A New Ballgame

By Steve Carr

I am grateful for a new year. The presidential debates made me feel I was watching identical twins wrestle, grasping for ways to look different from each other.

The too-long campaign season and its hyperbolic rhetoric were exhausting and disappointing. Oddly, it all reminded me of a day in my world, long ago.

On a summer afternoon, my Longfellow Elementary sandlot team ventured from the familiar confines of Tautphaus Park in Idaho Falls and “our” ball diamond near the zoo. We had heard that some punks from the other side of the canal were publicly sissifying our game and hence our manhood.

With mitts slung through handlebars and bats wedged under spring-hinged book racks, creating stubby wings, our convoy of five-speeds, cruisers, and Sting-Rays moved south along the canal, through the graveyard, down Rose Hill Drive, crossing the Seventeenth “Parallel,” into the unfamiliar territory of Hawthorne Elementary.

Men that we were, no obstacle would deter us from proving our game. We negotiated the narrow trail along the canal bank, allowing for brief rests to peek through fence knotholes for bikinied sunbathers. The sun shone brightly—we knew our game was better than, smarter than, those Hawthorne Hooligans.

High on pre-teen adrenaline, we relished the quest, its obstacles foreign yet undaunting. Suddenly, our Mr. Shortstop caught a pedal on the sloped edge of the tricky trail, throwing his balance. Gravity and physics took over and pulled him downward, angling gradually, yet inexorably, towards the canal and the dirty, perilous water.

He didn’t brake. He didn’t leap. His hands never left the handlebars. There was no give in him. To this day, I can see it all in vivid slow motion. He continued to pedal while leaning into the hill, despite his clear and inevitable terminus. First his front tire, then his feet and then his entire body submerged.

The canal quite literally opened its great maw and swallowed him whole. For a handful of seconds all that remained of our field general were a few strands of floating hair, surrounded by big burping bubbles. His legs stopped churning only after the overwhelming current wore him down. Then and only then did he stand, spew water, right himself, and begin to stumble out of the canal.

I was, by then, stopped at the top of the bank, unable to lend a quick hand. I called to him, “Your bike!” He hesitated, turned, reached blindly into the murky water and found a handlebar, his obstinate strength of real value this time. He slogged out and up the bank, dragging behind him the prized forest-green steed with its never-to-be-quite-the-same leather seat, his nearly ruined glove still swinging from the handlebars.

Back on the trail, he said nothing, mounted, water oozing from his ears, and pedaled off, toward our competition and the knothole wonders (the rest of us still hoped for) along the way.

It turned out the Hawthorne Hooligans weren’t such bad chaps after all. Their approach to the game was different from ours, but still reasoned and competitive. Awed, and somehow tamed a bit from the experience at the canal, we played a spirited, yet friendly, game of ball.

Here’s to hope. Welcome 2013.

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