The Ball Game

It was one of the gifts the Good Lord gave him to make up for his heron legs. In high school, he’d pitched so fast that catchers used to tuck sponges into their mitts.

I’m on a screen porch with a radio. I’m listening to the Braves play Detroit in a spring-training baseball game. There’s a ghost with me. One I haven’t seen in a long time.

The ghost makes remarks at the radio.

“If they had a good bullpen, they might have a chance this season…” he says.

Today, the ghost is chatty, I can’t hear the game over his talking.

“Hey,” the ghost goes on. “Remember the time we played ball after your grandaddy’s wake?”

Of course I do.

“I was REALLY something, wasn’t I?” says the ghost. I can’t see his face, but I know he’s grinning.

And he’s right. He was impressive. That afternoon, the men in the family got up a ball game. They played in an alfalfa field. My cousin played catcher. My daddy stood on a dirt mound, pitching. A longneck bottle beside his feet.

The game wasn’t serious—it was a disorganized free-for-all. Kids alongside men. A second-grade girl playing shortstop.

That is, until one cousin stepped to the plate.

He was the same age as Daddy. And I’ll bet there’s one like him in every American clan. A fella everyone praises. He’s nice-looking, played college ball, drives a nice car. Perfect teeth.

Gag me.

My father paled in comparison. He was a steelworker with long legs that didn’t fit his body. His clothes hung off his tall frame. He sweat for a living. The closest he ever got to college ball was watching the Sugar Bowl.

But, by damn, did he have an arm.

It was one of the gifts the Good Lord gave him to make up for his heron legs. In high school, he’d pitched so fast that catchers used to tuck sponges into their mitts.

Perfect Teeth stood at homeplate. And that’s when the air got cold. The two middle-aged men stared each other down. If this game would’ve taken place a hundred years earlier, six-shooters might have been called upon.

Daddy threw a four-seam fastball. Strike. Then, a slider. Caught him looking. Then, the Bugs Bunny change-up. Strikeout.

Perfect Teeth threw the bat.

That night, my father struck him out four times. It was one of his greatest triumphs, and he talked about it until he died.

After the game, I overheard Daddy tell his opponent, “You know, I always wished I was half the athlete you were.”

Then, they shook hands.

Because the only thing Daddy hated worse than losing, was watching someone else lose.

The radio announcer calls the final score. “Braves lose to Detroit,” the static voice says.

Big surprise.

I wait for the ghost to make a response. Something about underdogs, or beating the odds. But nothing. He’s gone. I wonder why he left so soon, or if he’ll ever come back to see me.

I’m glad he stopped by. I miss him.

His visits are getting fewer and further between.

12 comments

  1. Christina Gifford - February 28, 2017 2:09 pm

    Oh wow. Memories. Many a night in my childhood went to sleep sitting by my Dad listening to Milo and Ernie calling out Braves games. And impromptu games breaking out in our yard. Thanks Sean for stirring these and other memories through this blog.

    Reply
  2. Michael Bishop - February 28, 2017 2:28 pm

    Dads and baseball. My dad was no athlete to speak of.

    In high school, scrawny as a feral cat, he’d played lineman on his Lepanto, Arkansas, six-man football team. That was about it.

    Much later, after I’d come along, he and my mother split, for reasons mostly of his doing, and I saw him only in the summers, when I visited him wherever his not too distinguished post-WWII service career happened to take him:

    Cheyenne, Wyo. (Francis E. Warren AFB); East St. Louis (Scott AFB); Lincoln, Neb. (I forget the base name); Memphis, Tenn. (ditto); Colorado Springs, Colo. (USAF Academy).

    During my school years, Mom played catch with me after working her day job in personnel at McConnell Air Force Base (Wichita, Kan.), or on weekends, behind our scrubby little rented green house, because my dad was one of those other places.

    Summers, though, I almost always played Little League ball under his eye and, one season, under his catch-as-catch-can coaching. His playbook came from what he’d learned watching Saturday afternoon Dizzy Dean and Peewee Reese game-of-the-week telecasts.

    He’s long gone now, long gone, but your story made me remember, and remember a lot. Thanks for that.

    Reply
  3. Ken M. - February 28, 2017 2:28 pm

    I lost my dad when I was 17… just 2 days before I started college. It was awful… still the worst day of my life. He was my hunting partner, my fishing partner, and – for many years – my coach. About 4 years ago, I stepped out onto the mound from where I struck out Harold W… the best hitter in the league. I was 10 and Dad was my coach. I’m pretty sure he’s with me every time I take a step inside those fences, even though I’m coaching on the big field now. I miss him.

    Reply
  4. Sam Hunneman - February 28, 2017 3:18 pm

    Well damn, Dietrich. It’s a dark, cold, damp day in Maine, and now you’ve got me sniffling and teary, and listening for my own ghosts… which, at this age, number quite a damn few. Thanks.

    Reply
  5. Darrell Dame - February 28, 2017 3:46 pm

    I sure like your writing.

    Reply
  6. Carole Smith - February 28, 2017 4:10 pm

    I so enjoy your writing style.You remind me of my favorite writer,Ric Bragg. So happy to have found your website.

    Reply
  7. Dianne - March 1, 2017 1:20 am

    I came late in my Daddy’s life…at least later than most children. My Daddy was 50 when I was born. AND I was a girl. Well, he loved me anyway. We didn’t play much ball, but he taught me everything he knew about planting flowers, cooking flour bread and playing cards, i.e., go-fish, old maid, hearts; you know, the kind of cards little girls play. My Daddy has been gone 25 years, but he still visits me sometimes, too. Only it’s usually when it’s raining. You see, Daddy loved the rain. Thunder and lightning mesmerized him, although he had plenty of respect for it. If he saw rain clouds forming, he and I would head to the porch. I would climb up in his arms, and we would watch some beautiful lightning shows…and it would rain. I felt so secure and loved in Daddy’s arms. I guess that’s what little girls are supposed to feel…and he made sure I did. I miss you still Daddy. I can’t wait to hug you again!!

    Reply
  8. Michael Hawke - March 1, 2017 3:42 am

    I had my Dad until he was 79. I still miss him. A peanut farmer from SW Georgia. I still find myself trying live up to the model he set.

    Reply
  9. Cherryl Shiver - March 1, 2017 11:04 am

    You make me feel warm inside, that’s a good thing. My Ghost and I never played baseball, but oh,….we did everything else. He taught me to ride a bike, roller skate, ride a horse, walk on stilts, catch tadpoles, eat chili dogs, and learn if you are a lucky little girl your Daddy can be your very best friend. He pasted when I was 19, a month before I married, 40 years ago now, but I know he is still right here with me. He left me that feeling nobody can ever take from me. Yes sir, being raised by a Top, 1st Sgt, I had the best.

    Reply
  10. Carol DeLater - March 1, 2017 2:56 pm

    We watched the Cubs together, on TV and at the Wrigley. We fished a lot together too. And we walked to the bowling alley. I can’t tell you how many times I watched him bowl 289+ games. He could have been a pro…but he worked the mills in South Chicago. I’m 65 and he’s been gone a LONG time. I miss him still and even more when these memories come back. I think the quality times I spent with him is the reason I always get along better with guys and relate to them so much better than girls.

    Reply
  11. Teresa Lovejoy - March 1, 2017 10:57 pm

    I was a Daddy’s girl – still am I suppose. Though he died in September 2005, not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. I was gifted with one of his physical traits that will never let a day go by without me reminiscing of our times together. Out of five children, I was the only one in the family that had hands and fingers that were just like his. Both of us had long slender fingers which turned up on the ends. We use to hold hands a lot when I was little, as a teenager and when I became an adult with my own child. I didn’t mind that I didn’t have long beautiful hands and nails like my Mother and sister had because I had something no one else had – hands and fingers just like his. I would clip and file his nails for him as he grew older (as I did for my mother and grandmother). My mother always told my sister and me if we found a husband that was 1/4 as good to us as Daddy was to her, she would be happy for us and content that we had a good man. We both eventually did. When I hear the song “Daddy’s Hands” I cry every time. The last time I saw him (the night before he passed away) and before he became comatose within the next few hours, he told me to drive carefully going home, told me he loved me and blew me a kiss with those fingers on the hand that looked just like mine. Those hands, those fingers. I feel his presence every time I look at my hands and every time I pass a picture of him in my home I blow him a kiss. My ghost lives with me every single day – and I have the hands to prove it. 🙏

    Reply
  12. Thom Walker - March 2, 2017 12:08 am

    Thanks for writing. I look forward to it every day.

    Reply

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