All those medications and mindfulness classes and Gil let his mind wander anyway, at a boy under the bleachers…..green stetson hat, bluejay feather jetting out, opened black suit jacket, t-shirt, jeans with holes in the knees, and what looked like a 20-sided dice dangling from his neck. He was tossing pebbles at the tru-link fence, looking dreamless, bored.
The typically shy, reserved Gil approached this boy and told him, in a semi-preachy tone, about the beautiful yellow stains on the outfield grass…”that they come from the sun or maybe dog urine.” The boy laughed and did a 180…faced the field for maybe the first time so Gil continued….”trees carved into bats and the ratter tatter of players on benches mocking pitchers and sometimes the taunting works wonders as balls fly over the home run fence.
“Come with me,” continued Gil. The boy had no where to be…never did, so he followed along, to Pinball Pharmacy where Gil bought seven packs of baseball cards.
It was Bert Blyleven’s 1986 Topps card that planted forever in Gil’s heart and so he explained to the boy all about Blyleven’s curveball and about there maybe, possibly, hopefully, being some up and coming A-ball pitcher emulating Blyleven’s 12-6 spinner and as sure as a Russian mountain, another up and comer, a left-handed batter who would guess that lollipop sweet sucker was coming and send it sailing towards the right field bleachers into hands, our hands, forever, the lottery ticket winner.
“You mean, you get to keep the ball?” asked the suddenly bewitched boy.
“Yes, you do,” replied Gil. “Yes, we do, and yes, we will.”
“Well then, it’s about time I told you my name,” said the boy. “I’m Uriah.”
And so an objective, a dream, was born, to catch a home run ball and it bound Gil and Uriah together, more powerful than ethnic ties.
The two lived in Sweet Hammer, Michigan and other than the annual firehouse parade, there wasn’t much to do unless you liked fishing down by Tater Creek. But baseball fans didn’t mind all the nothingness because Sweet Hammer was home to the short season, A-ball, Cave Dwellers. They played at Hellbright Stadium.
And there were home runs there, plenty of em, maybe no more than the year Calvin Catapalt hit 47, but that damn canopy of longer arms and hands always won as some lucky older bastard caught the ball, but Gil and Uriah didn’t pout. They drank beer and played a game, more like a simulation, no sides, no winners or losers, only the two of them. One would throw the rubber ball on the gutter-less side of Tinker Tech’s school roof and the other would position themselves like a fireman waiting for a suicide leap, waiting for that ball to drop in their hands. then they would reverse rolls, until the sun faded and they couldn’t see the ball anymore.
Of course, they could have bought a ball from Merle Harmon’s Fan Fair at the old Busby Mall. Or Gil could have asked his father for one as a Christmas or birthday gift. Gil’s Dad worked at Yadorian’s Slaughterhouse and yeh, he eluded the bottle fate and didn’t beat his wife or fall asleep in front of the tv. but he was quiet, skinny, sad. not meant to be a father. and Uriah’s father? he didn’t have one. didn’t have a mother either, not that he knew anyway. He was an orphan. bad luck for both boys or maybe not because Gil clung to Uriah and Uriah clung to Gil, two vagabonds, sharing straps of a heavy load.
Gil took up guitar and found a job in textiles. Uriah let his hair grow and became a gravedigger.
A Detroit Tigers caravan voyaged around Michigan, to seduce families into summer trips to old Tiger stadium. And they came to Sweet Hammer one winter….Trammel-Whitaker-Parrish-all of em. They talked and signed autographs and a played an actual game with fans, indoors, at the local armory. Whitaker flipped a ball to Digger Whooster, a janitor at the only high school in Sweet Hammer. Gil and Uriah didn’t play. Instead, they drifted to the right field area where the bleachers would be and it was John Wockenfuss who sent one sailing, into Gil’s hands and well, the two young men never made a pact or an agreement as to who would keep the ball if they caught one…no documents, no signatures, no nothing and they say when water boils, the impurities rise to the top and as sure as a dog barks and world wars ignite, a custody battle ensued. Uriah argued that he deserved the ball, that he’d been wronged too many times in his life, from being an orphan to being fired from Otto’s Muffler repair shop to his life as a gravedigger.
Gil listened to Uriah’s plea and nodded his head, but he never let go of the ball. His nails were long. He’d been growing them to play a better flamenco guitar and so he easily set that ball’s red stitches free and then he removed the leather casing, unwound the yarn, intestines to the moon long and when he reached the golf ball sized ball in the middle, he tossed it to Uriah and said, “this yarn is textiles; it’s mine and this ball is yours.”
Uriah had no idea about a baseball’s innards, but he’d seen plants and flowers bloom above graves and rabbits too, darting about with their big, bulgy, life affirming eyes so Uriah figured why not give it a try…he tapped the 20-sided dice around his neck and buried the golf ball sized ball with a grave and winter came and winter went and in spring, there were no magical mangos dangling from birch tree branches, but Uriah felt warm.
he tracked down Gil and the two wandered out to highway 69 and hitchhiked south, to Tiger Stadium, to the upper deck of the the right field bleachers, and in the bottom of the seventh with no outs, Johnny Grubb launched one their way and no, they didn’t catch the ball, but a few innings later, when the 27th out was recorded, they joined the others and got flushed from the beauty and well, they made sure to keep their ticket stubs.