Soon Hoss was edging up toward first base, and we could only imagine his enraged manager coming out of the dugout to chase him back into position while the startled crowd buzzed with concern for their addled star.
Inning after inning, game after game, my cousin egged Hoss for a baseball.
"Oh, God. I've got to have a baseball. Please, God, let me have just one baseball. Hoss, you've got to throw me one. I need it. Please, please, please. Somebody please let me have a baseball. Oh God, why can't I have a baseball like other kids. Please, God."
Occasionally, when my cousin would tire of lying on his stomach, he would turn over on his back, chew on a piece of grass and continue the monologue as though he were reading the lines off the stars.
Thanks to Hoss' saintly character we were never disturbed. The rightfielder was obviously shaken but too proud or too nice to rat on a couple of kids, and so, gradually eroding a place in the grass, we lay there plaguing him during each home stand. Hoss' batting average fell off, possibly because the pitchers were catching on to his lumbering swing but even more likely because of the conscience that whispered to him in right field—the conscience being my cousin. You ask why my cousin tormented his chosen hero, and I reply that I do not know. But I do know that he did. Oscar Wilde had a reason for this in The Ballad of Reading Gaol, and perhaps that is the explanation.
And then, on an otherwise undistinguished night, it happened. My cousin, his voice slobbering in tears, had barely opened his mouth when Hoss suddenly ripped a baseball from his hip pocket and tossed it over the fence. The ball dropped with a thump the way a coconut would do if it fell from a tree into rain-mellowed earth. The ball lay there in front of our eyes, brilliantly white, brand-new, GOOD LUCK and HOSS etched in black, bold letters that completely obscured the league president's signature. We could not have been more astonished if Hoss had thrown a water moccasin over the fence or leaped the eight-foot barrier himself.
Stunned, unbelieving, we looked at the baseball for a long time. Then we looked at each other for a long time. Finally my cousin spoke again.
"Hoss," he whined pitifully. "Hey, Hoss. I got to have a ball for my cousin."