There was a time—before I ruined my eyes with reading—when I could hit a baseball. I was not overly talented, but I hit so much batting practice at Thorpe Park with my father that I could turn over my wrists on a fastball. I was mostly a free and stupid swinger. When I connected, hitting those few homeruns, I felt a rush of pleasure unlike anything else I know. I still feel it.
Thorpe is a buggy park with a hill, a hockey rink, two tennis courts, a set of splintering teeter-totters, and a pond with a fountain that moves the water all summer long so it does not turn to pure scum. Even before the age of HD TV and the internet, we usually had the field to ourselves. Eschewing a glove, my father threw from a bag of baseballs, his bad arm dangling beside him. He didn’t throw that hard, though occasionally he would zip one in to show me he still could. He had a bag of maybe twenty or thirty baseballs, some brand new, some coming apart at the seams. The more the better. When he’d thrown them all, we’d walk around the field, mostly right field, because I was a lefty, and pick them up. Often the grass was tall or it was getting dark, and I’d grow impatient with our search. My father hated to lose a ball. He was cheap. I found this gathering part tedious, wishing we had a servant to pick them up or that we might train the dog to do it. We didn’t talk. I moped around in a cloud of biting gnats, feeling lethargic and wishing I were with my friends in some air conditioned basement playing video games. I was not grateful, not until much older, for the attention my father gave me. Obviously it was his chance to be a baseball player.
We’d usually go through about three bags before I was sick of it or his arm got tired or it got dark. Then we’d drive to Kenny’s Market and get cans of pop. Entering the cool air conditioned store and choosing from the long rows of pop was my favorite part. Kenny’s Market is a hair salon now.
My father lost control sometimes, and one Saturday afternoon, one of those wide-open summer days, so bright and heat-blurred you could not even look at a tree without going blind, he was especially wild and hit me for the second time with a pitch. I made a fuss. Ten years old, I was also hitting poorly that day and felt bored with the routine. I threw down the bat and walked off, declaring I was done. With tears in my eyes, I exaggerated the pain. He felt bad. We all have days when our control is off, when we can’t throw or hit or say what we mean. This is the crux of the game. It’s why people bet on it. It’s why they go to games and believe any team can win.
I wanted to go home, I told my father. He promised to pay me five dollars if he hit me again.
You know what happens next. My father inevitably throws a wild pitch and hits me again, probably in the neck or back. I go nuts. I throw the bat. I scream and cry, and he chases me around the infield with a five dollar bill in his hand. “I’m sorry,” he says.
“I don’t want it,” I sob, fleeing from him, but I took the money.
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