It’s one of those Southern evenings that illustrates why many never leave this place. Summer is gracefully strolling away with the hot and humid nights that cover everyone with swarms of mosquitos and gnats. Autumn is gallantly pulling up a seat with a slight chill in the air that chases the last of the lightning bugs away into the dusk.
It’s a rural town tucked away between the suburbs of sprawling cities that are groaning with growing pains. And tonight I am an admirer of a true diamond in the rough, the local baseball field. The grass needs to be cut and the dirt infield could be dragged again and still not be rid of all the clay clots. The wooden scorer’s stand behind home plate offers the perfect perch to the players’ younger siblings. The bases are a bit askew and the chalk-laden foul lines give a very vague idea of fair and foul. Families line the baseline fences with their bag chairs and hard-sided coolers.
The players greet each other as they are all friends. No trash talking can be heard but a few good-hearted pleas of “Take it easy on us, Man” are exchanged. The baseball moms exchange hugs and good lucks before the ump booms “Play Ball!” A smattering of applause is heard among the coaches’ last minute pep talks. Pride and excitement radiate on the kids’ faces brighter than the lights atop the poles providing them with more time to play.
The crack of the bat is the sweetest sound as plays are made and lessons are learned, sometimes the hard way with an out or an error. Some faces fall when the third strike is called but there is always a teammate waiting to offer encouragement of “You’ll get’em next time!” Runs are scored as pants are covered with red dirt stains. As night falls and the moon joins as another excited spectator, the coaches urge their players on as the game is on the line.
Time is running out in the bottom of the sixth inning. The visiting team is ahead by two with only one out left in the game. Bases are loaded, with great expectations heaped on the shoulders of a ten year old slugger. There is no swagger as he approaches the plate but he tosses the opposing pitcher an apprehensive smile. Friends they may be but this moment could make one of them a hero, at least for tonight. First pitch, a ball. Silence descends over the field. Second pitch, a strike with no swing. A few quiet words of support are offered by the teammates of both boys. The boy steps away from the batter’s box and looks to his Coach for a signal, or perhaps divine intervention. The Coach calls time, walks over and puts his arm around the lean player’s shoulders. Words are exchanged between the pair but only the encouraging smile offered by the Coach is understood as he returns to the third base line.
The batter takes a deep breath and again approaches the plate. Determination versus determination etched into the young faces of batter and pitcher. The pitcher releases the ball and it seems to scream across the plate. No one breathes as the batter swings and S M A C K, the bat launches the ball up into the Indian summer breeze. The silence is shattered as everyone in the park is screaming as they watch the left fielder turn and run back, back, back toward the fence. The outfielder’s glove is up and the ball is falling down fast. The visiting coach is jumping up and down, “Catch it, Catch it, Catch it” while the home team coach is motioning for his players to “Run, Run, Run”. The ball hits the glove. It ricochets off, landing a few feet short of the fence.
Tonight belongs to that lanky batter as he is credited with a grand slam as his teammates greet him at home plate with hugs, high fives and smiles. No one notices the boy’s smile falter for just a second as he glances to the sidelines and remembers his Mom couldn’t be there tonight. She was stuck at home taking care of his sick brother. He feels a second of bitter regret, not for himself, but for the woman that has waited for a night like this, for HIS moment for many years. The tears in his eyes are on her behalf when he hears a whisper in his ear, “She is so proud of you, Son.” Now it is Coach’s turn to congratulate the hero of the game, his son.
©Dana Williams Glover 2018