6:39 P.M. A bar. I am here to watch the ball game. The beer comes in tall glasses. The chicken wings are sizzling, and come garnished with a jalapeno pepper that causes serious medical damage to all who eat it.
The Braves are playing Tampa. The Braves look good this year.
I realize you might not care about baseball, and I wouldn’t blame you. It’s a slow game, without much action. But it is very important to me.
My father was the kind of man who played catch with me nearly every summer night of my childhood. I remember when he bought me my first real glove. Until then, I’d been using secondhand gloves that were too big for my hand.
He oiled the new mitt with bacon fat, then wrote my name inside with a grease pencil—my father always scribbled names on things we owned. Even on shirts, hats, and underpants.
When I found the leather mitt on my dresser, it had a red ribbon tied around it. It took my breath away.
The fact is, I didn’t have much of a throwing arm, but I could catch. And this was one of the few things I ever heard my father brag about.
“My son can catch anything,” he once said at a church picnic. “Why, if I threw a washing machine across the lawn, my boy’d find a way to get his glove on it.”
This made me so proud it hurt.
That night, my father decided to back up his claims for the fellas on the church lawn. I slid my glove over my hand.
My father was a pitcher. He could throw trick balls. He threw four-seam fastballs, two-seamers, Bugs Bunny balls, Dipsy Doodle curves, split knuckles, and a pitch he called the “Wandering John”—in which the ball would travel so slow that it would visit the dugout, take a few sips of beer, and read the classifieds on its way to home plate.
My father’s friends lined up to watch. He pitched to me like he meant it. The ball hit my boyish hands harder than normal. It stung so bad it made my elbows ache.
My father was tall, with a pair of blue heron legs. He would do a wind up, then kick a skinny leg outward, and pitch around his size-fourteen foot.
By the time, the church ladies had put away the devilled eggs, pound cake, and pear salads, the sun was low. It was dark. Daddy was still pitching.
My father announced to his spectators: “And now I’m gonna throw the heater!”
Which meant, he was going to break the sound barrier.
I squinted at him in the dim light. It was hard to see.
The wind up.
And I missed. I missed. I can’t believe I missed.
The ball hit me in the chest. I will never forget the sound it made. It sounded like someone kicked me with a brogan. I went down. I couldn’t breath.
People ran to me. My father ran to me. He held me in his arms, close to his chest. I was in shock, about to pass out because—and this is still true today—I am a little wimp.
My father took me to the doctor. The doctor said it was only bruised ribs. That night, my father sat at my bedside while I drifted to sleep.
“Sorry I missed your pitch, Daddy,” I said.
He kissed me on the eyes. “Don’t be.”
It was the last time he ever pitched to me. The last time I ever caught.
A few days after my father’s funeral, the anchor on the national news announced that the World Series had been cancelled that year.
It was as though someone had blocked out the sun. The baseball players had gone on a labor strike. Fans were angry. My father was dead. My glove went into a cardboard box.
But bad things don’t last. Sooner or later, people come back to life. People like me. Because here I am. Right now. At this bar. With my pal, Lyle.
The Braves are looking like they might make the playoffs this year. And I hope they do.
Anyway, yesterday I was cleaning our garage. I found a box covered in dust. I dug through it. The leather was cracked, but I could almost swear I still smelled bacon grease. My name is still scribbled inside.
It’s been a long time, but it still fits my hand.
My ribs don’t hurt anymore. And neither do I.