I think I have mentioned at least a dozen times that I was not a particularly athletic kid. Sure, I played outside and climbed trees, but I never much cared for organized sports. T-Ball was no exception. I put absolutely no effort into understanding the finer points of the game and Babe Ruth was a candy bar I didn’t much care for either. T-ball, at its core, was just a bunch of overbearing parents guzzling beer poorly hidden in Mountain Dew koozies while anxious kids stood around in the sun fighting off heat strokes. I would have preferred to be swimming in the creek, but one summer, one catch changed it all.
Somehow our rag-tag team of misfits managed to get into the playoffs. It certainly wasn’t my 30 batting average and I am positive I contributed nothing more than aggravation for my parents and the coaches. Our opponents were called the Assassins or the Murderers, I don’t remember for sure, but they were a ruthless bunch of unsportsmanlike criminals. I bet a few of them could have played T-Ball professionally.
There I was, standing alone in left field during the championship game. Dandelions hung stagnant in the still air, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was somewhere else, anywhere else. I heard my dad shout my name from the crowd, “Kenny! Heads up boy! Pay attention!”
Just then, a ball landed at my feet and rolled haplessly between my legs. I dove on it and held the ball up as if I had just caught a game winning pop fly. My dad said, “Throw it boy; throw the ball,” so I threw it to him. The crowd erupted in anger and disbelief. Even though we only had 9 guys on our team, I was benched.
I was happy to sit in the shade of the dugout and drink grape Kool-Aid. The coach had a fan that rotated, and I spent the inning scooting up and down the bench to capture as much of the breeze as I could. The coach sighed and stopped the fan from rotating and pointed it at himself. I sat on the ground and played with my Hot Wheels.
There was a loud crack, and without looking up I said, “Somebody really got a hold of that one.” The ball soared over left field and the coach yelled for someone, anyone to get the “explicative” ball. As he took a long swig from his Mountain Dew koozie he looked at me and said, “This is your fault, all your fault.” I tried explaining that I wasn’t even playing but he shushed me into silence. As two players rounded third base, the center fielder finally made it to the ball and threw it to 3rd base stopping the final runner at second.
The physical assault went on for another eight innings. Through some unhuman turn of events, our team had managed to get ahead by one run in the ninth. I, on the other hand, had managed to build an entire town for my Hot Wheels, complete with a parking garage and a small bridge over a pond that I filled with grape Kool-Aid. Suddenly there was a thunderous explosion, followed almost instantly by unfettered screams of agony. The crowd gasped, then fell silent. The coach ran onto the field, along with the paramedics and several parents. They loaded Tommy onto a stretcher and hauled him away with a broken arm.
As the sirens faded into the distance, the coach looked at me with what I now know was disgust, and said, “Well Cavner, we have to have at least 8 players on the field. I guess you gotta go back in there. Get your glove and play short stop. I looked around for my glove while the coach grumbled, “It’s over there Cavner, just git out there.” I shoved three pieces of bubble gum into my mouth and trotted onto the field. My team mates cheered me on with words of encouragement like, “Don’t screw this up Cavner.” and “Don’t blow it.” I took my position at short stop, then after being directed by the 3rd baseman to scoot over a little more, then a little more, I settled in to play some ball.
The kid standing at the plate was a six foot tall monster and his flat nose was covered in scars and freckles. He took his hat off to wipe the sweat from his balding brow. A couple tufts of unkempt red hair sprung from his head like horns; devils’ horns. He intimidated all of us, heck he had just nearly killed Tommy. He stepped to the plate, the umpire sat the ball on the tee and shouted, “Play Ball!”
The devil kid spit in his hands and grabbed a handful of dirt, rubbed it in, then shouldered his bat. I nervously chewed my gum and blew a bubble. Turns out it was a Guinness World Record bubble, it just kept getting bigger and bigger. It was nearly as big as my head and had almost completely blocked my view of the game. I lifted my hat up a bit and kept feeding air to the massive bubble. The batter pointed directly at me and mouthed the words, “Heads up Cavner.” My eyes widened, there was a distinctive bone-breaking crack. The bubble had nearly doubled in size. I threw my glove blindly in front of my face. There was a popping thud and my hand began to sting immediately. I fell back onto the ground, the bubble burst all over my face and I laid there, not sure if I was still in this world or the next. The crowd cheered, the coach cheered, even my dad cheered. I had just caught a line drive ball and won the game. Sadly, I didn’t get evidence of the world record bubble, but I was the short stop hero, even if it was in the course of self-preservation.