I watched the World Series with a ghost. He sat beside me cussing at the television. He threw his hands up. He degraded umpires.
And when the game went into rain-delay, he told me to get him a beer.
“But, you’re a ghost,” said I.
“Then you’ll have to drink it for me,” he said.
If he would’ve lived long enough, he might’ve been one of those old timers who told the same stories over and over.
“I ever tell you,” he’d begin, “the time I pitched sixteen innings against the Catholic team?”
Only a hundred and seventy times.
He’d go on, “There were nuns in the stands…”
I know. They trash-talked worse than sailors, and called you sugar-britches.
“Them nuns talked trash worse’n a bunch of sailors, they called me…”
Daddy auditioned for a double-A ball club, long ago. He made it. But he only lasted a hot minute. They cut him. His dreams were dashed. He said it was the best gift God ever gave him.
“Cocky folks don’t get nowhere in life,” he said. “I was young. I needed to be humbled, never played another game after that.”
And as far as I know, he didn’t.
Even so, he coached Little League. He’d chew Juicy Fruit in a dugout and praise fifteen uncoordinated, moderatlely pathetic boys.
He’d shout things like, “Good hustle!”
The highest praise a chubby boy can get.
We played catch nearly every night during summer. He threw light and easy.
When the sun would low, he’d say, “We’d better go inside or we’ll be eating fastballs.”
I didn’t think he could throw fastballs.
But before he died I saw him pitch to my uncles. He threw lightning. He stood in our alfalfa field firing the ball like I’d never seen a grown man do up close.
My uncle caught and remarked, “Hot almighty, I think that fool broke my damn hand.”
The only time I ever saw him compete was when he pitched part of an impromptu game during a Methodist barbecue.
Older men in the bleachers mumbled to themselves, “You know Dietrich could throw like that?”
“No,” another Methodist remarked. “I’d’a never guessed.”
Yeah. Me neither.
They hoarded around him afterward. They asked a million questions. He didn’t give them much in the way of answers. I think they embarrassed him.
Anyway, the World Series ended midnight. It was quite a game. An extra inning. Heart murmurs. Players swarming the field in droves. Jumping. Embracing. Pointing to the sky. One player held his father so tight he almost suffocated him.
You’ve never seen so many grown men cry. Some, because of baseball.
Others because of ghosts.
Eight to seven. Cubs.