I was a spindly-limbed, nine-year-old boy who enjoyed spending afternoons on the farmhouse porch reading Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis. I’d sit there for hours in the summer, moving my lawn chair so that I stayed in the shade, waving away the flies. Two huge oak trees stood like sweating sentries, their backs towards me, their faces looking at the small country church across the street, the one flanked by an enormous graveyard. The sky was vast and blue.
But I was also a first-baseman and pitcher for my local little-league team, Lengacher’s Cheese. We wore orange with the name of our sponsor emblazoned on the front in white. Our oversized baseball caps were made of mesh with the tab-and-hole size adjusters in the back. The pants were scratchy, some devilish form of polyester.
Two evenings a week and sometimes Saturdays I’d don my Lengacher’s Cheese baseball jersey and my parents would drive me to the ball field. Our home field was behind the local VFW, but on one particular summer evening an away game took us to the field of our arch rivals: Weiler’s Garage. Their uniforms were mostly green with a bit of yellow. Their players were all humongous, having been born and bred in a rough area we called The Welsh Mountain. They were legendary, a team to fear.
There was one player in particular who I felt anxious about playing against that night. Her name was Anne (obviously names have been changed here to protect the innocent). She had black hair and brown eyes. She was the only girl on the Weiler’s Garage team. I had a crush on her.
On that particular day fate would have it that my coach put me on the pitcher’s mound. The Weiler’s Garage field was at the back of a remote, overgrown park in the middle of The Welsh Mountain. It was lined on one side by a junkyard and the other side by a deep, impenetrable forest. Even with summer sunshine stretching late into the evening, the park felt dark and shadowy.
I took the mound. I felt the baseball in my hand, the red, raised seams rough on my fingertips. Their hitters were all strong, and I fought my way through the lineup. I looked up and realized Anne was making her way to the plate. She stood there confident and ready. I suddenly realized the predicament I was in.
What if I struck her out? I didn’t want to make her feel bad – I had a crush on her! In my little nine-year-old way, I wanted her to know that I liked her without actually having to say that. Striking her out didn’t seem like the first step on a path towards a budding, elementary school romance.
On the other hand, she was a girl, and if she got a hit off of me, I would be humiliated. There it is, the plain and simple truth. Girls weren’t supposed to be as good as boys at sports (though she was a good baseball player). If I didn’t go up against her and win, I knew my friends would make fun of me for it. I would never hear the end of it.
I took a deep breath. She stepped into the batter’s box. The ancient trees leaned in closer, casting their shadows on the old ball field. The sun dropped down behind them. The fans in the small bleachers, normally loud and chattering, went silent. I felt the seams again. I reached back and threw a fastball as hard as I could.
I don’t know if what happened was intentional – I can’t remember the exact thought processes of my mind from 30 years ago. More than likely it was due to the fact that I was nine years old and only a marginally decent pitcher. But was it more than? Was my subconscious working overtime to avoid losing to a girl while at the same time somehow keep from embarrassing her? Whatever the case, the ball flew through the heavy, summer air. The red seams spun. The catcher reached for the ball with his oversized mitt. But the ball never reached him.
Because I hit her.
I hit her with the pitch, and she fell to the ground.
* * *