David Daniel reminds us that it’s time for baseball with these memories from local sandlots:
By David Daniel
C’um baby C’um baby No batter No batter
On the mound it reaches you from behind, an infield arc of voices.
Chuck hard, baby, chuck hard
From the bleachers it’s a murmur, random and unurgent, like a susurrus of surf.
The catcher’s mode is silence, his language is signs, so that’s where you listen hardest.
But the rest—the babble and bumble, the natter and chatter, rhythmic as the titch-titch-titch of lawn sprinklers on neighborhood lawns, lulling as crickets in the long, perfect swing of summer twilight, humbay, humbay, lezgo, lezgo, chugard, baby—you let it just . . . be.
We saw him once on a street corner in Cooperstown, standing next to a waist-high stack of boxes: “RAWLINGS” printed on them. 1995 it would’ve been:
An assistant handles the cash, passing him one ball at a time. They are very white in his brown hand. Scribble scribble. $50 a pop. In chinos and a bright polo shirt. Not tall, but built, biceps like cannonballs. No use for the souvenir shops that line Main Street. No middlemen required. This isn’t memorabilia; he’s selling history direct.
If you shut your eyes, you can almost hear the klock of ash on horsehide on cool nights with the moon in Scorpio.
I was eleven when I made my Little League pitching debut. A hot night in July.
“Kid stays cool,” I heard my old man say from the thin crowd in the bleachers. “Even against their big bats.” Speaking to no one in particular. “Throws like he’s got ice water in his veins.” Never mentioning it was he who, after a wearying day of climbing poles for Ma Bell, knelt in the side yard, catching my pitches. The old man was proud, maybe because I was doing something life hadn’t given him, a good natural athlete, the opportunity to do. Me, I was scared to death the whole time on the mound. I just tried to peg hard and then peg harder.
I stayed with baseball as long as I could, as long as the interest held; but I always preferred pickup games and informal little amusements like Three-Flies-Six-Grounders and Rundown, or whacking a Whiffle ball around. Just you and another kid or two, and it was never about who was bigger or better or any of that. My favorite games were the made-up ones that you played alone. Like Steps, where you fired a tennis ball against stairs and fielded it when it bounded back. And Roof, which was tossing a ball up onto the slope of the house roof and catching it. You were never sure where it’d come off, so you kept on your toes. It was fun.
Maybe that’s how come, long years after giving up baseball, I still like to write. Sitting alone in a room with a pen and a notebook. That feeling of throwing something up and not knowing where it might come down, or when you might get smacked in the face.
If my old man was disappointed when I drifted away from organized baseball, he never made me feel it. Life kept him busy: my mom, three sons, and years of servitude to the monotony and miles of his job. Like a river flowing over rock, life can wear a person down. He didn’t complain. He took contentment where he found it, fishing, reading his Bible, listening to a ballgame on the radio. In my mind I see him still, filtered in the fading evening light of the screened porch, following the exploits of heroes.
I don’t know how he felt about my writing. It wasn’t something he could put his big lineman’s hands around easily, like a baseball. But I like to think, if he were alive, he’d still say “Kid’s got ice water in his veins.”