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Baseball in Another Era

     I didn’t ride the trolley to my baseball field. I skipped down the sidewalk, drenched in mosquito repellant, an old leather glove in my hand, and headed to the vacant field by the pond. Crossing from the end of the crumbling blacktop sidewalk toward the field, I stepped carefully through tall grass, Queen Anne’s Lace and puff-headed dandelions, and – I found one! A tiny strawberry nestled close against the ground, encircled by fuzzy green leaves.

     If I was lucky, there’d be three more strawberries tucked under those leaves. So tiny.  So sweet. I savored it on my tongue, then on to the diamond, a well-worn path through twelve-inch tall weeds, to wait for the others to get there.

     Whose team would I be on tonight? Here come Susie and Bobby - and Jane and Ellen. Soon everyone’s here and it’s time to choose captains. We choose Dana for the Blue Team and Jane for the Red Team, and they call out our names one by one until there’s no one left. Someone tosses Dana the bat and he and Jane go hand over hand, until they get to the heel of the bat. Jane’s stubby pink fist gets there first and the Red Team’s up.

     Who wants to play first? Everyone, but Ellen gets there first. Bobby runs to third and I head out to left field. Quiet out there, unless a fly ball comes my way, and then I have to be careful not to back up too far, or I’ll end up in the pond.

     The game always ends with someone’s mother calling from a distance, “Time to come in!” We all blame everyone else’s mother for breaking up our game, even tho’ it’s dark by now and the mosquitoes are out in full force and no one really knows whose mother it is.

     This one time – oh, I hate to even think about it - but this one time, I was the pitcher. I didn’t volunteer. I never pitched before and I’m left-handed. Two strikes against me right there.

     But here I was. Stubby lefthander standing on a clump of weeds in the middle of the diamond. Okay, I’ll do my best. Which wasn’t going to be easy, seeing as how I caught with my left hand and threw with my right so I was always switching the ball and my glove from one hand to the other.

     Dana was the first one up to bat. Oh, no... He is so-o-o-o popular. I’m going to be so-o-o-o embarrassed if I pitch awful. I’m going to pitch awful. I know it. But since there wasn’t much else I could do, I mustered up all my best pitching talents, went through an awkward wind-up and let loose with all I had.

     Hit him square on the left cheek. The face cheek. Oh did he get mad! Really really mad!

     I could have died. The most popular boy in the sixth grade class and I socked him square in the face with a baseball. Softball, actually. I swore I would never pitch again in my life.

     My face was as red as those strawberries in the field and I was about to go and apologize in spite of my quaking, shaking hands and then suddenly he got over it.

     “Don’t worry. It’s all right. I’m okay.” I mumbled something about being sorry and not meaning to hit him and…

     “Come on. Throw me a pitch. You can do it.”  So I did and the game went on and I don’t remember if my team won or lost that evening and several years later I moved with my family to San Diego, where I now root for the Padres no matter what they do because no matter what they do, they can’t match my inaugural appearance as pitcher for the Red Team in Orono, Maine, so many years ago.

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