"The ball, damn it, St. Peter, the ball," Miles would howl, tearing off his mask.
Coming to with a start, Jimmy would wave apologetically, shout, "Sorry," and lope off into center field. Usually he collided with the base runner, who had nearly reached second while Miles was trying to attract Jimmy's attention. (To this day, when the real St. Peter is mentioned I have a vision of a lank, graying figure in baseball uniform and high sneakers, scrabbling around in the uncut grass of the outfield.)
Miles, who had delusions of persecution and talked incessantly of what "they" would do if you did not keep a close eye on them, was further incensed by the frequent lapses of Benny at third. Benny was a dignified Negro with a dazzling display of gold teeth, who had been a lay preacher on the outside. He flatly refused to wear the team uniform and added to Miles's anguish by playing in vest and shirtsleeves, a derby hat squarely on his head. His look of elegance was completed by a neat necktie knotted firmly at the type of high boiled collar affected by both Benny and Herbert Hoover.
Benny's defensive weakness stemmed largely from the fact that he heard voices. Apparently they spoke chiefly of religious matters, and Benny answered them, loudly, clearly and sometimes heatedly. Often he would be in the midst of conversation with his ghostly advisors when a ground ball would come his way. Without a pause in his conversation, Benny would field the ball but would fail to complete the play. Instead, he would walk back to third, gesturing with the ball to emphasize some point in his theological discourse.
Jimmy used to argue with the overwrought Miles on the bench about this. He pointed out, with the sweet forbearance to be expected of St. Peter, that if Benny hadn't fielded the ball so capably it would have been a double or a triple. Anyway, Benny was always forgiven since he was the team's best hitter, although his base running left a lot to be desired. Even Miles defended Benny's refusal to slide into second on the grounds that a hook slide by a man in a derby and a Herbert Hoover collar would be ridiculous.
Frequently when we were at bat I would perch myself on the bench beside Mr. Wakefield and get him to tell me of the Mary Celeste or some other maritime epic. This he would do, gravely and yet entertainingly. He was a rotund, pinkish gnome with scholarly spectacles and a tonsure rimmed by fluffy gray hair. How he came to be on the team, or why he should have chosen to, I have no idea, but he was accepted by his teammates, whom he treated with a quaint, distant courtesy. No one ever thought of calling him anything but Mr. Wakefield, and even Miles seldom chided him for his athletic deficiencies.
When it came time for our side to take up defensive positions I would trot out to right field with Mr. Wakefield so that we might continue the story in progress. Nobody objected to this arrangement, since it was generally conceded that the situation in that position was past help anyway.
As the game progressed Mr. Wakefield invoked pictures of lashing seas and the shriek of typhoons. Stove-in lifeboats, tall heroics and the niceties of maritime salvage law were what we dealt with in right field. Occasionally a long fly ball would lift in our direction, disrupting the flow of the narrative. Mr. Wakefield and I would wait for the ball to land. If it was any distance away, I would run for it, since he was rather portly and short of breath. After he had returned it in the general direction of the infield with a wobbling, uncertain throw, we would settle down to the story again where we had left it. It seemed a fair division of labor. I never learned much about playing the outfield from Mr. Wakefield, but I'll bet I would have known what to do with an abandoned barkentine if I had stumbled across one.
Eventually, of course, all this was forsaken for the interminable ball games that went on at grammar school. Things were never the same. In addition to the fact that I was a miserably incompetent ballplayer, the game itself seemed to lack flavor. Even the endless arguments had a dismal predictability about them. Naturally I became embroiled in them and was crushed to discover that you could get hit for an expression of opinion. The worst was when someone shouted at an opponent, "Gwan, you're crazy." The word was one we never used at home, and I equated even listening to it with a sort of disloyalty. I longed for another diamond and Miles, St. Peter and Benny. But mostly I guess I missed Mr. Wakefield. As far as I was concerned, a lot had gone out of baseball.