Lazy Day Destinations: The Ball Field
James R. Aist
Growing up in rural Arkansas left me with many fond memories of favorite places, especially when it was summer vacation, and I could just pick up and go by myself, or with a friend or two, on a hot, lazy summer afternoon.
The Ball Field
When I was around 12 years old and my family lived in Evening Shade (the real one, population 315 at the time, not the fictional one on the TV sit-com), one of my favorite destinations was the ball field. I loved baseball more than any other sport, even hunting. Fortunately for me, little Evening Shade had a fairly well-developed ball field (see photo at upper right) that served mainly as the venue for the men’s softball team. Most of the time, however, it was available for me to spend quality time alone on a hot summer’s day, secretly imagining myself as a big league baseball player when I grew up. To get to the ball park, I turned right toward town, walked straight through town, kept going until “town” turned into “country”, and I was there, in only about 10-15 minutes. Watching the local team compete against nearby teams under the lights was only one of several ways I made memories there.
One day I happened to be at the ball field when our team was having practice, in preparation for an upcoming night game against Ash Flat. As I began to watch, I was hoping that Bobby Johnson would be there. Bobby was a really big man, about six feet four inches tall and weighing 240 pounds, all muscle and bones. A few weeks before, at a home game, I had seen Bobby hit a ball harder than anything I had ever seen before. Bam! It was a sizzling line drive that sailed right over the center fielder’s head before it even began to sink to the ground. I wanted to be able to hit a ball like that when I grew up. And he could throw the ball so hard that no one wanted to catch it.
Anyway, back to the practice session. The guys decided to take a break and just have some fun for a few minutes. Bobby usually played first base, but he decided to take the mound and show off some of his “stuff” by pitching overhand to anyone who would dare to step up to the plate. He would buy anyone a large Coke if they could hit one of his pitches. What happened next was almost beyond belief. Bobby began to throw “roundhouse” curve balls. These pitches were coming so fast and curved so much that it was as if the ball was coming right at the batters from third base, at 90 miles an hour, audibly hissing (I kid you not!) all the way to the plate. That was enough to make them all bail out of the batters box before the pitch even got to home plate.
Needless to say, Bobby was the only one to enjoy a large Coke that day!
Most of the time though, the ball field was deserted, so I would bring along a baseball and bat to play toss-n-hit for a while. I would stand at home plate, hold the bat on my shoulder with my right hand, toss the ball high into the air with my left hand, grab the bat with both hands and then swing at the descending ball with all my might. I tried my best to hit a liner like the one I saw Bobby hit, but I just didn’t have the physique to take it to that level…yet. Nevertheless, I did hit some very impressive (to me) liners and got to experience that indescribable feeling when bat meets ball solidly with a loud “CRACK”! I’m sure some of you know, from personal experience, exactly what I’m talking about. Hitting the ball like this was fun, and I’m sure it improved my “ball-bat” coordination, but there is an obvious down side to playing ball this way: you always have to retrieve the ball yourself, and that dilutes the fun and gets boring pretty fast.
Good memories, though.
One in a Million?
But there was a memory I made at this ball field that was not so good. One late afternoon as I was on my way home from visiting a friend who lived just beyond the ball field, I decided to pause and “while away” some time; there really wasn’t anything better to do in sleepy little Evening Shade anyway. But, without my ball and bat, I thought, “What can I dream up to do for a few minutes on a vacant ball field? Oh, I know, I’ll practice throwing…rocks. That should be innocent enough to keep this preacher’s kid from getting into any kind of trouble, right?” So I collected a handful of stones and began chucking them, one at a time, at the wooden light posts that supported the light banks used for night games. I must admit that my aim was pretty good that day, and it wasn’t long before I got bored with the light posts and wanted a greater challenge, one that better suited my superior throwing ability. Just then my gaze rose all the way up to the light bank in right field. “No, you wouldn’t dare”, I thought, “What if I actually hit one of the lamps and broke it; then what? I would really be in big trouble, if anyone found out that the preacher’s kid did it!” After a brief pause, I swear I heard from the devil himself, “Hey, don’t sweat it. You’re good, but you’re not that good. The likelihood of your actually hitting a lamp is probably one in a million. Just chuck a rock or two at the light bank, and go on home knowing that you learned your limits today.” Well, with that seemingly solid advice in mind, I took a stone, wound up, and hurled it hard at the light bank, confident that I wouldn’t hit a lamp. But, alas and alack, this wasn’t my lucky day. The stone took off from my hand and headed straight for the light bank, and one in a million soon became one in one! The stone went straight into one of the lamps, which exploded with a loud pop, sending millions of glass shards raining down to the ground. Suddenly, I was gripped with fear, and terrifying thoughts went racing through my mind, “Is anyone out and about?”, “Did anyone see what I did?”, “Did they recognize me?”, “Will they tell Daddy what I did?” But, thankfully, there was no one in sight that day. After all, this was lazy, little Evening Shade on a lazy summer day. “Besides, those lamps are always getting mysteriously busted, are they not?”, I reasoned, “So, I’ll just slip quietly away, and no one will suspect that this innocent little preacher’s kid broke this one.”
And I did, and, to my knowledge, they didn’t. But from then on, every time I went to the ball field and saw this very same broken lamp, I was reminded of my dirty little secret. Hey, you’re not going to tell on me, are you? Didn’t think so.
(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)