One swing of the bat and a frozen rope laced foul from the barrel of a 32-ounce bat beaned my Dad straight in the left temple, and he crumpled in my lap. It was opening day. I was ten years old, and we both were wearing gloves. We both knew to stay heads up since we were sitting right behind the first base dugout. We weren’t rubes coming to the ballpark for the first time. My dad made a game of it. We focused on the batter the same way the infielders did, leaning in, eyeing the pitcher, and waiting for the batter to make his move. It was a fluke, a one-in-a-billion chance. I dropped my hot dog, and he reached down to pick it up for me.
As he sat up, I heard the crack of the bat, and the next thing I knew, he was down. I froze, and twenty-five years later, I still have a feeling of disbelief. But it was all too real. People came at us from all directions, and I watched as they carried my Dad to the ambulance. They sat me in the front, and I remember the siren and the way the driver in his white uniform ran the red lights. They took him straight into the emergency room. There was a nurse who took my hand and led me into where I would wait. She asked me to talk about my father. I was so scared, I could hardly speak. I told her my Dad loved baseball, and we talked about it every night before I went to bed. My Dad made up stories about the players in the majors when they were in the minor leagues before they were famous and made the big money.
Then my Mom came, and she was crying, and so I cried, and we waited and waited. Then the doctor opened the door, and my Mom, even before he could speak, shouted, “No!” and I knew at that moment, my Dad was gone.
My Dad loved baseball. He played little league and for his junior high and high school teams, and after that semi-pro, and after that softball, which is what I saw him play. He was a line drive, clutch player with a strong arm who roamed center field, and could, as he liked to say, hit em’ where they ain’t. He’d told me softball wasn’t really baseball, but he got to swing a bat and run the bases and make circus catches if anyone got a hold of one to deep center. He loved the lingo of baseball, the cornier the cliché, the better. He joked about Texas leaguers, and being stuck in a pickle, and to watch out for the chin music. It was a language he was happy to teach me, and I was glad to be taught.
Baseball died for me that day. My Mom told me every night for a year it was not my fault. I was ten years old, she reminded me, and I dropped a hot dog at a baseball game. It was a freak accident. I finally believed her, but I never put a glove back on. I’m still my Dad’s son, and I like sports. I played soccer and basketball in high school and ran track in the spring. I follow sports online, but I don’t follow the standings or read the box scores. I walk away from the day-after conversations about the games at work, and I don’t do baseball trivia. I don’t think about dropping the hot dog every day. I don’t live in fear of the unreasonable and unexpected. I don’t think I do.
Now, I have a son, Samuel, who is ten years old. I introduced him to soccer and frisbee and basketball. We play together, and we go to games. He’s a natural. He has that good eye-hand coordination that athletes have even when they are young.
He knows the story of his grandfather getting killed by a foul ball. It is part of our family folklore. When we visit his grandmother, the pictures of his grandfather when he was my age and looks all too vigorous in photo after photo stand out in stark contrast to her grey hair.
One other thing is important to know. We named Sam after his grandfather, and he wants to play baseball. He doesn’t tell me he wants to play baseball, but last night when I checked on him, I found his glove sheltering a ball under his pillow. My son, my wife tells me, is a five-tool player who can hit, run, and throw. He not only covers second in his games with his friends but also for me. He can bike, skateboard, whatever, but he wants to play baseball. He knows I will be looking for the brush back, the chin music, the bang-bang play, and so he keeps his game secret. But I’m on deck, a pinch hitter here. If my son can hit, then so can I.
Alan Vernon was born in Aiken, South Carolina and raised in Aiken and Wilmington, Delaware. After spending over thirty years living abroad as a humanitarian aid worker, Alan Vernon writes fiction full time from West Chester, Pennsylvania. He is finalizing his first novel.