A Good Home-Run Swing


 

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Edith Schrantz, Pedant

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The Death of Zane Grey

 

        Baltimore’s a good baseball town. The Orioles, the major league team, have lost more World Series games than most other teams have played. Cal Ripken, Jr., their hometown hero, did the impossible a year ago, surpassing Iron Man Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak--fifteen years without missing a game. And he did it at home on national TV. The immortal Babe Ruth himself was born here, grew up, and even played ball only blocks from the Orioles’ stadium downtown. Yeah, it’s a good town for baseball.

        Our boys, Sean and Doug, have a passion for the game. They play all summer, mostly "tennis-ball" baseball with their friends, wear Orioles hats and t-shirts day after day, and keep a growing baseball card collection which now fills three, adult-size shoeboxes. They watch the Orioles on TV, read the sports pages in the daily paper, including box scores of each game, and adorn their room with pennants and cut-out pictures of their heroes. Among these, pride of place goes to Cal Ripken's photo, on the front page of the Baltimore Sun, the day he broke Gehrig's streak. They even have two baseball video games that they play to death. All in all, it's about what you'd expect from young boys.

        One early evening this past June, I sat relaxing on a lawn chair on the grassy area behind our apartment. It was one of those nights when you felt the change of seasons, the freshness of spring gradually becoming the steady heat of summer, the air warm, damp, and almost still. The fading, yellow sun was sinking quickly into a thin bank of clouds just above some low hills away to the west. As I gazed blankly at the horizon, Douglas walked out of the apartment carrying the large, orange, plastic baseball bat I had bought them when they were six. They use it for their pick-up games of "tennis-ball," yet it seemed too late to start a game, or even practice. Here and there the fireflies were beginning their slow, evening mating flights, signaling the end of the day. Their golden-green luminescence was just brighter than the fading sunlight.

        Curious, I watched him stride slowly up the long, wide, grassy hill behind our apartment, the fat end of the bat dragging through the darkening grass. Halfway up, he stopped and looked around, peering intently here and there. Perhaps he’d lost one of their tennis balls in the thick grass. Twilight was fast approaching. All around him, the fireflies flashed their greenish-yellow light, on and off, on and off, rising and falling on invisible waves. As I watched him standing there, relaxed against the fading light, the bat resting on his right shoulder, the moment felt sweet and full, the kind you recall sentimentally in later years.

        Lifting the bat up with both hands now, he cocked and released a perfect swing, then another. I actually heard an odd, tiny click the moment he hit the first firefly, its tiny life vanishing in a small, phosphorescent arc. Calmly strolling up and down the hill, following the flights of those love-sick creatures, he positioned himself near them, one by one, to get that good, home-run swing. Swat-click. Swat-click. Swat-click. One after another they died, each one rocketing off the end of his orange, plastic bat, some tumbling erratically, some shooting like line drives into center field. I sat transfixed.

        The dusk deepened. When he finally tired of this game, he loped back down the hill, dropped the bat on the grass, and went into the apartment. Through the open, sliding glass door I heard him ask his brother if the Orioles were on TV that night. A dozen yellow, phosphorescent specks glittered on his bat where it lay in the dampening grass. Up the hillside and farther away, fireflies kept flashing their greenish-yellow light, rising and falling on invisible waves.

 

 

Copyright © Mark McTague, 1997