My Last Game of Baseball

Getting to work for the three-to-eleven evening shift is a royal pain. The expressway downtown from the suburbs is perpetually jammed with traffic in the afternoon, especially in the summer months. Every year during the warm season, the city feels it necessary to overindulge on road construction and close down the expressway to one lane. I always expect to crawl to work during the summer, so I’m forced to seek alternate routes along the back roads that interweave back and forth underneath and over the expressway. Honestly, it only cuts down the time to the job by a half hour at the most, but I can’t stand sitting still on the highway. I’d rather jam red-hot slivers of steel in my eyeballs than spend an hour crawling behind a toxic-spewing semi-trailer. It might not be so bad if my hot-box of an automobile had an air-conditioner that worked, but a cool and comfortable driving experience is a luxury someone on my salary can’t afford.

I’ve been taking a route that starts out a half-mile south of the expressway, but the city felt that this particular back road also needs a touchup, so they closed it today. Never mind that there is no evidence of cracks or potholes to be found. Hell, they just repaved the road not two years ago. Nevertheless, a wall of orange and white construction signs greets me to let me know I will need to find a new road to work this day. I glare ominously at the barricade before obediently following the detour back in the direction I came. The blinking orbs atop the signs seem to mock my impatience with each repetitive wink.

There’s really only one way left to go other than the expressway and I’ve been avoiding taking that road for most of my adult life. As I drive underneath the expressway, I gaze upward and spot over thirty trucks standing still among a mess of cars, all impatiently waiting to move a foot at a time for the next couple of hours. I mutter a few nonsensical curses under my breath as I pass by the highway exit. Today is going to be the day.

I have been down this road a few times while riding with others. Oft times, I can talk drivers out of going this way with a quick excuse like ‘There’s an easier way’ or ‘I think that road is closed.’ When I am forced to traverse this route, I make a point of looking in the other direction whenever we pass the site that unnerves me so much. Most of the time, I can make it by the spot without too much effort. Sometimes, though, I find myself having to blink my eyes quickly to extinguish a few vaporous tears that work their way up.

I have to do this today. I can’t ignore him anymore. I’ve kept his property in my trunk for years for the day when I finally confront him. He needs it back. I need to give it to him. Today is that day.

I realize I’m going to be late if I follow where my soul is tugging me, but there are more important things in life than losing a few precious minutes off your pay check. I haven’t stood on that soil for many years. I have always wanted to return to visit him while simultaneously dreading a stopover. It’s always a frustrating emotion, which is why I tend to find other ways to go. If he’s out of my sight, he’s also out of my mind. Today as I drive closer to his abode, he’s shoved his way through a mess of worries and musings into the first and foremost position of my thoughts.

I’m going to be late for work. My supervisor’s going to call me into the office and bitch up a storm. I’m usually punctual despite the fact that I live fifty miles away from the plant, but my supervisor relishes raising his voice and seldom passes up the opportunity to dress one of his employees down. I pull into the curved driveway and erase the image of a heated exchange with my boss from my mind. I can’t put this off any longer.

I park my car underneath the shaded canopy of a tree so my seats won’t scorch my backside when I return. The car’s navy-blue vinyl seats retain heat from direct sunlight better than solar panels. I turn down the radio which is blaring out a Sammy Hagar tune. I look around to see if anyone else has chosen to walk the grounds of the beautiful plot of land. Nobody seems to be around this particular park, even though the flowers are blooming at their dazzling zenith and the grass is a brilliant shade of emerald.

I exit the car on shaky legs. I stand outside my vehicle for a moment and contemplate what I’m doing. I take a deep breath and walk to the rear of my car. I pop the trunk and dig out the object from underneath a large pile of empty oil containers and dirty rags.
I’ve always wondered if finding him would be a problem when I returned, but it takes little effort to locate his whereabouts. The last memory I have of being in his presence will never be expunged. My trembling steps lead me straight and true, directly to the spot where my brother now rests peacefully underground.

– – – – –

I sit at the end of the bench with my face buried in my hands, ashamed. I had struck out. Tears mix with dirt and create dark, patterned smears in my palms. I blink several times to clear my vision and cool the hotness that has developed in my eye sockets. The tears that run down my cheeks instead of into my hands momentarily chill the heated surface before evaporating from the regenerating warmth. I had swung on three consecutive fast balls and missed them all.

I wipe my hands down the front of my jersey furiously, trying to wipe away the failure off my body along with the grime. I briefly look back into the palms of my hands and spot dark deposits of dirt etched in the crevices. I realize there is no way to completely wipe it away and clench both hands into tight quivering fists. I bring my fists down hard at my sides and punch the hell out of the splintery wooden bench. The pain that runs up my arms does little to erase the dull ache in my chest.

The bodies at the other end of the bench squirm nervously at the contact of my fists connecting with the wooden plank. They don’t know how to react and continue to edge closer to each other toward the opposite end from where I sit, creating a wide gap that singles me out from the rest of the team. None of the other players dare to look at me. Even the coach has chosen to ignore me. He stands near the outside of the fenced cage leaning against the post at the entrance to the dugout. He fidgets nervously pretending to show interest in the game while wondering if he should speak to me.

My neighbor probably told him. I spotted her in the bleachers earlier. She probably told everybody.

I feel the concerned glares of the other kids’ parents from their perch in the bleachers boring into the back of my skull. I had tossed my cap into the dirt angrily upon returning to the dugout. I reach down and yank the baseball hat down on my head as if the meshed fabric might deflect some of the stares. It doesn’t work as the looks continue to penetrate deeply and noticeably.

I look down at what I had brought specifically for this game. I had tossed it right along with my cap after striking out, and it rested now at my feet. I lean down, pick it up, and rest the baseball bat gently across my knees. I examine the wood for cracks and gingerly brush the dust from its surface. Fresh tears boil up and overflow outward, and I clutch the bat desperately. I hug the bat tightly as if someone has threatened to take it away from me forever.

My coach scratches me from the lineup when we get to the next inning. I sit at the end of the bench for the rest of the game gripping my baseball bat. I roll the bat in my hands feeling the cool smoothness of the perfect wooden surface. I ignore the game on the field just as everyone around me forgets my presence. I sit in a universe far removed from the fun and gaiety of a childhood game.

After that last strikeout, I never play another game of little league baseball.

– – – – –

The screeching of the tires at my back makes me pause momentarily as I walk down the sidewalk in front of my house on a warm, sunny morning. The heavy crash of metal makes me spin right around to see where the offending noise came from. A car had smashed headfirst into my neighbor’s tree interrupting the tranquility of summer. In my eight years of existence, the only car crashes I had seen were the ones I had watched on TV. I stare wide-eyed at the scene as a frightening realization seizes me. Car crashes can happen in real life.

The front of the car had plunged itself into the trunk of the tree located mere feet from the curb of the quiet neighborhood street. The car now looks like a giant bug, wrapping its mandibles around the thick hunk of wood to gnaw at the tasty bark. The hood of the car has been forced open and stands straight up, exposing the ugly innards of the car’s engine. A wisp of smoke floats out of the motor and softly rises on a weak gust of summer air. The thin strand dissipates only a few feet above the compacted car.

A few feet in front of the wreck lies the body of a small child.

A scream issues from the backyard of my home. I recognize the voice as belonging to my mother, though I had never heard such terror issue from her before. My feet seem like they’re planted deep in the cement of the sidewalk. I spy my mother galloping towards the site of the crash and see her hurdle a low-lying fence to get there. I note to myself that my mother is more athletic than I give her credit for as she dives at the still body in front of the vehicle. She clutches the body and rocks slowly back and forth, wailing like my friend’s ornery old hound dog.

I remove my feet from the cement clutches of the sidewalk and proceed forth to investigate. Slowly I walk towards the crash, never removing my eyes from my mother’s screaming and rocking. I reach a point several feet in front of my mother as she embraces the child’s body. She doesn’t seem to notice me and her excessive howling prevents me from addressing her. I look upon the child’s body and notice a large amount of blood flowing over the face, obscuring the features of the fragile boy. I never have seen so much blood, even on the scary movies my father liked. I liked to sneak a peek from the hallway at those movies when I was supposed to be in bed. My mother would kill me if she knew I had seen all of that fake gore. The blood that masks this poor boy, however, has a crimson sheen that looks far different from the sanguine scenes of the horror films. His formerly white T-shirt is soaked with it. It looks so real.

I do not recognize the boy for whom my mother mourns so loudly.

– – – – –

I show up for the game and proceed to the batter’s circle outside the dugout with my precious bat in hand. The other players engage in a hearty game of catch to warm up, but I’m not interested in practicing that aspect of the game. I just want to get up to the plate and crush the ball.

I stand in the white painted circle and rest my bat on the shoulder. I envision an imaginary pitcher tossing me some fastballs and take vigorous cuts at each one. I connect with all of those imaginary pitches and drive them to every part of the field. Eventually, I really start making contact and drive a few of the ghost balls out of the park. I had never hit a homerun before in a game, but I have come close. I know today will be the day I drive one out. It has to be today.

I continue to hit balls from my make-believe pitcher when one of my teammates comes close and offers a greeting. I don’t answer him and continue to swing at a murderous pace. My coach notices the well-intentioned boy and quickly shuffles him back into the dugout. I pause from my practice, slightly panting from the exertion I’ve placed into my swings. He whispers something in the boy’s ear. They both look at me with pity, then walk towards the other members of the team to leave me alone to my frantic swinging. I gulp a fresh supply of cool summer air and continue batting practice.

I hit the next fastball from the nonexistent pitcher directly out over the center field fence.

I notice out of the corner of my eye that the coach has gathered all of the players in a circle into which I am apparently not invited.

I crack another offering out of the park. I imagine it careen off the scoreboard in right field.

From the circle, several of my teammates let out a hushed yelp of incredibility simultaneously. A few of them turn to look at me just as I crack my third homerun in as many tries.

I am going to kill the ball today. I’ll do it with my brother’s bat. Then when he comes home, I’ll be able to give it back to him so he can do it himself.

– – – – –

After witnessing the crash and the scene with my mother, I depart and return home. I swing open the front door and hear my youngest brother crying from his playpen. I lean over the playpen and pick the baby up. Numbed by the events of the morning, I reflexively pat his back several times to ease him out of his wailing. After he stops, I place him back into the pen. He smiles up at me, happy to see a familiar face. I don’t really feel like smiling at this moment, but I manage to give him a half-hearted effort.

The boy with the blood all over him stays in my mind’s eye like a freeze frame. I’m half-tempted to run back out there just to confirm what I had seen, but I don’t want to leave my baby brother alone in the house. I know my mother sometimes goes in the backyard to hang laundry if he’s sleeping, but apparently he woke up before she could finish. Now my mother is busy holding a hurt boy outside.

I’m still disturbed by my mother’s outburst. I don’t understand why she would be so horrified by the accident. I don’t know why she would be so moved by the harm caused to a strange boy. Maybe there is something I missed.

A hysterical face suddenly appears at the screen door shouting my name. I recognize one of the neighbors peering through the mesh as she screams some gibberish that I don’t understand right away. I stare at her without saying anything before she slows down her question to a more intelligible level.

She asks me the name of my brother who was hit.

I keep staring at her, wondering what the heck she’s talking about. At the quizzical look on my face, my neighbor appears startled. She places a hand over her mouth, mutters an apology, and runs back through the front yard toward where the wrecked car, my mother, and her injured boy lie.

I look back at my baby brother, stunned. Despite his infantile naivety, he senses something is amiss. He smiles very widely at me in an effort to cheer me up.

I begin to put the pieces together in my head, but I refuse to believe the invading notion that enters my thoughts. I will not believe it until someone tells me that my brother was the bloody boy my mother was holding.

– – – – –

I sit alone on my neighbor’s couch and watch one of the afternoon soap operas on their TV. I don’t really watch what the characters are doing or saying so much. I just lose myself in the motions of the visual representations, allowing the images to hypnotize me. The voices that emit from the device mesh together and fill my ears with blabbering nonsense. My mother despises these shows. She’d probably be appalled to find me sitting in front of one. I consider asking the matriarch of the household to turn the channel for me for a moment. Instead, I elect to remain prone in my vegetative state and stare at the boring romantic plot.

After my brother was loaded into an ambulance, I was shipped over to my neighbors to await the news of whether he would live or die. Unfortunately, these very neighbors own the yard in which the accident happened. From the large picture window situated in their living room, I can see a bustle of activity from police officers and rubber-neckers. I twist on the couch so that my back is to the window and I don’t have to watch any more mayhem.
My mother went with my brother on the ambulance. My father works a job where he is constantly on the road, so she is alone in this ordeal. I’m not old enough to provide the support my mother needs and I silently curse myself for it while watching TV on that musty old couch.

My baby brother was sent with an aunt who had come as quickly as she could. They asked me if I wanted to go with my aunt as well, but I chose to stay here. I had asked every adult I could if my brother was dead. None of them would tell me. I assume that means that he’s not. I figure I’ll stick around until someone returns to tell me he’s going to be OK. Besides, I have a baseball game this afternoon.

I love to play baseball. I remember one time I had dressed in my uniform before dinner because I was so excited to play that day. I had sat at the table and hurriedly started shoveling food down my gullet so we could hurry up and get to the game. My mother had noticed my uniform. She informed me that my coach had called and told her the game had been postponed. Not knowing what a postponement was, I stared blankly at my mother. She explained that meant that I wasn’t going to play that night. I stopped eating and started crying right there at the table.

That night at the dinner table, my brother laughed at me while I cried.

The neighbor boy who lives in this house enters the front door and asks what is going on. He is five years older than me and often picks on the littler kids, myself included. I inform him that my brother was hit by a car without taking my eyes from the television set. He stands there for a moment, then enters the kitchen to confer with his mother. I ignore what they’re saying and concentrate on the impending game.

I want to play tonight. I know if I play, my brother will live. Hell, if he knows that I do well, he might want to play too. I want to play one game of little league with my brother. I know he’d have fun if he’d just try it.

Growing impatient, I walk into the kitchen and ask the neighbor mother if she will take me to the game. Her son runs and hides upstairs while his mother fumbles for an answer. She tells me that it’s probably not a good idea. Instead of pleading with her, I nod my head and return to the living room.

I stand by the couch for a moment, but I don’t sit down. When I’m sure that my neighbor will stay in the kitchen, I sneak out the front door and return to my home. As if I were being followed, I run into the bathroom and slam the door behind me. All of my stuff was right where I had left it this morning. I garb myself in my uniform, shove my cup into my jockstrap, and grab my mitt. Before I leave, I enter the room I share with my brother to retrieve the bat I had given to him in the hopes that he would play with me. I close my eyes as I grab it and promise to hit a homerun for him with that bat.

I exit the house as policemen continue to mull about my neighbor’s front yard. I begin walking towards the baseball fields.

– – – – –

I stand over my baby brother’s playpen and ask him what happened. I ask him out loud if that was our brother out there. I ask him if all of that blood had hidden the features of a boy I was supposed to know better than anyone else. I ask him if it is possible not to know my own brother when he is sitting mere feet in front of my eyes.

My baby brother gurgles a little bit. I kneel down and wipe the spit from the corner of his mouth. I do this without even realizing that my body is performing it. My mind is not in control of its actions.

I rise from the playpen and see my mother outside our front window. She is being escorted back to the house with a neighbor on each side of her. I burst out the front door and run straight towards her as she walks up the front sidewalk.

She kneels quickly and envelops me in her arms. I cry and wail with every fiber of my body. I do this so quickly and violently that it shocks my mind that my body could react so quickly to the confirmation of a suspicion. It is as if my body had reacted to the realization before my mind could accept it. As my mother held me and I cried harder than I ever had in my life, my mind finally did accept the truth. No one had to tell me.

My brother was the bloody boy who had been hit by that car.

– – – – –

I often talked with my brother at night before going to sleep. We had bunk beds, and I was on top while he took the bottom. In the dark of night, we conversed easily without the comfort of being able to see each other. Tonight, I want to know why he doesn’t play baseball.

He tells me he just doesn’t want to play.

I tell him that our Dad likes baseball. So does our Grandpa.

He tells me he’d rather ride bikes.

I tell him that I’d like to play with him.

He tells me that he likes to play catch with me, but he doesn’t want to play real baseball.

I tell him he can be the pitcher and I can be the catcher since that’s what I played anyway.

He tells me that he doesn’t want to play in little league.

I tell him he can have my bat if he plays.

He tells me he doesn’t know. But he thanks me for the bat.

I fall asleep that night, thinking about what it would be like to play a game with my brother.

– – – – –

As I stand before my brother’s gravestone in this picturesque cemetery, the memories rush over me in the short span of a split second. It only took a glance at the name engraved in the granite face to bring it all back. I wanted to talk with my brother to catch him up on all of the things that had happened in my life since his death. I don’t get the chance as sobs choke out any words I could hope to form. He probably knows about my life anyway. I close my eyes and pray that he’s been by my side through the good and the bad.

I stand for a moment before his grave and continue to cry. I cry as hard as I did that time long ago when I ran to my mother’s arms. I glance toward the road and wonder if any of the drivers of the speeding cars notice my outburst. It really doesn’t matter if they do or not. I couldn’t stop crying if I wanted to.

I clutch my brother’s baseball bat in my hands and roll it around in my palms. The surface is still smooth, still perfect. I kneel before my brother’s gravestone and place the bat on the ground before him. I rise and begin walking back towards the car.

I just wanted to play one game of baseball with my brother.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

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