by Clark Wilson
Little league baseball can really be rough.
Going, Going, Gone
The old man sat in the sweltering summer sun of the June day. Already it was well over 90 degrees, and the hot metal bleachers, made it feel like a hundred and thirty. He wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, and looked out across the baseball field to where his grandson stood at second base. A hazy mist seemed to surround everything on the field. To the old man, it was like looking through a fogged over window, where everything is shimmery and unclear. He shook his head to clear his vision, just as the sound of a bat cracking, pierced the still air. He watched as his grandson moved into position to make a play on the ball. It was a hard liner heading straight at the boy. Stiffening in anticipation, he stared on as the boy squared himself with the ball. The ball came on a bee line at the boy’s chest. The boy quickly got his glove up, and snagged the ball. Letting out a sigh of relief, the old man, and the rest of the fans watching the little league game, stood and cheered. He looked out at the boy, smiled and nodded to him in appreciation of his effort. The other kids gathered around the boy, and began to yell and cheer, as the game had ended on the boy’s catch.
The boy walked off the field to his awaiting parents and grandfather. A smile creased the corners of his mouth and the beam of pride shone through his eyes. His father and mother greeted him with hugs, and the old man offered a gnarled, arthritis stricken hand, and shook with the boy. The family went out for pizza, and afterward drove home. Upon arriving home, the old man sat on the porch and smoked a cigarette. The boy came out onto the porch, after having changed his clothes and showered, his light brown hair was still dripping wet. The old man looked over at him and smiled.
Dandy catch today, Stevie. Dandy catch. Couldn’t have done better myself.
The little boy’s face lit up to hear his grandpa brag on him. The old man reached over and ruffled the boy’s wet hair.
Grandpa, did you play baseball when you were my age?
The old man raised an eyebrow at the young boy, and began to chuckle lightly.
Did I play baseball? He thought back in time to when he was Stevie’s age. He could still remember the summer of 1948 like it was yesterday. He looked at the boy, and with a strange light shimmering in his eyes, spoke. Yes, I played baseball. Even won a county championship in little league.
Will you tell me about it, Grandpa? The boy asked with hope rising up in him.
He nodded. Tell you what. You go in the house and fetch us a glass of iced tea, and I’ll tell you all about it.
The boy quickly jumped up and ran inside to get the iced tea. In a few minutes, he returned with two glasses filled to the brim with iced tea, with a small lemon wedge hanging over the edge of the glass. The sweat from the glasses ran down the boys hands. He offered one to his grandpa, and then sat back down beside him. The old man took a long sip from the tea, then satisfied, reached in his pocket and removed a pack of cigarettes. He put one in his mouth, lit it, and drew long and slow the smoke into his lungs. The old man exhaled, then turned to Stevie.
Well, I guess if I’m going to tell you how we became county champs, I first need to tell you how we even became a team that summer. The old man let his mind drift back, to that hot July day in 1948.
I was twelve that summer in 1948. Me and my buddies used to go out to this field, next to Hawkins barn and play baseball. Hell, we didn’t even own gloves. We would have to catch with our bare hands. That was quite the summer. The Babe died that year. The Indians and Braves were in the World Series, and all my friends and I did was play baseball, from the time school let out, until time to go back. There were 8 of us. Not even enough to field a team, but we played. There was Charlie Reynolds, Walter “Big Mac” Mackenzie, Shorty Allison, Bobby Morris, Chester Stevens, Whitey Peterson, Al Chambers, and me. Like I said, not even enough to field a whole team. Every day we would go out to that field by Highway 70 and Hawkins barn, and play ball. We used old hubcaps for the bases. At least you could see em’, they’d be glitterin in the sun like giant silver dollars. From sun up till sun down, we were out there. Our mothers would just pack us lunches, cause they knew we weren’t goin to come in and eat till we were done playin’.
Now one Friday afternoon, we was playin’ and this black Plymouth pulled to the side of the road and parked. The fella didn’t get out, just sat there watchin’ us. We didn’t pay him no mind, and we just went right on playin’ our game. After about an hour of watchin’, he just drove off pretty as you please. We didn’t think nothing about it anymore. Anyways, after we got done playin’ that day, my pa had given me enough change to go see the movie, so me and Charlie we rode into town on our bikes. Now, I had this old Schwinn that my older brother Eddy had passed down to me, but Charlie, his parents had a little money see, and his pa bought him this new Whizzer. Finest damn bike I ever did see. Red and white. It was really a beauty. Anyways, we rode down to the theater to see this movie called Shanghai Chest. Well, as we parked our bikes outside, I looked over and saw that car that was parked out by Hawkins field. I elbowed Charlie and he turned around and stared at it.
Charlie said maybe the guy was in the theater. We paid our forty cents each, got our tickets and walked on in. Movies didn’t cost like they do now-a-days. Who ever heard of payin ten dollars for a damn movie? Anyways, I didn’t have no more money, so Charlie sprung for a large popcorn to share, a root beer each, and him some Milk Duds, and me a box of Raisinettes. We went in and found a seat. There weren’t a whole lot of people in there, but there was enough. We got down into the front row, and settled in to watch the show. After the show was over, we waited for the theater to clear out, since we was down in front. The lights came up and everybody started shuffling for the exits. Me and Charlie just sat there. When it looked like most of them was gone, we got up and took our empty trash to the can and started to head out. Charlie saw something and ribbed me with his elbow to take a look. I turned and there stands this big man, and a boy with him. Now this fella had to be at least 6’6”, if he was an inch, and the kid with him, towered over both me and Charlie like we was tots. I could tell the kid would be taller than his Dad, or what I assumed to be his Dad. Then that fella spoke to me and Charlie, and that voice woulda carried through the biggest of halls. It sounded like what a bominable snowman might sound like out in the wild.
You boys were out at Hawkins field playin ball today weren’t ya?
I couldn’t speak. I was about to shit all over myself I tell ya. But Charlie, he cleared his throat, and spoke right up.
Yes sir. We was out there. Us and six of our friends.
The fella stuck out his hand and introduced himself. I think we were both too scared to move, so neither of us offered our hand in return. It didn’t seem to phase him none though, he just went right to talkin.
I’m Bart Webster. Most people just call me Big Bart. I’m pleased to meet you fellas. This here is my boy, Little Bart.
Now I looked over at Bart junior, but there weren’t nothin little about him, nor his Dad. We finally found our nerve then and all shook hands. Then Mr. Webster said he’d like to buy us a soda. I didn’t want to go, but Charlie piped right up and said okay. I looked over at Charlie, and he just gave me a wink, like it was okay. So we pushed our bikes on down to Pepper’s 5 and 10, and all headed in for a soda.
We were sittin there and Mr. Webster asked me and Charlie if we’d ever played any real baseball. We both said no, and Mr. Webster got this big smile across his broad face. Looked just like that damned Cheshire cat in that cartoon. Well boys, how’d you like to play some real ball, with real gloves, and bats, on a real field?
We just sat there and stared at each other, Charlie and me. I didn’t know what to make of this, but Charlie went right on back to talking.
What would we have to do Mr. Webster?
Webster chuckled a little bit, and smiled at his son. I can tell you right now Stevie, I didn’t like the way that smile looked much. So Big Bart says. Why all you gotta do is be on a team with my boy here. He needs eight more players to field a team, and there are eight of you. See how the math works? I will be your coach, and you boys just play baseball? How does that sound to ya?
I swallowed hard, but was able to finally get in a couple of words now. Mr. Webster?
Please, just call me Big Bart. We’re all friends here, and all my friends call me Big Bart. Webster says to me.
Well, er, Big Bart, we ain’t even got gloves or nothin. We just go out there and play with a beat up old ball, and an old tobacco stick for a bat. I wasn’t very comfortable calling Webster Big Bart, but he looked like the kind of man you would want to do as he says. So, Big Bart eyed me cooly, and leaned over the table towards me and Charlie.
Listen boys, I’ll provide you with all of the equipment you need. All you boys gotta do is show up for practice on Monday afternoon at the ball field. Can you do that boys, and bring your friends?
Charlie said sure we could do it, and Big Bart just smiled and said great. He then got up from the table and his son followed.
I’ll see you boys Monday at 3:00 sharp. Don’t be late, you here?
We both nodded we understood, and then the two Bart’s left the soda shop. I looked over at Charlie and he just shrugged at me. We rode back and went to Walter Mackenzie’s house. It was hard to call Walter, Big Mac anymore, after having seen the two Webster’s. We knocked on Walter’s door, and he came out and looked at us.
How was the movie fellas’? Walter asked us.
Forget the damn movie! Charlie said. We’ve got bigger things to talk about. So, we commenced to tellin Walter all about our meeting with Mr. Webster, and the only slightly junior Webster. After we were done tellin him, he looked at both of us seriously.
Alright guys, you’ve had your fun. Why you joshin me like this for?
Charlie and I both looked at him gravely. We ain’t joshin. In fact we got to all be at the ball field on Monday afternoon for practice.
Walter thought for a moment, then he said, We better get the rest of the gang together. If we’re really gonna play ball, we’re gonna need to talk about this with them.
Charlie and I both nodded agreement. Walter ran back inside and told his ma he would be out with me and Charlie for a bit, but not to worry. Walter then came back out and grabbed his bike. We all three rode over to Bobby’s house. Eventually, we make it to all of our friend’s houses. The last one being Whitey, cause he lived the furthest away. Once we got to Whiteys’ we were all talking about a hundred miles a minute. We all headed out back to Whitey’s old shed and plopped down on bales of straw to do some serious talkin. Charlie started first, since he had always kinda been the leader of our little group.
Now look guys, I don’t know about none of you, but if Webster is gonna furnish all the quipment, then I’m gonna play ball. What have we got to lose?
We all muttered agreement, and after a bit more discussin, we decided we’d show up on Monday, and see what Webster had to offer. I tell you, I could hardly sleep all weekend from the excitement of maybe bein able to play some real baseball. Come Monday morning, I was up early getting my chores done. Ma thought I was comin down with the fever or something, cause I never rose early, and went straight to chores, without havin to be told about a dozen times. I told her I was fine, but we had some ball to play today, and I didn’t want to spend all day doin them dang chores. I finished them chores, and we had all agreed to meet out by Hawkins field at 2:00 to make sure we were all there on time. I came wheelin out there with about 10 minutes to spare, and they were all waitin on me.
What took you so long? Charlie asks me.
It ain’t even two yet Charlie, sides I had chores to finish first.
Okay, well, we’re all here now. Is everybody ready for this? We all agreed, and we headed towards the ball field. We got out there, and I tell you we could hardly believe our eyes. See Big Bart had that old Plymouth pulled up beside the fence with the trunk standin open. We laid our bikes in the grass and went walkin over and looked in that trunk. There was enough gloves in there for all of us, and probably a dozen more kids. He had hats and bats and balls. Big Bart came over to us and asked us what we thought. Couldn’t none of us talk enough to tell what we thought, but I can tell you now, that was the damnedest sight I ever seen. He handed each of us a hat, and then began askin what hand we used to bat with. He handed out gloves all around, and told us to go over and stand by his boy at home plate. We all walked over wearin our new gloves and hats and stood waitin. Big Bart came walkin over carryin a bat and a ball.
He told us what positions to take on the field, and we all headed to our respective spots. For me, that was second base. Little Bart was behind home plate wearing the catchers gear, and Charlie was on the mound. Charlie had always been the pitcher, even before today, so that was a natural position for him. Me? I usually played in the outfield, but Big Bart said second, so I went to second. Big Bart started hittin grounders to us infielders and we snagged them and shagged them over to first base. We looked pretty good for a ragtag bunch of kids, but not as good as Big Bart wanted. He worked us out there for nearly three hours in the heat. I tell you boy, I was mighty thirsty when we were done. After practice was over, Big Bart said be back tomorrow same time. We took off our gloves and headed to Big Barts car to put them back in the trunk, but he stopped us.
No boys. Those belong to you now, compliments of Big Bart.
We all stood there kinda shocked. I knew he was gonna let us use them, but not keep em’. Well, it was like Christmas in July I tell ya. After the two Barts left, we all started whoopin and hollerin’, cause we ain’t ever had no luck like this afore. We sounded like a bunch of them war tribes a makin all the noise we were. Well, we finally settled down and agreed to meet back at Hawkins barn tomorrow at the same time. Everyone left but me and Charlie, and I can tell he was wantin to talk.
Sam he says. Don’t this beat all you ever saw?
I agreed with him it did, but I sure weren’t gonna look no gift horse in the mouth I told him. He nodded agreement with me.
Big Bart sure does take his baseball serious don’t he? Charlie asks me.
I said yep, it sure looks that way. We looked pretty good today, don’t ya think? I asks Charlie.
He frowned a little, and I can see there was something else on his mind. Don’t you think it’s strange him just givin us all this stuff? I did think it was strange, but why question it? When your 12, you don’t always question everything you maybe should. We just rode on home and didn’t think about it anymore then.
Now, for the next three weeks, we practiced everyday like this. We began to really feel good about ourselves, and how we were doing. Big Bart kept right on grillin us out there in that hot sun day in and day out, like a bunch of chain gang workers. The more we practiced the harder he made it on us. On the last day we practiced before the season started, he pulled me and Charlie off to the side to talk.
Listen boys, you’ve been workin real hard the last few weeks, but the season starts in two days, and we gotta be at the top of our game. You understand that? We agreed we did. This will be our last practice like this, so I just want to tell you I’m proud of the work you’ve done.
I tell ya, that made me and Charlie puff up with pride. He then called in the rest of the boys, and told them what a good job they’ve been doing, and that the game in two days was ours to win. We all cheered really loud and clapped each other on the back. Then he told us to be at the ball field on game day, an hour early. We all said we’d be there, then he called a halt to practice and packed up his car again.
Phew, boy this talkin makes a man mighty thirsty. Run back in the house and get us some more tea.
Stevie went back in with the two glasses, and brought them back out shortly, filled once more with the cold iced tea. The old man lit another cigarette and began speaking again.
Where was I? Oh yeah, anyways come game day, we all headed over to the ball field. Our parents were sittin in the stands ready to cheer us on. We arrived early like he asked, and headed over to where his car was parked. Big Bart opened the trunk once more, and you wouldn’t believe what we saw in there this time. It was the best looking uniforms I ever seen. White shirts, black pants, white socks, and to top it all off, each of us had a pair of baseball cleats in there. I hadn’t never worn no cleats in my life, in fact most of my shoes had been hand-me-downs from Eddy, but I was like a proud papa getting that new pair of shoes. He handed each of us a uniform and told us to run get changed. We all followed little Bart into the restroom, and got on our new uniforms. We stood there gapin at ourselves in front of them mirrors I bet for ten minutes. Then in walked Big Bart and gave a whistle like he’s catcallin a lady. He said we looked right smart, and we did. We felt right smart too. Big Bart said we gotta get a move on, cause the game started in ten minutes. We hustled our butt’s out to the field and started gettin warmed up. When the game started we took the field first.
Charlie pitched lights out for the first five innings. They couldn’t touch him, but he started to get a little tired in the sixth, and gave up a couple of hits. Big Bart called time and came marching out to the mound. We were up 1-0 thanks to Little Bart drivin in a run in the third, but it wasn’t lookin good with two men on now. I could see Big Bart sayin somethin to Charlie, and Charlie just starin at him with his mouth hangin open. Pretty soon, Big Bart walked off the field and time started again. Charlie struck out the next man up, but you could tell he was about done for on the mound. Only one out, and Charlie hurled the ball as hard as he could, but it sailed high and inside and caught the boy battin in the side of the temple. I tell you the sound of that about made me sick to my stomach. It was like someone hittin a barrel of water with a steel pipe, and that boy just fell in the dirt at home plate like he’d been shot. You could hear the crowd moanin, and the other teams’ coach came runnin to check on that boy. I looked at Charlie, and he’s just standin on the mound with his head hung low, like he’d just lost his dog or somethin. Big Bart came strollin out to home plate and looked at the boy, but the boy was hurt pretty bad. The umpire asked the coaches what they wanted to do about the game? The other teams coach said they were going to have to forfeit, because they needed to get that boy some doctorin. Big Bart just nodded, and turned toward us standin out there in the field and smiled. He called us in from the field, and told us they had forfeited and we had won.
Some of the boys cheered a little, but it didn’t seem right to do that, so I could only just stand there. I didn’t feel much like cheerin right then. Big Bart said, we shouldn’t cheer right now, but to be proud of the way we played. We all picked up our gear, and got ready to leave. I walked over to Charlie to talk to him, but he only walked off with his parents, and didn’t even look my way. I picked up my bike and started pushin it over towards my parents. I told them, I was gonna ride home on the bike, and I would see them there. They said okay, but before I could leave, Big Bart stopped me.
What’s a matter Sam, ain’t you glad we won? Big Bart asks me.
I looked at Big Bart, and tears started to well in my eyes. I said I hoped that boy was okay, and he said he’ll be fine, not to worry about it. Big Bart kinda looked at me hard, and I felt like he was boring right into me with those eyes of his. He put his hand on my shoulder and leaned in close.
Sometimes Sam, you’ve got to be willing to go the extra mile, if you wanna win. Baseball is like life. Those that play hard and give their all no matter what the cost, will come out on top. Those that don’t, they usually wind up with nothin.
I didn’t know what to say to this, I just nodded. My head was a bobblin like I was some kind of floppy scarecrow a blowin in the wind. Big Bart clapped me on the back and told me to get on home.
I didn’t see Charlie for the next four days. His mom said he wasn’t feeling well, but I didn’t think he was sick with no bug. I knew what was botherin Charlie. It was the same thing that was botherin me. The way that ball hittin that boy’s head had sounded. Somethin like that, I’m not sure you can ever not hear it, for the rest of your life. So, we were scheduled to have another practice that Wednesday, cause we had another game on Friday. As usual, we all headed over to Hawkins barn to meet up before headin to the ball field. Except all of us weren’t there, Charlie hadn’t shown up. We waited around as long as we could, but Charlie never came. We decided to head on over to the ball park. As we were gettin close enough to see the field, I saw Charlie gettin out of Big Bart’s car. We parked our bikes and grabbed our mitts and headed out to the field. As I walked past Charlie to second base, I noticed he wouldn’t even look at me. I thought it was mighty strange, and as soon as practice was over, I aimed to tell Charlie just that. We had our usual practice with everyone fieldin and takin a turn at bat. Big Bart finally called us all in to talk to us.
Boys, this team we’re facing Friday is pretty darn good. Now, I know we’ve been practicing real hard, but I want you boys to know they’ve got a catcher that can really swing the bat. We’ll have to play our best, but I know we will. Walter, I want you and Chester and Charlie to hang around for a bit. The rest of you boys get on home and get rested for that game.
Everybody started to leave, but I was standin there waitin on Charlie. Big Bart saw me not moving, and came walkin over to me.
You need something Sam? Big Bart asked.
Well, I was waiting to talk to Charlie is all. Big Bart just looked at me and shook his head.
I’m afraid Charlie’s goin to be here a while yet. Why don’t you run on home? You can catch up with him later.
I didn’t much like what Big Bart was sayin, but I did as he said and headed home. I got home and Ma made me wash up for supper. I didn’t feel much like eatin, but you didn’t dare tell my Ma that. She expected you to eat unless you was doubled over with the backdoor trots. Anyhow, I just picked at my food all through supper, and Ma finally asks if I was feelin alright? I told her I thought I might be catchin somethin, and asked to be excused. Ma told me to go ahead, so I picked up my plate and scraped the rest out to our little dog, then I headed to my room. I laid down on my bed to think, and I must have dozed off at some point, cause I was havin the worst nightmare I ever had. I was dreamin Big Bart came by to give me a ride to the game. All the other fellas were already packed in that big ol’ black Plymouth, and Charlie was sittin up front with Big Bart. They pulled up in front of my house, and Charlie opened the passenger door and stepped out for me to get in the middle up front. I slid in and Charlie got in after me closing the door. It was real hot in the car, almost like an oven, and the windows were all rolled up. I turned to look at Big Bart, and when he turned towards me, his mouth was full of razor sharp teeth. Drool was runnin down his chin, while he was smilin at me, and his eyes were shinin bright red. At this point in the dream I screamed, and woke up with that same scream comin out of my lungs. I got up then. I was soaked with sweat, and my mouth felt as dry as a fireman’s ass. I went out to the kitchen to get a drink of water and saw it was goin on three in the mornin according to Ma’s clock she got from the Sears and Roebuck. I drank my water, then went to the bathroom to try and make some water of my own. I couldn’t get nothin more than a couple of dribbles out of my willy, so I gave up and went to lay back down. There weren’t gonna be no more sleepin for me that night, so I just laid there lookin up at the ceilin. I finally got up about 7:30 that mornin, and headed out to do my chores. After my chores were done, I told Ma I was gonna go see Charlie. I rode my bike over to Charlie’s and when I pulled up out front of his house, I saw him out in his back yard. I headed over to the gate and let myself in. I said Hey Charlie, but he only looked at me like he’s starin right through me. Finally, Charlie acted like he was seein me for the first time ever, and said Hey Sam.
I wanted to talk about Big Bart, but Charlie kept leadin the conversation everywhere but there. Finally, I just came out and said what was on my mind.
What’s goin on with you Charlie? You been actin strange ever since the game. Why have you been hangin around Big Bart so much? At first, Charlie looked at me like he didn’t know what I was talkin about, but I could tell he did. He just kind of stared at me, then this awful smile came over his face.
Big Bart’s been showin me some new pitches is all. He’s tryin to get me ready for the next game.
I eyed Charlie, and I probably should have left it alone, but before I even knew I was gonna say it, it just came right out.
Maybe he’s been showin you how to throw one, like he did when you hit that boy in the head. As soon as those words were out of my mouth, I knew it had been a mistake. Charlie’s face turned about five shades of red, his fists doubled up, and he swung and caught me right in the eye. I fell to the ground and could already feel my left eye swellin up like a helium filled balloon. I knew I was gonna have quite a shiner. Charlie loomed over me, both hands still balled into fists, and screamed at me to leave and never come back. I picked myself up and started to leave, then Charlie grabbed my shoulder and spun me around to face him. He got nose to nose with me, and looked me in the eyes.
If you ever say anything else about Big Bart, I’ll kill you!
From the look in Charlie’s eyes, I knew he meant what he was sayin. I turned and walked away and never looked back. I got on my bike and pedaled as hard as I could, while tears were pourin from my eyes. I rode downtown, and by the time I got there, I had pretty much cried myself out. I pulled up outside Pepper’s and as I was gettin off my bike, I saw this kid go racin by me on a bike. I didn’t think much about it, but ten seconds after he passed me, here came Little Bart and Walter pedallin like their asses were on fire. I stood there for a couple of minutes wonderin what I should do, then finally, I got on my own bike and just rode back home. I can’t say for sure if I had followed them if it would have made any difference, but I’ve thought about it many times over the years.
The next day was game day, and we headed over to Hawkins barn, but now we were minus three. Charlie, Chester, and Walter weren’t there. I really didn’t expect them to be, but I don’t think any of the other boys thought anything was suspicious. We rode on over to the ball field, parked our bikes, and got ready to warm up for the game. Of course, our three missing friends were already at the park with the two Bart’s. I was standin out there fieldin grounders, and when I looked up Big Bart was starin at my shiner. He saw me notice him, and just smiled real big and nodded to me. I knew then, that it was all a lost cause. Charlie had told Big Bart what had happened between us and he looked pretty darned pleased about it. During the game, I happened to look up into the stands, and saw that boy that had rode past me yesterday. He was sittin up there with one of the other team’s ball caps on, and a cast on his right arm. We won that game 6-2, and many more after that. I found out a couple of days later that boy had run his bike off the Mill Bridge and broke his arm. He had told his parents two boys he didn’t know were chasin him, but he never got a good look at them.
I know you’re probably gettin tired of hearin this Stevie. You wanna stop right here?
Stevie looked up at his grandpa and shook his head no. The old man breathed in a long sigh, lit another cigarette, and started talking again.
Well, we had 6 more games to play before we could go to the championship game. Some of those games we won easily, others there was always some strange thing that just happened to one of their star players. I kept on going over to Hawkins field before each practice and each game, but the more we played, the fewer of us there were waitin out there to ride to the ball park together. Finally, we get to the championship game. The day of the game, I went out to Hawkins barn to meet up with the others, but there was only me and Whitey Peterson out there. We didn’t even bother to say anything; we just got on our bikes and rode to the ball park. Of course everyone was already at the park, so me and Whitey got off our bikes and walked on over to where they were all standin. Big Bart’s got the trunk of that old black Plymouth open, and inside are nine new pairs of cleats. He hands each of us a pair, and tells us to put them on. I take my cleats and look doubtfully at them, but sit down to change my shoes. As I’m puttin those cleats on, I noticed that on the bottom of them, there were sharp spikes coming through each of the cleats. I looked inside the shoe, and notice the inside liner had been pulled up at one corner. I turned the corner up, and saw someone had pushed roofin nails through the soles so they would stick out the other side. I looked around and everyone else was puttin their shoes on, even Whitey. I slid my other shoes off, and put on the new cleats. My feet felt like they weigh a thousand pounds, not from the roofin nails, but from the dread I felt. I know it was only my imagination foolin me. We all took to the field to warm up before the game, and as I looked around me at all my friends, I wondered how we came to be the way we were now. We were all so close, especially me and Charlie, and now we didn’t even speak to each other. Or at least they didn’t speak to me.
At this point the old man sighed, and looked down at the cigarette as a long ash fell from it, and he saw it was burnt down to the filter. He tossed it in the bush beside the porch, and pulled another from the pack and lit it. He glanced over at Stevie, but he seemed to be on pins and needles waiting for his grandpa to finish his story. The old man nodded to himself, and picked up the tale once more.
We were the home team, so we were gonna bat last. That was a hard fought game, and we were evenly matched. Back and forth we went. They would score, and then we would come back and tie it up. In the bottom of the ninth, the game was tied at 8. There were two outs and I was on second base. Charlie was walkin up to the batter’s box to take his last at bat. If he could drive me home, we would win the game. Big Bart calls time and I figured he was gonna go say something to Charlie, but instead he came walking out to second base where I was at. At that point, I was really scared, but I stood there waitin to see what was gonna happen. Big Bart stood over me, and his shadow seemed to block out the sun, kind of like when it goes behind a dark cloud. I looked up at him with both fear and hatred in my eyes. He could see it in my face, and I think he liked what he was seein, but he only smiles at me. Then he said something to me I’ll never forget the rest of my life.
It’s times like these Sam, where we separate the strong from the weak. You must decide now, which you are. I wasn’t sure what he was gettin at, but he didn’t say any more. He just looked down at those cleats on my feet for a second, and then walked off the field. I looked down at my cleats and shook my head not knowing what to make of it. The umpire called for time in and Charlie stepped up to bat. He got two quick strikes on him, and I figured we were goin to extra innings. The next three pitches Charlie fouled off. Big Bart yelled at me to run on anything. My whole body tensed up. Then Charlie caught one on the sweet part of the bat and drove it to right field. As soon as that ball left the bat, I was off and runnin as fast as I could. I could see Big Bart standin at the third base line wavin for me to go home. I didn’t even slow down. I just turned on third and headed straight for home plate. As I was gettin nearer to home, I could see the throw was a good one, and even with a slide, it might not go my way. I got down into my slide and the ball arrived right on time. I can’t describe what happened next exactly, but everything was movin like in slow motion. What Big Bart said to me about separating the strong and the weak. Then I thought about all my friends screaming at me from the dug-out. My foot was about to cross the plate, but the catcher was swingin around to make the tag. I still to this day can’t say why I did what I did, but it happened. I suddenly turned my right foot inward and brought it across the ankle of the catcher. At the same time I could see a look of shock in his face as the pain hit him. The ball flew loose from his glove as he tried to bring it down on me, and I slid across the plate. I was safe. We had won the game, and the county championship. The crowd was going crazy, and I could hear my friends and Big Bart yellin to beat the band. I got up and started to walk to the dug-out, but I looked back at that catcher and could see just a trickle of blood around the ankle of his sock. He looked at me with eyes that said he knew what I had done, but I could tell he weren’t gonna tell anyone. Then I just hung my head and walked off the field. When I got to the dug-out, I sat on the bench for a minute, and watched my teammates celebrating at the pitcher’s mound. Big Bart looked over at me and just nodded. I left the dug-out, grabbed my bike, and rode as fast as I could. I rode out to the old Mill Bridge, and tossed all that gear in the river, except for the uniform. I couldn’t exactly ride home naked. After that, none of us ever spoke to each other again. I never knew what happened to most of my friends, but I did know that Charlie, well, he had himself a family, and became a successful lawyer. I think Walter got into some trouble, and wound up in Brushy Mountain. As for the rest, I couldn’t say. The two Bart’s just up and left town after that. I never did hear where they went. That was the last time I ever played baseball. I still loved the game, but it just didn’t seem to hold what it once had for me.
Stevie looked at the old man with wonder and amazement on his face.
You were the hero grandpa. You won the game for them. The boy said.
The old man looked down at Stevie and shook his head.
I was no hero. I may have won the game, but that wasn’t a hero’s way to do it. You better run on inside and get ready for bed.
Stevie got up, gave his grandpa a hug, and headed into the house. The old man sat where he was, lit another cigarette and looked out into the evening.
Another hot day, as the old man sat in the bleachers once more for the championship game. His grandson once again was playing well, and the game was close. Stevie hit a single and stood at first base, waiting for the coach to give him signals of what to do next. The old man watched his grandson intently, a feeling of pride in his heart. The next batter came up, and the pitcher started his wind-up. Suddenly Stevie was off and running towards second for the steal. The old man watched and knew the play would be close. The catcher had thrown the ball to second, and Stevie got down into his slide. The old man watched enthralled at the scene playing out before him. Suddenly, the slightest glint of something shiny on the bottom of Stevie’s cleats caught the sun, and the old man saw it too late. He only had time to whisper faintly to himself.
No, Stevie no!