Speedo's Revenge

by Jim Farrar (1986)

Every kid in the neighborhood was afraid of Big Kevan, including Speedo, whose Christian name was actually Earl.

Big Kevan had terrorized our neighborhood ever since third grade, when he beat up Teddy Cox, a sixth grader and supposedly the toughest kid in the whole school, one day on the playground during morning recess. Big Kevan had bloodied Teddy's nose and, worse yet, had made him cry. Our teacher, Mrs. Jackson, had sent Kevan to the principal's office to receive his proper punishment, but the damage had already been done.

Ever since that fateful day, Big Kevan's presence in the neighborhood had been tantamount to a reign of terror, not unlike Hitler's siege of Leningrad during World War II.

Big Kevan lived in a house on the corner of Deamon street, which occupied a strategic position, at least as far as us kids were concerned, between our school, the city park where we played our baseball games, and, of course, each other's houses.

Thus, regardless of where we were going, we had to pass Big Kevan's house. Knowing this, Big Kevan would hide in the front bushes, waiting, waiting, waiting, until one of us would ride our bike past his front yard, whereupon he would either shoot us in the butt with his Daisy pump-action pellet gun or, sometimes, run out into the middle of the street and catch us by the shirt, grab our handlebars and, straddling the front wheel of the bike, twist them until they were at a right angle to the front fender.

There was a mystique surrounding Big Kevan. The thing is, nobody knew how old he really was. He was from out-of-town and, though he was enrolled in the third grade, he was already as big as a fifth grader. There were rumors that he'd missed a year of school because he was retarded and that he'd been held back another because he'd killed his uncle in a knife fight over a fishing rod, though that was a theory that was never completely proven. We knew he had parents, but only because my father said he did. Also, there were always cars parked in front of his house, though, meaning no disrespect to my dad, we never saw any adults get in or out of them.

Big Kevan's friends were as much an object of speculation as Big Kevan himself. Though I never saw them with my own eyes, I'd had it on good authority that Big Kevan, as a third grader, hung out with a gang of seventh graders. We also knew that Kevan smoked cigarettes, stolen, no doubt, from Milt's IGA Market Basket and that he had actually – well probably, anyway – kissed a girl on the mouth.

Beyond that, we couldn't guess, though we were certain that Kevan was indeed a man of the world and, had any of us have had the courage or good fortune to actually talk to him and, dare I say, be friends with him, we would have unlocked the secrets behind many a pre-adolescent door.

But to get back to Speedo.

Speedo was proud. We called him Speedo because he was the pitcher on our little league baseball team, The Deamon Street Fireballs, and he could throw a hardball faster than any nine-year-old who'd ever donned a pair a cleats. Someday, we assumed, he'd play in the Big Leagues, and we would be proud to say we knew him.

This year, however, our neighborhood was in an uproar because we'd heard that Big Kevan was going to play ball for the South Park Mustangs, our loathsome cross-town rival. Most of the boys who played for the Mustangs were, like Big Kevan, rumored to be hoods, punks from the other side of the proverbial railroad tracks who carried slingshots and pocket knives to school, even though they were expressly forbidden by all the teachers, including the principal.

As luck would have it, our first game was against these self-same Mustangs, these junior criminals who now had Big Kevan on their team as well.

Now, before going on, I should mention Speedo's run-in with Big Kevan, which occurred not too long before our game with the Mustangs.

We'd been riding our bikes past Big Kevan's house when Kevan had scored a direct hit on Speedo's backside with his Daisy pellet gun. Speedo, not to be intimidated, had stopped his bicycle right in front of Big Kevan's house, got off it, and just stood there glaring at Big Kevan, an act that seemed, to those of us who witnessed it, to be nothing short of suicide.

There must have been something in Speedo's eye, however, that stopped Big Kevan, because he held his position and did nothing. He didn't shoot Speedo again, like we all thought he would, nor did he run out into the street and twist the handlebars of his bike. Instead, he spoke to him.

"I'll get you," he said. "I know who you are, Earl, and when we play you guys I'm gonna hit the ball right back to you so hard you're gonna wish you'd never played baseball. I'm gonna knock you down and hit home runs and you guys are gonna lose, because I'm tougher than you and you're all pansies."

Outside of school, this was the first time any of us had been directly addressed by Big Kevan, and the effect it rendered on us could not have been more frightening had we been spoken to by a burning bush, rather than a very large third grader. We were awestruck.

But not Speedo. He just looked at Kevan and said, "up yours, tuffy."

Speedo then got on his bicycle and, like the rest of us, rode like the wind, not stopping, we noticed, until Big Kevan was just a dot on the horizon.

Come game day, Speedo was at the park early, so early, in fact, that they hadn't even had time to chalk the baselines before he and our catcher, Tater Bug Nelsen, were out on the field warming up.

Speedo continued to throw right up until game time, ignoring the glares and taunts that Big Kevan and his teammates tried to distract him with from the row of deteriorating lawn chairs on the side of the field that served as the Mustang's dugout.

It should be pointed out here that all of us had just assumed that Big Kevan could play baseball. Certainly his teammates must have thought so, though it's doubtful he ever practiced with them, as well as their coach, Walter James Cliff, a clothing salesman who wore maroon polyester slacks and white loafers.

But the fact was, Big Kevan had never swung a bat in his life, let alone held one in his hand, whereas Speedo had practically grown up with a baseball in his.

For this particular game, Big Kevan was scheduled to bat fourth, the clean-up spot, the part of the line-up reserved for the big-gun, the power-hitter, the man a coach wants at bat when he needs the big hit.

The Mustangs batted first. Speedo struck out the first two batters, then walked the third. Big Kevan stepped up to the plate and grinned at Speedo.

Speedo's heart was pounding. This was the moment of truth, he thought, his showdown with Big Kevan, and he was shaking. Big Kevan just kept on grinning.

Speedo went into his wind-up. As he looked towards the batter's box, he saw the strangest thing he'd ever seen as a little leaguer: Big Kevan was getting ready to bunt! Two outs, two men on, and Big Kevan was bunting. What's more, he was standing straight over home plate, literally blocking it.

Still grinning, Big Kevan held his bat out towards Speedo like a sacrificial lamb. He must've thought he was fooling Speedo by trying to bunt, by just standing there, one foot in either batter's box, facing him like a condemned prisoner before a firing squad.

Speedo saw his chance and took it. He did nothing dirty, he said later, he threw a perfect strike, in fact, right over home plate, a fastball straight into Big Kevan's groin.

Big Kevan never grinned that way at Speedo again. Nor, to my knowledge, did he ever again shoot him with his pellet gun or twist his handlebars. As for the game, we won it, and Big Kevan cut short his career in baseball, choosing, instead, to go out for football, where he could use his size to his advantage and grin, grin, grin all he wanted to.

Back to Jim's Writing