At the Letters
My Little League rookie year was the least successful of my baseball career. Belting a tennis ball in my backyard pitched from friends wasn’t the same as swinging and missing at strikes thrown from strangers. Strange little boys that stood upright on the mound and appeared feet taller and years older than me. Even their spit seemed bigger. I cried after every strike-out, and tried to hide the tears on my way back to the dugout. Coach always patted me on the back and assured me I’d, Get ‘em next time. But next time wasn’t until next year, when I actually learned to love and play the game.
It is a game. A form of play with rules designed for sport and fun. And in the thirty years I’ve been playing this game, I’ve had my share of fun. I didn’t get a hit that rookie season, but my leap and snag of the line-drive was the play of the year. The team mobbed me as the game ended. And even though I continued to cry after most plate appearances, from then on, the tears didn’t taste as bad. That play, followed by years of All-Star appearances, high school highs and lows that culminated with me regretfully (years later) quitting the team, and the junior college coach telling me I had great feet, are more than fleeting memories. And it is those memories that reverberate within my bones like ground balls skidding across a perfectly-manicured infield.
I still play the game every other Sunday. Part of a collection of has-beens and almost-was’s: grown men who pay a hundred bucks a season to excavate nostalgia. We are husbands who’ve just driven in the game-winning run and then come home to do the dishes. Fathers who play catch with our sons after school, while recalling the first time we saw our names in box scores. We are family providers: systems analysts, longshoremen, teachers.
Today I watch my former students become Big Leaguers. This year’s rookie center-fielder who always wrote about “nappy-headed hoes” in my Creative Writing class, now bats leadoff and is more concerned with numbers than letter grades. I “gave” him a C. The Twins gave him a million dollar signing bonus, and put him in the position to be the odds-on favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year.
Today I watch myself voluntarily transition from the infield to the outfield. My Sunday League lower back can no longer bare the pressure I’ve placed upon it all these years. It’s a little known fact, swallowing pride is roughly the same procedure as trying to mend your own heart.
And today I watch my daughter, who’s now in her third year of softball. Who’s now the same age as I was when I began playing baseball, hit doubles and home runs off of other men’s daughters (with the occasional strike out). And during each of her at-bats, I pray she bashes the ball over the other little girls’ heads and runs around the bases and never stops. I pray she makes years of All-Star teams, her high school team, and college team. And I pray if she decides this game is something she’s no longer interested in playing, she’s the Cy Young of doctors, the silver slugger of small-business owners, or the MVP of teachers. Because I’ll be sitting in the bleachers, a nervous man waving a foam finger, both father and fan.
Raj’s mom misspelled our team name. Bought him a plastic glove, and gave out sour oranges as post-game snacks. I bought my daughter the newest Nike Keystone cleats, the Rawlings C120FP, and a batting helmet that costs more than a family-restaurant dinner. She plays first-base, shortstop, and pitcher. I can’t be sure, but I think she’s still having fun. She cheers for her teammates and smiles every time she crosses home. Maybe because her dad designed it this way. Hopefully, because she loves to play.
At this level, her name can be found nowhere on her jersey. She’s just another number, another one that may or may not make it, another one that may want to or may not want to make it. Another Romo who swings for the stars, and sometimes misses.
DANIEL ROMO is the author of Romancing Gravity (Silver Birch Press, 2013) and When Kerosene’s Involved (Black Coffee Press, 2013). His poetry can be found in The Los Angeles Review, Gargoyle, MiPOesias, Hobart, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, and teaches high school by day and college by night. He’s, currently, the Guest Poetry Editor for Cease, Cows. He lives in Long Beach, CA and at danielromo.net. Word(s)…