The light wool uniform was a tad baggy but not uncomfortable in the summer sun. It was a light gray and had the feel of pajamas except for the number on the back and the stripes on the shirt and pants. A blue stripe along the seams and the number thirteen weighing upon my back decorated the otherwise nondescript outfit. I had my glove in my hand and my cap on my head. I was ready to walk to the school.
I looked back at the little box of cinderblocks I called home.
“Pink,” I thought. “Of all the colors to paint a house. Pink. Yuck.”
My folks had moved here recently to be closer to my grandparent’s house since I had been staying there during the school week. It was a good feeling to know that my parents missed me enough to move closer so that I could walk to our house instead of my grandparent’s. Yeah, it was a good feeling but it didn’t quite make up for them not attending the game I was headed toward.
I had made the baseball team. Well it was Little League, but still. Yup, I was a little leaguer and heading down the road to my first actual game.
“I better walk,” I thought. “I might get grease from my bike chain on to my brand new uniform and that wouldn’t do. They might not let me play.”
The road wound out of the subdivision onto Stono Shores Road. I picked up my pace from my usual mosey and hurried along the side until I got to the Municipal Golf Course. Old Man Adams always ran us off the fairway when he caught us but it never stopped us crossing over to get to school. He wasn’t around so it was clear walking ahead. Crossing Maybank Highway was no problem. It led to Johns Island and nobody cared so it was a lonely stretch of two lane black top to the bridge crossing the Stono.
I ran across like always because it was a road and my parents had always told me to stay off the road unless I wanted to be run over by an automobile. Though there wasn’t one I had no wish to tempt fate. It was always possible an out of control Ford could come barreling out of nowhere and run me over leaving me on the side of the street like a flat cat, two days old.
So I scooted across holding my glove firmly in my hand. My folks had bought it for me last time we were in Silver’s. It lay on the counter smelling of new cut leather, and aphrodisiac to a young boy enamored of baseball legends like Pee Wee Reese and Mickey Mantle. I reached up on the counter and pulled it off and slipped it onto my left hand. The feel of it was firm and caressing. I plopped it onto my face and inhaled deeply. The rich new leather smelled of calf and oil bursting with the promise of super stardom on the baseball field.
I punched my fist into the pocket and felt the slight stab of pressure against my palm.
“Wow! That’ll protect my hand against the sting of a line drive,” I exclaimed.
My dad nodded at me as he looked around for my mother who had walked into the lingerie section.
“Can I get this?” I asked him.
“Get what, son?”
“This glove. I’ll need it since I’m on the team. All the guys have their own glove. I’d really like to have my own so’s I don’t have to borrow one when I go to the games.”
“You don’t need a baseball glove,” he said still looking around the store.
“No, I guess not.” I took it off my hand slowly feeling the luxury of a real baseball mitt slip away. I put it back where it was but lingered looking fondly at it.
“Oh, there she is,” said dad. “Let’s go, son.”
He walked off but I stayed on half listening to his words and half wandering into a daydream.
“Batter up!” yelled the ump as I stood on the pitcher’s mound staring at home plate. I slapped the ball into the pocket of my brand new, genuine leather Spalding baseball mitt. Whap! It made contact as I studied the hand signals of the catcher behind the opposing team member cracking the bat against his cleated shoes. I shook my head. The catcher proposed a new signal. It looked more promising to me with this batter. I nodded. For a minute I looked around at the lead the runner on first had taken. He quickly sidestepped back toward first. I was satisfied. I knuckled the ball as I began my windup. All the power in my body went into that pitch and WHAP! It sliced through the batter’s swing and into the catcher’s mitt. I smiled as he tossed it in a high arc back to me, the ump’s shout of “STIKE ONE!” echoing in my ear.
I caught it easily in the webbing of my glove. Out of the corner of my eye I caught the runner edging off first. I whipped around placing the ball directly into the glove of our first baseman. The runner sprinted for second, missing it by a fraction of a second as the slap of hardball against leather sounded an instant before he was tagged. The second out for our opponents. The second baseman tossed the ball to me.
Now to strike this man out. I leaned toward home plate watching the catcher’s fingers. No. He sent another signal. No to that as well. I nodded to his third signal coiled my body and slipped that ball through the air right past the magic space into soft leather.
“STRIKE TWO!” yelled the umpire over the crowd’s roar.
I retrieved the ball after it was tossed from first to third to second. Once again I leaned toward the plate and nodded to the first signal. As I wound up to burn that ball across the plate the crowd was roaring “Rick-ey! Rick-ey!”
“Rickey! Son?! Are you alright?” My dad touched my shoulder waking me from my place on the mound.
“Huh? Uh, yes sir. Sorry,” I mumbled. I looked up at the glove on the counter then at my dad.
“Couldn’t I please have my own glove?”
“Son, we can’t afford it right now.” It was his only answer to my questions about buying something I wanted.
“What’s the matter,” asked my mother as she walked up to us carrying boxes under her arm.
“Oh, Rickey, wants me to buy some baseball glove. I told him we can’t afford it.”
“Don’t you remember I told you he’s joined the Little League?” asked my mother.
“Little League? What’s that?”
“Baseball, daddy. I got on the team. That’s why I need my own glove.”
“Oh. You said you could borrow one, didn’t you?” He was looking at me with a firm stare.
“Yes sir, I can, but …”
“Well no need to buy one then,” he answered.
“Yes sir,” came my usual disappointed answer.
“Dear, can’t we make an exception this time? He did join up to play baseball. Can’t we support him by getting the glove?” It was my mother. It was completely out of character. Any time my dad put the kibosh on something it was totally kiboshed. She was treading unsteady ground here.
“He said he could borrow one. We don’t really have the money to buy another toy.”
I almost jumped in to say, it’s not a toy, but discretion and my mother’s quick look stopped me before I could ruin the moment.
“He wants to play baseball. What better way to play than with his own glove? If it’s the money I could cut some things from the grocery list for a few weeks. The glove is only ten dollars.”
“That’s a lot of money for something frivolous.”
“Maybe so but to a child it isn’t frivolous. Didn’t you want something as a child that your parents thought frivolous?”
Dad seemed to drift away. A frown grew across his face. He nodded.
“Yes, I do.”
“You always said you wanted your son to have better than you. Couldn’t we splurge a bit for him this time? He went out especially to get on the team. The other boys have their own gloves I bet. It is baseball, after all, the American past time.”
“We had cricket. I don’t know anything about baseball,” he said and it was so true. He had no clue when he saw my baseball card collection. He just shook his as he fanned them out like a deck of cards.
“He would really feel more like a player with his own glove.” My mother was fighting hard to bring him around. I looked up pleadingly at my dad. He looked at me with that frown.
“You think you can juggle the grocery money?”
“Yes, I do. Shall we let him get it?” She smiled at my dad. He melted under that smile’s warmth.
“Well, if you think you can swing it.”
“I do,” said my mother.
Dad looked at me and nodded his head. “Go ahead, son. Get the glove.”
I had the glove in my hand and was standing in front of the cashier before they could change their minds. Dad took out his wallet and counted out the price, then handed it to the lady behind the counter. I grabbed my glove and ran outside. I couldn’t believe my dad had just bought me my own baseball mitt. It was a rare occasion indeed.
My folks came through the door. Dad looked at me the spoke in his hard voice.
“You need to thank you mother, son. She is the one who will be finding the way to afford that thing.”
I wrapped my arms around my mother. Holding her tight I said over and over, “Thank you, momma. Thank you. I’ll be the best player on the team. I promise.”
I could see a tear in her eye as I looked up. She looked down at me and said, “You just enjoy yourself. You don’t have to be the best. You just enjoy yourself.”
The bus was running when I got to the school. The coach was counting the players as the got on board.
“Hurry up, boy! We’re going to be late. What’s your name?” he asked as I got on the bus.
“Rickey,” I answered waving my glove at my buddy.
“Last one,’ he said. “Alright Charlie take us to the game.”
I sat on the bench after my first time at bat. The other team’s pitcher threw three sizzlers over home plate while I stood there with the bat on my shoulder. My team mates kept yelling for me to swing the bat, just swing the bat. I was out my first time at bat. The coach decided I was a better bench warmer than player so for the entire season I warmed it. I never even got to play my usual spot in the field during Little League games. I was only an outfielder when my buddies were choosing up sides to play for fun. At least I did when I was chosen.
My glove? It stayed well-oiled and in the closet after my Little League career was finished which was one season on the bench. My batting average was 000 and my RBI’s were zero. It’s hard to make averages when you are mistaken for a football player. I figured that was the problem since every time I left the bench to grab a bat the coach would yell, “Get your tail back!” Not everybody can be a star, much less a player.
And, yet, my mother showed no disappointment in my baseball career. Both my parents worked to make ends meet which meant they were never able to make it to any games. I never understood at the time but with age… My mother. She has always been one in a million. She always went to bat for me.