashioned way if this team does well."

As others went to their seats, Hogg spoke excitedly, looking like a kid at Christmas. "Ladies..." he began, then realizing the microphone was off. He turned it on amongst many giggles. "Ladies and gentlemen, I gladly accept my offer to be general manager. It's January, we have till June before our 80-game season starts. But by then, I promise the fine people of Hazard a pennant. Now, I need to go work on some players."

As Hogg and Roscoe departed, the Dukes gathered around the podium. Luke threw out an open question. "With his past, how do you suppose that old moonshiner got a club in the H.L.?"

"Come on," Daisy remarked, reminding herself not to judge too quickly, something she spent much time trying to teach her son, "Uncle Jesse used to sell moonshine, too, and he changed his ways."

"Yeah, but that old coot's smooth as all get out. Course, I'll believe it more if the ballpark has legitimate giveaways," Jesse remarked, "and not those hollowed out baseballs and autographs of players that don't even exist like I've heard about."

Meanwhile, the boss and Roscoe discussed matters in Hogg's office. "Did you hear what that Jesse Duke said," exclaimed Hogg.

"Yeah, he thought you'd fix it so the team would be called the Pig Knuckles. I knew that was a stupid name for a baseball team," the sheriff remarked candidly. He didn't care if Hogg suspected that he'd failed to stuff the ballot boxes with that name. He knew Boss Hogg still handled all the important graft and corruption himself.

"Uh...Roscoe, that was a great name, and you just don't know it," Hogg remarked with a hint of enthusiasm. He considered chomping on a chicken leg, then decided against it, recalling his strict diet.

"Oh yeah? How come only 5 other people voted for it?"

"Three," Boss Hogg corrected him, "I wrote in two names of people that moved last year."

Roscoe chided his longtime friend. "If you only wrote in two, you must have had second thoughts."

Hogg silently concurred, though he would not tell his sheriff that, the better to keep him on his toes in other matters with which he entrusted him. "Yeah, well even if I did, look!" He pulled out a newspaper and handed it to the sheriff. "Read this!"

" Cow gives birth to two-headed calf,'" read the fellow in the light blue police uniform. Hogg slapped his forehead.

"Roscoe," he demanded, grabbing the paper and pointing out the article, "you dipstick, it's this one, here!"

"Where, here in the nationals?" He felt perplexed - few Hazardites paid attention to the national scene.

"Yeah, right there, under baseball team moving next year!"

Roscoe became more bewildered. He'd seen the owner's name before, and told the county's leader that "this is Byron Battitt. He owns a Pacific Coast League team."

"I know," came the comment with an ornery grin. "And I talked with him about moving his team to our neck of the woods."

"Uh, boss, I don't know how to tell you, but the Pacific's that way," came the reply, as Roscoe pointed in the wrong direction, then thought for a second. "No, wait, it's that way," he corrected himself, nearly hitting Hogg with his arm as it swung around. Hogg ducked and scowled at Roscoe. "Unless there's been an earthquake I don't know about."

Shoving Roscoe's arm down, Hogg declared that "for goodness sake, the NBA has two teams in Canada. The name of a league don't mean it can't have teams elsewhere."

"Well, the least they could do is change the name when they expand. The old one doesn't make sense," remarked the sheriff matter-of-factly.

"Neither does trying to name a team after your dog," came Hogg's gentle ribbing. "Now, the key is, I'm going to get this team some big support, to show Mr. Battitt why he should move his team to Hazard, and I've got a great place to say I'm gonna put a 40,000 seat stadium."

"Ooo, goody, goody, goody, I love it!" Roscoe paused in his enthusiasm and put a hand to his chin. "Uh, wait a minute, where?"

Hogg produced the reason for his plan. "The Duke farm. We say it's in the ideal spot along the road, and public pressure once they find out how much fun a team can be will force them to sell. That's how they do it in the bigs, public pressure. It'll work even better out here, where everyone knows each other. We make part of it for the stadium, but then we choose a neighboring piece of land for most of it, and we only have to give up 10% of that prime real estate. We get to use the rest." He smiled gleefully, considering the cunning nature of his scheme, one of what seemed like hundreds to get the best land in the county - all of which had failed thus far.

"Well, I guess, but that only gives us 90% of the farm. Then if we figure in my 50% of the 50%..." Roscoe thought out loud, trailing off.

"Oh, quit you're complaining. Tell you what, I'll give you 50% of 50% OF 50%." The sheriff fell for the line as he always did. "Well, that sounds a lot better."

"It'll be worth it. Now, help me figure out how to get around some of these rules the game has against gambling, this is keeping me up nights," Hogg remarked, exasperated.

Narrator: Ol' Boss Hogg did stay on good behavior for a few months. He expanded the high school's stadium to fit 15,000, and wouldn't you know, opening day, it was filled to capacity. This was particularly amazing, considering that was over half the population of Hazard. However, in rural communities such as this, because people don't see much happen, when something big does occur, everyone gets involved.

The handing out of free cowboy hats brought many to the park, as well. A drawing sometime during the season promised a truck to one lucky fan, though many considered that it might not run, because of the nature of the hats. This problem was quickly made known to a deputy sheriff taking tickets. As Cletus stood outside the ballpark, shouting "All right, everyone, you know the rules, no open containers, if I catch you it's an automatic fine," a disgruntled fan from large Fulton County, who loved to drive anywhere to watch baseball, strode up to him.

"Hey, officer," came the complaint, "these hats say All the way with LBJ!'"

Cletus explained that "the owner got em at a discount; what does it matter, anyway, you got a free hat." The fan entered the park shaking his head as Cletus mumbled to himself that "at least it's a winner, the hats coulda said Carter in 80.'"

At this moment, Bo and Luke Duke sauntered up to the deputy. "Hey, who's responsible for that No Parking' signs in the parking lot?" came both almost at once.

"You'll have to talk to Roscoe about that, I know he's around here someplace." He craned his head but couldn't find the sheriff. "Probably writing more tickets."

"Is he crazy," Luke exclaimed, "you don't put a No Parking' sign in a public parking lot!" "He says it's a safety issue," Cletus explained as if nothing were amiss, "if we let all those cars and trucks park here there's bound to be some major accidents."

"They don't want anyone parking here?" came Luke's incredulous question. The deputy quickly shook his head.

Bo pointed at the large group of cars and said: "You mean to tell me he's ticketing EVERY car in that lot?"

"Mm-hmmm. Every one." As the Dukes grumbled amongst themselves, Cletus gave an understanding shrug of the shoulders, as if he were explaining a law of physics. "Hey, I know how you feel, I just found one on my patrol car. But, it brought the Nigerian soccer team good luck when they got lost and we pulled over their bus."

The Dukes recalled the sheriff's actions during the Atlanta Olympics. The bus had gotten lost, and Roscoe had flagged it down, citing them for driving too fast in a school zone when there was no school. They impounded the vehicle for several hours because he said it could be stolen, though it was really to garner autographs from all of them.

Daisy walked up to Cletus with Ben, a young boy who came up to about her torso. "Oh, come now, you know very well it was my home cooking that won them the gold medal," she remarked jokingly.

Cletus chose to act cordial. "Well, you might be right, Miss Daisy, but this is a whole lot bigger than havin' one Olympic team drive through town. This will be a whole season."

At that point, a black man of moderate athletic build, standing about six feet tall, walked up to them. While there were few blacks in the county, they were not disliked; indeed, the people of Hazard had erected a monument to a black sheriff from neighboring Chickasaw County, who died in the line of duty, taking a bullet for someone, just across the line into Hazard.

"Hey," spoke the man, named Eli Houston, "anyone know where I might find J.D. Hogg around here."

"Oh, are you one of the players?" inquired the deputy.

Ben, the child, couldn't believe the question. "Don't you know that's Eli Houston? He's their star pitcher!"

"Why, yes," Cletus observed, "now that you say that, you do look familiar."

"Yeah, but I don't know how you can call me a star when we haven't played a game," Eli commented jovially.

"Did you ever pitch in the minors?" inquired Daisy.

" Nope, never been there." Eli further explained that "I blew my arm out my last year of high school, then spent the whole four years I was getting my degree rehabbing it. I was still only okay, so I started on my Masters. So, here I am, 24 and looking for a chance before I hit the real world for good." He hoped his new pitches would baffle enough hitters that he didn't have to rely on his fastball, which was only mediocre.

"Well, good luck," spoke Luke as he inquired as to the problem.

The pitcher explained that "we all got the team rosters a few weeks ago, that there Hogg says it'll make us feel more like family, we can talk to each other beforehand and stuff." Getting a puzzled look on his face, he stated that "I showed up today, and there's four guys I've never heard of, and they've got my room and three other's at the local motel."

"You don't think it was discrimination, do you," came Bo. He knew it wasn't likely - after all, Boss Hogg was the one who'd suggested the memorial plaque for the slain black sheriff. However, he also knew the possibility existed. "It's not like Boss Hogg, but..."

"Naw, the other three are white that got thrown out," spoke Eli, dismissing the notion. He didn't care if it was, after all he'd been through it would only be one more hurdle to overcome. However, he knew it couldn't be. "The other three black players kept their rooms. So, here I am, half an hour till I'm supposed to start, wondering about how I'm gonna find a roof over my head tonight."

"You can sleep with us," spouted the boy, remembering his mother's command to always be ready to show kindness to others, especially those who were down on their luck. The other laughed.

"That's right neighborly of you," came the proud mother, not having realized what her lessons would entail, "but we don't need to offer our home to him. I'm sure he can find..."

"Come on, Daisy, we'll ask Uncle Jesse, I'm sure he wouldn't mind. We've all heard the press reports about this guy, he won't be no trouble," Luke ascertained.

Daisy thought a moment. She knew part of the reason Ben had asked was likely to say he shared a home with an athlete. It would still be a valuable lesson, but she included a caveat. "Well...Okay, but I'm not lettin' Ben treat it like a sleepover if he gets to stay." She told her cousins "You boys'll have to pair up and let him sleep in one of your rooms."

Eli grinned, visibly stunned. He'd expected okay treatment, but nothing like this. "Man, folks sure are friendly around here. I've never heard of being offered a place to stay just like that. And, y'all don't mind if I'm black?"

"Hey, why should that matter," wondered Bo. "It's never your outside, it's always what's in a person's heart that counts."

Back in Hogg's office, he and Roscoe sat with four other men.. "Now, you boys know what to..." Hogg began as Cletus barged into the place.

"Cletus, don't you ever knock?" inquired the incredulous sheriff.

"Sorry, Roscoe, but the Boss wanted me to tell him if those other four got housing. I'll come back later, though." He began to leave, but Hogg intervened.

"Cletus, as long as you messed up our concentration, you may as well tell us what's on your mind.." He began to eat as Cletus spoke.

The deputy reported that "the two other pitchers are over with Joe Grady, and Cooter's put up the first baseman above his garage.

With his mouth full, grabbing a drink, Boss Hogg wondered: "Yeah, so what about our starter today?"

"He's rooming with the Dukes," came the comment, causing Hogg to spit his drink onto Cletus' clothes.

Boss Hogg couldn't believe what he'd heard. As Roscoe cleaned the mess, he exclaimed: "What?! How could you let this happen?"

"Well, their little boy said he could before I said anything," Cletus explained.

"Well, you could have offered to put him up yourself," Roscoe declared.

"How was I supposed to know Jesse'd say yes' so fast," Cletus inquired. Recognizing whom he thought were players, he continued. "Anyway, ain't y'all supposed to be in uniform? The game starts in five minutes."

"Shut your trap, Cletus," Roscoe commanded, "they happen to be on the dismembered list."

Still frustrated, Hogg snapped: "That's dis-abled, Roscoe."

"They don't look hurt to me," the deputy observed, looking for casts.

"That's none of your beeswax. Don't you know nothin' bout sports injuries?"

Cletus nodded. Roscoe was probably right, he considered, there are a lot of different types of injuries, not all of which required casts or splints. "Oh, all right. Say, what do you want me to do about them Duke boys?"

"Find out what car they're taking the pitcher home in, and chase em. You too, Roscoe," Hogg commanded.

Roscoe inquired: "What if we catch em?"

Cletus mumbled "that'll be the day" to himself. To the others, he explained: "I mean, yeah, what are they charged with? Why not just go after em now?"

"That's just it," Roscoe remarked, "we can't charge em with anything. But, if we chase em, we can scare Eli into thinkin' they're outlaws." Hogg smiled. He'd taught his assistant well in the art of crookedness.

Boss Hogg explained to Cletus that "if Eli's staying with them, and he turns into a good pitcher, that could help them avoid the bad PR caused by keeping me from buying their land for the new stadium."

"We're gettin' a new stadium? But we just expanded this one," came the dumbfounded deputy.

"Cletus," Roscoe asserted truthfully, "you don't know nothin' about pro sports." "Right. Now, none of you boys...er, players knows anything about this, understand?" The others nodded their heads at Boss Hogg's comment.

Later, Bo and Luke walked with Eli toward an orange Ford with numbers painted in blue on the side and a Confederate flag on top named the General Lee. They were still discussing the tremendous game pitched by their new friend. "Man, that was a great game. A 2-hitter," Bo exclaimed.

Eli concurred. He didn't expect his fastball to have that much zip, but it had the half dozen times he threw it. He knew that couldn't last an entire 140-game season, but that was another reason a league with a short season was so helpful. "I feel like I'm all the way back now," he remarked, "even though I threw mostly forkballs and things. I do need to work on other pitches."

"Well, those four double plays helped, too. You only faced what, 28 batters?" Luke grinned broadly. "How do you think a pennant would go over here, Cuz?"

As Bo began to climb into the window of their car, he paused an sighed contentedly. "We'd talk about it for the next 500 years."

Stunned at Bo's actions, Eli inquired: "Hey, don't you guys use doors?" What a strange tradition, he pondered.

"Nah, this is more fun, we had em permanently shut years ago," explained Luke as he helped Eli into the back seat. "Plus, you can't jam your finger in the door and miss a month like one fella did for Texas last year."

"I suppose you're right. This Hogg fella know much baseball," Eli wondered.

Bo smiled as he drove off with them. "Probably not." At least, he considered, I doubt he could. "He and our uncle are old moonshining competitors; I guess you could say Uncle Jesse turned toward the light side of the Force, and Boss Hogg stayed on the dark side." He looked behind them. "Is that Roscoe following us?" Hearing sirens start whirring, he pulled over. Roscoe, a little stunned, stopped and got rear-ended by Cletus. Bo couldn't imagine what might be happening, but if they needed a fast car to get Boss Hogg or someone to the hospital, he knew theirs would be the best.

"Cletus, watch where you're going," Roscoe hollered at the car behind him as Luke peeked out the window.

"Hey, what's up," Luke inquired.

Cletus explained that "we're just supposed to be chasin' y'all."

"Cletus, don't you know how to keep a secret," Roscoe inquired as Luke got back into the window.

Luke signalled to Bo, and the car sped up again. "Yep, let's go."

Eli looked thoroughly confused now. "Shouldn't we...pull over and get out?"

Bo shook his head. "They just want to write us a ticket for nothing, that's all. For anyone else we would, but this is just Hogg's way of rattling us."

"Yeah, but..." Eli wondered, trying to figure out how to phrase the question. "I mean, why would they be chasing you unless you did something wrong?"

Luke answered as he would explaining a law of physics to Ben. "Because we're the Dukes, and ol' Boss Hogg likes to bug us. Other police, you pull over, but they know it's all in fun. Hang on," he commanded as he considered come of their past problems. Yes, they may have done some wrong things before, but they'd followed the Lord very closely lately, much of it at Daisy's insistence so they could be good role models.

Eli, meanwhile, absent-mindedly said "for what," then noticed the pond rapidly approaching. Okay, he thought, this is beyond ridiculous to totally preposterous. "Wait a minute, you're not gonna do...what I think you are, are you?"

"Sure nuff," Bo exclaimed as the car leaped high in the air, easily cleaning the pond. A loud "Yeee-haaaah!" came from both of their mouths as their car horn played "Dixie". Once the car landed, they stopped to watch Roscoe and Cletus. Roscoe's car landed first, in the middle of the waist-deep pond, Cletus' car flew overhead and Roscoe ducked. Cletus' car's back wheels land on Roscoe's hood, and both radiators blew.

As he and Cletus get out of their cars, Cletus with a fish flopping out of his hat, Roscoe fretted that lately, he could barely jump half of the way across the pond. Of course, Enos had once made the jump, but that was so long ago, folks could barely remember it. Even then, he'd been so shocked, the former deputy had forgotten to continue chasing the Dukes.

"Cletus," he hollered at his underling, "how many times do I have to tell you not to land on my car."

Fumbling with the fish before dropping it, Cletus explained that "I can't help it, cars aren't built to steer in the air."

"Cars aren't built to be in the air, period." How do the Dukes to that, he asked himself for the thousandth time.

As the three in the General Lee looked upon the shenanigans behind them, Bo stated: "Yeah, they're okay. Only thing hurt is their pride."

Still shaken, Eli remarked that "if it's okay with you...I think I'll walk."

"It's okay, we won't see anyone else chase us," Luke reassured him.

Eli thought for a moment. These did seem like pretty nice people, and as long as he kept his seatbelt on, he supposed it would be all right. "Oh, well...okay. You'd go back and help if they were hurt," he wanted to ensure.

"Sure. You gotta help folks who are in trouble," Bo remarked. Heck, we were the ones who got Boss Hogg to the hospital when he had his heart attack a few years back, he considered. "Right," Luke added, "there's a difference between playing hard and playing dirty. And playing dirty is just plain wrong, cause it ain't fair."

"Man, this is some crazy place," Eli remarked, pondering recent events.

"When you've been in Hazard for a while, you learn to expect crazy," noted Bo as they drove toward the Duke farm.

Eli sat down at the kitchen table eating a snack with the Dukes. They'd quickly become good friends, as Eli learned all about the area. "I guess you folks are like the Hatfields and McCoys, huh," he commented to Jesse, referring to the Dukes and Hoggs.

Jesse shrugged. "Actually, we're still rather friendly - you gotta be in these parts," he remarked.

Daisy added that "he's also our county commissioner, and he only gets mad at us when we try to make him do what's right."

Ben looked up from a book he was reading. "Yeah, cause my mom can't make him stand in the corner or work to make up for it like she does me."

Smiling at her boy while resuming her talk, Daisy added "Plus, there's the whole thing with him wantin' our farm."

"How come? Really good property?" At least something here should make sense, he told himself, and he felt relieved when it did.

"Some of the best soil in this state," Bo noted.

"I say there's buried treasure he knows is there," Ben commented. The others laughed.

"If that were true," came Luke, "they'd just come dig it up, and we'd let em."

"Why?" wondered Eli.

Daisy explained that "if it was rightfully theirs and they buried the treasure it's still theirs, even in the ground. We wouldn't have the right to steal something like that."

With an ornery look, Been commented that "I might." He knew better, though, and merely wished to draw a reaction. Daisy simply ignored the comment, sensing the difference between an absent comment that could be ignored away and one which was truly meant.

"You know, I don't think I've ever seen such neighborly folks," Eli considered aloud, still amazed at his new friends' hospitality.

"That's just the way we do it around here,"Bo remarked.

"That's the way everyone should be, respectin' each other," came the mother as she squeezed Ben, reinforcing her teachings with love. "Right, Benny?"

Ben agreed, then asked: "You wanna play catch, Mr. Houston?"

"My arm's a bit tender yet, maybe tomorrow," Eli considered aloud. What a wonderful place to stay, he thought.

I can play ball with Enos anytime when he comes over, the boy thought to himself, but soon I'll get to play catch with a real live baseball player. He couldn't wait.

Meanwhile, back at Boss Hogg's office, he instructed the four who had been in his office earlier, when Cletus interrupted. "Okay, now you four join the team once we get our lead. Probably about twenty or thirty games into it. Right now, you all have bad elbows and shoulders, so make it look like you're rehabilitating while I've got you on my DL."

One fellow, named Al, asked: "Do you want us to throw everything right away when we join the team?"

Hogg shook his head quickly. That would never work, he considered. "No, no, maybe for the first game, but otherwise just play poorly enough to get us into position to lose. I got the odds from Vegas, if we get off to a really big lead, I can bet even more on the other clubs. And you guys get some of the goods."

"Well, I hope this works," a "player" named Blaine stated with a hint of a warning, "our head man's been dying to get into baseball, if you know what I mean."

Al licked his lips. "Yeah, this should be as profitable as possible."

Hogg suddenly had a great idea. "Oh, if you want profit, Cumberland's going to have a rotten team. I could trade the guys you'll be replacing there for a couple could-bes," he murmured thoughtfully, "and if I trade the right people..."

Al, too, loved the notion. "Yeah, we'll make even more dough if we bet on them to win, then. If you can make it look legitimate, go for it."

"What about with this here Duke farm we was hearin' about," Denny inquired, a little confused.

The Boss downplayed the thought. "Oh, that's nothing, that's for if a whole nother team comes." I better not let them know about that, or they might want some of the farmland, too. "All we gotta do is get folks excited enough to lure that team here."

Chapter Two

Narrator - That doesn't sound too good, does it? Of course, everyone forgot about Boss Hogg's sinister ways when the club started 24-5, winning a bunch of close games, turning a couple double plays a game, and makin' like Sherman marchin' through Georgia with the other teams. Folks in Hazard didn't think anything fishy was up when Boss Hogg pulled the strings on his trade. He put the best spin possible on it. He suggested a piece to the Hazard Times about the worst trades in baseball history - Brock for Broglio, Babe Ruth for cash, and the like - and the reporter looked like he had inside information a couple days later, when the news hit.)

As Eli, the Dukes, and Enos, Daisy's boyfriend and a former deputy sheriff, did chores around the farm, aged Jesse Duke read the newspaper. "What?!" exclaimed the man. "What kind of stuff does J.D. think he's trying to pull now?"

Bo stood up from his seat and took the paper as his uncle offered it to him. "What is it?" he wondered, expecting that his uncle would be reading the "local" section. To his surprise, it was the "sports."

"Read this there trade he just made," exclaimed Jesse.

Eli carried some eggs in and stopped suddenly. He hated even the thought of leaving. "What, a trade? I'm not in it, am I?"

Reading as he spoke, Bo informed the others of the transaction. "Let's see...no, we sent our staring catcher, a couple other starting pitchers, our lefty closer, and our double play combination to Cumberland's Blazers."

As Ben carted more eggs and Daisy hauled a pail of milk, the boy announced: "man, that's a bunch of @(!#."

"What did you say, young man," Daisy instantly asked, an angry glare on her face.

Ben announced that "I can talk like that, they do it in the movies." Being contentious, he barely avoided calling his mother a name, which would have put him in the corner before he could blink.

His mother calmly knelt down and spoke gently but firmly. "We're not in one of those movies where nobody cares about each other's feelings, young man. I've always respected you, and you need to do the same." He bowed his head. "The folks in those movies don't know how to love, that's why they write all those swear words into them. They don't know how much nicer it is to be pleasant to one another, and have others be nice to you, like you're expected to be."

"But Moooom," he whined, knowing he'd been wrong.

Slightly louder, Daisy asked: "Do you need to stand in the corner and settle and think about how mean that language is," she wondered.

Ben sighed. He knew he knew better. He decided he should feel glad, as his mother said, that she treated him with respect. "No. I'm sorry I said that."

"That's better," she remarked, hugging him. Inside, she felt glad she'd adopted a child who could be talked to so well.. She knew she couldn't expect perfection, since she wasn't perfect herself, but she also knew he had to learn to respect others, for as he treated the world, he would be treated.

Eli wished he'd had that kind of loving attention growing up. "That does seem like a bad trade, though." He looked at Ben and commented that "we can say things are bad, but we never insult people. What bugs me is, that was our best defensive outfielder, and we were leading the league in double plays."

"You probably also got quite a rapport with your catcher," Jesse commented solemnly. "I know. We're 6 games up with only 51 to play," Eli remarked. "I know Cumberland can't catch us, not when they're 12 back in the loss column, but Athens sure could," he remarked, referring to the small Georgia town.

"What'd they do to get more players," Daisy wondered as Ben ran off to grab more eggs.

"Says we got two from Cumberland, but they're not too good," reported Bo, trying to recall when he'd read about the bad trades in the paper.

Enos entered the homestead with a large pail of milk. He looked lovingly as Daisy, who returned the look, and stated that "Cooter just came on the CB reporting we just made a trade and got four guys off the DL."

"What, those guys Boss Hogg brought in right before the season started," inquired Bo.

"Sounds like it." Enos remarked. "There's the second baseman named Al Richards, a shortstop named Blaine Wheeler, a starting pitcher named Craig Bolton, and a hurler named Denny Engle who they say can start or relieve, but who hits well enough to play in the outfield sometimes."

As Daisy left to get something, Bo wondered aloud: "Did Cooter give any idea how the manager's taking it?"

Enos explained "word has it he's been feuding with Boss Hogg all season, and it's just getting out now. Of course, that's just from Hogg's office."

Jesse snickered and sneered at the same time. "Man, leave it to him to try and mess up a perfectly good season."

Bo inquired if Eli knew anything about the spat, since he was with the team every day. "All I know is, Hogg's been calling down a little more lately to the manager, giving advice over the phone during games. I guess we'll meet these players this afternoon when we play Athens. They look like they're in their thirties to me."

"You know anything about em," Jesse wondered. "Washed up big leaguers, maybe?"

"Word around the clubhouse is they're all good semi-pro players," Eli informed them.

Luke, who spoke with Cooter about the trade via CB, entered. "I just got off the radio with Cooter, he says Hogg's releasing some scant info about these players, for the press guides, but some sounds like it might be bogus. Any of you ever heard of Northeast South Dakota State West Campus, or a minor league team in Michigan called the Oakland Acorns?"

"Well, we still shouldn't suspect ulterior motives right away," Jesse considered, though he knew if anyone deserved suspicion, it was Hogg.

"Maybe they're like that player in Major League,'" joked the hurler, "whose last league was California Penal.'"

"Maybe, though I don't think I'd do a six-for-two trade unless the two were Babe Ruth and Cy Young." Bo glanced at his watch. "Hey, we better get down to the game. Time to try and go to 6-0."

"Ben an' I'll take him in the jeep, I need to pick up some supplies in town," Daisy offered.

"Fine, we'll see you at the ball park," came Luke.

Later, in the dugout, as Eli went out to pitch, the manager hung up the phone and fretted.

"Hey, Coach," came a player, "I thought only Steinbrenner called down orders."

"Especially not to tell me to try batting our pitchers fourth," considered the manager aloud. A hitting coach at a small Georgia college, he'd eagerly taken the job. Even now, when he knew the crazy ways in which Hogg handled the team, he wouldn't miss this for the world. "It's a small price to pay for playing as well as we are. I still didn't like him trading two of our three best hurlers, but the outfielder we got has power."

The player noted that "the problem is, he's slower'n a turtle on crutches."

"Hey, I've managed worse lineups," came the statement as the first batter hit the ball. Blaine ran toward the dugout, bobbling the ball and dropping it as he tumbled into the dugout. "Maybe not much worse, though."

As the seventh inning proceeded, more runners stood firmly on the basepaths. Up in the broadcast booth, Cooter stated: "Eli's gettin' into another big jam here in the 7th, he's got runners on first and second with nobody out. There's a ground ball to second...oh, that ball came up and bit the 2nd baseman," Cooter exclaimed. With the bases loaded, and a ..400 hitter due up as the lead run, the manager walked slowly to the mound and waved his right hand. "The manager is making the call to the bullpen. Now, we get to see what this Denny Engle's made of," noted Cooter, still unsure if he was supposed to be primarily a pitcher or outfielder.

"I can get this guy, Coach," Eli protested on the mound. The silver-haired man nixed the idea.

"He's got two doubles off you already," the coach commented sympathetically. "I don't want to see you tagged with a loss." He really liked this young hurler.

"What if I get another grounder?"

The manager shrugged. "I guess our new combo hasn't gelled yet. He giggled as he looked behind the two of them on the mound. "Unless by gel you mean they wiggle like Jell-O. You did a good job, but you have thrown 115 pitches."

As Denny sauntered in from the bullpen, he looked up at Boss Hogg's seat and paused, beginning to walk very slowly. "What are y'all waitin' for? The Hazard Express don't come by these parts," shouted a fan.

The first base umpire walked out to the new hurler. "Hey, come on, you're holding up the game," he declared.

Tying his shoe for the third time, Denny asked: "How many men are on base?"

"The bases are loaded," came the confused statement. Can't he see that, the ump wondered.

Pretending to look worried, Denny asked: "And how many outs are there?"

"There are no outs." Does that scoreboard work, the ump wondered, glancing at the machine in front of the fields beyond the left field wall. Yes, it works fine, he told himself.

"And who's up?"

"Eckert," said the arbiter, referring to the extremely powerful slugger, at whom several major league scouts were looking.

"You expect me to rush into a spot like that," chided the pitcher, noticing a turn of the hat from Hogg, who was back to his familiar cowboy hat.

Denny threw a ball straight down the middle of the plate, and Eckert pounded it, causing a loud exclamation from Cooter in the radio booth. "Woooeee, that's gonna need a countdown from Mission Control," exclaimed the broadcaster as he smashed a tiny glass, the tinkling audible in the mike. "It's 7-6, Olympians, and someone's truck needs a new windshield. Hey, y'all come on out to Cooter's for an estimate." He loved the showmanship of broadcasting, as well as the free ads, an idea he'd gleaned while reading about old announcers, one of whom would break a glass upon a home run and remark that a certain old lady couldn't quite open her window in time.

Walking over to the coach, Eli commented that "he sure hit that a lot farther than he could have hit mine."

"If he pitches like that," consoled the manager, "I might be able to hit .300 off him."

(Narrator - That started a 12-run outburst, and Uncle Jesse was rumored to be warmin' up in the pen before the inning was done. As might be expected, Boss Hogg's team lost 7 of their next 11, and the funny part was, they weren't even trying to lose, other than that first game. It was the perfect excuse for Boss Hogg to fire the manager and install Al as the player-coach. Of course, they stood only a game ahead of Athens, so the four agreed to play real well for a while, and with a move to a four-man rotation, Eli's pitching helped them rebuild the lead. He lost twice after that 5-0 start, but then he improved to 9-3 entering the final 10 games.

When Rich Eckert signed with Cleveland, Athens fell flat on their faces, and Cumberland rose to 3rd awfully fast. Suddenly, Hazard was 48-22, and seven games up on Cumberland with ten to play. And I bet y'all can guess who Hazard played for seven of those ten. Yep, Cumberland.)

Roscoe sat at Boss Hogg's desk at the beginning of that ten game swing. He enjoyed the feeling of being Boss Roscoe for a while during Hogg's recovery, but knew he couldn't take over the job permanently until Hogg died. That, he decided, might be after he himself passed away. Who would be the county commissioner then, he wondered. Cletus? Too much of a bungler. Enos? He seemed too honest, though he would be better than a Duke. Cooter, perhaps; he d been cheated out of a House seat by Boss Hogg several years back, though, and Roscoe doubted Hogg would want him to be commissioner.

Those answers would come in time. For now, he simply relished the thought of running things while the man to whom he owed great loyalty ran a baseball club. As Cooter entered the office, Roscoe fidgeted quite a bit, ensuring he hadn't left anything incriminating in plain sight. "Hey, Roscoe, did the Boss go with the team up to Tennessee," he heard Cooter inquire.

"Ijit; don't just barge in here like that! Don't you ever knock," Roscoe inquired with a hint of edginess.

Cooter snickered. "The door was open."

"So?"

Cooter shrugged. He knew he couldn't get very far with this man. He felt no bitterness about the Congressional race; from what he'd heard, he'd have become like the lead character in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," outcast and fed up with politics of any kind.

He stuck to his original reason for entering. "Anyway, I just wondered if you could tell me what the plans are for the victory parade."

"That's a secret," commented Roscoe.

"Well, we don't travel and do the road games," Cooter remarked of the team's radio broadcast team, "but there's still a few people who want to hold a parade right after the team comes home if we clinch up there. And I have a radio show to do this afternoon, anyway, so we need to know details even if we wait till after the season, so some farmers can plan the harvesting around it.

"Well, you just tell your listeners that it's not sportin' to rub it into people. We got a day off before our Tuesday doubleheader, but that's still not a good time to even plan one," Roscoe remarked, ignoring the second part of Cooter's comments.

The mechanic turned sportscaster, who got the job from his proficiency on the CB, persisted in his questioning. "So when will it be, the following Monday?"

"Sorry, that's a top secret." Alluding to what he and Boss Hogg hoped would happen, he spouted: "Besides, you ever hear of the 64 Phillies or the 51 Dodgers?"

Cooter considered the thought. Yes, teams had fallen flat on their faces before, though he couldn't imagine this one doing it. They'd had their slump in midseason, and gotten out of it masterfully. Still, he admitted that "I reckon you could right. But, our magic number is six, and you know Eli'll pick up two of those wins; if they're both against Cumberland that means two losses for them. After that, we clinch a tie with one more win by Eli."

Unable to withstand the barrage, the sheriff considered one way they might get rid of the star pitcher. "Well, you just tell your listeners we might not have his services. I hear the Braves are looking at him."

The broadcaster excitedly pulled out a pen and pad. "When did this happen!?"

"In a couple minutes...I mean, a couple minutes ago," came the stammering man, almost giving away the fact that he'd only then invented the notion. Cooter quickly thanked him for the scoop and departed. Meanwhile, Roscoe got on the telephone after looking in a phone book from Fulton County. "Hello, Braves scouting. This is Roscoe P. Coltrain of the Hazard Sparkplugs, and we've got a pitcher you've got to see. Goody, goody, I love it!"

Several minutes later, Roscoe called Boss Hogg, excited to discuss his remedy, and knowing that his friend would be worried about the same thing - Eli Houston played too well. Hogg picked up the phone from a tiny motel across the street from Cumberland Yards.

"Good news, Boss, good news," merrily exclaimed the sheriff.

Well, he didn't catch the Dukes doing anything, he wasn't even after them, considered the Boss. "What is it this time, can it really be something you've done," declared Hogg.

"I just talked to the Braves' director of scouting, and he might want to try and sign Eli," explained the sheriff.

"What?!" came the totally unexpected response. "Roscoe, how could you..."

"Well, you see, Cooter came in talkin' about how if Eli wins two against Cumberland, then one more, their magic number's two," Roscoe explained. "I didn't know what that meant, I've only heard of magic words like please.'"

"Oh, never mind that!"

"Sure, well, anyway, Boss, then one more win and we clinch a tie, so I figured it the Braves sign him after one good game, he's out of our hair."

Hogg calmed down a little. It was times like this, surrounded by people he considered barely competent at times, that he wished he could sneak a smoke. He knew that could be deadly in his condition, though. "Oh, I see," came the simple comment.

"I think them Dukes might be startin' to snoop if we do anything else. Plus, they're in league with Cooter most of the time, anyway," Roscoe commented, "so if I told him straight out I didn't know it we'd win..."

"Well, you're right, them Dukes might be nosing around, but we've got a few more players in on this, thanks to Al pressuring em." Hogg wondered if Roscoe sensed the effects of this.

He seemed to sense a little of it. "You mean, there might be more turnin' crooked?"

"Exactly, and that means Eli can't just dominate a game. If some of these guys see one of their own could make the majors, they might have second thoughts, though," Hogg emphasized. The sheriff still though his plan to be foolproof. "Well, gee, Boss, if a big league club does sign him, our problems are solved." He further underscored how "not having Eli means we're sure to lose, having him win even a couple could be a big problem."

This man doesn't quite grasp it, Hogg decided. "Roscoe, these players would be banned for life if they threw even one game. The only reason they're willing, aside from the money we promise em, is if they realize there's no hope for em in the bigs."

"Well," Roscoe considered, "I could call and see if they'll delay having the scouts come." "Fine, fine, let me clear up this end. Hopefully, we'll have this thing lost by his start the final Sunday," he commented. I wish I didn't have to let him start, Hogg considered as he hung up the phone, but a huge number of bets are being placed out in Vegas on Cumberland. So, naturally, the baseball establishment's suspicious, and pitching him will make it look like we're trying to win.

Eli arrived back on the Duke farm early Monday morning, just in time to hear the roosters. The bus ride had taken its toll on the team. Thanks to some great plays by the first baseman, he'd gathered a 2-0 win in the first game. Carl and Denny lost the next two, but Hazard was still in good shape. At least only the bus ride had exhausted them, he considered.

Feeling somewhat awake, he helped with some chores early that morning. "Hey," he heard Bo call out, "good thing we've got you on our team, Eli."

"Yeah, there's nothing sweeter than a shutout," commented the pitcher. "Although the one double play looked a little shaky, I think we've got it won now."

"They got you goin' Wednesday," inquired Luke. Eli nodded.

"In one of the games of the doubleheader. It's when they give out pitchforks," he noted, recalling the unusual promotion, "so I hope we don't play too badly. Any team ever blown a five game lead with seven to play like ours?"

"Not that I know of." Luke looked at the hurler, who seemed more troubled than tired. No wonder he didn't feel like sleeping right away, he deduced. "You look like something's worrying you."

He didn't know if he could it into words. "Well, it's just...my teammates seem more distant lately, and I don't think it's the trade. Plus, this manager's been making some pretty strange moves." He elaborated, knowing they hadn't heard any news of the game yet, other than the final score. "Yesterday, we pinch-hit for our third baseman, and he put a lefthander in defensively. I've never heard of a lefty third baseman before; you gotta turn like so to throw," came the demonstrative remark, complete with a twisting movement, as if trying to quickly turn his body and throw. "Plus, it's so far...well, you know."

"Huh," came Bo's comment, as he tried to determine when that might have happened before... was there something about Mattingly in 1986 or 1987, he asked himself?

Luke put a different spin on it, snickering. "I can just see Cooter poring through the record books instead of working on cars today, so he can find any instance of it."

"It seems like some pretty shady folks have been hanging around Hogg's office, too," Eli noted with a hint of worry, lightening up when none appeared on the Duke's foreheads.

"That's not unusual at all," Luke remarked.

"He hasn't let em inside the clubhouse, has he," came Bo's query. "They warn you guys like crazy, and they got all sorts of signs in the clubhouses about not communicating with gamblers." He felt his concern was pointless until the hurler's next comment.

"What clubhouses," inquired the pitcher.

Bo suddenly seemed quite ashen as he felt huge concern for the ballplayers. From stories he'd heard of people trying to fix auto races, he knew some incredibly bad racketeering could go on if unmonitored. "They should be in all of em. You haven't seen one? There hasn't even been FBI people comin' in to warn you about gamblers?"

"Nope. There hasn't been anything like that," Eli admitted candidly.

Bo rolled his eyes. "Oh boy, they could be trying to convince your teammates to blow this thing. Any idea who they might be talkin' to?"

Eli felt a tinge of concern, though he also considered that their lead was still quite safe. Trying to assist his friends, he considered that "they haven't come into the clubhouse itself, but Al's been leading a clique of 6 or 7 players, and I thought that sounded kind of odd for a manager, to divide his club." He should be the leader, he thought to himself. "I called the GM about it, though, and he blew me off."

"Of course, cause it's Boss Hogg himself," Luke noted, as Eli suddenly recognized that he hadn't actually heard Hogg's voice before then. "Wasn't Al one of the four guys he brought here at the last minute?"

"You know, you're right," Bo noted, pointing a finger at his cousin, a worrisome thought suddenly clouding all their minds.

Luke provided this advice. "Listen, y'all should stay away from those cliques as much as possible, and go to someone about it. Normally you'd go to the team offices, but they're all Boss Hogg's cronies."

"What about the police?"

Bo explained to Eli that "Roscoe's Boss Hogg's brother-in-law, and Cletus is just too incompetent for this. You might try the league office. Whatever you do, make sure you stay above reproach."

Later that Monday, Boss Hogg sat in his office mulling over paperwork concerning a highway construction project. He heard the phone ring, and answered it, hoping it would be something to do with baseball. "Hello, Hazard County Commissioner's office. Oh, yes, this is Mr. Hogg," he spoke. However, the next questions caused him to wish he'd let the answering machine pick up the call.

"What?! I know if Chickasaw sweeps Cumberland we win," the fat commissioner exclaimed to his caller, hollering into the phone. "Listen, I'm trying to get this club to lose, but we had to make it look legit over the weekend, the league office was ridin' our tails." A deep, somewhat threatening voice suddenly turned a little timid until Hogg responded by noting that "they're not paying much attention now, and we did lose two of three, we just looked better doing it.

"No," Hogg answered, "the trading deadline's past, but...Well we can't just release the guy, I got fans to worry about." And the Duke farm, which is slowly being taken away, he pondered. How can I get that now? "We got a few more of the players bought, and we're trying to see if we can't buy that Eli fellow. Oh, yes," came the response to another query, "I just don't have $100,000 to bribe him, I got that much down on the other team, and then there's the ones who have agreed to lose which I've agreed to pay off. Listen...wait a minute," he demanded, looking up at Roscoe as he entered the office. "What is it, Roscoe," came the annoyed voice.

"Boss, Eli just told Cletus he thinks someone might be trying to lose the pennant," explained Roscoe

I thought he understood this, Hogg considered, unsure of how his aide could be so confused. Lowly, he stated gruffly: "That's us who's trying to lose, dipstick."

"Well, what are we doing that for?" I thought we were just going to make it close to add more drama, he told himself. "What about the Duke farm."

"Roscoe, do I have to explain everything?" Of course I do, Hogg thought to himself. "If that pitcher's seen as crooked it cancels out the good PR he brought them, and we can even make it look like the Dukes dragged him down. Even if I don't get the stadium, do you know what the odds were on Cumberland after 30 games? We'll be rich!"

"Oh. So, should I not bother about the victory parade, then," Roscoe inquired.

"Never mind about that, just do something to keep those no-good Dukes from keeping Eli from throwing it," he exclaimed before getting back on the phone. "Hello? Hello?" The other party to the conversation had disconnect them. "Drat!"

He slammed the receiver down and glowered at the sheriff, who still stood in the room thinking out loud. "Prevent them from preventin' him....huh?"

Chapter Three

(Narrator: You know, if it weren't for the Duke farm, I bet ol' Boss might have released Eli. So now, with Hogg knowing folks was on to him, he had some work to do. The first thing he done was to try and get Eli off the mound without gettin' him off the team; after all, if Eli did get released or put on the injured list, he knew where the pitcher'd go with the info. So, Eli found himself in a strange position Tuesday.)

As the players congregated around the door exiting the clubhouse, Eli noticed something strange in the batting order. "Hey, Coach," he hollered to Al, "can this be right, am I really playing second base?" He knew things could get crazy if there really was an attempt at a fix, but he didn't think they could be this bizarre.

"Hey, I've got a lot on my mind as manager; I figure this'll shake us up a bit," alibied Al.

"But coach," Eli began, unsure of how to explain the situation. He could think of no way but pure bluntness. "I've never been near second in my life."

Smirking, the player-manager stated that "you'd better take some extra infield practice before the game, then."

"I don't have five years to practice, though. What about pivoting on the double play?" inquired Eli. At least I throw righthanded, came the reflection.

"Hey, does it look like 2nd is my natural position? I ain't too good on those, now, am I," Al wondered, suddenly realizing he could create an excuse for his recent poor play.

"To be truthful, well...you've looked like Terry Forster," Eli responded, explaining that "he was the Atlanta pitcher Letterman called a fat tub of goo' once."

"You can't be any worse, then, right? Right. See you at 2nd," replied Al, laughing inside.

Luke stood in front of the open air press box at the old, refurbished high school stadium. He chatted merrily with Cooter when he suddenly noticed the infield alignment. "Hey, is that who I think it is at 2nd?"

"Yep. Man, if I'm called Crazy Cooter," responded the announcer, "their manager's downright insane."

Luke pondered Eli as he observed the hurler dropping ball after ball during infield practice. He nearly fell over because of entangled feet practicing a double play pivot. "He looks like he doesn't have a clue out there."

"I don't think the coach does, either. Did you hear about the lefty 3rd sacker," Cooter wondered. Of course, news has spread all over town by now, he recognized. Luke recalled hearing of the bizarre positioning.

He excused himself by remarking that "Bo's gonna sing the National Anthem, so I gotta get down and watch. See y'all later."

After Bo sang, Eli spoke to him on the field. "I sure hope they don't hit it to me."

"Come on, that's a bad thing to be thinking when you're out there," Bo commented.

"Fine, I'll be thinking I hope they don't hit it to Blaine," came the feeble try at a joke.

"Hey," joked Ben, "I shoulda had you singin' me to sleep when I was little, stead of Mommy."

"I can't imagine missing that for anything. Besides, he only knows national anthems, I'm better at lullabies," Daisy joked, causing laughter from all of them.

(Narrator - Now, y'all know these ain't big leaguers, but the level of play still should be above Little League, which this wasn't. Eli made three errors at 2nd, and if it weren't for his 2 hits and a run, the team would have been totally washed out. As it was, they lost 6-1. The problem was, Cumberland lost, as well. Hazard had to lose the doubleheader and hope Cumberland won - which they did - to ensure they wouldn't clinch a tie for first.

Boss Hogg had problems, though. Even with those errors, Carl's pitching looked pretty good. And, Eli lost a three-hitter Wednesday by a 1-0 score that made it look like they was trying to win. I know, that's what they're supposed to do, but things get confused in Hazard sometimes. Anyway, the head man decided he needed to make sure the fix was goin' down.)

Entering Hogg's office, Cletus stood for a second, a little confused. While people normally made appointments, this fellow had insisted upon seeing Boss Hogg right away. His demeanor made it appear as if it were a national emergency. "Hey, Boss, there a guy...well, there's someone here to see you, and..."

Impatiently, Hogg clamored: "Oh, come, come, Cletus, spit it out. I don't have time for anyone with such a big series..." he began as two people who made the fat Boss look totally undernourished entered. "Who are you?" he wanted to know.

"Can we talk in private," wondered the biggest of the men, with a slight Italian accent.

"Don'tcha think maybe I should stay," Cletus wondered, feeling around to ensure his gun was handy.

The biggest fellow, about six foot three, glared at the deputy. "You wanna take a blood oath not to repeat anything?" Cletus tripped over his own feet running out of the office. The man's assistant walked over and closed the door. "That's what I thought. I don't believe we've met before, I'm Big Joe."

Hogg nodded with a mixture of excitement and nervousness, recognizing from the voice that this fellow in front of him was a very important gangster. He rose to shake hands, and remarked: "That you are, Big Joe. Pleased to meet you. What can I do for you?"

"We haven't done business face-to-face before," Joe stated, handing Hogg a business card that screamed its contempt for the law, "but you've been doing business with my men for a few months now."

Hogg read it and gave Joe a look of great respect. " Professional Con Man', eh? Well, it's always great to meet a fellow swindler...I mean, not that I'd ever dream of cheating you out of anything."

"I hope not," Joe remarked as his assistant cracked his knuckles as if on cue. "I've seen some things that I don't like about your team."

"What about it," Hogg inquired.

"They could win," came the cold, blunt reply. "Most of my clientele would have lost by now, even if the FBI were right on their tails," boasted the man.

Hogg faked amazement. "Really?"

"Usually I'm into boxing and racing, little stuff like that, but baseball..." He trailed off, breathing deeply and looking quite dreamy. "It's so protected, that's always been my dream, and you were the perfect person to help me."

"Oh, sure, as you know, I've known your operatives since..." Hogg paused, a little concerned. "Uh, you didn't mean anything by that past tense were instead of are, did you?"

Joe stared at Hogg, his assistant joining in the slower. "All I'm saying is, if Cumberland had lost two more times, you'd have won the pennant. And it's more than the pennant at stake now. You control your own destiny, and my boys have orders to make it look purposeful if they have to. And I'm holding you responsible if they don't," came the thinly veiled threat.

"What did I do," came the exasperated question, though Hogg knew what the fellow's answer would be.

"You could have traded Eli Houston," came the comment. Knowing Hogg's penchant for trickery, and wishing to show he didn't need any harm to come to the star player, Joe produced some other concepts. "You could have had a tractor pull right before a match, then gotten a few games forfeited with unplayable conditions. You could have had your team's bus miss a turn, then had a forfeit on the road. You're smarter than you think, you could have done all sorts of things."

"I've got to have the tickets sold, though, I can't lose that money," exclaimed Hogg, referring to his own stadium, plus the visitor's share the team received on the road.

Recognizing that his fellow cheat sounded a little too greedy, Joe reminded him of the partnership. "I'm not getting any of the gate money, though. And when you hired my boys, we became a team."

Hogg struggled to find a positive in this situation. "But...but, the odds are so much better now. I'll make, I mean, we'll make so much more money than I bargained for if we lose...I mean, when we lose." He felt only one more statement should be made, so he would stop stammering. "That's why I worked it so it was last place Cumberland comin' back, not just any ol' club."

Joe sighed. In a way, he admired that kind of a risk taker, but he also knew things had to be played safe at times. "You're taking a big gamble, though. I won't accept anything less than 2nd place." As the men prepared to leave, Joe offered a word of warning. "By the way, take a look at game 8 of the 1919 World Series. Nobody truly suspected anything till far later even then. Course, they had to tell the pitcher there was a man with a gun in the stands ready to kill if he didn't make it look good." Hogg shuddered as the men left and the door slammed shut.

That Saturday, as Eli and the Dukes tied bails of hay together, the hurler considered his club's performance in the last two games. Denny had lost a 14-3 blowout, and the Sparkplugs had looked like a Little League team. Despite some sloppy play by Cumberland, Hazard lost 6-2 on Friday. Cumberland stood only a game out of first. He couldn't imagine losing this pennant.

"Hey, Eli, what's on your mind," wondered Luke, sensing Eli's nervousness.

"Oh, just the usual," came the slow reply. "Ain't nobody...I mean, there isn't one team that's blown this kind of lead. There I go, talking like you guys again."

Bo smiled. "Well, it ain't the end of the world, Greg Norman came back and won some after the 96 Masters."

"True. But, I haven't seen pro scouts around here for a long while," Eli noted. "I expected them to be looking at us."

"Well, maybe they're just hiding well," Bo noted, recalling the skill with which he'd seen several Georgia Tech scouts hide when scouting Hazard's best ever high school running back several years ago.

Eli considered the possibility, then dismissed it. "I got to know some of the ones in this area the first couple weeks, though," he explained. "They try to stay hidden, but you do find them around, in a town this size."

"Yeah, Cuz," Luke noted, "and they'd be following Cumberland even if they did think Hazard stunk too much." Bo nodded.

"I suppose it's possible nobody from this league is any good," Eli considered.

"Come on," Luke encouraged him, "you're a great pitcher. And look, Eckert got signed." Bo added that the Indians had an excellent farm system, unlike some clubs, who might have signed Eckert even if he hadn't been very good.

Eli produced another theory. "Maybe they wanted to see the competition level before they signed him."

Bo shrugged his shoulders. He supposed that could be correct, but he wasn't sure. "Well, we'll run over to Cooter's before the game and get some big leaguers' phone numbers. Maybe we can get in touch with some of the scouting bureaus."

"Yeah, if we find anything we'll let you know," Luke promised.

"Make it kind of quick," requested the hurler, unsure of what to say. "I'd like to...well, I'd like to know before tomorrow."

Worried, Bo inquired: "You're not thinking of throwing the game, are you?"

"No...well, not exactly, but when you've got eight other fielders, and you wonder how many of em are even trying..." Eli paused. The others could tell something else bothered him, but they didn't wish to pursue it, as it might make him refuse to say anything.

Instead, Luke remarked that "when you've had guys like Boss Hogg around as your leaders, you know you ain't gonna get a lot of help. That don't make us turn into criminals just because they want us to be; the good Lord takes care of you if you rely on Him."

"Yeah, I reckon you're right," mumbled the man.

(Y'all reckon them cheaters are trying to get to Eli? Anyway, the Dukes couldn't find anything out that day, an' the Sparkplugs couldn't find any bats. Hazard lost 7-0, and got only 2 hits. The entire season would come down to one game. Eli had played the outfield Saturday, but he was still ready to pitch on Sunday. Al even had him batting fourth, which is where your best hitters go. Course, the last few days, Hazard ain't had any good hitters.)

Eli carted milk from the barn to the storage area of the farm, passing Ben. "Hey, Ben, all ready for Sunday School," he inquired.

"Yeah, watch for me," came the excited comment, " cause while you were gone I asked Jesus into my heart and got saved, and I'm gonna be baptized today."

"Wonderful," exclaimed the hurler.

"You gonna win the pennant for us today," came the query on more worldly concerns.

Eli thought for a minute. "I hope so, but you know, I gotta have those other players help me."

Ben, failing to notice the pause, shook his head, extremely confident in his hero. "Come on, you could strike everyone out if you had to."

"Nobody's ever done..." the pitcher began. No, I'll probably be corrected, he has that look on his face, he pondered. "Well, you're prob'ly gonna tell me somebody did do it now that I say that."

"Yeah-huh. Guy named Neccai in 1952, Class D team of the Pirates," Ben asserted.

"We're better than Class D," Eli began to remark as Daisy called Ben. The boy ran to her, shouting a "good luck" back and stating that he'd see him in church.

Once out of Ben's sight, Eli deposited the milk and walked up to Uncle Jesse. "Hey, Uncle Jesse...I mean, Jesse."

Jesse smiled. "Come on, you can call me that if you like. Everyone in these parts lives like family," he reminded him.

"Yeah, I guess. Say, I got a question," came the pitcher, unsure of how to proceed. He decided Jesse Duke would be able to read his thoughts, anyway, and spit them out of his mouth. "If you were thinking about doing something that wasn't illegal, but it was still bad, would you do it?"

"You mean would I throw a baseball game," Jesse inquired, confirming Eli's belief.

The ballplayer lowered his head, still not totally convinced he should be thinking about it. "Yeah, I guess," he spoke.

"The boys told me you was thinkin' about it. How much did they offer you," Jesse wondered.

Eli wrinkled his nose, puzzled over how Jesse could determine that had happened. "How do you know they offered me money?"

Looking sincerely into his eyes, the senior Duke commented that "every man's got his price, and the fact you ain't thrown in the towel before now, with how lousy this club's been, tells me they had to give you something."

Almost whispering, Eli told him. "There's $250,000 that's been in a bag in my locker since Friday." Jesse let out a shrill whistle.

"Man, I know there's outsiders in on this now." Jesse shook his head. "Even ol' Boss Hogg doesn't have that kind of dough to throw around. At least, not that he tells anyone about." It could come from the county's funds, but even those are too dry this late in the year, concluded the man.

The hurler explained his reasons for considering the money. "I'd be set for a long time, and my family could get so many good things. We could even move out of the inner city right now," he spoke, thinking of his terribly poor upbringing. "I know you're gonna tell me about how I'll be banned for life from baseball, but my hopes for the bigs weren't too good before, and now I think they're sunk. Plus, I don't throw nearly as well as I could before the surgery. Maybe it don't matter that I'd be banned." He hung his head lower than they'd ever seen him.

Jesse conceded several of the points, choosing one that Eli hadn't mentioned. He knew the man's mind was likely made up on the notions he postulated. "I got just one thing to say to you," Jesse remarked, turning Eli around to see Ben and Daisy getting into the jeep to go to Sunday School. "You see that thar boy. You're his hero, the first pro athlete he's ever followed. He thinks you're the greatest person outside of our Lord ever to walk the earth. Do you really want to destroy that?" Eli thought heavily on that all morning, nearly missing the entire sermon.

(Narrator: Man, I'm glad I don't have that choice. Come game time - half an hour later, since it was Sunday - Hazard Park was teeming with life. Ol' Boss Hogg sat in the owners box, thinking of how much he could win if he lost today. That is, if his club...oh, well, Eli stared at that money like it was a two-headed monster most of the time before the game..)

From the announcer's booth, Cooter, totally unaware of the chance of a fix, spoke jubilantly. "Welcome, folks, to the moment you've been waiting for - or, considering the lead Hazard once held, perhaps dreading is the better word. This is Crazy Cooter comin' at ya from WHOG radio, an' today Eli Houston will try to keep your Sparkplugs from becoming the first team to blow a five-game lead with 7 to play, and prevent Cumberland from becoming the first to win after being 4 back with 5 to play. He'll be opposed by southpaw Richard Curtile." Cooter glanced at his scorecard to ensure he'd written everything property, and continued. "You know Eli's feeling the pressure as he looks in at the first batter. His team has played as horrendously as your local sheriff drives. And yes, Roscoe, Boss Hogg paid me to say that." He snickered. "Here's a grounder to short...whoa! Miss Daisy Duke caught that ball, but she's not the first baseman! The throw sailed into the stands, and the batter is now at 2nd base! Them Sparkplugs are real nervous."

"Here you go, honey," Daisy remarked in the stands, giving Ben the ball.

"Thanks," came the absent comment. The boy turned and asked: "Gee, Mom, how come you don't play for our team?"

"Yeah, your Mom would be better than some of these players have been," Luke opined.

At that moment, Eli turned to make a pickoff throw, but held the ball as neither fielder covered the base. "What's going on here," he wondered, looking in and throwing to the batter, who popped up to the catcher for the first out.

The catcher threw the ball back and pounded his mitt. "Okay, way to shake off that error," he hollered.

"That's only the first out, though," Eli shouted back.

"You'll get the next guy," the catcher spoke, holding down one finger. Eli shook his head, and the catcher ran out to mound.

"Fastball down the middle," Eli questioned him, "who does he think I am, Randy Johnson?"

"It's what the coach called for," the backstop asserted.

Eli shook his head. "He might like hitting my 80-mile-an-hour stuff, but this isn't batting practice."

Shrugging, the catcher stated that "the batter won't expect it from you." He went back behind the plate and stated lowly: "Fastball's coming." The pitch was taken for a strike.

"What'd I tell you? Here comes another," the catcher stated, and the batter popped the ball very high. The third baseman caught it for the second out of the inning.

The batter jerked his head back on the way to the dugout and scolded the backstop. "Don't do that again, I don't hit well knowing...wait a minute, you know that, that's why you told me, isn't it," came the angry reply. Eli grinned as the catcher shrugged. "This is the last time I listen to you," exploded the batter, who went into the dugout and slammed his helmet down in disgust. The next batter hit a ground ball to third, ending that half of the inning. Eli wandered back into the dugout to stare at the money some more.

(Yep, I'd be staring at all that for a while, too. Al worked a leadoff walk, and stole second when the catcher's throw was wide. He couldn't get home, though, cause the pitcher was the cleanup man, something you'll never see outside Hazard, an' struck out.)

Cooter spoke in the top of the third, all of Hazard seemingly at the game or listening on the radio; with some doing both. "Still scoreless, Eli's surrendered his first hit, to pitcher Richard Curtile. His opposing number is on first with no out. Here's a long fly, Curtile goes toward second, now he's going back to first...Oh my goodness, Denny misses the ball in right, and the hustling batter has just passed up Curtile! Denny lobs the ball in, the runners are going to 2nd and 3rd, but the umps are saying that the batter is out for passing up Curtile, who may throw well, but he just cannot run the bases to save his life!"

Hogg nearly choked on his drink at the Cumberland lapse. Pounding his fist in the air, he cried out "dang, dang, dang!" Realizing that people observed him, he stammered. "I mean, Come on, we can't rely on their boneheaded plays all day. Let's go, you guys."

Overhearing the boss, Bo laughed. "The bad part is, sometimes, big leaguers make those mistakes, too."

"Sure, nobody's perfect. That's why we gotta ask Jesus to be our Savior," the boy commented.

Daisy barely withheld giggles as she turned toward her son. "Bad baserunning ain't exactly a sin," she reminded him.

Luke shook his head. "There's a few managers who might disagree. Look, everyone, there's a long fly, will it score the pitcher?" Curtile left the base a split second before the outfielder caught the ball. He appeared to score, but Eli grabbed the ball as Curtile ran into the dugout to grab his mitt.

Blaine hollered at Eli from his fielding position. "Hey, get back on the mound, you're not supposed to be here."

Eli, now near third, responded that "I'll leave in a minute. Hey, ump." He stepped on third base and said that "this is an appeal play."

"Out! He left too soon," screamed the umpire.

"I did not," shouted the opposing hurler, running out of the dugout as Eli went back into his own.

Hogg looked incredibly distressed, partly because he wasn't sure what to say. "Good heavens, that was close," he began before seeing Big Joe and another suddenly surround him. "I mean, we almost..."

Big Joe muttered while looking at Hogg's cellphone. "Call Al down in the dugout and tell him to get the pitcher out."

"But why, he might still take the money," Hogg insisted, though he knew he would remove Eli if it were his own money down there. "You can see he's a little distracted out there. If we take that money back now, there's no way we'll get him on our side."

Joe fumed inwardly, but chose to give Hogg the benefit of the doubt. "We'll give you one more inning, and this better look good."

(Narrator: Well, ol' Boss Hogg went down to the clubhouse, and stuck his head out into the dugout. Since Al was on deck, he didn't bother saying anything. However, Eli must have got a bit nervous when he saw him - either that, or the others did when they saw Big Joe. Hazard gave up three runs, only one earned, in the fourth. Unfortunately...I mean, luck...Well, they started to rally after Blaine drew a walk. Well, he didn't really try, but...oh, never mind.)

"That's a hit by Eli," Cooter spoke to tens of thousands of listeners, "but Blaine was slow, he looks like he's limping. That would explain why he didn't go to third, that would have been an easy play for most players."

Eli looked at the Cumberland first baseman and muttered, not really intending for him to hear. "I don't think our runner's really limping."

"What, the old Jim Brown ploy," came the query, as the player recalled hearing how the great running back would get up slower than a glacier after a play to lull defenders into thinking he was hurt, then zoom forward with a burst of speed on the next play.

Eli realized he'd been heard, but didn't care at this point. It had to be obvious to some people, he deduced. "No, he isn't gonna take off running real fast. I'm thinking there's a fix on." I know there is, but I shouldn't let him know, because then if I do end up taking that money...no, I won't take that money. Will I?

The notion heavily stunned the first sacker. "What?!" was all he could get out of his mouth before Eli drew a couple of throws from Curtile. "So what do you expect us to do about it," the opposing player finally asked, dumbstruck as to what else to say.

"Well..." began the pitcher, shrugging and calling for a time out. The umpire granted it, and Eli walked over to the Dukes. "Hey, Uncle Jesse," Eli whispered, unsure of what the first baseman might be thinking. "Cumberland's 1st baseman wants to know what he should do, like maybe if they should even the odds or something." He never considered that the question might have been rhetorical.

Jesse was more shocked at this than anything he could recall. "This is...How many are in on this," Jesse wondered, totally unsure of what might be happening out there.

Eli shook his head. "I don't know, that passed ball and a couple pitch calls have me wondering about the catcher," he remarked, "and that middle infield and one outfielder, maybe two, could be tanking it." Sheesh, that middle infield's been worse than Little League for a while, the hurler contemplated.

Jesse shook his head. How could he reliably give advice in a spot like this. "Well, I'm sure not perfect, but while two wrongs don't make a right, there's also the notion of a level playing field." Thinking out loud not working, the eldest Duke sighed, lowering his head. He wished he could do better, but he simply had to admit "I don't know, Eli. I just don't know. This is where we realize how human wisdom fails, and it's up to the Lord to judge."

"Well, what would you do," the hurler inquired.

Jesse shook his head. "Well...Gol'dangit, I'd try to do what's right, that's all I know," he confessed, frustrated. He chose to give Eli a little solace, patting him on the shoulder. "I'm glad to see you're still trying to win. I know I'm not much help."

Eli grinned. "Hey, those notions don't mean much in the inner city. Some folks don't think anything about what's right." He stated firmly that "I do know it would be a lot better place it they did."

"The good Lord might want you helping to bring that about.," Jesse remarked.

Eli agreed, then harkened back tot he original question. "So, what should I tell him?"

Jesse shook his head, wishing something would come to him. "I don't know, just that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." Eli sighed, wishing Jesse had stated a clear directive.

Not receiving one, the pitcher thanked Jesse and ran back out to first base. He told the fielder that "even Uncle Jesse don't know."

The first sacker smiled. He knew what difficulties arose in such situations, more than Eli realized. He explained that "I grew up next door in Chickasaw County, and I used to wonder how you deal with such a situation, where there's two morally right things that conflict. None of our elders could agree on an answer."

Cooter finished his commercial and resumed the broadcast. "Crazy Cooter back at ya for the bottom of the third, as we resume action there's men on 1st an' 2nd. The ball is lashed down the line, past the first baseman, and into the corner." He nearly shouted as he called the rest of the play. "Blaine fell down going to third, he's just now getting there, and it'll be close with the force on. Here's the throw...it hits him and goes into the dugout! He would have been out, but now the runners all move up another base! Blaine scores, Eli to third, the tying run to second! Cumberland's first error of the game, to four by Hazard, with each committing a mental miscue. To say both clubs are nervous would be an understatement."

"All right, Hogg, I've almost seen enough," Big Joe hissed in the stands.

Cooter continued as the next hitter swung on the first pitch. "That's out to center, and Eli runs in; this will be close, here's the slide...safe, Eli knocks the ball out of the catcher's glove to make it 3-2. Here comes the runner to third, oh my, the catcher's throw sails by the third baseman and into the dugout, and the other runner comes home to knot the score at 3! Oh, man, what a ball game!"

"Well, okay, that wasn't my fault," Hogg insisted to Big Joe. It should be about 5-0 Cumberland by now, he considered.

Big Joe and his assistant surreptitiously pulled out guns and pointed them at Hogg. "You had your chance to lose it, Hogg! Come with us."

"Wait a minute..." Hogg shouted, "I can't help it if the other team's playing lousy. How can you expect us to throw a game if the other team won't co-operate!"

Daisy overheard and blurted: "Throw a game? What's he saying?"

Bo tapped his cousin on the shoulder and pointed near Boss Hogg. "Hey, Luke, do those big guys with Boss Hogg have guns?"

"Yeah, come on," he said, getting up, "we'll follow em. Daisy, go wake Cletus and Roscoe and tell em to follow us."

"How do you know they're sleeping," Ben inquired.

As Bo & Luke left, Daisy managed to laugh. "Why not, they ran out of parking tickets last Friday." She got up to leave, and Ben whined that he wished to go, too.

Uncle Jesse took him by the arm and moved him back to his seat. "It's too dangerous," he told Ben, "that's why we need the police. You just sit here and watch this game. You don't want to miss it, do you?"

"Wellll..." he pondered, anxious for some excitement. Maybe he could leave and follow them after it's over, he told himself. "How long will it last?"

Enos spoke from the other side of the Dukes' season ticket seats. "They keep playing till three outs, remember? So, they don't have to stop till then," he reminded him. Ben looked quite dreamy as he looked toward the field.

"You mean they could keep playing forever and ever," came the stunned remark. "Gee, that'd be neat to see."

Meanwhile, Daisy knocked on the ticket window. "Hey Roscoe, Cletus," she hollered.

Roscoe woke first, thumping Cletus as he hollered: "Hey, wake up! Step right up, everyone, three dollars for every seat in the house. Get em while they're hot! This one's for all the marbles!"

"Roscoe," scolded Daisy. "Come on, some men just kidnapped Boss Hogg."

"What," exclaimed Cletus.

"The boys are gonna follow em," Daisy remarked, knowing they would recognize she meant Bo and Luke. "I think the kidnappers are mad cause the team's not losing like it should."

"I thought they were supposed to win," Cletus commented, dumbfounded, as he put his gun in his holster. Roscoe's was already in its place. The sheriff tried to explain, then simply told Cletus to forget it.

(Narrator: So, while the Dukes and Roscoe and Cletus went after Big Joe and his assistant, the teams kept playing. Of course, Eli still kept looking at that money. Y'know, I bet he still ain't totally made up his mind.)

Ben's voice(as Eli stares at bag): Say it ain't so, Eli, say it ain't so.

Meanwhile, the General Lee, with Bo, Luke, and Daisy all in the front seat, was in hot pursuit of Big Joe and his men, who had Boss Hogg. Daisy sat in the front as Bo spoke on the CB. "Okay, Roscoe, we had some others blockin' roads, so we got em trapped goin' toward Hazard Pond, if they try to jump it we're gonna try something they never do in sci-fi movies."

"What's that," Daisy wondered.

"Attackin' from the top, of course," Bo commented as the men began to slide out the windows. "Here, take the wheel, you've made that jump before," came Bo, his voice expressing a great deal of confidence.

"Are you crazy, this is dangerous," exclaimed Daisy.

Luke, already out the window, said "Hey, it's lined up, all you gotta do is land her." Big Joe's car jumped and landed a third of the way into Hazard Pond, the kidnappers thinking that they still had the advantage, with a gun on Hogg. Bo and Luke jumped down on top of Joe's henchman, who held guns, knocking the firearmd out as the General Lee flew overhead, with Daisy landing the car on the other side. The Dukes scuffled mightily with Big Joe and his henchman as Roscoe's car landed in the pond and splashed them all, allowing the Dukes to finally overpower the bad guys.

Boss Hogg, finally daring to look up, shuddered. "Roscoe, what kind of landing was that?"

"Well, that's where I always land," the sheriff asserted as he and Cletus, still on dry land, arrested the gamblers.

"Oh, all right, just get them out of here so I can get back to this here game," Hogg exclaimed, considering that now, he could take all the winnings for himself if Hazard lost.

Looking at his watch, Bo remarked that "it looks like we got here just in time. We might make it back for the ninth inning."

Also ignoring his drenched condition, Luke waved to Boss Hogg. "Yeah, come on, y'all can hitch a ride with Daisy an' us." Hogg shook his head vigorously, causing his extra chins to wiggle.

"No way," Hogg exclaimed, "I'm not trying to squeeze into those windows; I'll drive the one dry patrol car!" The Dukes laughed uproariously.

"Okay, come on, let's see how the game's goin'," shouted Daisy.

(Narrator: What was going on was Eli pitching well, though he was dancin' through more raindrops than Noah's Ark. I reckon without that Big Joe fella there, the team might have tried a little harder to win. It's hard to win, but it's hard to lose, too. Finally, in the bottom of the 8th with two out, Eli got up to the plate. Now, Al was in a bind here. He didn't want to leave Eli in the way he'd been pitching, but he'd already used everyone on the bench who was in on the fix. So, a pinch-hitter could have given them the lead, and he couldn't count on his reliever to lose, either. So, bein' a pitcher, Eli ended up batting. After he got another glance in at that thar money, of course.)

"Hey, you're gonna leave him in," came Blaine's incredulous query. He knew without Big Joe around, the money could still be acquired, as they knew where it was hidden. Plus, Eli's money still sat in his locker.

"Of course. I've got a little trick up my sleeve," Al remarked, glad to be managing this club. So much more could be done with the coach in on the fix. He cursed as Eli fouled off several pitches before finally drawing a walk.

Cooter grinned, as excited as he could recall being. "You know they're not paying him much attention...and there he goes for 2nd," he hollered. "He has that stolen easily, as the catcher makes a very late throw. Hey, don't knock this kid, he may be a pitcher, but he's got some real skill and quickness out there, if not natural speed. Ha, ha. Wouldn't that be funny if a pitcher won a game scoring a run. It don't happen often, but you never know.

"There's a single into left-center," Cooter cried, bounced around like Ben and many other children below. "The coach is holding up the runner, but Eli's running right through the sign! Here's the throw to the plate..." came the announcer, with a pregnant pause. "Wham, he bowled over the catcher, and...Eli's safe!" Cooter almost threw his cowboy hat out the window as he hollered. "The catcher dropped the ball! The catcher dropped the ball, and Hazard leads 4 to 3! Wahoooo, what a game!"

Boss Hogg grimaced while riding to the park after having dropped off the fellows at jail. "Oh, come on, for goodness sakes, lose. I can't lose now," he exclaimed.

The sheriff was lost in thought trying to understand the statement. "Wait a minute...don't you mean you can't win now?" Hogg gave up trying to explain, as he wasn't sure of how to phrase that himself.

As they entered the ball yard, Cooter's voice reverberated through the romping, stomping feet on the stands. "We're going to the top of the ninth. Three runs, seven hits, two errors for Cumberland, Hazard has seven hits and six huge errors, but as often happens in this wacky game of baseball, your home team's winnin', and just three outs away froma pennant. Now.... what is this? Eli Houston running out to right field? Yes, he is. Y'all, I do not understand this strategy one bit. Eli Houston, after 8 very solid innings, is going into the outfield, and Denny, who's blown a number of saves, is coming in from right to pitch the 9th and try to get a save. Yes, Eli might be a little worn out from running the bases, but you gotta give the man a little chance to pick up the complete game. Anyone's better than Denny. What Boss Hogg was thinking when he made this man manager is beyond me."

Hogg smiled as he and the Dukes all took their seats. "Hey, they got a hit off Denny right away. Good." They gotta know Big Joe's in jail now, he pondered, but with the money they have going on this, they won't dare win.

After a man walked, Cooter began sweating. Finally, a Cumberland batter hit a lazy fly ball to right center. Good, he thought, finally an out. "There's a fly ball to right center, Eli keeps running toward the centerfielder, what's going on. Whoa, there was almost a collision there, and Eli's gettin' a dirty look from the man in center, but luckily he held on. Wanna bet Eli's never been in the outfield before?" Cooter suddenly recalled that the same manager had Eli playing second base once.

"What'd you do that for," hollered the centerfielder.

Eli explained, while throwing the ball to the first baseman, that "I couldn't chance you bein' in on the fix."

"The what," came the dumbfounded comment, and Eli told him to ignore it. He's probably clean, he told himself.

Cooter reminded the crowd of Eli's play at second earlier in the week while Denny threw some very bad pitches. "He has just walked the bases loaded," complained the broadcaster. "Here's Eli coming in to talk to him, I wonder if he's giving him some advice on this guy. If I'm Eli, I'd be thinkin' mutiny right here, grabbin' the ball an' doing it myself."

Eli grinned, recalling the batter from the first inning. He assumed that Denny would not know if he was joining the fix or not. "Hey, Denny, this guy loves to know what's coming."

Denny shook his head. Had the hurler had a change of heart? "Are you in on this," Denny inquired, figuring that Eli, by now, had to know what was going to happen; or, at least, what they wanted to happen.

"Just tell him what's coming," arrived the statement, meant to be very sincere. Of course, considering that Eli wanted him to be overanxious, he achieved his purpose in making Denny think it was a good idea.

The reliever showed he hadn't spoken to the catcher by nodding. Almost before Eli got back to right field, Denny exclaimed: "Fastball down the pipe." The ball came in very straight, but the overanxious batter thumped an easy fly ball to the first baseman for the second out of the inning. Cooter hoped the game didn't go very many innings, as he was beginning to get hoarse in the broadcast booth. I wonder if our local sportswriter could relieve me sometime, pondered the mechanic-turned-announcer.

"One look on the face of these folks" remarked Cooter in a whisper meant to save his voice as much as provide dramatics, "tells you the nature of this moment. Tying run on third, winning run on 2nd, 2 down, Hazard up by one in the top of the ninth. At bat is one of the best hitters to play the whole season, a .339 average with 19 home runs. There's a ball outside, ball one."

"Yes, come on, Denny, do your stuff," Hogg hollered from his ringside seat.

"I won't repeat that till I know what "his stuff" means," Luke joked as the pitcher stared in at the batter.

Cooter spoke the words "the ball one pitch" quite normally, growing loud and tense before the call evolved into screams, notes flying everywhere and his cowboy hat landing way down on the field. "There's a drive, deep into the right field corner, and if it lands it's a goner. Eli's racing for it, racing for it, he leaps, and...Hazard wins the pennant! Hazard wins the pennant! Hazard wins the pennant! Eli Houston just made an amazing catch to win the pennant, and the fans are going crazy! They're going crazy! Eli Houston has just made one of the most outstanding plays you will ever see, leaping over the fence to snare a home run and win the pennant! I don't believe it! I don't believe it! I do not believe it!"

Boss Hogg held his head in his hands, sobbing. "Oh, how did we ever let this loss slip away," he wondered as fans cheered jubilantly. Bo was the first to notice Hank Aaron on the field, approaching Eli.

"Eli Houston," came Aaron's voice, shaking his hand. "Hank Aaron, Atlanta Braves. Can we talk after the celebration?"

(Narrator: Well, whaddaya know? A club official was coming to look at Eli, after all. The Braves signed him on the spot to play double-A ball. Course, Big Joe and his friends got booted out of baseball, and they immediately told on Boss Hogg, so he got banned, too. Once the news got out, the chances of Battitt coming to the area flew out the window. Course, Hazard got to keep its ball club, as the Dukes helped a few other local farmers buy 50% of it and keep it in the county, at the old high school's spot. Boss Hogg had to be content to listening on the radio; he couldn't even enter the ball park. Oh, and they did have their victory parade. Cause the fans had wanted them to win. Now I wonder though, if they'd lost, would Boss Hogg have had a victory parade? Maybe; things are sorta like that in Hazard sometimes.)