Over and over I asked J. to come and see me play. (We called each other by our initials. To this day I can't fathom what made me consent to that.) She wouldn't; baseball was sooooo boring. So I'd spend the games moping out in boggy right-field, fanning away bugs. My uniform sleeves and baseball socks were neon orange, and along my forearms and ankles mosquitoes competed for grazing room. Occasionally a pop fly would come my way, and I'd watch it disappear above the lights and then materialize as if it were being beamed into rightfield from the starship Enterprise. I'd catch it and sling it myopically toward the infield. When your mind isn't on the game, the diamond from the outfield seems as vague and faraway a target as a golf green surrounded by water. My throws were like seven-irons lobbed up there with little more than hope.
Toward the end of the summer we had a rainout or two, and as the makeup games came, our pitching wore thin. At our weariest point, misfortune took us-into extra innings in a game we needed to win. We were out of arms. The coach's eyes flickered as they lit on me on the bench; I knew he was thinking of the throw I'd unloaded during tryouts.
"Your ball," he said.
It's hard to explain how wonderful that 10th inning was and how dreadful the inning after. From the first warmup, my arm felt springy, and my teammates and people in the stands were all taking notice as the pitches buzzed in and the catcher's glove popped. This was the early 70s and I was rebellious. I wore my hair down to my shoulders and hadn't bothered to buy spikes, so I was wearing high-topped sneakers. Truly, I looked odd out there.
My first pitch sent the batter sprawling and scared him. I struck out the side, and all my teammates patted me on the behind as they came off the field. Simply put, it was my moment, exhilarating, brief.
I barely noticed as our side went down one-two-three, but while I was sitting on the bench with a jacket slung proudly over my arm, several years of not having thrown hard caught up with me. In the 11th, everything that had been comfortable the inning before went out of sync. My shoulder was stiff, my elbow was throbbing, and I was missing the corners by plenty. The shortstop made a throwing error; then I walked a couple of batters and balked in a run. That was the ball game.
I left the field alone, no one to blame, pitiful, a little teary, a thoroughly unaccomplished person, my life a waste. My one consolation was that I could feel as if I were in a movie, a lone figure walking into the darkness away from the lit field, shoulders sloping, head down, a picture of tragedy and defeat.
There was a soft tug on my hair.
"B., honey." I hadn't heard her behind me.
"What are you doing here?"