September 20, 2006

Well baseball season is about over again. My personal interests in the baseball standings are long over, as my team has again tanked long before September arrived. But that’s the professional game. Isn’t baseball after all a game for kids? I know grown-ups play the game, but primarily I think it is a game for kids to play in vacant lots, unattended by well meaning, but interfering adults. A game played for fun before suppertime on a Saturday afternoon. This runs through my mind as I post this little story I wrote several years ago about just that sort of scenario. I hope you like it.

The neighborhood eight and A. jones
By Jim Kittelberger

The Neighborhood Nine were down to eight, and the big game was coming up. The rules were tight and had to be followed. Only kids who lived within their area could play. The team had done well all season, but now the biggest game of the season was coming up against the Mean Machine. The Mean Machine from the industrial area of town were big and tough and good. They looked the rulebook over and over, but there were no loopholes. Nine must play and they had to be from the team's area. The eight didn't know what to do. They moaned and groaned and scratched and spit. They whined, and grumbled and pounded the mitt. In the background, stood a skinny freckle faced girl with sandy hair in pigtails, tucked under a baseball cap. She wore rolled up jeans and droopy socks and a shirt half in her pants and half out. Her name was Agnes and girl stuff was not enough for her. Her dream was not to be Miss America, or prom queen, or a cheerleader. No, Agnes' greatest dream was to be a shortstop, not a girl shortstop, but the greatest shortstop ever there was. She wanted to be better than Omar, Nomar and Jeter. But the boys would not let her play. They just laughed and said she was just a girl and a skinny one at that. But now, maybe now, when they had to have one more player...maybe now was Agnes' turn. What were the eight to do? How could they show up for the big game with eight and Agnes? But no other options were to be found, so on the day of the big game there they were, Bobby and Tommy, Joe and Sam, Maxie, Georgie, Jimmy, Timmy and the new guy A. jones. The game was tight and the teams were full of fight. Machine was up by one in the second, the Neighborhood Eight and A. jones tied it in the fourth and went ahead in the sixth. The day was hot and tempers were too, and the Machine forged ahead to show they were not through. The bottom of the ninth was here and the Neighborhood Eight and A. jones were behind by one. Maxie led off with a hit and hope was born. Georgie and Jimmy did their best, but the Machines pitcher put them to rest. Next up was Timmy, but he had not gotten on base all day and it looked bad for the eight and A. jones. The count was full, three and two, when Timmy knew what he had to do. The pitcher wound up his long arm and let it fly and Timmy let it hit him in the eye. Take a base. So here it was bottom of the ninth, two out, two on, one run behind, and coming to bat was the skinny new kid, A. jones. Agnes had made Omar, Normar and Jeter proud, but now it was A. jones against the biggest, strongest boy of all, six foot tall and born from steelworkers, tough and mean, but backing down would destroy her dream. A. jones dug in at the plate, and stared at the mound. Pitcher stared at batter, and neither blinked. The battle lines were drawn and no quarter was to be given or expected. A. jones scratched the dirt with her cleats, and the pitcher tossed the rosin bag down at his feet. The pitcher rubbed the ball and squeezed it hard, showing his muscles to all in the yard. The batter stared back and dared him to throw it past her if he could. He wound up and plateward it flew, spinning and twisting like a magical round orb and into the catchers glove, strike one. Ohh, gasped the boys in the dugout. A. jones looked their way and gave a reassuring smile, as if she knew what was coming next. Pitcher stared at the catcher, gave a long look and shook off one sign. He looked in again and shook off another sign. The third sign got a nod and he rocked his big body and the ball came out of his hand as if shot from a cannon. A. jones' body became a coordinated batting unit, arms flexed, and the bat starting forward as the ball streaked towards the plate. A. jones felt the air move as the ball smacked into the catchers mitt and she nearly screwed herself into the ground as her bat met nothing but air. No balls, two strikes, no room for error now. A. jones stepped back, stared at the pitcher, then stepped back in and waited for another hard fast one. The pitcher glared and launched another equally fast cannon shot right at the batters belt. A. jones squared her body in front of the plate and put down a beautiful drag bunt, leaving the pitcher shocked and the catcher struggling to get to the ball. The man on third streaked toward the plate as A. jones dashed toward first. They started their slides at the same time and as dust rose from home plate and first base, the two umpires bellowed in unison, "Safe." As it is in life and in the movies, when the dust had finally settled, years had passed, and another youngster was standing on first base trading high fives with his first base coach. He was smiling as he stood there, thinking once again how thankful he was that his mom, A. jones, had taught him all of her baseball skills.

(C) 2001 Jim Kittelberger. All Rights Reserved.

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