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Home DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories
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Taking Him Deep

Bill Bilodeau

There was no doubt it was going to center field, nor that it was going over the fence.

Mighty Casey never strode to the plate with more purpose, more confident that the pitcher was his baby. Of course, in this case, the pitcher was my baby, but let that not take away even the slightest from my accomplishment: I took him deep; I lost that ball.

I went yard – my backyard to be exact, and it felt grand.

Actually, I feel a little sheepish gloating that I hit one out of my quarter-acre yard against my 6-year-old son.

Still …

I can't deny the high I felt hearing that definitive “clack” of the ball hitting the pavement as it landed. Truth be told, I've been feeling my age more and more lately, especially in my joints. Although I've never been terribly athletic, I always had enough coordination to get by if I hustled. Now, well, my lunchtime pickup basketball forays are often punctuated by oh-fer shooting and matador defense. For those not versed in hoopology, let me put it slightly less delicately: I suck.

This I'm used to. I've loved playing sports -- basketball, softball, football, you name it -- since I was a kid. But my talents have always been limited. It was only this week that I realized how much.

Since I turned 40 last winter, I've been feeling more mortal than ever, quite a feat for a closet hypochondriac. Since well more than half my mother's immediate family died of coronary disease before they reached 60 and my father died of cancer, I've always cringed at every unknown little twinge. Every headache was a brain tumor until proved otherwise; every bellyache a loaded appendix (this was especially frustrating after the time it really was my about-to-burst appendix, but I got over the frustration when I read about colon cancer).

Anyway, my suddenly more urgent need to take care of myself led me to try swimming (boring), walking (tres boring), and at-home Nordic skiing (that's right: the dreaded NordicTrack, invented by Lars Tegrin in 1178 as a way to torture the English [this was before the invention of steak-and-kidney pie, which made such devices unnecessary.])

Finally I came back to basketball. I never played organized basketball growing up. I tried out for the high school team my junior year and lasted almost all the way through the first day. I knew I was too slow and lacked the ball-handling skills to play guard, so I fell in with the forwards. Needless to say, at five foot seven and sporting a vertical jump of nearly an inch and a half, it was not a wise move. But still, over the years I've played enough pickup ball to have savored the sweetness that comes with having the luck to end up on a team with enough raw talent to outplay the other five without your efforts, or in spite of them.

So off I went to the rec center to recapture my glory days, carrying with me visions of my short, doughy body and chicken-finger-clotted arteries emerging from the adventure looking like a white Michael Jordan. With hair.

And glasses.

It took two visits before my achilles tendons began aching to the point I couldn't walk down stairs without looking like a crippled rock-hopper penguin.

Then my left wrist went dead. Actually, dead would have been far better than what I experienced, which was excruciating pain any time I put any pressure on it (such as, say, wearing a shirt with starched cuffs).

Soon, my knees began hurting, though oddly enough, only when I wasn't playing ball.

So far, I've stuck with it and my joints are behaving well enough that I've also been able, when my son expressed a newfound interest in baseball, to say yes, I'd be glad to “have a catch.” (By the way, I've never understood that expression; one “has” a seizure, but “plays” catch. I've also never understood the expression “stand on line.”)

Anyway, when my son, to whom I'd been tossing batting practice in the yard, told me it was my turn to hit, I said, nonchalantly, “Sure, okay,” while thinking, “I'm taking you DEEP, pal!”

And I did.

It took a few pitches, since his throwing accuracy is about equal to my ability on the uneven parallel bars, but he finally got one where I could reach it. Bang! There it went, high into the air and directly behind me, landing foul on the roof of my house. But I was just warming up, and besides, the pitch was a mile over my head and… Okay, no whining here. I popped it up, sure, but I had to be careful not to line one back at my son. I also had to watch out for the bedroom windows looming in left field, and the neighbors junk cherry trees in right. Basically, I could hit a home run or do some kind of costly damage to home or kin.

But the next one he put within my area code, I whacked solidly and watched as it soared over the fence and bounded off the roadway and into the poison ivy across the street.

There were no crowds cheering, or even booing (although my son looked heartbroken; not that I'd homered, but that I'd lost the ball). No one knew, or would even have cared that I managed to hit a ball over a picket fence off a first-grader.

But I knew then what it must feel like to put one over the Green Monster in Fenway, or into the short porch in Yankee Stadium's right field. The opponent didn't matter. The distance didn't matter. Though I'd played Little League baseball and done all right as a hitter and played several years of men's softball decades ago, it was the first time I'd ever put one over the fence. Any fence.

Suddenly, the knees didn't ache, the heels weren't sore, the arteries weren't laden with grease. It didn't matter that the moment was lost on every living soul on the planet, save one. I loped around the bases with a stupid grin on my face and jumped on home plate as if I'd just set some kind of record, which for me, I had.

I think we'll probably move our games to the town park soon. It's too dangerous to the house for me to keep batting in the yard, and we only have one ball left, and lots of places around the yard to lose it.

Also, there's a field with a fence about 250 feet out, and I think if I got the right pitch…

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