Summertime meant several things for me as a 12 year old boy. One of the most exciting was the prospect of sleeping ridiculously late because there was no school to go to. It also meant bike-riding, fishing, and a host of other wonderful activities. Top on that list of activities was Dixie Youth Baseball.
In the summer of my 12th year, I played on the lousiest baseball team in the city. I played for Dendy's, and that year we went an ignoble 0-15. We did not win a single game. We were so awful that I was actually one of the better players on the team, and I promise that isn't saying much. But still, baseball was baseball, and to me, the ballfield was like Disneyworld. There was Big League Chew Bubble Gum and baseball cards for a quarter. The baseball cards also came with a rectangular piece of pink gum that lasted approximately 1 minutes and left a terrible aftertaste with pasty saliva. That just gave you another good excuse to spit, and a twelve year old ballplayer doesn't need much of an excuse to do that.
So I was happy on my losing team. We still got free cokes for shagging foul balls between games and after every loss. Sometimes we even got free hotdogs for our losing effort. I even got my fair share of game balls that year, seeing as I was one of the few who could actually hit the ball occassionally. It was like heaven.
On one particularly hot July day, the Home Bank boys were giving us a pretty good beating. I had the privilege of playing hind-catcher that game. You get a good view of the field from there, but that equipment gets hot and miserable after a while in the sun. It turns to sheer torture when your team is too awful to get anybody out.
Due to an umpire shortage, my stepfather was calling behind the plate that day. He was a fair umpire, fair in the best sense of the word as I recall it. He called'em like he saw'em. He called strikes on me like anybody else, and so the potential for favoritism was lessened by his honorable view of the game.
That's what made the thing that happened that day so difficult. A schoolmate of mine, I won't name him but I know his name and can see his face today, stepped up to the plate a nodded at me. The pitcher tossed floater down the middle, and my schoolmate slammed it over the center field fence. I must admit that it was a beautiful stroke. There's no more lovely picture than watching a homerun from behind home plate.
It was, as I recall, my friend's very first home run. And so the opposing team was particularly excited for him. They all rushed onto the field to high-five him at the plate. Two others were on base, and they stopped to applaud him as well. He was positively delighted with himself as he rounded third base and headed home to the whoops and applause and the atta boys of his teammates. In fact, he was so happy that he forgot himself. He didn't step on homeplate at all. He stepped right over it, high-fiving all the way.
So there I am, watching my happy guy head to the dugout and thinking that things are about to turn ugly. I knew that my stepdad saw him miss the plate. He knew it and I knew it and God knows it. So I did the only thing that a twelve year old boy knew to do...I appealed the run at the plate.
The process of appeal is pretty simple. The one who is appealing the run declares that the runner failed to touch the base. With the ball in hand, he steps on the base in question. If the umpire saw that the base was indeed skipped, the runner is called out. If he didn't see it, or if he saw him actually touch it, the runner is safe.
The pitcher tossed me the ball, and the field grew silent. The parents stood. All the wind was sucked off the field with the intake of so many breaths as I stepped on the plate and looked at my stepdad. (At least it seemed that way to me.)
I remember the look on his face at that moment as if we were standing there now. There was no joy on that face. He knew the consequence of this call and how questionable it would look. He knew that it would rob that boy of the delight of his homerun. He knew that angry parents might well storm the field and throw him into the dumpster.
To the neutral observer, that moment that we stood there looking at one another over home plate was quite brief. But for me, that moment is timeless. Somewhere in my mind we're still standing there looking at one another, counting the cost of our action before the storm hit. With sadness in his eyes his clenched his fist and said, "He's out!" It was absolute pandomonium after that. The coach threw a bat against a fence and came onto the field screeching a protest. The players on both sides were hollering, and the parents were going nuts.
After all these years I'm still a kid with a ball standing over home plate. The joyful, breezy summers of youth have passed me by. The stakes are higher than Dixie Youth baseball, and no one is giving out free hot dogs. I have to call'em as I see'em, and my Father is watching the plate.
We Must Do the Impossible
4 years ago