Just Being a Kid
Excerpt from my manuscript, “Between the Lines: A Father, A Son, and America’s Pastime”
I sit in the living room and watch some big, dark clouds blow in over the trees. I keep checking the clock, as if somehow that would speed things up so game time would arrive before the rain. It’s supposed to rain, but how could it? We play Kiwanis today. Jeremy will be pitching against us. He’s huge and throws real hard, but he’s wild. If he hits me, I’ll have “seams” for at least a week. His big brother Mark hit a kid a few years before and broke his arm. I know that’s the truth because I heard it myself.
I put on my uniform early and sit on my bike in the garage, my mitt on the handlebars. I hope it doesn’t rain so I can ride through the neighborhood with my uniform on – it has a cool grass spot on the knee where I slid and made a game-winning catch (or maybe it’s from wrestling with Bob with my clean uniform on…Mom told me not to).
When I get to the end of the road, I’ll cut across the golf course and down the big hill because it’s a lot quicker. I’ll turn my hat around backwards; otherwise the wind might blow it off. If that happens, you just have to leave it and keep going. If you stop, “Cotton” will get you. Cotton is the greens keeper at the golf course. He’s 7 feet tall and always chasing us when we cut across the golf course…that’s what I heard.
Once I “cut across” I’ll see if I can make it all the way down “snake road” without pedaling. When I get to the field nothing else matters…unless there’s a firetruck or a loud car racing by. Maybe I’ll hit a home run today. That’s cool because you get to run around the bases while everyone watches and the coach slaps your hand when you round third. Then the team will mob me at home plate and I’ll run past the bleachers on the way back to the dugout with my helmet pulled down. I don’t want anyone to see me smiling, because big ol’ cheesy grins are only for the dudes who hit their first home run. Sometimes guys will pull their helmet down after they strike out because they’re crying.
Upon reaching the dugout, I’ll go to the back wall and put my helmet down beneath that row of concrete blocks in the wall that are turned sideways. I’ll stand on it and peek through one of the blocks and make sure mom’s there. She is; she always is. Some kids have to ask for rides home after the game, and if you ask them where their Mom is, they don’t know. If somebody asks if my mom’s here, I say yes without even looking. She’s in the left field bleachers. She sits in the same place every game. She likes it there because some of the moms and dads who sit behind home plate are always screaming at each other and everyone else. I can’t figure out why they’re always mad, because baseball is fun. Grownups say we just don’t understand because we’re kids. They must be right because it sure doesn’t make any sense to me.
When I run back to my position with my hat pulled down, everyone will be looking at me and pointing and saying “that’s the guy who hit the home run.” Glen’s dad won’t be one of them because he can’t see. But I’ll tell him after the game because he always gives us money when we hit home runs. Plus, he always smiles real big and you can see that his front tooth is missing. He lost it in the war.
After the game, we’ll slap the other team’s hands and their coach will stop and shake my hand real hard and say “good hit.” And that’s really cool because I like him more than I like our coach. Ours is a big goofball and he likes Ed more than anyone else. I sure wish I had a coach like theirs. He teaches them cool plays and buys them pizza, and it seems like he never yells…even when they lose.
We’ll get our free soft drinks. I’ll get the strawberry soda, since I hit a home run. Then I’ll put my bike in the back of mom’s white Datsun station wagon and she’ll take me home. I could ride home if I wanted to. I could even “pull” that golf course hill without stopping and walking, but I just played a great game and I’m tired. Man, it’s cool being a kid.
I bet when I’m an old man I won’t remember the score of this game, but I’ll remember that I hit a home run and my Mom was there and the other coach said it was a good hit.
Maybe I can’t be a kid again, but hopefully I can be like that “other coach.” Or maybe just sit in the stands quietly, in the same place every game, and watch my boy play baseball if that’s what he wants, because when he’s an old man that’s what he’ll remember.