Posts Tagged ‘Baseball’

I haven’t written anything in days. It’s not that I have had no ideas—I have plenty. I either haven’t felt well or have been tired or both. Then there is this little factor called time. I don’t always have time to put words on documents, and sometimes when I do, other things pop up. It is called life, and life often demands our attention and demands we stop our daydreaming and word-scaping. Oh the demands of reality sucketh dry the mind and energy it takes to sit and type. And don’t think sitting and typing is doing nothing. It is exhaustive work, even if it looks like it isn’t.

What I have a desire to do is tell the story my mind conjured up about a poor, ruined baseball, one that had clearly been ran over by a large lawn mower (and certainly not the push kind you walk behind).

The Girl and I sometimes go walking out at the baseball field behind the local middle school. I usually get this request to do so later in the evening, meaning we either can’t go for a walk because it is almost dark out or we can go for a walk, but a brief one. On Friday it conveniently rained and looked as if it would storm, dampening our chances of going for a walk.

A little after six, I knocked on The Girl’s bedroom door, opened it to see her sitting, cross-legged on her bed. I said, ‘Hey, do you want to go walking?’ That’s not entirely accurate. I said, ‘You wanna go walkin’?’

She shrugged and said, ‘Sure.’

‘It’s been raining,’ I said.

‘It’s just water,’ she responded.

Off we went.

Her assessment of it’s just water stayed that way and we ended up not needing the two towels I took with us, you know, just in case, it’s just water turned into it’s just a lot of water.

DSCN2605The baseball park was deserted, except for one black Grand Am sitting near the restrooms at the parking lot. We made our first lap around the track, talking about boys and other things, but mostly boys. It rained on us, but not much. Off in the distance, the clouds gave way to blue skies.

To give you a little ground work, the track we walk on is black and rubbery. I believe it to be one of those tracks made out of recycled tires. I could be wrong. In fact, I am probably wrong. The track itself circles the parking lot and the batting cages before passing through a stretch of trees. It opens up at the back end of the ballpark where the furthest of the five fields resides. It passes the Tee Ball field before entering another smaller stretch of trees, and then circles around the playground, before ending up back where we started. As you can see, it is an endless loop.

As we passed the furthest of the five fields, I looked toward the muddy ground, the grass soaked through. A trough of water ran just on this side of the fence, ending near the Tee Ball field. On the other side of this trough was a baseball. For those who don’t know, when I see an errant baseball on the ground, and there is no one there to claim it as theirs, I pick it up and add it to my collection. On this first time around the field, I left the baseball where it sat.

We made another lap around the track, this time talking about boys and other stuff, but mostly boys. The second time we passed the ball, I said, ‘Hold on a second.’ I hopped the watery trough. Thankfully, my foot did not slide and I didn’t sprawl on the ground, either landing on my butt in the pooled water, or face first in the wet grass. I plucked the ball from its spot on the ground. It was soaked through, as I thought it would be. What I hadn’t expected was to see where the strings had split and where the rawhide had been torn. Clearly, the baseball had been  struck by the sharp blades of a lawnmower.

I hopped back over the water trough. This time, my heel caught the soft part of the ground and almost sank in. I pulled my foot free, leaving behind a slight smudge of mud on the heel. Back on the track, The Girl and I continued our walk, me letting my fingers roll the ruined baseball over and over in my palm, she talking about boys and other things, but mostly boys. Every once in a while I would glance at the ball. Some of the twine had been torn loose when it had been struck by the lawnmower. The rawhide looked like puckered skin after a knife had sliced through it. In a way, I guess a knife had done its handy work on the ball.

We finished our walk and went back to the car. Fortunately for us we got back in when we did. It went from it’s just rain to someone opened the floodgates. I held the ball a little longer, looking at it. ‘Poor dead baseball,’ I said and set it in the cup holder in the center console. The Girl looked at me like I was nuts, but shouldn’t she be used to this by now?

It was a short trip home, one where we talked about boys, among other things, but mostly boys. Once home, I grabbed the ball, hurried to the front door not really trying to dodge rain drops, but not wanting to get soaked either. I unlocked the door and went inside. I looked at the ball one more time before setting it on the entertainment center right next to the DVR.

I sat to read, but my mind kept wondering back to the baseball I had found, to its flayed rawhide, split strings and ruined insides. Poor dead baseball, I told myself again.

As the night went on I kept going back to the ball, thinking of the many ways it had been used before it got shredded by the lawnmower. Then I thought of its horrific ending. He had probably been laying in the grass, minding his own business, maybe even basking in the sun, working on his tan. Or he may have been sleeping. Then he probably heard the heavy rumble of the riding lawnmower (because that is the type they use at the ballpark). The baseball probably tried to roll away, but found he couldn’t, not without the stimulus of someone picking him up and tossing him. I imagine there was a scream as the sunny world he had been laying in was suddenly dark, and then the blade struck him, shooting him out the side. He probably flew through the air at a high rate of speed, before landing near the fence where I found him. And there the ball lay unnoticed by the monster that had dispatched of him mercilessly. How many people passed him by? How many folks just thought he was a ruined baseball and not worthy of their time? How many kids walked by him, maybe even picked him up, thinking they had a ball to play with, just to see his ruin exterior and drop him back to the ground?

Poor dead baseball.

Two days have passed since we brought the tattered thing home. It has sat on the entertainment center, ‘drying out.’ That sounds so creepy, when you consider how my mind conjured up this inanimate object’s death.

Here I sit, typing these words, the baseball off to my right. I paused midway through this piece and grabbed a pencil. Taking the baseball in hand, I did what I felt came naturally. Then I grabbed Cate’s Sharpies and went to town.

I now call this baseball Dead Fred. I may also have a new hobby for my baseball collection. Time will tell.

Thank you all for reading. I hope you have a great day. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind on one another.

A.J.

Off 601 in Lugoff, South Carolina is a field. Well, it was a field at one time. I’m guessing it was just a big, open expanse of land that maybe had some trees on it, some shrubbery, possibly a few holes in the ground. Part of the land is on a hill that leads up to a couple of houses. That really doesn’t matter much, but who knows, it might before we’re all said and done here.

Cate saw the field before I did. She slowed before we reached it. Then I saw it. My eyes widened. It was a baseball field. One that looked like it had seen much better days. I looked at her, wide-eyed and somewhat excited. I’ll say this: I don’t think she understands my love for baseball fields. I’m not even sure I understand it. There is an attraction, a pull, like a magnet (the field is the magnet and I am every bit the metal) that makes me smile every time I see a ball park. Not just any field. Little league fields. There is an eternal innocence to youth baseball that I find is left behind on the field, long after the games are over and the kids are gone. Maybe it is this innocence that intrigues me so much about these ball parks.

This ball fDSCN1936ield was different though, and it was evident before we even got out the car near the outfield fence. It was huge—the outfield was deep, as in minor league deep. The fence was old and falling down in spots. Weeds covered it from top to bottom and stretching its full length. There was also an orange in the outfield. Yes, I am talking about the fruit here. I don’t know why there was an orange there, but there was.

As we walked from the outfield to the infield, I saw it was similar to any old field that hasn’t seen a game in months or years … or decades. The outfield grass encroached on the infield. The bases were dirty and worn, but they were supposed to be. The pitcher’s mound wasn’t really a mound and home plate sat all alone near the backstop, which was grassy and on a slight incline.

The dugouts were small wooden structures. The benches inside were made of wood and cinder blocks. In one of the dugouts were buckets and some tools and a couple of baseball bats. Beyond the field were bleachers made of metal and blocks and wood. And yes, there was a bathroom away from the field itself, complete with running water, but no lights.

DSCN1944Further from the field and toward those houses were toys and five guard dogs that barked the entire time we were there. I’m guessing the owners of the field live there.

Unlike most of the ball fields I’ve visited, this one didn’t have my imagination running with the ghosts of children’s past. No, this time, I was reminded of the movie A Field of Dreams and the one phrase from it that most people will probably quote before I even write it here.

If you build it, they will come.

I got that impression as I stood on the field, just behind home plate. I could hear saws cutting boards. I could hear hammers pounding nails. I could hear chainsaws cutting down dead trees and I could hear someone’s truck pulling stumps free from where they were anchored in deep, its engine revving, its wheels digging into the ground until either the truck bogged down or the rooted stump came free, being pulled like a pesky broken tooth. I could hear rakes going across the grounds and see tillers digging up the infield before being leveled out, possibly with two by fours weighted down on each end, dragging the ground behind a truck or a mule or maybe even two or three guys, sweating and straining.

They would be tired at the end of the day, but guess what? These men and women would come back the next day and work on it some more. Someone had to put that fence up in the outfield and build those dugouts and bleachers. Someone had to spend money for those supplies and all of the equipment needed to turn a field of trees and holes into a field of dreams.

DSCN1951Then, as I stepped off the field to get a picture from the bleachers I saw a sign. It was nothing more than a metal placard affixed to the cyclone fence stretching down the first base line. It read:

THIS BEAUTIFUL PARK WAS CREATED THROUGH HARD WORK FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT. PLAY SAFELY. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK. WE WILL NOT BE LIABLE FOR INJURIES.

A few things about this, starting from the end of this sign and working my way to the top. Liable: the builders of this park knew the possibilities that someone could get hurt, so if they did, it wouldn’t be the owners’ responsibility to foot the bill. It’s sad they had to do that, but I wonder if someone tried to sue them because their kid got hurt there. That leads to the enter at your own risk statement. It is there as a warning. Again, it would not be the owners’ responsibility to make sure everyone is safe—it is clearly implied with the sign.

The third thing, I believe, lends right into the second. Play safely. That doesn’t mean don’t play hard. It means play safe, for you, your teammates and the opposing teams’ players, as well.

DSCN1942The fourth and fifth things are the hallmarks to a field like this: This beautiful park was created through hard work for your enjoyment. I wonder if the builder or builders of this park had little boys (or girls) who wanted to play ball, but had nowhere to do so. I wonder if the parents didn’t say, ‘hey, let’s give our kids somewhere to play, somewhere everyone can play.’ And so they built the park. To be cliche, it was a labor of love.

I imagine, from the way it looked, the park had been there for a while, and many kids had come and gone, including those the park was originally built for.

Not once while we were there did I picture kids playing a game. But I could see those adults, both men and women, building the park. Day after day, they worked, until it was complete. I don’t know if there was a ceremony where the first pitch was thrown out, but I can imagine those adults who put in all that hard work probably sat in the bleachers and smiled and cheered with joy, their hearts swelling with pride as their kids played the game they loved.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Through the Lens

Posted: February 27, 2017 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’ve always felt like I’ve lived my life on the outside looking in. It’s as if I see myself and my actions through a camera lens. There is a crack that runs down the center of that lens. On the left side everything is clear and easy to see and understand. On the right side everything is blurry and odd and I struggle at everything. Very rarely do I see through the crack where everything makes sense.

It sounds crazy. I know.

dscn1629This is the way it has always been for me. It’s as if I am watching myself through that lens, whether on the left side or the right side, and sometimes in the middle. It is through that lens that I bring you this story.

[[The lens zooms in on him, possibly starting with one blue eye and then panning out, showing the blemishes of age on his face and the gray in his dark hair. It would show a kitchen, the light on, and he would be letting the dog out for the morning.]]

He has been awake far longer than he wants. His face is unshaven. He wants coffee. He wants the almost bitter taste of it, sprinkled with a bit of sugar and some cream. He wants the first hot sip and then the last deep warm swallow. He wants the aftertaste that will stay with him for an hour or so, at least until he either drinks another cup or brushes his teeth.

He can’t have coffee—not the real stuff, at least. Decaf is okay (and yes, he knows it has a touch of caffeine in it anyway). Though he wants the coffee, he wants a drive as well. He wants to take to the road and follow the nose of the car to wherever it leads. He doesn’t care where he ends up, as long as he takes the journey. For him, that’s really what it is about, what it is always about: the journey.

It’s unusually warm for February—already in the upper sixties by eight in the morning. A crispness hangs in the air. Dew dampens the ground and has fallen on the car, and covers the windshield. He dons shorts and a T-shirt, socks and sneakers and he is out the door, leaving the family to sleep in on that Saturday morning.

The car is fairly new and comfortable. Behind the wheel reminds him of all those Saturday mornings before he and his better half had child number one and then three and a half years later, child number two. On those mornings he would be up before six and out the door half an hour later. And he drove with no particular place to go, just him, the car and music. Sitting there he recalls how he ended up in Spartanburg one morning and Newberry another and Charleston another. Sometimes the drive was all he wanted, maybe even needed.

And so it is that he pulls from the yard and drives away. At the stop sign he makes a right and shortly after that, he turns the radio on, finds the grunge channel and follows the road.

dscn1683[[The score for this scene and several that would follow with him driving would begin as he makes that right turn. We wouldn’t necessarily see him, but we would hear the music. He likes the grunge from the nineties, so chances are the song that would play would be something from Nirvana or Bush or Alice in Chains or Pearl Jam. Maybe Temple of the Dog would say hello to Heaven or maybe they will go hungry.]]

Song after song plays as mile after mile disappears beneath his tires. Small roads lead to larger ones and larger ones lead to longer ones. Those longer ones lead back to smaller ones, until he is moving along a country road, passing country houses and fields.

The sign catches his eye. At first he just glimpses it. He’s not even sure he saw it after he passed it. He slows, checks the rearview mirror and sees the reverse side of it is the same as the front. A smile forms on his face and he turns the car around. Heading in the opposite direction he slows and reads the sign: WARRIOR BASEBALL. An arrow points in the direction of a street on his right. He turns, follows the road as it winds through a small neighborhood with nice cars in driveways of even nicer homes. The houses thin out. The road ends in the parking lot of a baseball complex. It’s not as new as the neighborhood, but it still stands in what he takes is the heart of the area.

A moment passes as he sits in his car in the middle of the parking lot, the motor purring. The beating of his heart matches the smile on his face. He parks between two faded white lines, flips the music off (currently Pearl Jam is singing Wish List. Eddie Vedder’s voice is cut off as he wishes he were a brake peddle you depended on). He is out of the car and popping the trunk even as the door closes and locks.

At the back of the car, his smile grows wider when he sees his wife’s back pack. If he is right, one of her cameras is in there. He unzips the front pouch and there the camera sits in its own case. He pulls it out and opens the case. He presses a small button and the camera turns on. The lens extends and he unfolds the view finder. The battery has a full charge.

[[If this were a movie, the scene would pan out and away from him. We would hear the trunk close and possibly the sounds of pebbles crunching under his sneakers. Then we would see him walking toward the baseball field, the camera in hand.]]

He approaches the field. Though it is old, it has recently been graded and then smoothed. The grass has been cut. Chalk lines run down the first and third base lines and form the batter’s boxes, the pitcher’s circle and the on deck circles just outside of each dugout. The lines aren’t crisp and clean—the field has been played on.

dscn1707He walks through the dugout gate. A metal bench stretches the length of the dugout. He leans down, sets the camera on one end so the view finder shows the entire bench. He presses a silver button and the camera clicks twice. In the view finder he sees the bench. On it are three little boys, each one wearing a red and white uniform with the team name, Warriors, written in cursive script across the front. One of them is blowing a bubble from the gum in his mouth. The other two are laughing at some unknown joke. It’s probably something to do with passing gas.

As he looks at the image, he thinks, oh yes, passing gas.

[[The scene would go from the image on the camera to the bench in front of him. One would show the ghosts of children’s past, while the other just shows a metal bench.]]

Outside the dugout and on the field, he looks around. Just beyond the infield is a dirty ball. No, it’s not a baseball and not a softball, but one that is in between. It is yellow and dirty and looks as if part of the rawhide has been scorched. He smiles.

[[Again, the film would show his feet, the sneakers crossing the hard packed orange ground. We would see the backs of his legs as he steadily approaches the ball. Then we would see the ball between his feet and his hand pick it up. He brings it to his face, where we see his blue eye again.]]

The ball gets placed by first base. He sets the camera on the ground, presses the button and waits for the click. Then he looks in the view finder. It’s almost perfect. He backs up fifteen or so feet and takes another picture, this one of the first base bag from a standing position. In the view finder, a little boy with blond hair and a gray uniform with no words on the front, but the number 3 on the left side in red. He is bending down to pick up the ball.

He nods, walks over and plucks the ball from the ground. He tosses it into the outfield. Before the ball can fall to the ground, he has the camera up and snaps several shots. In those images, a young child with skin the color of smooth chocolate has his glove up, his eyes on the ball. He thinks the boy calls ‘mine’ before the ball reaches him.

He takes a snapshot of the pitcher’s mound next. The boy standing there is caught in full wind up, his leg kicked up, arm back and ready to throw the ball.

[[In the movie about the man, we see him turn and take pictures and we see the boys of yesteryear in them. They may be just in his head, but they are there, none the less. We would hear music, maybe Centerfield by John Fogerty or even the Eddie Vedder tribute song to the Chicago Cubs for finally winning a World Series.]]

The sun is now overhead, but it is still comfortable outside. He checks his watch. It is after eleven.

dscn1703I should get back, he thinks. He makes his way toward the dugout and stops. He’s still holding the ball in one hand. He turns and cocks his arm back to throw it. He stops, looks at the ball and lets out a laugh. Instead of throwing it, he tosses it in the air, catches it and leaves the field, a hum on his lips.

[[Here we fade to black or maybe we just pan out as he walks away, the camera in one hand, the ball in the other and that hum … that hum is probably a song he likes, maybe Boys of Summer by Don Henley. We see him get in his car, and we hear the car’s engine come to life. Then it pulls out of the spot and he drives away. Like all good films, we would hear the lyrics of the song, the music, he had hummed on his way to his car. Then, the car would be out of sight and the credits would roll. And yes, there would be a fade to black …]]

As I said earlier: I’ve always felt like I’ve lived my life on the outside looking in. It’s as if I see myself and my actions through a camera lens. There is a crack that runs down the center of that lens. On the left side everything is clear and easy to see and understand. On the right side everything is blurry and odd and I struggle at everything. Very rarely do I see through the crack where everything makes sense.

For me, baseball is one of the things in that center. When I find a new field, I see myself, my actions, and my thoughts, not as if I am living them, but as if I am watching them. Sometimes, that is not a bad thing.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Baseball and Life

Posted: February 12, 2017 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

I went for a walk by myself this morning. The sky was overcast and there was a breeze blowing in. It was nice enough out that the chill from the breeze didn’t make it too cool to where shorts and a t-shirt. The birds chirped madly and flew about from tree to tree and power line to power line.

A storm was coming. Or so it seemed.

This much is almost certain. When the birds act as they do right then, a storm is coming. My grandfather taught me that one day while standing on his back porch when I was a teenager and he was still around and life had yet to slap me in the face a few times.

Back to this morning. As I always do when I am by myself and want to walk, I drove the two miles to the middle school my daughter went to and my son now attends. Behind it is a baseball park. A walking path circles the park. This is where where I walk.

When I go on these walks I tend to pray for the first half of it. I don’t look at it as prayer though. I look at it as a conversation, though one sided, with God. It’s not a ‘hey I need something’ type of thing, or a ‘hey I screwed up type’ of thing. For me, these mornings are a ‘hey, I just want to talk,’ type of thing. They are good for me, good for my soul.

The second half of these walks is when I think about writing, but mostly, I just think about baseball. Seriously. At the end of these walks and before I go to my car, I walk to the baseball complex. There are four fields in the main section and a fifth field off to the side (this is where the younger kids play tee ball). In the center of the main section is the concessions and bathrooms. There are metal bleachers on each side of each field.

Today I walked to one of the fields and stared through the fencing surrounding it. The grass was freshly cut, the field newly raked. There were perfect chalk lines marking the first and third base lines, the batters boxes and the on deck circles. The pitcher’s mound had been recently formed, with the rubber in the center of it.

12734126_10208347032850778_986475889973690833_nThis is going to sound crazy, but for the first time since I was a kid, I didn’t miss playing the game. What I did miss—do miss—is coaching. I miss watching the lights turn on for a kid once he or she ‘got it’. I miss cheering the kids on or throwing batting practice. I miss those tougher teaching moments that is difficult for the kid, but what they don’t realize is it is difficult for the coaches as well. We want to make them better, teach them the game, but a good coach teaches them not only the game, but to have fun and to carry that over into life.

That brings me to my point today. Baseball is a unifying sport. You may not like the game and that is okay. But for those who do play it and for their families, it is unifying.

One season I was fortunate enough to coach a special needs child. It was one of the most rewarding things I have ever been a part of. Another season, our head coach had heart issues and ended up missing most of the season because of heart surgery. I met kids and parents and grandparents. I saw kids with two parents in the household and kids with just the one. I also met kids whose parents were absent and grandparents had taken them in. Baseball, for these kids, meant a couple of hours away from the reality of no mom and no dad.

Baseball is life. No, I don’t mean that baseball should be lived and breathed like oxygen. I mean baseball is life.

In a typical game there are nine innings with a break between each half inning as the teams switch sides. Batters go into the field and fielders come up to bat. Each team gets three outs an inning to score as many times as they can. There are hits and walks and strikeouts and pop outs and ground outs and long fly ball outs. This is much like life.

Let’s just say each inning is equivalent to ten years of life. That would make the first inning the growing years of childhood. The second inning, the learning who you are years. The third inning would be the years of establishing who you are as an adult. And the next three innings would be the working years. I know, that sounds absurd, but it’s not. Not really. The last three innings are the golden years, and if you are fortunate enough to make it further than the age of ninety then you go into extra innings.

There are times we do things well and get hits. Sometimes we do great things and those amount to doubles and triples. Then we do a couple of things that are fantastic or amazing or awesome or whatever you wish to call it. Those are home runs. There are times we succeed in a venture. Each one of those is a run scored. Sometimes we help someone succeed. Those are runs batted in. And yes, just like in baseball, those folks with the many runs, rbi’s and home runs are generally the stars.

Then there are the outs. Sometimes we strike out. These are the times when we just don’t try all that hard at something. Then you have pop outs and fly outs and ground outs. Those are the efforts we put in, but we still don’t succeed at something. The average batting average in major league baseball is between .260 and .275. That means the average player gets a hit only 26% to 27.5% of the time. That equals one out of every four plate appearances. This means failures are easier to achieve than successes.

Occasionally, we get a walk in life, a gift that we don’t have to earn. Those moments don’t come around all that often, so best to relish them while we can.

Sometimes in baseball, as in life, we get a lucky bounce. Sometimes, that bounce isn’t so lucky after all. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. Hits, outs, walks, runs … it is all life.

Baseball takes effort. You learn how to hit by practicing. You learn how to throw by practicing. Life is the same. You learn how to write by practicing. You learn how to drive by practicing. You learn how to do various things in life by working at it. So many similarities.

In my life I have hit four home runs. Being saved. Marrying my wife and being a father to my two kids. In my life I’ve had quite a few good hits, a couple of walks and a lot of outs. But here is the thing: I’ve worked really hard at life. I’ve lived life and played baseball. I’ve taken my outs in stride with my hits and runs and I will continue to do so as the innings of my life play out. I encourage you to do the same.

As I stood at the baseball field this morning, I listened to the world around me. The wind was blowing and the flag flapped with it. The chord and metal hooks that hold the flag in place clanked against the flag pole. There were crows cawing and other birds chirping and flying about. Somewhere a dog barked. It was a moment to sit in the dugout and reflect on the game of my life so far. Are there things I would like to change? Sure. Are there things I would have liked to succeed at? Absolutely. Would I change anything. No.

Then I walked away, not missing the game I loved, but knowing that I gave both the game and my life to this date all I have. I’m good with that. The bat’s on my shoulder, a glove dangling from it as I leave the dugout and head back into the game. How’s your game coming along? Are you swinging for the fences, or riding the bench? Don’t ride the bench. Get in there and play ball.

As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

On a dead end road off of East Church Street sits a baseball field—or maybe what is left of it. You don’t see it from East Church, and you may not even think anything of it. What probably draws you in is what looks like an entrance to a building that is no longer there; the brick and concrete doorway looks somewhat out of place. It is as if you can step up on the platform and step through the structure with the green vines growing up one side, and maybe you would step into another world. Or maybe another time.

dscn1515As you turn from off one street and onto another (East Church onto North Means Street) and drive toward the odd doorway, you not only notice the doorway, but you notice the aluminum bleachers and four tall pine trees that stand in front of those bleachers. A little further down the road you see the top of a fence that would be considered a backstop. It is tall enough to keep balls from flying backward toward anyone in those stands behind that fence.

dscn1518Drive a little further and park your car, truck, motorcycle or super trike. Get out and walk toward the field. It is a marvel as old as the day is long. There is a set of bleachers along the first and third base sides. These bleachers serve as the team’s dugouts. Yes, that’s right, there are no dugouts for the teams to sit in when they are not in the field.

A closer look shows the outfield grass is creeping in on the infield, but that isn’t the only thing that catches your eye. On the infield, right into the first twenty or so feet of the outfield, are deep grooves in the form of circles. Someone has driven onto the field with a truck and has done donuts. It is also clear that this happened a while back—the grooves are hard, even though it has rained within the last three days.

dscn1525The outfield grass holds many sparkling spiderwebs, the dew of the early morning like glassy diamonds shimmer, even on this gray, overcast day. Try to ignore the glassy spiderwebs and keep walking toward this wooden post, old style cyclone outfield wall, which is barely three feet tall and looks more like it belongs around a farm than on a baseball field. Just before that fence is a blacktop path that could be considered the warning track. More than likely it is a walking trail, and if you look to your right and left, you will see this is exactly what it is. The path leads outside the field and behind an old house in one direction and dead-ending at the road in the other.
Just beyond the outfield fence is a tree line that dips into a valley. Many of those trees have been downed over the years, either felled by age or weather, or maybe even axe and chainsaw. There are a couple of structures back there, houses maybe, but it is kind of hard to tell through all the trees.

If you walk from centerfield to home plate, you will find it is 291 feet, and for little kids, it would take a hard swidscn1526ng, and a long fly ball to hit a home run.

Before you leave the dilapidated field, touch one of the bags, first, second or third. Go ahead. It won’t bite you. Though the exterior is slightly hard, the base is soft. You can push on it with a couple of fingers and the base gives. Yeah, old school bases are the best.

As you go to leave, don’t just look at the doorway to a building that is no longer there. Walk up to it, pull yourself up on it. Touch the cold clay brick and the smooth concrete arch. Now, step through it. Go ahead. Just do it.

What do you see on the other side? What do you hear?

The sky is no longer gray, but the sun is out and shining down. The cool of the air when you arrived is now warm and that coat you are wearing feels like too much. The road to the left is no longer paved, but red clay, just like the field that is surrounded by the short fences. Take a look now. There are folks in those bleachers. Maybe they are from the fifties or the sixties or seventies. Maybe they are from last year—does it matter what time period the ghosts of games passed are from?

dscn1523The kids on the field aren’t wearing fancy uniforms. Most of them are in jeans and t-shirts and raggedy shoes (not cleats, folks). They wear their favorite teams’ hats and those, like the rest of their clothes, are fairly dirty, some because of superstitions, some because they don’t want those hats washed—it gives them character, you know?

They toss the ball around after every out. They tap their cleats with the bats on every plate appearance. The catchers talk trash behind the plate. It doesn’t bother most of the kids, but every once in a while, one of them takes offense. The only kids sitting on the bleachers down either of the base lines are the ones who are not playing. The others walk around and talk or toss the ball back and forth to keep their shoulders from getting stiff.

There is a pitch and a swing. The crack of a bat and the ball is airborne. It comes down in the right fielder’s glove with a loud smack. He tosses the ball to the shortstop. In turn, he tosses it to the first baseman and then it goes to the pitcher. The game has just started and the fans sitting on the home side bleachers cheer the out and yell their ‘at a boys’, while those on the visitor’s side clap at the effort of the batter and yell their ‘get ‘em next times’.

dscn1528It’s mesmerizing, this game I so love (though maybe you don’t), and no, this history is not in black and white, but full on technicolor.

Don’t go back through the doorway just yet. Don’t go to your super trike or moped or your Porsche. Instead, hop down from the landing of the doorway and stroll to one of the bleachers. Grab a seat and sit. Enjoy the game. As I said, it’s just getting started and the old field you drove up on that no one plays on anymore is awake and alive and about to put on a show for you.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

I sit on the front porch this evening, looking across the street at the Hispanic family building a shed in their back yard. Currently, it is 91 degrees and the sun is going down. The man is wearing long green work pants and heavy boots and a long sleeved shirt. Yeah, in this heat. That’s what I thought, too. The woman working alongside him, holding up pieces of tan vinyl siding as he tacks them into place, is also wearing long pants and a long shirt, and I haven’t heard her speak at all in the time I have been out here. As I type this right now I’m wondering if it is a shed or a small house they are building.

A car goes by, silver with tinted windows, a heavy THUMP THUMP coming from the speakers and fading away as it heads to the stop sign. It makes a right turn and is gone, taking its base thumping with it.

I look back to the Hispanic couple and just beyond them. Three kids are playing on a mattress on the ground. When I was a kid we called that a poor kid’s trampoline. Been there, kiddos. Been there. The kids are two girls and a boy. I believe the boy is the middle kid.

It’s the boy who holds my attention for a moment. He jumps on the mattress with the two girls, but unlike them, he is not laughing and smiling and having a good time. He looks like he would rather be doing anything else, but playing on the poor kid’s trampoline.

I get it, little dude. I get it.

I guess the reason the boy holds my attention is because in my hand I hold a baseball. It is a Wilson brand. When it was new it was white and unscuffed and the cursive Wilson was a deep black. It weighed all of five ounces. The red laces—all 108 double stitches (that’s 216 single stitches if you’re counting)—were still perfect, and still holding the white rawhide tightly together.

Now the ball is somewhat brownish/orange with very few white spots remaining. It had been struck by a lawn mower at some point. This much is obvious. There is a gash near one train track stretch of stitches. An inch or so away and right on the red seam is an inch and a half long tear in the rawhide. The stitches are still in place, undamaged by the mower. The Wilson is faded and there are nicks and scrapes and smudges throughout.

Though the ball is battered and scarred and will probably never be used in another game, it is still perfect. Perfect, like 27 batters up and 27 batters down. Perfect.

I roll the ball over in my hands, no longer looking at the Hispanic couple working on the shed. I’m no longer watching the kids jumping and laughing (well, at least the girls are laughing) on the mattress in the middle of the yard.  I’m interested in the baseball, in who might have used it, or if it was used in a game or just in practice. How did it come to be run over by a lawnmower?

How did I come across it?

That one is easy. I was walking the track at the baseball park with my son. It was crazy hot and we had only made one full lap. We cut between two fields on the dirt track that led to the parking lot. There is a drainage ditch that runs the length of the outfield of Field Number Two. It had rained the day before, so there was water in the ditch. And sitting on the edge of the ditch, just in the water, was the baseball. I picked it up and wiped it off. It dripped a bit of water from the gash in its hide. I rubbed it as we walked to the car, trying to dry it out some. Over the next couple of days it did dry out, and now I hold it in my hands

And I can’t help but daydream. I can’t help but believe that a kid, probably around eleven years old, had held it in his hand, rolling it around on his palm before coming set and then slinging it toward home plate. The ball never reached the catcher’s mitt, but was connected by a bat held by the opponent. There is nothing like the sound of aluminum on ball. And the ball soared high in the air, landing somewhere on the grass beyond the fence. That is where it stayed until a lawn mower blade hit it and tossed it into the ditch, where I would later find it.

The ball had been hit. Do you see the glory of that? The ball I hold in my hand had once been thrown and hit and caught and hit again. It was used in the game many little boys (and girls) love, in the game I love. To me, even now, many years after I last put down a bat, find the baseball to be the most perfect of spheres. The way it is constructed. The white hide, the red stitches, the mile’s worth of string encased in it and wrapped around a cork center. It tumbles when you throw it, it makes a beautiful sound when it hits a glove. It’s the diamond of the sports world, which is somewhat appropriate.

As I look at the ball, I become aware that the Hispanics have gone inside. The sun is almost down. I think of the little boy who looked like he would rather be somewhere else. I wonder if he ever played baseball, or if he ever dreamed of playing like I once did. I roll the ball in my hands one more time and stand. I stretch my back and walk inside. Iowa is playing Kentucky in the Little League World Series. I think I’ll sit and watch the game and listen to the sounds I still love.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Dreams of a Poor Child

Posted: January 17, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

I was once asked where story ideas come from. Well, it didn’t happen just once, but many times. I always say, ‘they come from everywhere and everything.’ Yeah, it sounds lame, but it is true. Story ideas really come from anything I see, anything I hear, anything someone says.

Today, we took a road trip out to Hartsville. It was just a little day trip to get out of the house. On the way home, we drove through Bishopville and did a bit of exploring. We came upon an old baseball field…and the story you are about to read is directly inspired from it. Enjoy.

Dreams of a Poor Child

Picture this:

A long country road, cotton fields on one side, separated by slat board houses, open fields on the other side for as far as the eye can see. Cotton may have grown on that side as well, but now it’s mostly weeds and trash tossed from cars passing by (mostly bottles and cans and faded chip wrappers). Not too far away and left behind in the rearview mirror sits a prison, big, impressive and as out of place in that space of country just between two little towns. The prison isn’t important for this story, but it is part of the area, and now it is an afterthought.

What does matter for this story is on the left hand side of the road (as you go away from the prison and head south). There’s a park, complete with a large playground that has several slides, ladders and monkey bars. There are swings, both for able-bodied kids and the disabled ones. There are benches for the attentive (or unattentive) parents or adults that aren’t parents at all or maybe the teenagers who begrudgingly take their siblings there. It’s a respite for them; an opportunity for peace from the whining and nagging rug rats their parents don’t want to take care of.

A kid is on the playground. He’s maybe eight and his red shirt has a hole in it, as does both the knees in his faded blue jeans. He’s swinging, swinging, swinging and dreaming of jumping out and flying away from there.

Like the prison, the playground isn’t all that important either, but it’s part of the scenery in this low-income part of the world. What is important sits just beyond the playground. It’s a place where dreams are formed, but so few of them come to fruition.

The ballfield is closed in with cyclone fencing that has rust spots throughout its length and on all sides. It forms a cone around the field. The dugouts are to the left and right of where a cracked home plate is forever embedded into the ground. Each dugout holds a wooden bench, which at one time had been smooth wood painted blue, but now is bare of any paint and splintered throughout its length. The outside of the dugout is nothing more than painted plywood that has warped over the years, Mother Nature having done a number on the untreated lumber.

An opening where a gate should have been at the dugout’s entrance leads to the field, which had once been taken good care of. Now, after the unusually wet fall and early winter, the infield is an orange clay mud pit. The bases, which were never soft to begin with, are hard as rock. Stepping on one of those the wrong way could lead to a broken ankle or worse. Yes, there are worse things than a broken ankle.

The outfield grass had long since encroached upon the infield, covering the base path with what amounts to thick patches of moss. The outfield, itself, is deep to center and left, but shallow out to the right. The outfield fence stands eight feet high, a black rubber pad along the top having begun to crumble beneath Mother Nature’s watchful eye—yes, Mother Nature and her vengeful eye had her way with that part of the field as well. There’s a gate in left center. One would assume it was there to make it easy to retrieve balls hit out of the park. Or maybe it was a shortcut to a neighborhood that once existed nearby.

Beyond the ballpark is a football field, minus the goal posts, and a basketball court with no goals and a cracked concrete surface. Like the prison and the playground, none of those things matter. Neither does the wooden bleachers on either side of the baseball field or the concession stand with its boarded windows that is near a dirt road that leads to the parking lot.

Pay attention here. You can’t see this, and even if you can, just listen.

That’s the sound of young boys and girls on the field, playing baseball or softball. It doesn’t matter which. You can hear them screaming from the dugouts, we need a pitcher, not a belly itcher. That’s the sound of a wooden bat on the rawhide of a baseball, a thwack that is distinct and easily recognized.

Keep listening. A young boy just called out, ‘I got it,’ or ‘mine, mine,’ the universal language for I’ll catch it. Someone calls the out. One. Two. Three. Change sides. Batters head to the field. Fielders head to the dugouts.

Still, listen. Is that the sound of a ball slapping a mitt? Is that a called strike? Maybe it was a ball, just a little off the plate.

Strike three, you’re out!

Ball four, son, take your base.

In this impoverished area where stomach grumble after a meal of half a bowl of rice and no water to wash it down, where shoes so tight feet are cramped and blistered and damaged for life, where gloves are stitched together with shoe laces or wire or maybe there’s no gloves at all, but a milk carton tied to a hand to protect the palms from the sting of a hot shot from a bat; yeah, in this place the game—the dream—is the escape. And it’s the dream that often goes unrealized once life invades and washes away the innocence.

But if you listen carefully you can hear the game being played by those young boys (and girls, let’s not forget them). Close your eyes and listen.

Just listen. Open your mind. Open your heart. Listen.

And when you do open your eyes, look to the field, to its dilapidated dugouts and mud caked field. And what do you see? Yeah, there’s a little boy—the same one who earlier had been swinging on the playground dreaming of some place besides there. He stands on the pitcher’s mound, the rubber long gone. He is slightly hunched over, one hand behind his back, an imaginary ball spinning with the movement of his fingers. He stares in at a batter who is only there in his mind.

He straightens. Both hands come out in front of him, coming together in front of his chest as if he is in prayer (and he just may be).

His arm goes back.

His front leg kicks out in front of him.

And he fires the ball toward home plate…

Thank you for reading, and until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

A Bit of Nostalgia

Posted: December 26, 2010 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

So Christmas has come and gone and left its mark on the world. Gifts were given, Christmas shows were watched, food was eaten, people were visited and… to be honest, I’m glad it’s over. I’ve never been a big fan of the Christmas season, but I try to be cheerful and I try to get into the Christmas spirit…

But, really, sometimes it’s just hard to… Then other times it’s not so tough… I’m not sure which one it was this year, maybe an in between?

For those out there, I hope you all had a great Christmas.

And Ma Nature was only a day late for us. We almost had a white Christmas. But, she gave it to us on Boxing Day so, I guess that means we have a white Boxing Day instead. This means I have excited children, even if the snow is only sticking on the grass in the front and melting in the back—yeah, I know, it’s weird.

This post is not about Christmas though. It’s about Baseball. No, not professional baseball, but baseball in its purest form: little league, tee ball, coach’s pitch… yeah that baseball. Wow, I just used the word baseball four times… oops, now five times in one paragraph. Oh well. Baseball…

On Christmas Eve my wife and daughter did the annual women’s shopping that her family always does. In the meantime, that left the boy and me together. We ate at Arby’s and then played Star Wars. Guess who won? I can give you a hint: it wasn’t me. After that we went to the park, played chase.

Ohh, let me tell you what that stinker did. He fell down while I was chasing him. When I caught up to him he was on the ground and I was about to attack him (because that’s what monsters do, yah know) and he cries out:

Logan: Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Me: Are you okay?
Logan: I hurt my leg. I hurt my leg.
I helped him up and brushed his pants off.
Me: Which leg did you hurt?
Logan, as he runs away: hahahahaha… stinker…

Yes, he tricked me, much like his mother does.

We left that park and went to the baseball park where my son hopped on his scooter and rode around the ball fields. As he did this, I walked onto the first field, looked out over the red clay infield and the once green but now brown grass. The bases were still in place. Lying between second and third just on the outfield grass was a baseball. I walked onto the field, picked the ball up and gripped it tight. I rolled it over on my palm, ran my fingers along the strings, rubbed the ball, wiping away any wetness that may have still been on it from the rains a few days earlier.

Being a writer, my mind began to roam. I stepped off the field and back through the dugout. My son was doing ‘tricks’ with his scooter and I watched him, a smile on my face. When he raced off, I followed, passing the concessions stand in the center of the complex. By then baseball was entrenched in my mind.

I love baseball. Understand this, I’m no longer a fan of pro baseball—PED’s and money hungry players and agents, cheaters and teams trying to stack the tables so they can win. I’ve lost a lot of respect for the professionals—it’s a game and they’ve lost sight of that. I love the little leagues, when the kids are still kids and enjoy playing (if not practicing) the game.

I love the smell of fresh cut grass, the sound of the ping of bat on ball, the kids cheering for each other and making calls at the other teams: We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher and other sayings that really make no sense at all. I love the tastes of hot dogs and chili fries and nachos with cheese. I love the sound of parents cheering and boys laughing. I love coaches who want to teach (not so much the coaches who only want to win) and kids who want to learn. I love pre-game batting practices and getting to the ballpark just a little early. I love when the lights come on, bathing the world in a white glow that centers on the diamond. I love when the children play the game and it’s still about having fun.

That is the baseball I love.

As I watched my son, I recalled the two seasons of Tee Ball that he played and how much fun it was, not just to watch him and the other kids playing, but helping coach the teams.

It took me back to when I was a kid. I wasn’t a very good hitter, but I was an okay fielder. I would have never made baseball a career—definitely never was good enough to do so. However, I miss the feel of playing, the anticipation of stepping onto the field, of how it felt to catch a ball and throw it to first base, to swing and miss or, if I was lucky, make contact. Boy, I miss those days…

If you have children or even if you don’t, go out to the ball field one day, listen to the sounds, watch the joy in those wondrous faces. If you’ve never loved baseball before that, you will by the time you leave…

For now I’m AJ and I have children who want to go outside and play in the spotty snow…