by John Grey
“We want a hit!” they cried from the bleachers.Between fits of choking, I could imagine the announcer’s voice.“It’s going deep. It’s gone.”And everyone in the stands leaping from their seats.It didn’t happen.And I got into a fight later.And tried out a thousand excuses to avoid that Sunday’s Mass.I longed to be legendary and I wasn’t.So I hid behind a bourgeois piano lesson,played the same few notes over and over and over.That was the other me,chained to the keyboard because my elder sister did it,and the neighbor’s boy –he was even on a local TV station.Baseball season was over.The first nip of winter in the breeze,cold-cocked me as I stepped out of the housewith a cough coming at last to full throat, and my nose shouting and crying.I wandered by the playground,heard the familiar taunts.“Loser!” My goose-stepping ex-friends –what could I do? I was the mighty Casey. I struck out.Late afternoon, in the schoolyard,I was manhandled by two outfieldersbuilt like school buses, escaped up some rickety fire escape.They caught up with me.I played the game for fun.For them, it was all too real.Besides, I was only in the game becausesomeone called Anthony Barrett took sick.He never went 0 for 5 in his life.I did.Thus that endless cycle of guilt and expiation –It’s the bottom of the ninth and I’m up.In the field next door, I hear dogs scrapping.It’s an otherwise sunny, ordinary day.So stupid to look back onthough it was life and death then.I sit back and remember it clear.How my hometown was raw and hard.And deeply religious of course.It was either brawls in a backstreetor prayers and rosaries.There was no in-between.So when I saw Ricky Jackson, the fattest boy in school,being bullied by Alfie Singstrom,I didn’t intervene.I stood by and grinned.It was the law of the high school jungle.A bully wasn’t a bullyif he was bullying someone else.I’m back in town by a day or two.I walk by the baseball field and there’s no game.Some kids are hunched around a boom-box,stealing a few moments of music’s release.The diamond was my sickness then.It’s my treasure now.The church is still the same –the familiar regimen, the stiff, slow lines,souls bared and bleeding,the mighty vanquished, the meek inheriting.The priest looks at me, says something like,“I remember you.”I move on to the next memory.I kiss heaven goodbye.