Popcorn, Peanuts and Tums
Sammy’s dad made him play baseball. Pops was pretty cool about the whole thing, always offering to play catch along the side yard, where there was a fence at the front and back of the throw-way, so there was minimal chasing down of errant throws. But still, hitting a ball with a stick, was about as exciting as trying to knock an even smaller ball into a hole, with a different kind of stick. I don’t know, thought Sammy, all this talk about balls and sticks...
Still Sammy tried. He tried when his pops pitched the ball to him; pops wanted to throw it hard, to match what Sammy saw during games, but also wanted Sammy to just knock the cover off the ball, and that wasn’t going to happen if he heaved it in there top speed. So he kept up with the elaborate wind-up, giving the impression that it was pure speed being delivered, instead of warmed-over oatmeal. It was pretty evident from his teammates’ perspective, that Sammy sucked as a baseball player.
For appearance’s sake, Sammy kept up the facade, and his dad kept on hoping that Sammy would eventually grow into that baseball mitt, the one that seemed to function on its own, an extension of the smooth fielder who wielded it. Sammy would have been happy to play right field the rest of his baseball career, getting his one fly ball per game, most of them uncatchable liners down the line, by the gratuitous southpaw. There was one of those peckers who generally made an appearance each game.
And Sammy still hadn’t figured out the batting part of the dawg and pony show. Poor Sammy. Hitting a ball, thrown at him at rocket speed, was as likely to occur as it was that it would start snowing, in July, in SoCal, where the last time they saw snow, the city declared a holiday, even if the snow was already gone, by the time the word went out, that there was a snow day in effect.
Sammy’s dad would sit in the stands, cheer rambunctiously, and munch popcorn, peanuts, and Tums, mixing the three in such a way, that there was never any realization that there was anything being consumed, but popcorn and peanuts, and maybe some iced cold lemonade, just in case his stomach was still functioning normally.
Sammy’s team was comprised of the typical components of your average team. There was the slugger, who sneered contemptuously at Sammy when Sammy tried to hit a baseball, but sniveled like a toy poodle, when it came to trying to figure out to write an essay, describing how he spent his summer vacation. Sammy’s composition was neatly word-processed, and in the homework basket, before he even took his seat on the morning after the homework essay was assigned. The slugger’s essay was still in the planning stage, the one that included Sammy, who was pressed into service regularly.
The team also included Billy, a kid Sammy used to chill with in elementary school, but now that they were in middle school, Sammy was just not quite there, as far as popularity was concerned, so Billy didn’t want to be seen any more than necessary, hanging out with his fifth grade bud, Sammy. It was all a little sad, thought Sammy, because the two of them had done some good work together in that vacant lot, the one with all the piles of dirt on it, that had been dumped when a local storm drain project was being implemented county-wide.
No one, not team members, coaches or parents thought they were going to contend for first place. There were just one or two Sammys too many, to expect that they were going to be able to compete with the hated Dodgers. No, the best they could hope for, was to play the Dodgers on their own terms, in the two meetings they had each season. Unfortunately for Sammy’s team, playing the Dodgers on their own terms, usually included getting pounded.
The first meeting had resulted in a 10-1 shellacking, missing being classified as a slaughter, by one measly run. Now they were playing the second game, and the universe had shifted abruptly, in that there was actually a game going on, as opposed to a slaughter. The score was 2-1 Dodgers, in the bottom of the sixth, the last inning of the tense contest.
Sammy’s team had managed to get the first two batters on, but they were still clinging to first and second base, unable to advance on the Dodgers’ catcher, a kid with a cannon for an arm. When the next two had struck out on the slow change-up, after being setting it up fastballs, it was up to Sammy. Pops had seen it all unfolding, dreading the fact that Sammy was going to be put in the position of being a goat, with all of the drama that it entailed, especially as soon as the front door shut behind them, upon their arrival home. Pops saw it all quite clearly.
` Sammy saw it clearly enough too. He saw a pitcher throwing fastballs that he could never hit, if he spent the rest of his life trying. So he didn’t try. He did not flail uselessly, messing up his timing for the more palatable change-up, that floated across the plate so invitingly, but that hitters invariably missed, because their swings were influenced by all that furious waving at fastballs.
Therefore, for the first time in memory, Sammy felt as though he had a chance. No one else did, including Sammy’s pops, but that was immaterial. It was Sammy who took a full swing at an 0-2 change-up, that floated in like a big fat grapefruit. Sammy took a mighty rip at that pitch, and popped it up. Straight up in the air it went, majestically arcing its way into the heavens, but unfortunately, within easy range of the pitcher’s mound, where one of the most sure-handed fielders roamed. It was all over but the handshakes at the end of the game.
Except that the pitcher, ever the gloveman extraordinaire, lost the ball in the sun, and the two base-runners, who had been running on a two-out, two-strike count, scored the tying and winning runs, while Sammy ended up on second, with a game-winning double. The official scorer, accurately ruled that botched pop-up was not an error, because the fielder had lost it in the sun. Therefore it was scored a double, and would look the same as a screaming liner to the wall, in the box score the next morning.
Sammy the hero. He figured he’d better enjoy it while it lasted. Maybe he could even work up the courage to tell that slugger to write his own damn essay; after all, Sammy had hit his own game-winning double, and didn’t care if the slugger sneered anymore, because Sammy was a hero.