[Note: This is an excerpt from an unfinished manuscript of mine (ha! how many times have you heard that before) entitled Middle Inning Crisis: An Ex-Little Leaguer Takes on Baseball Again 40 Years Later, which of course describes my adventures in adult baseball. In this portion, I revealed the kid-baseball roots of my desire to play ball long past the age when most people do. Now, I step aside for the eternal 9-year-old… A.B. (Some names have been changed to protect…well, mainly me.)]
Crazy game, baseball. Funny bounces and happenstance sometimes flip things around so that nine motor-skill disasters can wreak havoc on a world champion. Or some sad sack can stumble on a moment of brilliance. One July Saturday, I was one of those sacks.
It was late in the game, and Coach Fissinger had mis-juggled his innings. He couldn’t hide me completely if I were to play my minimum innings, so I was in line to hit third in the bottom of the last frame in a tie game. I helmeted up, grabbed my bat and started gripping the handle, twisting my palms against the tape as I watched the action through the chain-link.
Our field was in the corner formed by the big, white concrete retaining wall that held up Lincoln Elementary School and its asphalt play yard, and the larger playground where we had recess on school days. Broad cement tiers stepped down from the school and playground to our backstop, and an old oak threw dappled shade over the infield.
I don’t remember who was up first, but I know he got on and then dashed to second right away on an overthrow. Next came Roddy Norris. Roddy, a slight, gentle kid with a bowl of wispy, dishwater hair and no other distinguishing features, jockeyed with me all season for the title of Most Worthless Ballplayer. I don’t know if he was also ball-scared, or had just been forced into this by his folks and was therefore going through the motions. But he was a solid lower-part-of-the-order player, and therefore my brother.
Yea, brother; Brother Roddy got religion that day. He took a lunge at a sinking fastball and short-hopped one to second. The opposing second baseman, who by this time in the season knew Roddy’s rep, lollygagged to his right (What does that make him? A lollygagger) and punted it. Roddy was on first; the winning run was on third.
And here I was. Attaboys and go-get-’ems poured in from all sides and above as I walked to the plate, some in voices that had brought only derision before. I winced inwardly at what the promise of athletic success could do to people. All of a sudden I was hero material, even to people who wouldn’t be caught dead playing catch with me. I was beginning to understand bullshit.
But for some reason, I buried all that. Every other baseball situation I had been in had been fixable if I screwed up. This one seemed like a huge moral imperative. True, there were no outs. But the chance was too good. I knew. I had to get on base.
I stood in, and the sounds around me became louder (weren’t they supposed to recede? Wasn’t I supposed to be alone with my destiny, like other heroes? “Never heard the fans, Bob; I was just focused on my job.”) In the cacophony, strike one went by like a shot. Must swing the bat. So next pitch, I did, underneath a serving of high cheese.
Aw, crap. I felt nauseous. I was on my heels. And…here came a change-up. I didn’t think; I just dropped and squared, setting up for a bunt with the handle down, just as I had seen my Pirates heroes do. The ball hit my bat, and the next thing I knew, I was leaping over it as I chugged up the first base line.
I expected at any minute to get the seams in the back of my neck, or at least to hear Mr. Diebold scream “FOUL!” Never happened. I hit first, ran through, turned around…and the run had scored. Roddy, the other kids, Coach Fissinger, Mr. Davisson, all jumping around home. Game over. My first RBI.
Once the screams and claps on the back stopped, the team gathered as usual on the steps by the door to the school gym. Instead of looking down and picking at the laces of my glove, as usual, I waited in quiet expectancy. Coach Fissinger delivered.
“The real heroes of this game,” he said, inserting a pause to acknowledge the general amazement, “were Roddy…and Adam.” There was a lot of “holy shit” in his tone. But I let it go. I smiled as a murmur of recognition rose from the team, even from my detractors.
We had only two more games that season, and I settled back into my typical ways. But that Saturday, I floated home. Maybe I had a toehold in this game after all. — Adam Barr
Copyright 2008 Adam Barr