I hit fly balls to him in the outfield, because he needs to practice catching and slamming into the wall like New York Yankees centerfielder Johnny Damon. Evidently, slamming into the wall is necessary even on ground balls that don’t make it to the wall. We use tennis balls, because they don’t hurt as much when he practices taking one on the chin.
I hit one ball so high that Sam says it hit the clouds. It brings back the time when Doc Branson’s son, Bix, used to throw balls into the clouds for me at the one-base field on Doc’s lot. He must have been a pro baseball player. Doc kept a catcher’s glove in the back of his garage, right next to the hole that his dog, Lucky, used as a passage when it was raining or when he got too hot. It must have been the glove Bix used in the pros. Doc said I could use it anytime, as long as I put it back. Sometimes, when Lucky was lying by that hole in the garage, I had to throw the glove back in its place, because when he saw me coming he would look up at me and show his teeth. I thought he was going to bite me, but Doc said that just meant that he wanted somebody to scratch his butt.
One time, Bix threw a ball up into the clouds. I got under it and held the glove straight over my head. I usually caught his tosses, but this one tipped the end of the catcher’s glove, skimmed the top of my head and landed behind me. “Didn’t hurt,” I mumbled.
After that, Bix never wanted to throw the ball up for me anymore. Maybe he hurt his arm.
Maybe we should have used tennis balls.
Sam walks into the shed and decks out in full catcher’s gear. He needs practice for the game tomorrow. He learns how to balance the face mask on top of his head when he walks out to the pitcher, then lower it without using his hands by jerking his head down, like Johnny Damon. Pitcher and center field; that Johnny Damon is everywhere.
A big cloud blocks out the last few minutes of daylight. I return the catcher’s equipment to the shed, because if we wait too long it will get too dark for me to see the numbers on the lock and we won’t be able get back in there. When I walk back to toss the final few pitches of batting practice, Sam runs out to greet me. He sings “Happy, happy.” I’m not sure if this is some version of “Happy Birthday” (Sam’s been singing Happy Birthday to me since the days when it was pronounced Happy Doodee) or “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy,” from that song on the Ren and Stimpy cartoon. Either way, he’s happy. He grabs my hand and skips along with me, singing “Happy, happy” all the way back to the field.
I’ll watch Sam play baseball for many years, but I wonder how much longer he’ll want to hold my hand and sing “Happy, happy.”
It was a good practice. Just Sam and me.