We bought a Roku for our TV. I’ll admit, until this morning I thought a Roku was a Japanese three-phrase poem that grade-school children were forced to write at gunpoint.
The Roku is actually a small device that plugs into your television and gives you TV service via the internet. A neighborhood kid named Tyler helped me hook it up because I am technologically challenged.
Tyler is not yet twelve, but he is your all-American preteen, which means he knows everything about technology and will likely be rich one day.
In no time, Tyler had it running and we were watching a spring training baseball game.
The Braves and the Rays were tied. Tyler and I watched in silence for a few minutes. Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a home run. People on TV cheered. I cheered.
Tyler looked like he didn’t understand what he was watching.
“How do you keep score in baseball?” Tyler finally asked.
And this broke my heart.
In my childhood home, there was no clear division between baseball and the red letters in the Bible. We talked baseball on Sunday mornings, and we talked church during Saturday night ball games.
As fate would have it, there were two baseball gloves on my bookshelf. My wife keeps them around as decoration, to lend a masculine feel to our living room. Today, the mitts served another purpose.
The smallest of the two gloves was my old Little Leaguer. My father bought it for me when I was in second grade. I will never forget that day. Daddy took me into a store, we tried on gloves until we found the right one.
That night, my father showed me how to oil it with bacon grease.
“Grease it up good,” he told me. “And it’ll last for the rest of your life.”
To this day, I cannot smell bacon grease without thinking about Walter Perry Johnson, Bob Feller, or Greg Maddux.
Tyler and I went into my front yard and tossed a ball. I gave a few pointers. Soon, he was throwing like a pro.
Baseball is not hard. The game is embedded within the DNA of all Americans. Deer know when it’s rutting season; salmon know how to swim upstream; birds know to fly south; a young woman knows how to mother a child; a cradle Episcopalian has inherent knowledge on how to spell “Jack Daniels.” Children know baseball.
After a few minutes, Tyler and I were playing catch like he’d been born with a glove on his hand.
My early days were spent playing catch with my father. Nearly every summer night you could find us outside exercising our shoulders among a stadium of crickets, bullfrogs, and cicadas.
When Tyler threw the ball, it all came back to me. I had memories of national anthems, and Cracker Jacks boxes, and gloves that smelled like pork fat. And the music of a good game of catch.
And I’ve always thought that the rhythm of playing catch feels like a slow waltz.
Slap. Wind-up. Throw.
Slap. Wind-up. Throw.
One, two, three.
One, two, three.
My father carried our gloves everywhere. He kept them in his truck toolbox, just in case we needed them. I remember once, his truck broke down at the supermarket. We played catch on the grocery store lawn while we waited for his friend Bill to give us a ride.
Tyler and I played until his cheeks were rosy. He was breathing heavy. My shoulder felt like someone had abused me with a nightstick.
Tyler inspected the glove. “This thing looks really, really old.”
“It’s not that old,” I said.
“Really? It looks like an antique.”
“That’s not funny.”
“It fits kinda small, can I try yours?”
I gave him the glove I was wearing—a mitt that used to belong to my father’s sack of Little League surplus gear. Daddy would bring a duffle bag of extra ball gloves to ball practice in case a boy forgot his. He would gladly give a mitt to any child who wanted one.
Tyler tried the glove on. “This fits pretty good,” he said.
We were about to continue playing, but the sound of distant hollering interrupted us.
“That’s my mom,” Tyler said. “I gotta go, she’s making spaghetti tonight.”
And a boy must never miss spaghetti night.
Tyler returned the glove, then bolted for home. Before he got too far, I called his name. He stopped. I thanked him for his help, then tossed him the glove. I told him to keep it.
“Really?” he said. “Thanks. What do I do with it?”
“Grease it up good,” I said. “And it’ll last for the rest of your life.”