As a kid, baseball was my sport. I was too short to be effective in basketball, no one played soccer in the 50’s, and although I was fast and could catch, my lack of bulk marginalized me in football. I played Little League, made the All-Star team, and loved the game. I played softball in organized leagues well into my 40’s.
I hadn’t played hardball, however, for over three decades when, several years ago, on a bright spring day, my younger brother Doug suggested we pull out some equipment and head for a nearby diamond. My head full of memories of past glories, we, accompanied by Doug’s friend Scott, found the field empty and inviting. I soon found out, however, that the invitation was for a surprise party.
As we warmed up our arms, tossing a hardball back and forth, a plumbing trunk parked nearby, and two overalled men got out, lunch coolers in hand. They found seats in the shaded stands along the first base line, unwrapped and uncapped their selections, and watched three men in their 50’s take the field. Doug ran out to left, Scott grabbed the metal bat, and I trotted out to shortstop.
As I examined the infield dirt for rocks and depressions, my hundreds of hours of practice in the schoolyard next to our home reinformed my muscle memory, and I was leaning forward on my toes, mitt ready, eyes focused…all without a conscious thought. There was no wind, the temperature was perfect, and I could picture the first grounder rocketing into my glove. Then Scott tossed the ball up and swung the bat.
In my memory of that day, the camera overcranks, and the hard-hit ball bounces toward me in slow motion. I jog a couple of steps to my right, square my feet to the ball’s flight, and drop into position. The hardball hits the dirt right in front of me and inexplicably stays down, skipping under my glove and into my crotch. The collision among the balls is direct and stunning. Grunting in pain and laughing at the folly that finds me sitting on my butt, I look up to see the two plumbers, caught in mid-chew, spewing lunch chunks.
When I finally got to my feet, I waved to the crowd and retired from the game.