Seven Innings

Late afternoon, pedaling two miles on a sparkling three-speed Schwinn. Up all the way. Catching breath crossing the long plateau before the two mile lazy coast down the back side of Bear Hill. In the center of town, gliding to a stop a world away from the road, on the edge of an empty field.
A city ballpark this was not. Without players with bats, strikes and outs, not much more than a big backyard. No scoreboard or fans, fence or signs, bleachers, dug outs or lights; just a green expanse with a fresh grass smell still strong from the three o’clock cut. Square cutouts, two-foot wide, where the bases go. A grouping maple tree as old as the town, hanging over the top edge of a heavy looking, green, wood plank backstop.
Three players watch the road for the others. Sun settling, scrapping tree tops, its heat long gone.
Opponents, thirteen years each, arrive squashed inside parents’ cars, unraveling, stretching after the long ride from hometowns of Shirley or Groton, Pepperell or Ayer, surveying the country bumpkin’s baseball facility as a new planet. Three, four, six in a car, in frumpy miss-sized uniforms. Packaged boys for a summer joust.
Playing just for themselves, for the game of it. For the joy of getting up to hit. Fingers wrapping on the wooden bat. A stinging shin from a second base slide lost in the embrace of an umpires call, “SAFE!” And maybe, if they hurried, just enough daylight for seven innings. They’d play a hundred if they could.
Three dogs chase and wrestle through center field then over to right, swirling, unaware of the importance happening around them. “Come on Rusty,” coaxes an ambling senior whose attention is more on conversation with her friend.” You think they might get in the way?”
The combatants forgetting who won as soon as it’s over. Clamping a scuffed leather glove, once Uncle Russell’s, under the silver spring on the front bicycle fender, throwing a leg over, starting a tired wobble toward the road.
Legs burning, pedaling while standing, twisting side to side up steep Bolton Road, over the hill for the four mile ride home to the farm in the nine PM moonless summer dark; passing not a car.
Re-living the good catch. The slide. Every pitch. Savoring baseball’s exhaustion.
Already planning the next game, praying for no rain.

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