Jim is an accomplished writer with many great literary achievements, most of which he simply made up.
Left field. That's where I spent most of my baseball career on the playground, those random times I was actually picked.
"Harold has the measles," they informed me. "You're the last one picked."
In the event you didn't actually suck at sports like I, left field is where they stuck the worst player where he'd be least likely to scuttle the teams' chance to win.
Recess. Third grade. This was some serious stuff. Careers were made, reputations lost at recess. One day, one play. That was all it took to go from hero to zero
That's me. Out there in left field. I'm the snaggly-toothed kid in the crew-cut and the baggy blue jeans from Sears & Roebuck. Montgomery Wards or Sears. Those were the choices. The mall? No one dreamed of such a mercantile mecca back in the day. My entire wardrobe was either mail order or hand me downs, yours' too unless your parents were fortunate enough to have a car and drive to the store in Moberly.
So far I'm doing great. No ball has ventured my way all game and I'm starting to feel my athletic prowess sprout up like sprigs of grass, reaching for the clouds.
My last instructions before being banished to left field were simple.
"Henderson," they said. "Don't screw this up again!"
"You bet," I said. "Got it."
A fertile is plot hatched
I had other motivation I dare not divulge. This confidential information must be held in extreme secrecy. This I had to play close to the chest, kept to myself lest perpetual shame and humiliation follow me to my grave. Mary Lou was watching the field intently. Sitting between Mary Elizabeth and the only other girl not named Mary were the three prettiest girls at Higbee Elementary School.
Suddenly a fiendish plot presented itself, hatched from the fertile soil of my imagination. This was my one big chance to be the hero, win the game, and impress the girls. Maybe one of them would even want to sit with me at lunch? No one ever sat with me at lunch besides Donnie Tuggle and our elite little band of social outcasts.
Sigh. Mary Jo, sitting with me... I felt weak-kneed. Against my better judgement, my mind wandered.
I can see the girls. They're looking my way. I think May Kay was smiling at me? Yes, I'm sure of that. She is smiling at me! It could be the glare of the morning sun in her eyes by the way she squinted, but, hope springs eternal in the heart of a desperate, lonely third grader when Mary Ellen was sitting in the stands.
Hope springs eternal in the heart of a desperate, lonely third grader when Mary Ellen was sitting in the stands!
Of course, an asteroid could always strike the planet somewhere in the infield, probably had a greater chance statistically of happening than Mary Jane wanting to sit with me ...but spring is in the air, the birds are singing, the bees are... "Whoa!. That was close!"
That bee almost got me!
Can't scream like a girl and run away, just not cool when you're trying to impress Mary Beth. I was forced to collect what remained of my manly composure. Where was I? oh, yeah ...the birds and the bees. Maybe this is the year when Mary Alice says "hi" to me and I can manage to get something intelligent out of my mouth besides, "oh, um, Hi." and, "...do you like sauerkraut?!!"
It's not my fault. Whenever I got close to a girl my cerebral matter turned to the consistency of peanut butter and all my synapses started sputtering and misfiring like old man Allen's pickup truck. I can feel the rays of romance like bright lights bursting through the clouds and ugh …did I just step in doggie-doo?!!
Love and doggie-doo. Talk about sudden death in romance, you can not impress a girl with that all over your shoe! We all knew this, it was an unwritten law, forever etched in our minds.
I got it all over my shoe... now if Mary Lou sits with me she's gonna see I stepped in doggie-doo and its' all over my shoe. Talk about sudden death in romance, you can not impress a girl when you step in that! It wasn't written down in some table of stone but we all knew this instinctively.
Feverishly I worked to scrape the estranged canines' dirty deed from the side of my shoe until it turned somewhere between a dirty brown and a dingy green.
That's when I saw Mary Renee waving at me! Could it be?! She could be swatting at a fly, but, waving at me was somewhere in the realm of possibility ...I think.
The game is on the line
Out in left field but they were all hollering at the pitcher who had worked us into a hole with 2 balls, no strikes, and a runner on second. The infield was darting around like busy little ants.
The pitch ...and another ball veered harmlessly out of strike range.
Now the batter stood with a smirk curled up at the corner of his mouth that would have made the mighty Casey cringe. He stood at the plate coiled, ready to swing into the 3rd grade annals of fame, forever enshrined. The pitcher, barely able to hold the runner at bay, held the field in suspended animation.
Infield, outfield, everywhere but left field was wound up tighter than a rubber band.
Our pitcher let one go, like a spit wad, that sailed toward the plate. Ball met bat with a loud crack and through the infield it hurtled. Fielders lurched and dove futilely as the projectile sped past their open mitts, careening into the outfield. Just past first base, it rocketed, straight toward the weakest link on the team.
And there I stood. Me. Somewhere between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The other team, seeing nothing between the fence and certain victory but me, prematurely began celebrating on the sidelines.
A white blur, traveling like a cannon ball, careened wildly toward me. The deadly projectile bounced and dodged crazily across the playground at dizzying speed, changing direction, somehow, barreling my way.
The ball missed my outstretched glove despite my clenched teeth and closed eyes as it struck my leg and came to a dead stop. Stunned and dazed, something inside me -maybe the screaming teammates clamoring at me- demanded I throw it home.
I painfully lobbed the ball toward home plate. The ball left my hand in a high orbit that caused a bird to abruptly change its direction mid-flight. The battered white spheroid made a spectacular re-entry, just in time to conk the runner in the head, and send him sprawling headfirst into the dirt, just shy of home plate.
"Out," the umpire screamed "…cold!"
It's an unwritten rule in playground sports, praise and adulation come before first aid!
Shock, then jubilation, seized the spectators.
"Henderson stopped the ball," they cheered loudly!
I could only hope a professional scout was somewhere in the stand, scribbling notes while he poured over my game stats, before dashing off to a phone booth to make the call.
Suddenly I was the hero! I had single-handedly won the game for my team. In that moment of glory, my trajectory changed from heel to hero. Now maybe Mary Ruth would want to sit with me. As long as I didn't have to actually say anything!
After the big game would surely come my moment of glory, I imagined. My fortuitous accident would be forever emblazoned across sports magazines and whispered in hushed tones in locker rooms across the state.
"Henderson actually caught the ball," they repeated in disbelief. "Who knew?"
All the girls named 'Mary-something' stood simultaneously to their feet, cheering wildly for me! I trotted triumphantly toward the stands where the girls waited to shower me with kisses of adulation, which I would humbly accept.
…and then it happened!
Was the universe stacked against me?
Before I could receive my big kiss, and the adulation of any girl named 'Mary-anything', it happened.
The bell rang.
Just like that, recess was over. Back to the drudgery of mass incarcerated education, I trudged.
It was then I realized, how short-lived are those moments of glory.
Freshly made I think, but, who really knows? I mean, the consistency of cooked cabbage …how would you know if it was really fresh?
Whispers and giggles
Back in class, I was eager to ride a wave of popularity that must accompany my newfound star status, however, Mrs. Bloat -the homeroom teacher- seemed duly unimpressed by my singular act of athletic prowess. Ten minutes back in class and the girls had yet to throw themselves at me. I felt my glory receding. It shriveled and withered like the hope on the first day of school,
Oh, fate you fickle beast! Briefly had I touched the stars only to be cast back down to earth,
By lunch I would spectacularly fall back into the ignominy that was my life.
Standing in the cafeteria line was enough to bring anyone down to earth. The lunch room ladies, whom I affectionately called 'Nazis-in-hair-nets', were doling out soggy goulash with a side of sour disposition.
"You want jello," she snapped? Her words had all the charm of a pit-bull on a chain -how dare I interrupt her busy day for a serving of something that resembled edible food?
All I can do is shake my head up and down
She grins and slops down an extra helping of cabbage onto my tray.
Freshly made I think, but, who really knows? I mean, the consistency of cabbage, they could just cook it once and serve it all year and no one would ever know. Right? The steaming pile on my tray stared menacingly back at me. Next to it jiggled and wiggled the lime green jello, all wobbly and happy. We all knew the lunch ladies preyed on kids with happy faces so it payed to project a solemn state of glum until safely through the line.
I trudged to the nearest empty seat.
That's when the clouds parted, the sun broke through, and Mary Lou sat down beside me. She smiles at me before crinkling up her cute little nose.
Sniff. "Is that, is that doggie-doo I smell?"
Stunned, all I could extract from my brain was a feeble, "Do you like sauerkraut?"
She politely gets up and moves to another table full of girls. I hear whispers ...and giggles.
The steaming pile of cabbage on my tray stared menacingly back at me.
Back in class, someone had placed the game ball on my desk. Math class had barely started when someone passed a note up to my desk.
"Psst," I heard. The note said, from Mary Lou!
I cautiously glanced her way in time to see her smile back at me.. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, clinging hard to my desk lest I fall out and forever ruin my chances with any girl in class.
Time for a rare moment of contemplation. Before recess I was a nobody, now Mary Lou is passing me notes! And all for one game. In left field, no less. Fate, ever so fickle, had somehow smiled on me the day Harold got the measles and I won the game.
It said, "I like sauerkraut too!"
Strange things happen in left field.
© 2020 Jim Henderson