Load a couple of chairs in the car, some cold water. (I’m too old for a six-pack.)
Put the Shark’s hat in there too, and don’t forget the camera. It’s playoff time down in Chelmsford and our grandson is in the playoffs with his team, the Twins. Last night they play the Yankees. It’s a clutch game for Joe’s team. They win, they go on and maybe repeat. They lose, they go home and play video games, not real ones.
I never played much ball after getting knocked out by a line drive when I was eight in a PAL game back in the Bronx. So, I got pretty good at watching. I like that part of the game now, watching everything that goes on; even watching the other fans. It was a small crowd sitting in the lengthening shadows of the thin line of trees, and across the field in the hot sun while sons, grandsons and one daughter took the field, or lined up to swing away and dream of fences left behind and green walls o’ertopped.
But, I was concentrating tonight on one guy, Jj Howard as he likes to be called, in left field where the Splendid Splinter roamed when I was a kid. I have to tell him about that, and my brother’s scrapbook…a great heresy back then in the Bronx when Joltin’ Joe ruled and the Mick and Willie were in the wings. His mother says he doesn’t much like the outfield, and really gets mad when she, who has a New York sense of humor, kids him about playing “Left Out”.
By the time he had his first turn at bat, the Yankees were up by two, and it appeared they were going to take the game away in the first two innings. When Joe …oops Jj…stepped up, there was one man on for the Twins. Joe walked and then stole second. There was a lot of that, stealing second, stealing home on passed balls. But, it wasn’t Joe’s turn. The next kid up hit a zinger between first and second base. The right fielder bobbled the ball and the next thing I know, Joe is standing on third. I remember seeing him one minute jigging off first base, and I see nothing but heels and legs and dust until the clouds settle. He died there.
The game gets interesting for me an inning or so later as Joe’s team makes up its mind to play, and they tie the score before letting the other side have a turn. When nothing comes of that, the Twins come back and score a few more runs, hoping, I guess, to show the Yankees what baseball is all about. Joe returns and looks real good swinging, but alas looking good counts only in the movies…and with his grandfather.
But an inning or two later he’s on first again, dancing and daring that dirty rat of a pitcher to try, just try, to pick him off. I’m just a few yards away and I tell his mother he’s going. “He never moves unless it’s stealing a base. He loves it,” she says. I can tell he does I’m thinking as I watch him getting ready. Then he goes and all I see is heels again, and him running low, picking up speed. He’s half way down the line to second and the pitch isn’t in the catcher’s mitt yet. He goes in standing up.
The rest of the game goes by, and we talk while the sun sets, crows stalk the outfield, the mosquitoes get ready to eat supper and the clouds roll in to give the place a bath later on. Mariellen tells me we’re going to miss choir practice if they don’t hurry up.
You can’t hurry baseball which has no clock, no limits. I can tell the kids are getting tired, and hungry. Jeanne, our daughter, tells me most of them probably haven’t eaten before the game which is not a smart thing to do. Joe is right in front of us, now, playing second base. It is the top of the sixth, the last inning, and the Yankees are up for the last time. The game has gotten close. Our boys pulled ahead by two runs in the bottom of the fifth. The Twins brought in the “big right hander” to close, and he is throwing the fastest balls of the night. The wind the bats are stirring up is cooling off most of the town, blowing baby birds out of the trees behind us, creating tornadoes in Kansas.
His teammates are standing around talking to each other. I’m dozing.
There’s two outs, now, and some kid who knows what to do in the batter’s box is up. He looks like he wants to chop trees with his first two swings. Then he waits for his pitch, which comes after two wobbly balls. I am wondering whether the gunslinger still has ammo when he delivers a pretty good fast ball, a rope straight and true which Paul Bunyan at the plate wants to knock into the Pacific Ocean if he can. What he does is catch the tiniest bit of the ball as it zips by and send it up and our towards that space between the pitcher and the second baseman, my boy Jj.
Joe waves everyone away, parks himself under it and allows the thing to float down and rest comfortably in his glove.
I’m kicking myself that I’d put the camera away, but I feel like singing.
Too late for that, though.
One thing more. I liked the way the coaches coached. No yelling, no going nuts on the sidelines. Just coaching and encouragement. Joe was pretty good at that, too, talking to his team mates. Matter of fact, they all were. Nice evening. I think I’ll get season tickets next year.