A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Summers with Marc
by Karen Kenyon (Nov 2012)

The crowd is gathering. Parents are filtering in preparing to cheer for their team. The sky is clear with no chance of rain. The sun having baked the earth now concentrates on me. The umbrella I brought reflects the flesh burning rays of the sun, but it does nothing to ease the suffocating heat. Beads of sweat are forming and causing my clothes to cling.

As I sit here watching the boys warm up, parents setting up their chairs, and siblings running around, my thoughts go back to earlier years and the time spent helping to prepare Marc for this moment.

Marc was five years old. He wanted to play baseball. He was very excited the day his school sent home fliers announcing the opening of little league ball season. We rushed out at the appointed time, birth certificate in hand, and signed him up to play ball that summer.

It was easy when we first began. It was easy for me. Marc, like all five year olds, had to be taught to throw a ball, follow through, and above all else always keep his eyes on the ball.

Marc plays that first summer in a T-Ball League. The “T” consists of a stiff rubber hose about two inches wide and two feet long, standing straight up on a platform. The ball is then balanced on the top of that hose, which is the strike zone for five year olds. T-Ball does not have a pitcher throwing a ball, probably because if they did the ball would seldom (if ever) make it to the strike zone.

Do you have the picture of a ball sitting perfectly still on top of a rubber hose? In T-Ball you only get two strikes. I’m sure this has something to do with the stationary position of the ball, or maybe the fact that few five year olds connect the bat with ball. If by chance one hits the ball it takes forever to run the bases. That’s ok because five year olds throw the ball at about the same speed they run. T-Ball has a lot of strike outs and home runs.

Slowly through the years we progressed from T-Ball to Dixie Youth. Marc is eleven now and the ball is no longer sitting on that rubber hose. We now have pitchers who throw the ball.

Yes, Marc has grown up. My hands remember each practice along the way. The sting as the ball hits the glove, later ice packs for my red swollen hands. Thanks to Doug no more catching for me.

Doug is Marc’s friend. He lives up the street. They practice together, each taking his turn to bat, catch, or pitch the ball. Together they have progressed in baseball skills and along the way developed a special friendship. Each wants to be the best. Both are looking forward to the last game in which they will compete. You see, Doug and Marc are on separate teams.

Thank the Lord, I no longer have to catch. When Doug isn’t handy Marc now uses a screen put on a frame, tilted just right to bounce the ball back for him to catch. When I practice with him now it is not my hands I worry about. My whole body from head to toe is now the target I try to protect.

Let me explain. Someone with a high tolerance for pain thought up the intelligent idea of tying a rope through a baseball. I hold the end of the rope and swing it around with the ball about ten feet away at the other end. The ball makes a big circle around me.

Can you see me there? I am standing still swinging this baseball at the end of a rope. The ball gains momentum as I try to keep it level with Marc’s chest.

Marc stands outside the circle and hits the ball as it comes around. When that bat connects with that ball it changes direction. Did I say “changes direction”? Strike that. That ball immediately changes it’s course and no longer circles me.

Remember where the other end of the rope is? Yes, the rope is still in my hand. That ball goes as far as it can on ten feet of rope and then with a jerk comes straight at me. So now I’m playing dodge ball with a baseball on the end of a rope. I can tell you ice packs do not help where that ball lands and red is no longer the only color I turn.

Throughout the season we practiced and practiced. After all, wasn’t I the one who said “practice makes perfect”? What parent hasn’t used that tidbit of encouragement? It works for school, chores, music and almost anything you wish to try. I gave encouragement freely, unaware of the dangers I faced.

Practice after practice we made it through the summer. And yes, even I improved at dodging that ball. The season was drawing to a close. The last game was now the focus of our thoughts.

The coaches met on the field and tossed a coin to decide who will bat first. The last game is starting. Marc and Doug will compete.

The game is exciting and moves right along. Three up. Three out. A hit. A run. Marc’s team is leading by several runs.

The heat and humidity begin to show. Balls are missed. Boy’s faces are red and flushed. Their heads dripping with sweat. Their legs are tired and slow to respond, held back by damp clinging clothes. Boys are tired but still give their all.

The pitcher’s arm is giving out. Our lead of several runs is lost. The score is tied, one out, and the bases are loaded. This is the last inning and we have already been to bat.

The coach, wise man that he is, decides to change the pitcher on our team. I always admired this man, working with the boys the way he does. Right this minute, however, I suspect he may have heat stroke. Marc is called to pitch. Bases loaded, one out, scored tied. I move to the edge of my seat paralyzed with anticipation.

Marc looks confident and proud, because of all our practice no doubt. Does he realize the spot his is in? He cannot allow one hit, not one run, steal, or walk, or the game will be lost.

The batter comes into the box. He swings. He hits the ball. The ball goes straight at Marc’s head. I’m yelling “duck”, but Marc keeps his eyes on the ball. Now we have two outs.

The next batter moves into the box. Marc smiles at the batter and Doug smiles back. Still confident and calm, Marc winds up and delivers the ball. It is a perfect strike. Dough thinks so too. He swings and hits the ball. The ball flies just out of Marc’s reach. Trying with one last effort Marc dives to the ground in an attempt to get the ball. The ball goes into the field past two more players. Doug is standing on first base and the winning run comes in from third.

The ball game is lost, but we still need one more out. Marc picks himself up and walks to the pitchers mound. His head is high and his confidence intact. The next three pitches are strikes. One team loses. One team wins. The game is over, but the the friendship remains. Plans are made to meet again to play ball or maybe to fish.

The season is over and I too can rest, and put away that baseball on the end of a rope.

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