Thanksgiving day, early afternoon, and I wasn’t happy. Leaning against the Harmon Park backstop, staring at the infield: it was nothing but half-thawed mud. Ice glittered in the depressions at the batters’ box. I felt abused. “I knew it. We can’t play here.”
Behind me, Dad came up with John. “You boys want to sit at home, and let the weather get you down? Let’s work up an appetite for dinner.”
John said, “We’ll get dirty playing here.”
Despite my own angst, I smiled when Dad shook his head in disdain. He turned, motioned with the hand holding two balls for us to follow him, then led us behind the fence out into right field. He stopped on the foul line and pointed the bat in his other hand toward the outfield. “Go on out there. Time to exercise. I’ll hit you some flies.”
John and I trudged with dramatic reluctance through the grass into centerfield. When I figured we were far enough, I turned around to face him.
“Yeah,” John yelled back.
I put my glove on, not about to give up a good sulk, not after leaving an excellent book on the cozy chair by the fireplace to come here, not with a big football game on television. Damn. Already my toes were damp.
Dad tossed a ball up above his head, grabbed the bat with both hands and swung effortlessly. “Crack!” The ball rose directly between John and me. I ran back but the ball landed 20 feet away.
“Move it!” Dad yelled. “Get some life out there!”
I picked up the ball, turned, and “Crack!” here came the other, right at me. I didn’t even move, just lifted my glove and caught it. I half-heartedly threw one ball, then the other back, but nothing was rolling today. Even though the outfield felt firm underfoot, the ground was wet under the grass, and the grass was thick and tall. It hadn’t been mown since season’s end, three months ago.
In spite of an impulse to go in and get the balls for Dad, I didn’t. He could get some exercise, too. Dad walked a third of the way out to us, picked them up, went back to the foul line, turned around and yelled, “Get the balls to me.” I was glad he didn’t sound mad.
He hit the next one to John, then to me, and we threw the balls back harder. The throws came easier as we warmed up. Our legs loosened up, too, as Dad hit the balls farther to our sides. We ran and felt good doing it. The balls were getting wet, but so what?
“Now call it!” Dad yelled, and hit a short one.
“Mine!” John yelled, running forward. He caught the pop up and threw it back.
Dad deliberately hit the balls between us and ahead of us so we were running to the ball and back into position. A rhythm developed. We took probably 20 hits each that way.
“Over our heads!” I yelled. “We need practice going back.”
Dad put them just over our heads at first, then farther so we had to turn at the crack of the bat to reach them in the air. That spread John and me farther apart, and Dad hit into the gaps between us, to our sides and before us. We called for the balls as we ran, often catching what looked uncatchable. “I didn’t think I could get that one,” I yelled one time.
Dad said, “Never give up on a ball. You don’t know what you can do until you try.”
He hit them as fast as we threw them back. Our aim was to throw the balls back so they stopped at Dad’s feet or bounced up so he could catch them barehanded.
The sun came out as we played. Everything looked better in sunlight. Eventually, though, the glare was low enough to blind John and me if we looked in that direction. By that time, Dad’s hits were shorter and softer. He accidentally hit several grounders as if the bat were too heavy to handle. We ran up and threw them back quickly, afraid Dad would quit if we didn’t. My feet were soaked, and the balls were, too, and both were mud- and grass-stained. But we’d take whatever he’d hit us as long as he’d do it.
John and I both ran forward to get a grounder that ended up just 50 feet from Dad, and he waved for us to keep coming in. “You boys worked up an appetite?”
“I’m hungry,” John said.
“Me, too,” I said.
“Then let’s head home. By the time we get cleaned up, it’ll be time to eat.”
“Are Joan and Frank and the kids coming?” I said.
He nodded. “Besides turkey, we’re having a duck Frank shot last week. And a rabbit. A little bit of each to get a taste of the wild.”
I carried the balls in my gloved hand, John carried the bat, and Dad walked between us with his arms over our shoulders. The three of us sat together in the front seat of the car, John in the middle.
As the motor cranked up, I think I said, “Thanks, Dad.”
I hope I did.
about the author
Bill Vernon’s poems, short stories and non-fiction have appeared in four poetry chapbooks, anthologies and journals, such as APPALACHIAN STORY, HIPPOCAMPUS REVIEW, YANKEE, ALBANY REVIEW, CINCINNATI REVIEW, BLUE UNICORN, THE ARCHER, GRASSLANDS REVIEW, POETRY OHIO: SPECIAL ISSUE OF THE CORNFIELD REVIEW, THE RUNNER, HEMLOCKS AND BALSAMS, and PASSAGES NORTH. Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005.