There was no verdant grass symmetrically mown into crisscross patterns,
No sweet, pleasing scent of nature’s gentle carpet, no well-packed dirt
Or crowd-filled stands or electrified scoreboard flashing my image.
No announcer’s banter would be interrupted by some catchy phrase
To herald the soaring flight of the ball over the fence.
No reporters would fiercely keyboard (or type, in those days),
Rushing to meet a deadline; no camera crew would eagerly provide
Timely video of the shot that would be heard later among my impressionable
Friends, eager to hear every detail more than once.
But this is not about what there was not; it is a historical reflection
On what really happened that day in April, May, or June
Outside P.S. 119, my primary source of education in those early ’50 days.
Let me set the scene, as best I can recall: the rectangle was circumscribed
By a chain-link fence and chrome supporting bars. The punchball field (for softball
To those older kids) had bases drawn in white paint but other than that
You couldn’t tell the infield from the outfield. For the sake of avoiding
Constant ground-keeping by the school custodian, the surface was
A steady stream of concrete, finely smoothed, going on until it met
The façade of the school. Left field went on forever, center ended with
A chain-link garden where some quite enthusiastic students tried ever so hard
To grow vegetables, and right field just kind of ended much too soon
When a towering handball wall encroached upon it. We were up; the score
Might have been 1 – 0 or more likely 45 – 39 because we were in the inchoate
Stages of learning the fine art of fielding grounders and fly balls.
It was my turn to hit. If you know punchball, then you know the hitter
Gently tossed the ball straight up a few fine inches and as it was
On its merry way back to earth, the hitter, fingers in a fist,
Swung and hit the ball and watched it fly into another realm —
Or, in my case that day, I ran toward first base as the smash
Headed to the terrified shortstop (the ball determined to avoid
Capture at all costs) and mirabile dictu that self-same ball eluded
The fielder and escaped toward the boy in left who bent to stop it . . .
Unsuccessfully, and watched the fast-escaping pink Spaldeen
(The New York boroughs’ universal way of saying Spalding, name of the
Manufacturer) scamper toward the outer limits of left field,
Like a frightened rabbit desperately eluding a fleet, voracious fox,
And all the while I chugged around the bases, confounded
That I was still allowed to run . . . and that is how I hit my first home run.
Oh, you may shout “four-base error” but years have passed
And in the record book of my mind, sans asterisk, it was certainly a homer.