Sometimes I have this dream that I’m in the Bigs, on deck, forty-thousand breathing fire, and our second baseman, a speedster with the Delino DeShields double-earflap, has just grounded out to first. My walk-up music begins to chime from the heavens and it’s not Thunderstruck or Ambitionz Az A Ridah or Shook Ones, no, it’s Jesus Was a Cross Maker, Judee Sill, because what is hitting a baseball if not a miracle, and I carry my bat over my shoulder like it weighs a ton. The home crowd is baffled: what is this song, what is this shimmering resonance? Is it religious? Is it cosmological? Is it a spell? But there’s enough of a countrified shuffle to get even the skeptics moving, and suddenly everyone knows the words—A bandit and a heartbreaker—and as the chorus rains down, I dig into the batter’s box, coolly raising my hand for Time like I know precisely how all of this is going to end. I spit into the dirt, the mark of a true hard-ass, but my phlegm is all busted, too thick, too red, a pool of copper on my tongue, a rusty sludge at my cleats, and when I look up at the pitcher, I can tell by his crooked smirk he’s got a blade tucked in his glove. He nods, pitch selected, and this is the part where even in my dream I know I’m staring down a night terror, the kind that only ends in a thunderclap headache, the kind that jolts me awake in a stew of sweat, the kind of white-hot brain burn that makes my nose run and my eyes water and swear I’m about to die for the thousandth time, the kind that can turn you into a Believer. But before all that, before I’m reminded that pain is a long game and acceptance is hard-won, the music turns warbled and viscous like somebody pulled the plug on a turntable. The pitcher begins his wind-up, a high-legged twist of limber violence, a headhunter with a knife in his fist, and instead of parking my weight on my back-leg, instead of squashing the bug, instead, even, of squaring to bunt, I lay my bat in the dirt and get down on my knees and hear a collective gasp cascade the horseshoe fortress as I close my eyes and silently begin to pray.
In the fall she went to school in Burlington, VT and I stayed in Brattleboro because that’s where I needed to be and we told each other we’d talk every day and she said she would drive down every other weekend.
The first weekend she was gone I didn’t leave the house I still shared with my mother and I drank tall cans of Heady Topper and ate Chicken Parm Sandwiches from West Brattleboro Pizza. The Chicken Parm comes with fries so greasy that it coats the fingers for hours and lingers even after washing with hot, soapy water. They don’t deliver so I had to send my mother out to get them, which she did. I think she thought I was sad.
I know she thought I was drunk.
I don’t think I was either.
I’ve always been able to drink without much effect and being sad isn’t something I do.
She called me three times over that weekend and the first time she called she told me about the people she was meeting in the dorms. They were mostly from VT, but some were from all over. There was a guy named Erick Rasmussen from Chico, CA and she said that he brought with him drugs from home.
She knows I love mushrooms.
My mom would set the food on the top of the stairs leading down to where my room was and I could collect it at my leisure. She shops at the Brattleboro Food Coop and would leave some fresh juice and sliced meat and vegetables too. The beer I had bought myself. I managed to secure a case. Enough to last until Monday.
In the basement, there are boxes filled with the life we once had.
My father’s things.
I don’t linger on them much.
But I did that weekend.
I opened the first box after she’d called the first time and told me she was going to eat mushrooms with Eric Rasmussen that night. Inside the box was another box. It wasn’t the only thing inside the box but was the first thing I pulled out. The box was wood, kind of flat, and had a glass top. It was more like a deep frame than a box. Inside was a cushioned and velvet-covered display surface. On that surface were dozens of medals pinned for viewing; bronze, gold, silver. Ribbons too; blue, white, red, green, purple. All the ribbons had the same gold lettering that told of the event they were earned in and what place they represented; first, second, third, and so on. I ran my hand over the glass and then shook the display box and it jingled.
The medals all looked old and dull.
It’s hard to place the feeling I have when viewing these sorts of things because I’d like to say they make me miss him, but they don’t. It’s more like they make me miss a version of him I wish he was. A version who cared to relate.
It makes me wish I was a version of myself that cared enough to force the issue.
A version of myself that cared enough to say to him, look, I know we don’t have much to talk about, or whatever, but we should form a bond and relationship now before it’s too late. But I never said anything like that and he was content in the interests that so completely occupied him. It’s for the best.
The next thing I pulled from that first box was a golf ball. My father saved it. It was from his only hole-in-one. He died shortly after.
If you drink three Heady Toppers back-to-back-to-back you will get drunk, but not me. I do feel it but I could drive if I wanted. Brattleboro, VT isn’t that populated and there are long stretches of rural road in all directions.
The second time she called me that weekend was Saturday night. She’d taken the mushrooms with Eric Rasmussen at what was supposed to be a welcome to the dorms party he was hosting but as it happened, no one showed up but her, which I told her was suspect but she said it wasn’t like that, that she’d heard him telling everyone about the party in his room. She said she was tripping pretty hard and had to go then and hung up. She told me she loved me and that she couldn’t wait to see me again and then she was gone. It was 11:07 at night and my mother was leaving to go to Greenfield, MA to visit her sister and my cousins and she liked driving at night because there were fewer people on the road. She was staying for five days even though it was only half an hour away. Said she liked hotels. Said she liked cable TV. I heard her leave more food at the top of my stairs. Beer, too.
I told her I had enough.
I’m not dependent.
I think she’s being passive-aggressive.
I hear her leave and the garage door shut behind her.
On Sunday I am awoken by the sounds of a lawn mower going past the basement window. It throws grass at the window too and it takes me a moment to realize where I am and what I am doing, what’s going on. My head hurts and aches and feels as if it has had just one hell of a night, though I don’t remember it having one hell of a night. It’s as if I can’t bear the weight of it. It’s as if I can’t stand the effort it takes to be. To do the thing I need to do. I feel it as I lie there and the mower comes back around, spraying grass at my window. Some pieces stick there and hang and the early morning sun shines through the blades and they look transparent like they aren’t real.
Maybe they are not.
There is another box and inside of it are all the little things my father kept on his desk at work. A nameplate. An old coffee mug. Another old coffee mug in which he kept his pens. A stress ball from a pharmaceutical company. The detritus of work life. A rubber band ball the size of a baseball. I hold these objects one by one and my head still feels done in. I never knew what he did and never really bothered to ask. At the bottom of that box is his watch. It was his father's before him and it never felt right to wear it myself. He never said it would be mine so it isn’t.
Mom doesn’t know it’s in there.
We’ve all forgotten so much about what daily life was like then.
I drink a Heady Topper to ease the pain and it works and I think to myself that when she calls, I am going to give her the business about how it made me feel that she would be doing my favorite drugs without me, tell her that it’s not about the guy, but rather the act of sharing in something with someone else which she knows I enjoy. It’s 11:09 in the morning and my phone hadn’t rung and I know she’ll call by mid-day. I remember deciding to leave my basement for the first time since Friday and at the top of the stairs is some food and beer. The food is bad now and I felt bad about that, but the beer just needed to be chilled. I cracked one of the warm cans open and drink another.
Outside on the front porch, the light hits me all wrong and I think about the boxes I’ve never opened, the ones that he wouldn’t want me to look through and I wonder why I give a shit. He wasn’t a father, not in the sense most have them, he was a ghost. A presence on the couch watching baseball. His Red Sox. I was a ghost too. A non-presence in a home in which hiding meant just staying out of the way and not interrupting others’ routines. Not changing the channel. Not requiring too much. He has boxes of baseball cards and memorabilia that he’d not want disturbed. I drink my beer and stare at the pavement of the street out front. He has a baseball signed by Big Papi. I think about getting it and getting his bat and maybe hitting it in the field by the school two blocks away.
It’s 12:09 in the afternoon and I text her and I say I’m hurt that she did what she did and that I would never hurt her in the way she’d hurt me and it’s shitty to not even be gone a week and already fucking around with some guy. But really, I text, it’s about respect.
She calls but the phone stops ringing before I can answer and when I call her back, she does not pick up, so I wait and call back and experience the same result.
I find and open and drink another warm beer.
My father died while driving to Boston to see a game at Fenway.
He was in a car accident just at the turn-off for Greenfield. I was not there. Neither was my mother. My father preferred to engage with his hobbies alone. He’d tried to share baseball with me but I was too fidgety to sit still for the games. They are long and they are boring. He took the exit that said Boston/Greenfield and lost control somehow and swiped a car while merging and just hit the median and his car flipped and he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. It wasn’t anything special. No one was drunk. There was no one to blame or get mad at and there wasn’t really anything to be mad about anyway.
Sometimes it’s like that with fathers and sons.
She texted me that it was too hard to do the long-distance thing and that it was over and that she hoped I got my shit together and moved out and found my own way out of Brattleboro.
It was 3:05 PM.
I tried to think of something to text back but there was nothing.
Mom wouldn’t be home for four more days.
My father’s baseball cards were in a box marked baseball cards and were easy to find. I took the box outside and I set it in the backyard where the trees were overgrown and the shade was always and I sat down next to it and I lit a match and I threw it on the box dramatically but the box didn’t catch fire because that’s not how things work in the real world. If I wanted to get it done, I’d have to commit. I drank a third warm beer. I thought about it. If I got up, I could go to the garage and I could get some gasoline and I could burn the box and with it all the time and effort and space and love of his that that box represented. It could be gone. I could make it so. And somewhere he’d be hurt, deeply. I took out my phone and thought about texting her back. Thinking of something to say that would hurt and cut and sting, but I’d have to commit to that too.
I lit a match.
I texted the letter K and left it at that.
I threw the match and smoke began to rise.
Sometimes, Life is dramatic like that.
image: Jack C. Buck
Nothing was the same after the shortstop got the yips. The first baseman grew antlers in the dugout. A tree got too shaky to turn into a bat. It pulled away when we tried. Who could grow an arm so big it could slug all of Louisville? it asked, sap dripping from its chest. They’re real though, the yips. Real as that fog last August or that thing you walked in on sophomore year. Just ask my novels and plans or the summer in 2017 when I couldn’t pick up a pen to write a poem without my hand going earthquake. Some jerseys have stripes and others are athletic enough to dodge tectonic traffic in Oakland. “The Steve Blass disease” as they sometimes call it, as if one disease named after a baseball player wasn’t enough. Some trees burned yesterday. Others washed away. A Sasser yip, sounds more like a drink than a stolen base, or maybe a legend from a Kentucky forest, something about spirits caught, y’know. Sweat as a rain delay. A rain delay as a recommendation letter. A free rain delay once I filled my punchcard. I got yips, you said. THE yips, I said. You should get that checked out, something out in the forest said. The doctor wrote a prescription. Took penicillin for a week. The shortstop never breathed right again, but he could sing when it rained.
Tears dripping on yellowed
red lockers every
December, one arm
Of each Valenti twin
draped over my
sullen, sweaty shoulders
with a no,
No, you won’t get cut.
Not this time. They can’t
to you again, right?
dribbled layupped free
Tall with big hands
thigh muscles burg-
eoning through aber-
Crombie sweat pants
as they strode, lengthily,
to the courts.
I tried to show the teacher slash
coach I could dribble but
too often I’d look up halfway down the
Court catch sight of
a real player
slow my pace to see
if they saw me too.
Baseball, I warrant, is not the whole
occupation of the aging boy.
A bat next to the bed for safety,
for just in case, because the boy
furthest from the door has watched
Funny Games far too many times
to not fear the nature of man.
We’re not gun guys, hence the bat.
Not sports guys either, unless
we’re talking the stickball scene
in It Takes Two, starring the Olsen twins.
My husband and I still go to a game
once a year or so, for the food
and the fanfare. We don’t care
who wins. At Pride Night one season,
I stuffed a Phillies-branded rainbow flag
between my legs. More fear than fetish.
It was clear the ballpark bros didn’t know
it was Pride Night, or didn’t care.
Side-eyes one beer away from aggressor.
Later though, we found a corner
of the stadium to smile and take a photo
with the flag. I looked happy but out
of place. Sean wore his cap backward
like an It Takes Two stand-in.
Back in school, baseball meant
sexual exploration: first base, third base,
home run. But there is no first base
in the men’s only league. Anything worthwhile
happens in the dugout after a rain delay. A kiss
on one cheek, an imprint of a cleat on the other.
The remake of Funny Games kept the same
director and was filmed nearly shot for shot
to the 1997 original. Shot for shot—
it can mean many things, so many ways
to mark a body. I’ve been lucky so far, blessed
with enough rigidity to pass. Enough foresight
to blend in and become the infield.
When I can’t sleep, I imagine myself as Hughie Jennings
on deck. I replay hit-by-pitch scenarios in my head.
When it’s my go, I step to the plate empty-handed,
having left the only bat I own back in the bedroom.
A voice in the crowd yells a slur. The crowd performs
the wave. Stadium lights soon give in to night.
The hiss of electricity overpowered by a brief
and impatient silence. Then there’s the sound
of wind. A velocity one can never fully prepare for.
image: Lauren Mancuso
I skate the ribcage of a giant until the police show up or I fall to my death, the costae a transition. Without the coping, my trucks wear away at the soft bone, and when the bonemeal accumulates in small mounds at the base of the rib, the point in which the ribcage connects to the vertebral column, I make a wish and blow. The dust rains down on the Earth, fertilizes the soil. In this way, I consider, I am doing my part to save the environment.
My wish is simple, but I know the rules: if I tell, it won’t come true, so I keep it to myself. I carve the giant’s eye socket, the inside of the zygomatic bone, my wheels gliding over the graffitied names of friends and lovers. I drop in from the top of the hipbone—os coxae—and bomb the femur. I bluntslide the giant’s metatarsals, I kickflip over its phalanges. I tre flip from maxilla to maxilla, over the heart shaped gap in the giant’s skull, my back foot scooping the board’s tail, my front foot flicking up.
When the sun sets, the colossal skeleton glows blue in the moonlight. In time the collagen in the giant’s bones will break down, will become brittle. The soil will swallow the remains, will break them down further, and what grows next will be nurtured by the provided calcium, by the increase of phosphorous. I think about my wish and how someday, my bones will do the same.
In every memory of them I have, Dad leaves
the game early during the 7th Inning Stretch.
I’ve spoken with several friends with similar
experiences of fathers packing up and departing
then. I imagine (and in a way it was) a coliseum
chock full of dads, gathering all at once
kids and belongings, scaling concrete stadium stairs
past the thousand orange plastic seats. Rush of parents,
hallways bottlenecking and bathroom lines endless
with various pairs of fathers and their kids
exiting. The parking lots were also bad, but not as bad
as the end of the game, Dad said. Some never made it
even as long as the 7th. But, from what I learned
from him, their situation would be no different. I hope
they, too, together listened rapt to those last few innings.
The radio fading out, then in, wavelike. Static
traffic finally lulling the son’s swaying head to rest
on his dark window. The figure next to him
limned golden in high beams. The ride home
would feel to him so fast, like blinking.
We were right wrecked the night we lost the boat on the highway, I’ll admit it.
The boat was Colt’s. Partly, anyhow. She had a 50-horse Evinrude and a 12-foot fiberglass frame. Colt and a couple of the boys bought her used in July, rode her plenty that summer. Night I’m talking about, we launched her just after work while we downed a case of heavies. Stopped a couple hours later for reinforcements, moored to a dead elm, scrambled up the riverbank to the vendor out back of the karaoke joint off St. Mary's. We were having a time, bud.
Me and Colt, we grew up not far from each other in the Parkland. Played ball together from Little League up through junior. I mostly rode pine, though coach’d stick me in the outfield if need be. Colt, though, he could play. He could work the mound or either corner. Decent short-stop, though he didn’t have the legs to chase down a long fly outfield. Got himself a scholarship down at state college in North Dakota, playing the pockets. Punched his ticket. Only sophmore year, fucker crashed a sled, liquored up back home for Christmas, buggered his shoulder up bad and that’s all she wrote. Moved to the city in the spring to work sales for an uncle’s ag distributor, and here we are, fucked up on the river as the sun set, late September.
It was a Wednesday, if I recall correctly. Weeknight, anyhow. We didn’t talk about baseball. We didn’t talk about girls. We didn’t talk about old times. We just ripped up and down the river, laughing and cracking jokes, shotgunning beers on the bow, smoking Roseisle red between keys of the devil’s dandruff.
When darkness fell we made our way back upstream, towards the public launch in the south end of town. Clunker though she was, the boat cut through the dark water like a deep line drive, moonlight shimmering silver off the surface while goldeye and river cats cowered in the depth. Boating with a buddy makes you feel glad to be alive. Like the glory days aren’t already in the rearview.
“Beats school eh?” Colt hollered over the engine. “Beats training camp, too.”
I grinned, though I was still in school myself. Had a test in the morning that I was bound to fail. But hell, I didn’t disagree. Shortly thereafter, still a good ways downstream from the launch, the engine sputtered to a halt. There was only one paddle in the boat. Colt tossed it my way.
“My shoulder,” he explained, making a face as though it pained him, both physically to paddle and spiritually to beg off like that. Then he pulled out his phone to use the flashlight and started fucking around with the motor.
“Fuel pump,” Colt grunted by way of explanation, as I did my best with the paddle, aiming us towards shore. Just as we were getting in close, the engine lurched to life. Haltingly, we made it back up the river.
At the launch, Colt plowed into the gumbo, river being a good couple feet below summer depth. She’d been easy to set off, but she was gonna be a bitch to haul out. That was clear as the mud Colt jumped into before scrambling up to the concrete ramp. I tossed him the rope, he pulled her in as close she’d get. Then I hopped off, barefoot, feet squelching deep into the muck as Colt raced up to get his Ford Ranger from the parking lot.
Knee deep in cold mud, I stared up at the stars, waiting, drunk, mind buzzing like the mosquitoes swarming my face, my neck, my arms. Eventually, Colt was back, weaving that homemade boat trailer back towards the crumbling concrete incline. Took a couple tries to line her up, but we got there in time, hooked the tow rope up to the winch and cranked her into place. Only when it was time to pull her out, the trailer’s wheels had sunk deep into the gumbo and I had to wade out waist deep in back of her to heave her forward as Colt rocked the accelerator of that old Ranger, willing the boat and trailer back onto dry land.
We got’er done, soaked from head to toe, slick with gumbo, teeth chattering in the autumn chill. Colt, he just laughed, ripped the knot off another baggie of blow and chopped up some lines on an empty jewel case. We hoofed ‘em back. I was still fuckin shivering, but now I didn’t really notice.
Making our way back up to the highway that cut through the city from the south, we passed the recreation park, where a dozen ball diamonds were all lit up, empty but for a maintenance crew prepping the grounds for winter.
“You miss it?” I asked as we hit the highway, headed north towards downtown, teeth clenched tight against the chattering. Even though I was never any good, I still loved the game, wished every year the Twins would make another run and couldn’t help feeling hurt when they failed. But I’d started playing slow pitch in the summer with a good group of guys and gals, and for me, it was the same as it ever was. I wasn’t ever gonna cut it with a senior squad, anyhow. But for Colt, it was different. “Playing ball?”
“Fuck no,” Colt said, gunning the truck to sneak through an intersection as the light turned red, eyes on the road ahead.
A crazy screeching sound come up somewhere behind us. Colt just kept pressing the gas. That’s when the wheel fell off the trailer, bearing all seized up with gumbo and rust. The boat, she crashed down onto the highway, dragging and bouncing along with the trailer until it all broke apart and she came crashing into the median, Evinrude bouncing off the concrete, sparks flying, igniting what gas remained in the tank into a burning heap of plastic, iron, and broken dreams.
But just before that, just before all that bullshit went down, Colt grinned, his eyes wild, license expired and truck and trailer uninsured, and said, “Baseball’s the past, buddy. I’m living in the future.”
image: Steve McGinn
gerald says that senior slow pitch softball league play
commences tuesdays and thursdays at ten a.m./mostly
it’s retired detectives, welders, superintendents, telephone
men all come to the park to play slow pitch softball at
full speed/rules are: everyone bats every inning. gerald
keeps score/clyde is seventy-six, a warehouse man who
quit farming in the crisis and moved to the city/gerald
says the next batter up is eighty-two/he swings with one
hand an axe handle over the plate and chops line drives
that are tough to handle/gerald points to t.c., who has been
a star at shortstop since he was six/wearing his navy blue
and crimson tracksuit, he guns down three men in one long
inning/here everybody bats everytime and gerald says the
scoreboard attendant has to pay attention/he wants to know
what we are doing here during weekday work hours/he keeps
looking behind us, thinking there should be someone else
with us/for safety, there are two home plates to disrupt the
natural temptation to try and plow the catcher, one more
collision trying to get a run on the board/nobody’s wives or
kids have come out to watch/they have seen these men so often
before that i don’t think they would recognize these boys/we
stay until the late innings, when it gets hot and everything starts
to slow down, to give out/getting embarrassed, gerald shoos us
away, says you two ought to have some place better to be/he's
right that we should, but he's wrong that we do/out on the
field, close calls all defer to gerald, but he’s missed this one
bad/we were meant to find these fallen stars, so that one day
after many summers gone, still without a place to be and she
will say do you remember that scorekeeper?/gah, what was
From left field, up they line, setting sights on Center field, a slapstick quagmire, ready for running, dashing, leaping, flailing, tripping, blow-throwing, pushing. & who we bet on, that trickster, Bacon Burt, will fail again — dastardly, mustached, Teddy?
And what do they race for?
Twilight of perspiring I.C. Lights & Peanuts lobbed o’er doe-eyed tourists, we’re wretched with sunburn, we shout ‘til hoarse, cheering that sprinter, relishing the summer, Jalapeño Hannah’s not truly a ‘rogi flavor. an eccentric, a bumbler: Jefferson.
And what do they race toward?
The lights, the glimmer, the spires of Construction cranes, a pearlescent house, PPG & steel towers ‘cross the river,developer’s rubble, the announcer’s gleeful commentary on Oliver Onion a feverpitch, & shit! Abe won again.
And what about the race do we adore?
A stretch before another half, innings ‘Til a winner is known, we jump, clap, & catch wondering over stolen bases, counting the pop flies from T-Shirt cannons, & wave hands in supplication: for Sauerkraut Saul, for glory. It’s George, & a pastime well-spent.
image: Lauren Mancuso
Don West, poet laureate of home shopping networks, bullhorn voiced, mustachioed pitchman supreme, is selling a Michael Jordan card, and not just any Michael Jordan card, but a refractor, an oversized, limited edition, serialized, Upper Deck authenticated, Command Performer refractor, the most resplendent of all Michael Jordan refractors, and when you order this Michael Jordan refractor, you also get a Shawn Kemp refractor, and a Penny Hardaway refractor, as well as a selection of not one, not two, not three, but four, count ‘em four, National Hero commemorative die-cuts, but only while supplies last, so “Be dialing, folks!” because there’s only thirty-one sets remaining. Don West insists that the Michael Jordan refractor, alone, is trading for up to $200, “If you’re lucky enough to find him!” but despite this, he’s selling the Michael Jordan refractor, along with the Kemp and Hardaway refractors, as well as the Gretzky, Ripken, Griffey, and Marino National Hero die-cuts, for $149.95 total. “That’s $21 and some change per card!” Don West’s hype-man interjects, solar calculator in hand. “HOW can they do that?” I know the racquet. I’m familiar with Don West’s home shopping sideshow circus, but I don’t care. I’m all in. I pick up my phone and proceed to dial, just like Don West tells me to do. I dial the number on the screen. “Be dialing!” Don West implores, and I dutifully comply.
Breaking: Deuce Tatum Attacks Defensive Player Of The Year
Is It True You Love Like Diving On A Loose Ball?
The reporter opens the press conference
Did you feel it?
Marcus Smart smirks, says
He’s always trying
to attack me.
The room laughs.
We have a love/hate relationship.
Is it true love
is like that?
Sometimes when I'm alone
I hold a press conference
I ask the hard hitting questions
that come before words.
the room laughs too
GREATNESS IS A FREAK
I’ve been thinking lately
in evolutionary terms
I've come to the conclusion
that we’re a little
I stopped shampooing
I started eating meat again
because it feels
Apparently Lebron James
spends a million bucks a year
on his body alone.
One day you’ll be amazed
what I accomplished
with so little
This shit is easy
Just pick a word
until you want to stop
The illusion is
We’re losing 17-0 in the bottom of the 9th when Coach decides to break out our secret weapon ABODITH, an unstoppable gestalt composed of who’s at bat, who’s on deck, and who’s in the hole. He’s workshopped a few configurations on the clipboard- three right-handed hitters standing nuts to butts in the batter’s box like siblings in a Christmas card, one righty/one lefty/one guy straddling the space between the catcher, two guys each holding a different leg of the third, who is the bat. But in the end it was simple- the guy in the hole sits on the shoulders of the guy on deck, who sits on the shoulders of the guy at bat. Classic triplicate arrangement.
When ABODITH hits a single, it’s really a triple. One run scored by ABODITH counts as three. ABODITH never strikes out, but if ABODITH could strike out, it would only count as ⅓ of an out. Coach pairs us off in threes according to the batting order. “This is teamwork,” he says. “This is what America’s pastime is all about.” He turns his cap inside out to signify our impending rally. In the dugout we look like totem poles sponsored by the volunteer fire department.
The umpire readies his mask. ABODITH teeters over to home plate and takes a few practice swings before stepping into the batter’s box. ABODITH settles into a stance, raises the bat. When ABODITH finally looks up, there is the starting pitcher, sitting on the reliever, sitting on the closer.
Coach throws his cap on the ground and stomps it into the dirt. In the opposing dugout, his three older brothers laugh like the villains they are, their heads all sprouting from the same collared shirt.
Grandaddy Stafford loved baseball. He stuffed me in a Cubs onesie the day my parents brought me home, went on about how we'd make it to Wrigley one day, eat hot dogs, slurp Old Style. Mom kept videos of it, me on his lap, blue pinstripes, white cap. A glove that would have gone up to my elbow if I knew how to wear it. He bounced me on his knee, sang "Go Cubs Go," stopped only to cough into his free hand, phlegm-filled fits where he struggled to suck in air. He turned away as if lung cancer were contagious.
Grandaddy died before we made it to Wrigley, so Mom signed me up for Little League. I was placed on the orange team sponsored by a local pizza joint, square cut, thin crust like what you get in Chicago when you move past the deep dish tourist traps. I knew the basics of the game—hit the ball when it's thrown to you, catch it when it's hit to you—but I couldn't do either. I'd swing low or late or not at all, hold my glove to where I thought the ball would land only to midjudge it, stumble, maybe fall in the dirt. By the middle of the season, Coach moved me to outfield. Some kids pick at grass in the outfield, chase butterflies because they’re bored, but I sprinted to the few balls that made it my way, huffed until my cheeks were full and red and felt like they’d burst. I just missed them every time.
Coach joked to my parents at the end of the season that I needed glasses. Two weeks later, the doctor confirmed it. My teammates didn't care. They knew I'd sucked, reaffirmed it over the offseason when they shouted my name at recess, threw balls my way before I knew to react, sometimes apples in the lunchroom. When Mom tried to sign me back up the next summer, I told her not to.
In high school, I tried football instead. The Matson twins, who'd been on my Little League team then and starred at wide receiver, point and shooting guard, outfielder now, told Coach I couldn't catch shit. He didn't ask me, didn't even throw me a ball before assigning me to the offensive line. Most linemen relish the contact, hands locked on chests, feet shuffling from side to side, but I'd rather pick grass, chase butterflies. On the first meaningful snap I played, I let the defender through, stepped left as if presenting him on a red carpet, watched as his shoulder crunched into the ribs of my quarterback, the twins' best friend. Coach benched me before the next play. At the end of the season, I quit.
There’s a Triple-A team in my town. I take my kid sometimes, eat hot dogs, slurp lemonade. Hide from the mascot, Buddy Bat, a man-sized beast complete with wings, pointy ears, a grin you'd expect out of a bad school photo. I get tickets in the outfield, hope for a home run to come my way, maybe a few feet in one direction or another so I can dive for it, outstretch my fingers and press them into the stitching as I curl the ball into my palm, raise it in the air to the cheers of my neighbors. It hasn’t happened. We never last long. My three-year-old tires out by the fourth inning, asks to go home, play catch. We get out a plush ball and I underhand it, a soft toss she outstretches her hands for, hugs into her chest. She lifts it above her head like a soccer player taking a throw-in, drills it my way and shouts “catch,” but she says it like “cash.” I get it most times but miss some, and she laughs, calls me a silly daddy and runs between my legs to go get it. She brings it back and tells me to try again, and I do.
image: Lauren Mancuso