Case #4.24: "Rounding Third"

"...And headed for home, it's a brown-eyed, handsome man..." Does anyone else automatically think of song lyrics when they hear a certain phrase? It's just me? Oh well.

Blowfish is watching his oldest son's Little League practice. He's irritated at the other parents for saying the coach plans to teach the boys "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." Blowfish marches up to Coach and demands to know what qualifies him to teach Blowfish Junior to play baseball. Coach informs Blowfish he played baseball for San Diego State. "Ohhhh, bitchin'," Blowfish says sarcastically. Coach warns Blowfish he used to be a Golden Gloves boxer. 

Next we see of Blowfish, he's holding a bag of ice over his black eye as he walks through the parking lot with his son. Sal Jr. whines, "Do we have to get another coach? That's our third one." Sal Jr. worries that Blowfish wants to coach, but Blowfish has a better idea: Doug. Theme song.

Speaking of brown-eyed, handsome men, Doug brags that he was the best catcher the Tarrytown Tigers ever had. Fuller coached his son Kip's Little League team and thinks being a cop is an easier job. Having worked with peewee football parents, I gotta agree he's probably got something there. 

Doug isn't sure about being a coach; he needs to be around for Clavo because the kid is depressed. Fuller thinks being around other kids would be good for Clavo. Doug reminds them that Clavo isn't old enough for Little League. Blowfish says Clavo could be the bat boy and waxes poetic about the sights, sounds, and smells of baseball. Doug still says no. Blowfish begs him; Tom already said no.

Blowfish doesn't want to coach himself because he was a terrible baseball player. Doug will learn about reliving painful childhood memories when he sees Clavo going through hard times. Blowfish thinks Doug can help Sal Jr.'s team find out what it feels like to be winners.

At Casa de Penhall, Doug apologizes to the babysitter Debbie for being late. She reports Clavo's been in bed for an hour and spent most of his time drawing at the kitchen table. Doug picks up one of the drawings; it's of a sad stick boy, presumably Clavo, looking out of a house at a dog. Even the sun in the picture is frowning. Doug pays Debbie and she leaves. He peeks in the bedroom and finds Clavo sleeping soundly. Also in the stack of pictures is a baseball game; Clavo has labeled one of the stick-figure players "Me." Doug smiles and hangs it on the fridge.

At Little League practice the next day, Clavo hands Doug baseballs to hit for the infielders. The little guy has been outfitted with a team cap. Montage time! The infielders are, um, not very good. Doug accidentally hits Sal Jr. when the boy misses a pop-up. Next, Doug pitches to the kids. Nobody hits the ball. Sal Jr. gets spastic and knocks himself over. A blond little boy manages to hit one over the fence.

After practice ends, the same blond boy shows Clavo how to hold the bat and gently tosses pitches to him. Doug thinks the boy, Danny, looks familiar. Danny's last name is Johnson. Doug invites Danny to join him and Clavo for burgers. Danny nervously eyes his dad, who's watching from the parking lot, and says he has to go. Clavo smiles and tells Doug he likes Danny. Adoptive father and son play a little more baseball.

Over breakfast, Doug and Clavo decide who should play what position in the next game. "There's Dany...on the box," Clavo chirps. Doug corrects him that Michael Jordan is the guy on the Wheaties box. However, the box Clavo was referring to is the milk carton. Nice detective work, kid. Doug checks it out. It's Danny's picture, all right, but the milk carton gives his name as Curtis Stapleton.

At the Little League field, parents cheer on their kids, who have team caps but no jerseys due to budget reasons, I assume. Judy is pitching in as third base coach. Danny/Curtis's bunt sends him to first and his female teammate to second or third, can't tell which. Clavo brings Sal Jr. his bat. Sal Jr. looks like he doesn't want to be there.

Blowfish calls over the fence that he wants Doug to pinch-hit. Doug tells him to sit down; it's only a practice game. Sal Jr. gets a hit, runs, and falls on his face just short of first base. The other team gets a double play. After the game, Doug's team, the Wildcats, do a cheer. Doug tells Sal Jr. not to be depressed. Blowfish pulls Doug to the side and says he's sick of "sportsmanship crap." He'd rather hear a German opera than that cheer again.

Doug ignores Blowfish and approaches Danny/Curtis's dad, who looks very suspicious in his ballcap and dark sunglasses. Doug introduces himself; Danny/Curtis's dad is named Bob. Bob fumbles, saying his last name is Jones before correcting himself and saying Johnson. Bob tells Doug that he and Danny/Curtis love watching baseball together.

Doug asks Bob to be his assistant coach. Judy over on third base is a Phillies fan because she thinks the mascot is funny. Obviously, nobody from the writing team that established her as a Cubs fan was around for this episode. Doug butters Bob up; Danny/Curtis is a good player, the other kids look up to him. Bob claims he's too busy with work and can't help.

Danny/Curtis and Clavo help Judy pack up the equipment. When Doug asks if Bob is the blond boy's father, Danny/Curtis bolts. Doug asks Judy to watch Danny's reaction and calls out the name Curtis. Danny/Curtis stops briefly in his tracks, then keeps running. 

Doug shows Judy the milk carton picture. Judy reminds him that he has no proof that Bob isn't really the kid's dad. She adds, "Danny may not know. If kids are kidnapped young enough, they may not know their captor isn't their parent." Doug tells her that Danny/Curtis was only reported missing last year. Judy says she'll check with the Juvenile Services division about Curtis.

In the Chapel, Doug looks through Danny/Curtis's missing persons file. There's a black-and-white picture of a happy enough looking family: Mom, Dad, and Curtis. Doug also finds a divorce decree and a Christmas card featuring Mom, Curtis, Mom's new husband, and Curtis's two new stepbrothers. Doug realizes the dad in the first family portrait is Bob from the baseball field.

When Doug gets home, Debbie tells him that Clavo's friend Danny came over and the three of them played baseball in the park. Doug asks if Danny is still there. Debbie doesn't answer, just takes her money and leaves. Doug hears two voices coming from the bedroom.

Inside, Danny/Curtis and Clavo are looking at either a geography textbook or an atlas, pointing out various places they've been. Clavo shows him El Salvador. Danny/Curtis shows Clavo his former hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Clavo tells Danny/Curtis that Doug is his uncle. He loves Doug, but misses his mother. Sometimes, his mother visits him in his dreams. Danny/Curtis doesn't dream about his mom and asks Clavo not to tell Doug what they've been talking about.

Doug comes in and jokes about seeing chicks and beer in the room. He hugs Clavo and asks if Danny/Curtis wants to stay for dinner. Danny/Curtis has to go home and turns down Doug's offer of a ride. It's dark, so Doug won't take no for an answer.

The three of them cruise through a neighborhood in Doug's truck. Danny/Curtis claims he doesn't remember his address; he'll know the house when he sees it. Like that doesn't sound suspicious coming from a kid who's at least 9 or 10. Danny/Curtis points out a big white house and Doug stops the truck. He doesn't want Doug to walk him to the porch. Danny/Curtis realizes Doug won't leave until the kid is safe inside. Fortunately for him, the front door is unlocked. Danny/Curtis walks into a dinner party where it's obvious he's a total stranger. Satisfied, Doug pulls away. Danny/Curtis apologizes to the dinner guests and goes back outside.

In a room at the Inter City Motel, Bob is talking to someone on the phone. He tells the person that he's a good framer; why does it matter that he doesn't have references? Because every job wants candidates to have references, even in 1990. He hangs up. Danny/Curtis is eating dinner at the table and asks if they'll have to leave again. This episode is starting to remind me a lot of Sam and Dean Winchester's childhood in Supernatural. 

Bob tells Danny/Curtis that the kid knows the rules. Danny/Curtis protests that his first game is in two days; the team needs him. Bob promises that Danny/Curtis can play baseball in the next town. It's not just about baseball; Danny/Curtis likes the town and wants to live there permanently. Bob tells Danny/Curtis to do his homework.

The Little League park is festooned with streamers and red-white-and-blue bunting. Doug's team dances happily around, all wearing blue-and-white jerseys to go with their caps. In the second continuity goof of the episode, the word CHIEFS is printed on the front of the jerseys as opposed to WILDCATS. A league photographer gets ready to take a Chiefs team picture.

Bob calls Danny/Curtis over before the camera clicks. Bob lifts his son over the fence and walks toward the parking lot. "Smile like you just won your arbitration," Doug encourages the kids. Judy steps away to follow Bob. In the parking lot, Bob reminds Danny/Curtis of their deal: Danny/Curtis is allowed to play baseball but can't be in team pictures. Danny/Curtis wants to have something to remember his friends by. He gets in Bob's truck, sullenly folding his arms. Bob backs the truck out of the lot.

In her red Jeep, Judy follows them to the Inter City Motel. She sees Bob having an argument with the manager, no doubt about their unpaid bill. Bob fishes cash out of his wallet and hands it over.

Back at the Chapel, Judy tells Doug that Danny/Curtis has been kidnapped. Well, it's really more like a case of custodial interference. Doug thinks Bob loves Danny/Curtis and vice versa. Judy asks if he's thought about how the mother feels. Harry suggests Danny/Curtis was unhappy with his mother and new stepfather. Doug argues that a father can be just as good a parent as a mother. Judy thinks Doug's letting his relationship with Clavo cloud his judgment. Honestly, the big guy has a point. I know several fathers who are the primary custodians of their children and the kids are much better off than they would be the other way around.

Doug doesn't want to arrest Bob in front of his son; Danny/Curtis would have to be put in juvie until his mother can pick him up. Judy warns Doug not to let Bob skip town again.

At Casa de Penhall, Clavo draws another picture featuring a frowning sun. Doug tells Clavo that it's okay to miss his mom; it won't hurt Doug's feelings if Clavo says that. He asks Clavo to tell him about his feelings. Clavo agrees. Doug promises to mail the drawing to Clavo's mom, then dials Danny/Curtis's mom Janet from the kitchen phone. 

Cap'n Rufus overhears Blowfish talking to Sal Jr. on the squadroom phone. Sal Jr. is under the impression that his dad works at a place that builds rockets. When Blowfish hangs up, Rufus tells him he shouldn't be lying to his son. Blowfish thinks Sal Jr. would be disappointed if he knew the truth about what his dad really does for a living. Blowfish himself grew up ashamed of his dad's long, bizarre resume that included playing the Planters Peanut Man and cleaning up after horse carriages in Central Park. He wants Sal Jr. to have a better life than being a janitor.

At Casa de Penhall, Judy watches Clavo play with a toy helicopter. Doug opens the door for Janet, Danny/Curtis's stepfather Ed, and a little boy and little girl that are Danny/Curtis's siblings. They look more or less Danny/Curtis's age. Clavo offers the other kids candy. Ed tells Doug that the children aren't allowed sweets.

Everyone drinks water in the living room as Judy explains the plan. Doug will bring Danny/Curtis and Bob over so the family can talk on neutral ground. Bob could possibly be extradited to Pennsylvania on kidnapping charges.

Doug goes into the Inter City Motel office. He learns that Bob and Danny/Curtis left earlier and stiffed the manager for 4 nights. Bob didn't say where they were going.

Ed confronts Doug about promising to bring Danny/Curtis and Bob over. Judy explains that when she saw Bob pay the manager, she thought Bob was paying in advance for a longer stay. Doug is sure they'll turn up the next day because it's the Chiefs' first baseball game. 

At the ballpark, the parents are awfully bundled up for a sport that opens its season during spring. Of course, this probably has to do with the fact that this show is a case of America being played by Vancouver, Canada. The Chiefs are warming up on the field. Ed and Janet sit in the stands. Bob and Danny/Curtis arrive midway through the recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Janet holds Ed back to keep him from going after Bob. Bob runs. The National Anthem ends and the umpire cries, "Play ball!"

Doug chases Bob through the parking lot. He gets in Bob's truck with him and flashes his badge. Meanwhile, Blowfish and Judy take over coaching duties with Judy enthusiastically shouts, "KILL 'EM!" Blowfish reminds her that it's Little League, not hockey. In the outfield, we hear Sal Jr. hoping the batter won't hit the ball to him. The ball goes to Danny/Curtis at shortstop instead; the blond easily picks off the runner.

Bob explains to Doug that Danny/Curtis was his life. Janet left him because he was out of work. Bob felt like Ed was ruining Danny/Curtis's life. Under Ed's roof, Danny/Curtis wasn't allowed to eat sweets, listen to music, go to movies, or even play baseball. That's why Bob kidnapped his son. Doug tells Bob that he has to arrest him. Bob asks Doug to let him finish watching the game.

Bob and Doug go back to the field where the Chiefs are playing. Doug decides to let Blowfish and Judy coach the rest of the game. Bob has realized he was just as guilty of keeping Danny/Curtis from living as Ed was because Bob and Danny/Curtis were on the run.

When one of the kids is tagged out at first base, Judy loses it. She comes out of the dugout screaming at the umpire. The umpire ejects Judy. Blowfish tries desperately to get her under control. Danny/Curtis hits a solid double, then it's Sal Jr.'s turn at bat. Sal Jr. bunts. The other team fumbles the ball at third base and Danny sprints for home plate, giving Sal Jr. an RBI. Blowfish and the rest of the Chiefs cheer wildly; they've won the game 4-3. 

As the kids run around the field, Janet comes down from the bleachers to hug Danny/Curtis. Bob and Doug watch, smiling.

At Casa de Penhall, something interesting has come in the mail: a letter to Clavo from Danny/Curtis. Doug reads it out loud because Clavo can't read yet. Danny/Curtis is back in Pennsylvania and playing baseball. His team made the playoffs and Danny/Curtis made the all-star game. He asks if Doug's team is still bad. There's a note for Doug too, asking where Bob is. Danny/Curtis wants to send letters to his dad too. 

As Doug reads, Clavo works on another crayon picture. It features what looks like the word MOM and a frowning sun. End of episode.

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