I began to throw high pitches at medium speed. Roger lunged. Four years with the Little League in Ridgefield, Conn. Four seasons under coaches who work for I.B.M. or sell insurance or pilot 727s, and nobody has taught him—or been able to teach him—that a good hitter does not lunge.
"Keep your head still," I said.
The boy's mouth tightened. He had not come to learn. He wanted to show me how far he could hit my pitching, swinging his own metal bat in his own way.
Very well, young man, I thought. Today in the April cold, you'll get a lesson whether you want it or not. Subject: He who lunges never hits .300.
I threw hard with an easy motion. Roger swung late. I threw easily with a big motion. He swung early. I tried to jam him, but the ball drifted inside toward his knees. Roger made a graceful arching leap. The ball skidded to the backstop. He lay face down, shaking on the earth.
I hurried to him. "Sorry. Sorry. You all right?"
He rolled over in the ash, blackening his jacket. He was shaking with defiant young laughter. "You couldn't hurt me," he said.
We grinned, and at once the lesson was done. He had earned the right to pitches he could hit. Roger began scattering line drives. Roger looped a fly to center. There was no one to retrieve the ball but me. He bounced sharply through the middle. Another chore for an aging, chilly righthander. He lashed a high inside pitch clear to a ditch at the border of right field.
"Now we'll just play pepper," I said when I returned with the ball.
He insisted on borrowing my bat. Thirty-two ounces. A fat-barreled Ron Santo model. Either Roger did not know the rules of pepper, or he did not know how strong he has become. We stood 30 feet apart. I made a pepper toss. Roger whipped the big bat. The blackened baseball hurtled at my nose. I threw a glove up, deflected the ball and stumbled. Sitting on the charred grass, I remembered a transcendent reality of baseball. The ball is hard. It is something to fear. Forty years ago I learned that from my father in Brooklyn fields that have vanished under high-rises. Seventy years ago he learned that from his father on fields that have disappeared under slums. And now my son, in careless, innocent excitement, has reinforced a family lesson as old as the century.