Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.

Ernie Brill


Detail from Baseball Sketch (2016 street mural), Wandbild in Mannheim, Waldhofstrasse 59

Tommy, the tallest guy in the neighborhood, is the best pitcher in the project. He has long legs, practices night and day, and will sign with the Dodgers. The Cubs want him, the Red Sox too, but Tommy’s lived in Brooklyn all his life. A scout went right up to Tommy’s apartment.

Tommy’s family wants him to go to college. Tommy’s Dad and Mom say baseball doesn’t  last forever. Tommy shrugs. He’s a pitcher. The best too – so fast nobody hits him. Watch him practice early in the morning in the courtyard in the dark. He chalks a strike zone on the brick post of the courtyard. Rarely misses the center: rears back, kicks his leg way up, and ZOOM-MWHOOSH! You blink. Everyone played hush-hush when the Dodger scout came. They talked bonus. Tommy’s gonna be a bonus baby!


It was all set. Guess what happened? Tommy got drafted. No, he won’t pitch. Maybe there’s an Army team, but who plays baseball in Korea? Tommy looks real good in chinos. His army pants look a lot like chinos. The older kids say we won’t see Tommy for years, if ever.

We had a big party for Tommy. All the big kids in the project came, even those Tommy had bad fights with. One shook hands with Tommy. He’s going to Korea too. They shook hands and looked down the street so long I went to see what they were looking at. But there was only the sky getting dark and somebody skating.


Guess who’s back? Guess what else? You’ll never guess in a million billion –no –a trillion God-zillion years. And guess what Tommy brought back from Korea? No. Nope. Nope. No. Give up? A wife. Right. He married a Korean.

You should see her. She came with him to our building – in a taxi! He had a green Army duffel bag, a huge trunk, and wore a blue like the sky suit. It looked fan-tastic. And her! She had a real long silk Korean dress with pink silk slippers. Her hair – real black- was piled up. She was so beautiful a lot of us went ga-ga. They looked funny in the courtyard and the benches. Tommy’s mother cried and hugged him. Tommy’s Dad hugged him in a huge bear hug, and kissed Cori.  Tommy’s brother and sister kept jumping up and down. Cori Korean -that’s what everybody started calling her right off the bat. Cori wasn’t her exact name. She said hello to EVERYBODY, including every kid there.


At first, the women talked to Cori, and admired her clothes, but then it slowed down.

“Well, what does anyone have in common with her?” Kenny’ s Ma claims they’re jealous she’s so stunning. Other Mas say, “Give the kids time” and “It’ll work out,” “Time to adjust” and “Well, we all have things to do.”

Another time, kids say “Hi” to Tommy and Cori and Alvin says “Cori, you are hands down the most beautiful woman in the world” and Cori says, “Thank you, Alvin.”

Alvin says, “You’re even prettier than the woman who brings the food when we get Chinks.”

Cori smiles, “Thank you,” again, but then Tommy, reddening, screams “Get out of here! All of you!”

We leave.

Tommy kicks the sidewalk.


Yesterday there was a horrible fight. A man saw Cori with groceries and told her to get out of America. Tommy found him and grabbed his arm. “Don’t ever bother my wife again.” The guy said, “That’s your wife, huh? Not your geisha?”  Tommy broke his jaw. It’s all over the project. Someone says the guy who had to have wires put in his jaw and all he can eat is soup and malteds had a son who went to Korea, only Tommy came back.


Tommy and Cori are moving. Tommy’s Ma says the apartment is too crowded. Besides, newlyweds need their own place. Everyone nods, “True. True.” Tommy has a new job in Manhattan and plans to go to night school. He told Paulie, Larry’s older brother, he’s going to live in Greenwich Village. When he tells Paulie, he’s wearing old chinos and his old Dodger jacket stretching  out all all over the place. Since joining the Army, Tommy’s gotten bigger.


On Tommy’s last day, he comes down very early and watches us play stickball.  A kid says, “ Tommy throw some fast ones.” He grins. Soon he gets up and strikes out everybody. Then he frowns,, disappears upstairs, and comes back down with a signed hardball – the famous one he got  from Brooklyn Dodger Johnny Podres in 1955 when we beat the Yankees in seven games to win the World Series .

Tommy winks, “Watch this.” He smiles. ‘This is for this place.”

Then he doesn’t smile. You can’t tell the look on his face – if he wants to cry or if he’s really pissed off. He winds up, pumps three times, brings his arm way, way back, scowls at the plate, shoots his leg way up, and throws. His pitch zooms to the heart of the brick strike zone. We hear THWACK!  People open windows wondering “What was THAT?”

A little kid looks at the post. His eyes go wide “HOLY COW TOMMY!”

On the sidewalk are little chips of brick. People looking out the windows stare at the little kid  pointing to the palm-sized dent where the pitch slammed into the brick. We push and shove for the chips. Tommy tips his hat. He gives the hardball to the kid who shouted “HOLY COW” and disappears upstairs.


Tommy and Corrie leave very early. Big Richie says his Dad who goes to work while it’s still dark out saw them go. Tommy carried the trunk AND the duffel bag. They walked alone to the bus that takes them to the subway.

The duffel bag AND the trunk. Tommy’s strong.


About the writer:
Ernie Brill writes urban fiction about people too often omitted from literature. His pioneering collection about hospital workers, I Looked Over Jordan and Other Stories was optioned by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee for their PBS TV series With Ruby and Ossie. Ms. Dee adapted and performed Brill’s story “Crazy Hattie Enters the Ice Age” to critical acclaim. Brill received his BA and MA in English from San Francisco State College and was active in the historic student strike against racism in 1968-1969, the longest student strike in US history that established the first Department of Black Studies and School of Ethnic Studies in the world, changing forever the face of higher education. Brill won a $4,000 New York State CAPS grant ( Creative Arts Public Services) and a number of smaller grants for creating innovative literature curricula for high school students in literature of the Middle East, the Harlem Renaissasnce, the literature of South America, and literature of the Vietnam War, specializing in selecting literature at multiple reading levels and interest areas for maximum student engagement. Brill has published stories and poems widely in the US and Canada (River Styx, Other Voices, U. of Oxford Press, Dart, The Atheneum Review, Ice Flo Press (Toronto), And Then, Flowering Song Press, Prentice-Hall ( Ontario) Harbour Pubs ( British Columbia).

Image: Detail from Baseball Sketch by SAINER. Street mural (Wandbild) at Waldhofstrasse 59, in Mannheim, Germany. 2016. Photograph courtesy of Hubert Berberich. Public domain.

Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.