It’s morning. I’m parked at a community ballpark, eating a breakfast sandwich.
I made the mistake of turning on the radio. It’s nothing but horrifying news, greasy politics, shouting evangelists, and music that sounds like a choir of chainsaws with chest colds.
I see a boy in an oversized helmet, he’s on the field by himself. A man pitches underhand to him. The kid swings. After a few strikes, he hits a home run. It arcs clear over the fence.
Meet William. He’s the 9-year-old who hit the ball, and he hit that thing harder than Roy Hobbs.
Right now, William is very happy. You can see it on him. He’s running the bases. His legs are skinny, his face is all smiles. William has Down syndrome, and his tender heart is the size of four U.S. states.
This morning, his father has been teaching him to use a bat. Will’s mother is the only one in the bleachers.
“I didn’t expect Will to be so amazing,” his mother says. “Did you see him hit that ball?”
I can sort of relate to what Will must be feeling. The first time I ever hit a baseball over the fence was the only time it ever happened. It was the apex of boyhood.
I was about William’s age. I was moderately chubby, unathletic, I liked pocket knives, pork products, endurance napping, and I wore Superman underpants.
I was no Johnny Bench, but I liked the game.
I remember when my father handed me the bat during a game. It was top of the eighth. My T-shirt bore the name of a local gas station. My white pants had a patch sewn on the seat á la my mom.
Daddy said, “Keep. Your. Eye. On. The. Ball.”
I swung. It was pure luck. The thing sailed like the S.S. Minnow. Over the fence. Home run. And the image I remember…