All my life, I’ve lived in the
shadow of the Phillies. When I was a
baby, my father would sit in my nursery, the baseball game playing softly on
his portable radio. While I slept, he
would dream of his son playing pro ball.
He’d watch the way the lights from Veterans Stadium played across my
fluttering eyelids; he’d watch the gentle rise and fall of my chest, to
reassure him that I was, indeed, breathing.
And then, when the game ended, he would pull up the thin sheet to cover
me up before heading to the front porch for a cigarette.
When I was six, my mother packed
her bags, changed her name, and moved eight blocks away with her new
husband. And the Phils moved, too. Although they stayed a bit closer than my
mother: At night, I could still see the lights glowing over Citizens Bank
Park. But I no longer saw my mother.
During baseball season, my father’s
moods were dictated by the outcome of the game.
If the Phils lost, my father would be in a horrible mood the next
morning. A win, and he’d be ecstatic all
I loved baseball as much as I
loved cheese steaks and water ice and South Philly. I looked forward to the days when my father
could scrape up enough spare change to buy us two tickets to see the game. And when my father signed me up to play Little
League, the coaches all said I was a natural.
Within a few years, I was pitching.
And my father began to believe in
those dreams he dreamed watching me sleep in my tiny crib. My father believed that his son would get to
the majors. Every sentence began with the
words when you get to the majors…. He had plans, my father did. We would buy season tickets. We’d get out of South Philly. Dad would quit his job at the refinery. My mother would come back to us.
Last Wednesday, as soon as he got
home from work, my father switched the game on.
The stadium was dark: It was an away game. “Look at those scumbags,” he said, pointing
to the Nationals warming up on the field.
“Pathetic team if I ever did see one.”
He took the paper plate I handed him—hot dogs, baked beans, potato chips—and
sank into the dingy couch. He jammed a
chip in his mouth and wiped the salt on his pants. “Watch this pitch, Billy,” he said. He leaned in, pointing as Worley threw a
fastball. “Do you believe it?” My dad shook his head in wonder. “He’s got a chip in his elbow and he can
still pitch like that.”
I cradled my right hand, my
pitching hand, in my left hand. I
reached a pencil beneath the cast, rubbed it against the back of my hand. I pictured it, withered and gray and useless.
He nodded at me then. “Don’t you worry about that hand, son. If Worley can do it, you can too.”
I sat and pretended to watch the
game. Outside, I heard the rumble of
cars; the occasional skateboard headed down the sidewalk. I heard the anger of car horns and the
bitterness of the residents of my street stuck in a frustrating life they could
not escape. The man who lived upstairs
began to yell at his wife. I held still,
wondering if this time gunfire would ring out.
Without taking his eyes from the television
set, my father shook his head. “Summer
heat always brings out the anger in people.”
He picked up the remote and increased the volume.
When he’d finished his dinner, I
took his plate and threw it in the garbage.
“I’m headed to bed, Dad. I’ve got
work tomorrow.” In the morning, I would rise
and head to the Wawa where I would spend the next nine hours ringing up
gasoline and bubblegum; candy and little packets of Advil. My high school teammates would come to the store,
as they always did, filling up large paper cups with Dr. Pepper, expecting me
to undercharge them and throw in a tin of chewing tobacco on the house.
“Shame you’re so busy,
Billy. What with work and baseball
practice, you haven’t had much of a summer.”
“It’s been all right,” I said.
“Well, just you wait, Billy,” he
said, leaning back and lighting up a cigarette.
“When you get to the majors, you can kiss the Wawa goodbye.”
And he took my nod as a form of
agreement. “Be sure you don’t sleep on
that hand. We got ourselves, what, six
months before spring training?”
“That sounds about right,” I said
as I walked down the hall to my bedroom.
I looked out towards the stadium, dark and silent. I didn’t have the heart to tell my father that
I broke my hand on purpose; didn’t have the heart to tell him I begged a
coworker to drop a stack of pallets on it so he’d quit pinning all his hopes on
My father was never going to
leave South Philly.
My father was never going to get
a better job.
The neighbor wasn’t going to stop
hitting his wife.
And my mother? She was never going to come home.
Year after year, all of my father’s
hopes and dreams were tied up in wins and losses and pennant races. But your luck is your own and so is your hard
How could I tell my father that I’d
earned a full academic scholarship to a school nine hours away?
I rolled over in bed, pulled the
thin sheet up to my chin. Told myself
that if the Phils won the game, I would tell him in the morning.
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Barb Black gave me this prompt: Some mornings it just isn't worth chewing through the restraints....
I gave Caitlin this prompt: Write a story around a headline from today's newspaper.
Labels: Fiction, flash fiction, scriptic.org