One of my favorite things to do was play baseball with the kids.
When I was a mascot for the local team, I got to do a lot of that. Many of the players on the field were playing for their lives: if you’re not a top prospect in the trenches of A+ minor league baseball, sometimes only a hair of ability and a pinch of luck are all you’ll have to cling onto as you play your fading youth away in front of an equally fading group of local septuagenarians. Every evening around 7:00, they emerge from their cozy bungalows on the edge of Florida’s Suncoast to soak in one of the last small town traditions that can still bring half of America to the edge of their metallic bleacher seats.
While those players hit and caught and threw and tagged and ran and won and lost and lived and died, I had my own past time underneath the first base seats. A stick ball game with kids, usually in elementary school and especially competitive in middle school.
Before my nightly ill-fated race from first to third after the bottom of the second, I stepped up to home plate: a point where three cracks met in the cement on the empty concourse floor. I pretended I was a right handed Carlos Pena, aligning the middle of my strike zone with three subtle whiffs of my plastic bat. Strike one.
I always swung at the first pitch. I was a notoriously easy out.
Strike two, looking.
I make a faux argument with the oldest boy there, the de facto umpire among the bunch. Chest bumping might ensue, but this ritual is less formal than the event taking place on the field 50 feet away. Anyway, they don’t have the gall to eject me. I practically own the place.
I dig into the cement below me. That’s it, I think: “I haven’t got time for this. Plus, you are just a bunch of kids.”
With my four fingers of blue fur, I grip the yellow bat that somehow slipped past the elderly security guard at the front gate, and I point it skyward. I have a similar diet to that of the Babe, and he could pull it off. So why not me?
The all-time pitcher winds up, apparently oblivious to the fact that there is no solid wall behind me. If his pitch makes it past my mighty bat, it winds up in the grass lot to the west of the ballpark. He doesn’t care.
The pitch comes. It is damned hard to see through my black mesh mask. The ball’s even harder to see a second after my bat swings through the encroaching bogey and sends it careening off of the underside of the first base bleachers.
I take two victory laps: one around the closed concessions stand that witnessed the mascot miracle, and one from first to third in my obligatory losing bid in the race between the second and third innings.
I lost every single race against a child I ever ran. But no loss can erase the fun I had standing tall over Dunedin’s own field of dreams.
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