The crack of the bat rang out like a shot in the dark. The impact blistered my hands and raced up my arms. I burst from the batter’s box, letting the lumber fall to the ground. Beyond the leaping first baseman I saw an explosion of chalk against the worn, faded outfield grass as the small, white ball careened away from the charging right fielder, kicking off the wall just beyond the hungry arms of fans leaning down for a souvenir. A double for sure.
My foot pounded the soft inside corner of the bag, and I felt it shift a little as the rusted stake pinning it to the ground came loose. I kept my balance even as my cap flew free. It clung for a moment to my heel before tumbling to the parched ground. The moment stretched into eternity and I was vaguely aware of a man in a bowler hat gesturing angrily at me with the stub of his cigar. Must have bet on Cleveland.
Behind the third base bag, Stumpy’s arms were a windmill in a maelstrom, whirling with fury as he waved for me to come on. What was he doing?
I tried to coax a little more speed out of my burning legs. Leaning to the left as I rounded second, I fought to keep my momentum from swinging me too far out of the basepath. The roar of the crowd poured over me like a waterfall as I barrelled toward the bag.
“Get down! Get down!” Stumpy bounced on the balls of his feet and waved his palms toward the ground. “Leapfrogging an invisible midget,” I always called it.
I hurled myself face-first as far away from the third baseman, Jackson, as I could and still be in reach of the bag. Baked earth scoured my face and ripped buttons from my aging uniform. Maybe if I shredded it good this time, old man Segrist would actually spring for a new one. But I knew better than that. I tasted dirt and salty blood as my face bounced off the ground.
Hurtling past Jackson’s spiked shoe, an avalanche of dirty flesh, sweaty wool and unfulfilled promise, I reached out and grasped the corner of the bag in my left hand a split second before the glove, ball buried in the webbing, thumped me in the side of my head.
“Safe!” The umpire yelled, spreading his arms wide.
“Atta’ boy!” Stumpy shouted over the dueling groans and cheers. He offered a scarred hand and hauled me to my feet, the missing tip of his middle finger leaving a feeling of incompleteness on the back of my hand. His grin revealed a row of window shade teeth: Yellow with age and all raised to different heights. A stream of tobacco juice wended its way through the forest of stubble on his chin, dripping onto his chest and dotting the “i” in “Detroit” with a dirty brown smear.
I was numb with delight as I reveled in the excitement of my first hit in the big leagues. I absently brushed away the worst of the dirt from my chest as the glorious sound of my own name echoed through the stadium.
…Benjamin Wood! What are you doing? Get in here and wash up for dinner!” Mom didn’t stay at the window, doubtless having a neighbor on the phone, a talk show on television, and three different pots on the stove that would burn without her constant attention.
I stole one last, longing glance at the dented paint can that was home plate, the patch of bare earth that served third, and Stumpy, a stunted pin oak, before beginning my death march up the stairs.
Maybe tomorrow I’d score my first run.