by Frank Morelli
It’s your typical summer Sunday. So goddamn hot your spikes leave blunt impressions on the asphalt as you scuffle through the parking lot.
The space between two worlds.
On one side, your four-door sedan loaded down with safety seats and safety locks and safety ratings.
On the other, a ballfield.
Nothing spectacular. Nothing covered in ivy or leveled flat by a field crew. Just four bases set in a diamond and a weathered, green fence with more graffiti on it than wood grain.
The place you set your spikes in the box and tune out the world.
It’s your office.
The place you set your spikes in the box and tune out the world. Where you spit all the safety features on the freshly-mowed grass like a wad of tobacco and get down to the only job you ever wanted:
To be a ballplayer.
Doesn’t matter that Tom Simpson’s kids are building a Lego starship as he mans leftfield, or that Jack Valenti’s wife is grilling brats behind the first baseline. For a few hours on Sunday, you play baseball.
And it matters.
It matters that you stare the pitcher down long and hard when you lead off the first, and that you’re sure the greybeard on the mound will uncork a first-pitch heater because it’s all he’s got after throwing 400 pitches last weekend.
And it matters that you notice the league treasurer playing a country mile off the line, and that you rip a hard chopper right at him and watch it kick off the bag into the hinterlands of leftfield.
It matters that you ignore the stop sign at first base and chug for second no matter how much you know it’ll affect the old hammies when you’re rotting away in your cube all week.
And it matters that you dive head-first into second, suck in a mouthful of dust, and pop straight up to clear the pebbles from your belt buckle.
All of it.
Even when you notice Billy Johnson’s toddlers splashing around in their inflatable pool behind the backstop as you approach the plate for at-bat number two.
That’s when it matters the most.
When the game has grown stale and the sun glows like a fireball over old greybeard’s throwing shoulder. When you have to foul off pitches and fight to stay alive, and all you have left is a half-swing liner that somehow drops behind the first baseman.
And you’re standing on first because it matters.
In a tie game it matters a heckuva lot.
And it matters later on, as the innings ooze away with the asphalt and you step to the plate for the third time that day. And you know there’s two outs and there’s nobody on and your team’s down by one and it’s getting late early.
That’s when shit really matters.
And you call time-out and dig around the box until it matches the imprint of your back foot. And you lean a little on your leg and grind your molars together, and you swing. And you watch the ball form that tiny dot on the sun—the eclipse—as it clears the centerfield wall.
You coast around all four and you have their attention. No more legos. No more bratwurst or swimming pools. Nothing but faces pressed against chain link fencing.
And that matters, because now you start thinking.
You add up your at-bats and you look at your teammates huddled on the far side of the bench. And they don’t want a thing to do with you. Because they know that you know what’s happening: you’re one hit away from the unthinkable, and the triple—the dreaded triple—is all that can stop you.
And no one wants to say it out loud, because that matters too.
You be a ballplayer.
So you take the longest walk of your life, from the dugout to the plate, for your last at-bat. For your only chance to be a legend. To complete the ultimate offensive feat in a tie game, in the last inning, with one of your teammates bouncing off third base.
And all you need is that triple.
It’s the only thing that matters.
Not the scorching sun overhead or the faces pressed against fences or how everything on the ballfield is suspended on your every movement as you duck into the box. Not the coming work week or your family obligations. There’s nothing else.
But the triple.
Then greybeard goes into his motion and fires his best pitch: the old number one. And you do the only thing in the moment that matters:
You be a ballplayer.
You pivot your front foot to the back of the box, and you slide your top hand up the handle of the bat, and you watch old greybeard and the league treasurer and the wobbly first baseman mouth the same word in unison.
And you’re quite sure it’s “Fuuuuuccck!”
And you smile because your teammate’s halfway down the third baseline, and you’ve already dropped a perfect bunt in fair territory, and you know you’ve just done the best damn job you could have done that day.
In your office.
The one that matters.
You see, the trouble with triples is they’re like unicorns. You’re rarely gonna see one, and anyone who tells you they have is a little bit nuttier than a box of Cracker Jacks.
So you do the things that matter.
You sling the musty military bag full of team bats over your shoulder and you cross the parking lot. You step on the grass and fade into the drumbeat of baseball.
And no matter what happens, you be a ballplayer.
FRANK MORELLI is the author of the young adult novel, No Sad Songs, a 2019 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominee and winner of an American Fiction Award for best coming-of-age story. His fiction and essays have appeared in various publications including The Saturday Evening Post, Cobalt Review, Philadelphia Stories, and Jersey Devil Press. You can connect with him on Twitter @frankmoewriter or on his author site.