"Wait a minute," I yelled. "I got the ball. See?" I held up my glove for him.
"The runner," pronounced the umpire, grinning, "is safe."
My coach didn't argue with umpires. He felt it set a poor example for us. This time, as he knelt beside me and touched my foot gently, he muttered only, "Bad call." Then he spoke to Bellino, who had come over to look. "I've always admired you, Joe. Not anymore."
The pain took over and I lost interest in the conversation. I lay back on the ground, surrounded by coaches and umpires and players and Joe Bellino, and I couldn't help it, I cried.
After the game, which Winchester won 9-8, Bellino came to the bench where I sat with my throbbing foot. He half carried me to the bus, never saying a word. In spite of my pain, it embarrassed me that my chest was bony where he held me under my arm, and that he was able to bear my weight so effortlessly. He helped me to a seat, then touched my leg and said, "Take it easy." As he walked off the bus some of my teammates called to him, "Hey, take care, Joe" and "Nice game, Joe."
I thought to myself that legends aren't easily tarnished.
The X rays showed that the first three metatarsals in my left foot had been broken clean through. I wore a cast and hobbled around school on crutches for the rest of the baseball season. For the first few days I was treated like a celebrity: I was the kid whose foot had been broken by Joe Bellino. Senior girls actually volunteered to carry my books. The boys on the varsity gave me rides in their cars. The local barber even gave me a free haircut.
I should have gloried in all the attention I received. I was almost a legend myself. But not quite. Too often, people I didn't know would stop me in the school corridor or in a store. I had many conversations that went like this:
Stranger: "Hey, I hear you got that [pointing to my cast] from Joe Bellino. huh?"