There is no way you could have explained to me at age 10 why it was more important to know
how many times 9 would go into 5,326 than it was to know how to hit a curve ball. I was in
prison again – after school – alone except for Mrs. Reed, a widowed spinster with a pencil
sticking through the bun in her hair. Mrs. Reed was a cruel witch – a 5th grade school teacher
on some kind of insane crusade to make me understand long division. It was torture to sit in
front of a cracked-open classroom window with the sights and sounds of early spring leaking in
just a few feet away. My buddy stopped by as he passed this window on his way to practice on
the ball field painfully visible from my seat. He looked in at me with an exaggerated and
taunting smile on his face, with a bulging cheek of at least 5 sticks of Topps bubble gum, ball
cap pulled tight on his cranium and well-oiled mitt in his paw. He had a lefty rocket arm that
made the hard ball snap like a bull whip in the pocket of my glove, making my hand sting a bit.
In a few minutes the rat-a-tat, snap, and slap sounds of my teammates warming up, playing
catch, added to my misery as I longed to be out there in the crisp spring air chasing fungo flies
or doing a Pete Rose slide into second. A stern look, peeking over the top of her bifocals, from
the math witch recalled my agonized attention to the tortured list of long division problems on
my desk. There was no explanation or accounting for the Draconian mentality of a 5th grade math
teacher on a mission – she had no understanding of an emerging and exciting sub-culture
unfolding in the life of a little leaguer – the terminology, the famous names – all associated with
warmer weather and outdoor play. Baseball names like Willy, Duke, Nelly, and Mickey – those
were rich names specific to Major League baseball and the sub-culture that permeated down
through the ranks to wide-eyed kids on ball fields nationwide. I hoped to see these names
every time I ripped open a pack of baseball cards, so I could show them off and brag to my
buddies and haggle for trades. I was jealous of the obvious conspiracy that existed between
my southpaw buddy and Mrs. Reed in connection with his understanding of long division
allowing him the freedom to field grounders and smack line drives while I toiled over a confusing
combination of numbers inside, longing to be outside with my ball and glove.