Dreams of a Poor Child

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

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…