Cash Adam Shaw
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.