Stanley’s hitting off the tee. I pretend
to be a second baseman, or shortstop,
maybe, and take line drives that come to me
like opportunities–I don’t think that
way back then, however, when we are just
ten and fun means not so much preparing
for life as living it. I think that’s why
I never grew up: I never caught on.
But I could pick a hard ground ball to my
left or right, and knew exactly when to
backhand my glove and when to get in front
of the ball. At the least, I could knock it
down, keep it in front of me, rarely let
one get past me–if one got past me, I
raced for it like a golden apple or
grenade. I’d throw my body over it. Can’t
let that runner, though imaginary,
take second base. Once I let him on
I can’t let him advance. Sometimes Stanley
uppercuts the ball and sends me a pop
fly, always a pleasure to glove. Sometimes
I pattycake my mitt before I catch
it. Sometimes he underestimates his
clout and smokes a rocket out to me–I
have to react quickly, reach to my right
or left, hoping at least to knock it down.
Or, it will come right at me, a bullet
that could easily brain me. I must think
fast, get my glove up both to protect and
snag. Good play, Stanley shouts. Good wood, I say.
A few minutes of this and it’s my turn.
Stanley runs out to my position, now
his, and I stand in at the tee, the new
batter. Now it’s my turn to be fate, truth,
circumstance, surprise. But unlike these, I
shout, Ready out there? Ready, shouts Stanley.
Let ‘er rip. I do: chopper to second
–Stanley comes in on it, taking control,
running at the ball racing to him, then
slowing it down. He’s got his glove down, his
eyes on the ball, when it takes a bad hop
and beans him in the face. He’s down,
I say (I’m also doing play-by-play).
I drop the bat and go out to him. His
hands cover his face. He’s rolling back and
forth. I’m sorry, I say. Good hustle on
a bad hop. No error charged. Way to go.
I think I broke my skull, he sobs. Aw, no,
I say. You’ll shake it off. Time out. Time for
a word from our sponsor–Kent cigarettes.
“To a smoker, it’s a Kent.” He’s laughing
now. Now I know how God feels when He shows
mercy; how God feels when He doesn’t,
I don’t. I help Stanley up. He’s walking
it off. I hand him his glove. Attaway,
I tell him. Listen to that crowd. Batter
up. I step to the tee again and hit
a high fly ball. Stanley’s fading back
back and he hauls it in on the warning track
(the path his dog’s worn in front of the fence
that separates our property). He’s back,
I tell our invisible listeners,
better than ever for having been hurt,
and on his feet again. The crowd rises.