Nostalgia haunted me.
I shuffled around the little league baseball field.
I leaned on its tattered backstop clawing my fingers into its chain links.
A decade ago I’d sat in that reserved plastic lawn seat section brushing the ball field
among a chorus of complainers who set aside operatic chants for the umpire.
As I stood staring at the scarred ball field.
I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I turned, there he was, legendary strike caller, Umpire John.
We shared a little league baseball history.
I froze, mouth agape, shivers sizzling up and down my spine.
I immediately remembered that he’d begun his voluntary strike-calling career
during Pete Rose and Reggie Jackson’s heydays.
Umpire John bear-hugged and lifted me saying,
“You back to revisit heartwarming memories too?”
“Right on, Ump.” Today’s baseball field is pimpled with sand traps,
scattered bald spots smothering grass, without a child in sight shagging fly balls,
or sliding between clouds of dust.”
I noticed the ump’s tummy resembled mine, a bit rounder than at our last meeting.
His voice sounded softer, but his wide Jackie Robinson smile still warmed the air.
When my grandson Brock, a younger minor league player,
was promoted for his first game in so-called little league Majors,
Umpire John asked Brock’s manager if he would mind starting him mid game. He had a plan.
When the boy reached the plate he stood as tall as the ump’s belt buckle.
John reached down, patted his back and said,
“Brock, congratulations this is your game and your promotion.
I asked your manager if you could help me
by umpiring third base for three innings before you play.”
Then Brock’s eyes widened and then he jogged to his post.
I saw Umpire John turn toward the crowded Cappuccino section and he said,
“That activity should relax the boy.”
John’s game was about the players, the kids not the adults.
It was fun too.
At one game that I labeled Broadway Baseball a talented
player and performer literally danced over center field turf.
An impatient spectator complained about that happening on a ball field.
Umpire John called time out, tossed his mask,
and surprisingly shouted in the direction of the complainer,
“Enjoy! You may be looking at a future pro star…not on the diamond, but Broadway’s stage.”
Psychic John, I wonder?  Years later, that rhythmic ballplayer
actually delivered his athleticism to the Broadway stage.
When the playoffs began, at the snack booth,
a parent proudly whispered that she referred to herself as Momma Diva.
Minutes later, in a rare moment of silence on a busy field in a tight contest
she shattered a tense quiet. She shouted from small school bus sized section bustling with fans.
“Hey John, how about giving up bad calls for Lent?”
Umpire John crouched and folded up. Embracing his belly, he howled with renegade laughter.
Humor played a great role in his games.
One joking parent complained about outside pitches
that seemed to be the ump’s signature strike.
Soon after, a boy tiptoed toward home plate, dropped his bat,
and tottered toward the umpire while dragging an oar.
“I get it, Son. Your dad’s idea right?” Umpire John accepted the gift.
Patting the player’s head he giggled, “Thanks, it’s my bat now,
it’s against the rule book to use an oar as a bat.”
John smiled ear- to- ear.
Baseball occasionally and unintentionally punished players and umpires.
One hair raising afternoon Umpire John stood up to a brazen foul ball
that ripped his mask off and launched it onto the pitcher’s mound.
I cradled my face with my hands.
Dazed, a few seconds later John composed himself and bellowed,
“Let’s play ball!!!”
On another muggy evening surrounded by a choking haze,
a rogue bat slipped from the batter’s hand, found its launch angle,
and battererd Umpire John’s strike calling shoulder.
A young slugger wiped his eyes and ran to pick up his bat.
Despite John’s wince, he reassured the boy.
“It’s not your fault!”
As we were ending our impromptu nostalgic tour of the seasoned field,
a testy horn barked and a young man in a snarling car shouted,
“We love you Umpire John!”
“They still remember you,” I said.
Umpire John, despite crunched and complaining slow motion arms,
waved them like a disabled car wash worker.
I shouted, “What a great surprise. You are a legend.
God Bless!”