Tennisball

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Tennisball

When I was in the womb, I’m told, I attended a few Dodger games a Chavez-Ravine.  A few years later, a picture of me indicates that someone encouraged me to wear a Yankees shirt.  When I was six, the St. Louis Cardinals played the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series.  Mom and I watched those games in Indiana, and I became not only hooked on the Redbirds but also an immense fan of the game.  I played in an organized league of some sort from age five through fifteen.  The tail end of my career is not worth discussing, but being on the field during a game was always the highlight of my day.

Throughout my childhood, my friends and I typically got together and played at either the nearby elementary schoolyard or the empty space between my house and my friend Mike’s house. It became a rectangular baseball field—or perhaps, baseball played on a football field.  I’ve never measured the lot’s size, but it seems to me that it was about fifty yards of fairly even terrain.  Conveniently, there were two bushes placed against each house, which served as our first- and third bases.  Home plate was usually signified by an unused glove or extra hat.  The pitcher threw north, and batters tried to hit a ball south past the alleyway and over my elderly neighbor Mr. Brines’ fence.

By about the time I was seven and my brother was on the brink of teenage-dom, we were instructed not to use a regular baseball during our games.  While we hadn’t broken any windows, we had to use a tennis ball as a substitute.  Obviously, this felt inauthentic—that is, until the first one of us connected on a softly tossed pitch and sent that green Penn Number 1 sailing high above the trees several yards beyond Mr. Brines’ fence line.  The tops of those trees must have been thirty or forty feet in the air.  The summer wind would make them dance left and right, creating a moving target for my black Louisville Slugger aluminum bat.

At ten years old, I stood at the north end over my makeshift home plate and faced one of my best friends, a freckled red-haired kid named Jason.  With no helmet on and batting gloves completely unnecessary, I urged him to send one to me that I could launch.  Our rules for home run derby allowed ten swings or five outs, whichever came first. Any ball hit that didn’t make it over the garage and beyond the alley was considered an out.

Very distinctly, I can recall squeezing that bat and awaiting the frayed tennis ball.  I focused on Jason’s freckled countenance and mimicked the batting stance repertoire of some Major Leaguer, daring Jason to toss it into my wheelhouse—a term our coach had ingrained in our heads during every practice and game that summer.  I wanted to hit one out so badly.  I shifted my eyes from his pasty grin to the ball he held.  I didn’t miss that first pitch and sent a towering ball over those dancing leaves.  That afternoon, at ten years old, I felt I conquered summer.

It Starts With a Football

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This blog starts with a football.  By no means should it be imagined by you, dear reader, as an ordinary football.  I could probably spend the next several hundred words describing the ball in distinct detail (e.g. number of laces intact versus those that are not), but let me save you a little time and just say this.  It’s old.  It’s not completely inflated.  It’s worn in the expected places.  But that’s not what intrigued me the moment I saw it.  I felt there was a story hovering over it.

[background info]  Perhaps what’s mildly interesting about how it came into my possession was that I did something I do not normally do.  At a garage sale in a strange town, I perused a few items on a table in the garage of a couple who were probably well into their seventies.  The ball was not on the table, but rather, on a shelf in plain sight right behind one of the tables, so instead of leaving it be, I asked the homeowner about the ball.

So, here are my initial thoughts jotted down moments after buying the football.  [and today’s edits in brackets]

It was the first nice April Saturday of the year.  [You know, that first spring weekend that announces with a commanding WHOOSH that winter is deceased.]  Among commemorative glasses, Bible audio tapes for twenty-five cents apiece, and a quantity of children’s apparel that makes one wonder how any child on this earth could ever be without clothing, a dented [leather] football protrudes from a transparent plastic tub designed for inconspicuous placement beneath a bed.   [This garage sale], a biannual event, where proprietors along the well-lamped lawns and cul-de-sacs clean out their closets and guest rooms and essentially exchange wares, [received gifts, and memories, has seen more populated times.  Word has it that, just a few years earlier, two of every three houses participated while only now a mere one in four opens its garage doors for the public sale.] It is behind a makeshift display table in the garage of Mr. and Mrs. Suburbia, Ret.

The first item to catch our eyes was a Royal typewriter bolted to a metal desk with flanked folding shelves and a computer-generated sign identifying a suggested price of twenty-five American dollars, crossed out with a twenty-percent discount.  The sellers’ chief incentive to any prospective consumer included a typewriter manual, [which was hanging loosely inside the comfort of a transparent three-ring sleeve and attached via a chain–the type often found dangling from a standard household ceiling fan.

The gentlewoman, upon my respectful summons, informs me that she would need to speak to her husband concerning my inquiry into the availability of the ball.  She opens a flip phone, dials, and informs a stranger beside her that he’s inside and that calling him is much easier than searching for him indoors.  A moment passes and he’s standing beside me.  Sporting a bright red polo and pleated khaki pants, he is a full six inches taller than his wife and carries himself the way I’ve always pictured J. D. Salinger did at that age.  Upon expressing my interest in the football on the shelf,] a gleam of the past crosses the old man’s eyes.  He chokes out the words “Couple bucks if you want it.”  [Then, what feels like a lifetime of Polaroids catapult through both our minds–I imagine the hours logged with his unseen son decades ago in the yard just a few feet away.  I imagine laughter from the boy and pride from this man.  It’s all of a sudden incredibly simple to look at their lawn and visualize heroic catches and slides all involving this two-dollar ball.]

I buy the ball, and walk away wondering if he regretted selling it.  He’s not selling the memory and he knows that no one will ever relieve him of his early days as a father.  This ball.  This icon of Americana, transcends–and becomes more than a simple Saturday transaction between strangers and fathers.