Baseballs smack against leather gloves. A man in a Phillies hat pushes a wheelbarrow down the path where a group of volunteers paints the new gazebo. A woman rakes the mulch around the dogwood trees that were planted last year in honor of two athletes who died too young. It’s getting dark, but there’s a gentle warmth to the air.
In the dugout, the boys chew heartily on bubblegum—watermelon, cinnamon, mint chocolate chip. Impossibly large bubbles emerge from their lips and splatter on freckled faces. The brothers of the pitcher whine in the bleachers—they want a snack, their DS, a drink.
The umpire squats behind the plate, a giant mask hiding his face. He grunts and gestures and calls a strike to end the inning. A father leaves the bleachers to offer his son pitching advice through the fence of the on deck circle. “Settle down. Just settle into it.”
Brothers and sisters rush by on scooters, bikes, roller skates; a whirl of color and giggles and admonitions to wear your helmet. Parents stand and smoke and eat hot dogs doused in mustard. A mother wrapped in a blanket glances at her watch.
Behind me, a coach from another team runs a batting practice. I hear the repetitious ping of the bat against the ball. Again and again and again the pitch is thrown and hit; thrown and hit. The coach calls for the next batter. The pings diminish.
“Swing,” the coach calls.
Again, the silence.
“I’m not standing here all day while you watch the balls go by. Swing.”
“Hit the ball. This isn’t called batting practice for nothing.” Anger in his voice. My shoulders tense. I resist the urge to turn and stare.
“Get out of here,” the coach screams. I picture him thumbing the batter out of the cage. The stands quiet. I feel faces turn and look. “Nah, I’m just kidding,” the coach says. “Come ‘ere.”
Footsteps. Lowered voices. “You plant those flippin’ feet and swing that frigging bat. You hear me? You HEAR me?”
And then, a ping.
“That’s it. Exactly.”
And the sky darkens and the game goes on before me and I wonder whether the boys find the mint chocolate chip gum dull and gray in their mouths.
Labels: Baseball, Raising Children, Spring