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.
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.
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.