Stranger: "I've seen him play football. He can hit. People, I mean."
Me: "He can hit all right—people and baseballs."
Stranger: "So what was it like?"
Me: "I don't know. Never knew what hit me. Knocked me cold. First thing I remember was lying on my back in the coach's box with Joe on top of me. Ten feet beyond the bag at least."
Stranger: "Wow! I guess he can hit. So, anyway, was he out? Did you hang on to the ball?"
Me (lamely): "Well, I held the ball. I did. But the umpire, he called him safe."
Stranger (terminating the conversation): "Oh, sure. That's too bad. Oh, well."
My story was flawed, my small claim to distinction diminished. I quickly learned to divert those conversations. My cast and my crutches, which by all rights should have been emblems of my courage, became instead my curse. I refused to talk about it. I knew he was out. He was lying on my chest, right on top of the glove that held the ball, and we were yards away from the base. But none of that really mattered. I had to be honest and say he was called safe, and that ruined it all.
I grew to hate Joe Bellino, not for breaking my foot and making me cry but for being called safe, for having that kind of power over an umpire, for being a legend. I found that there was some stature in being the victim of a legend, but not much.
My foot and my ego healed thoroughly over the course of the summer, with the exception of the ache that I soon recognized could forecast stormy weather. My attitude toward legends remained as skeptical as ever.