Let’s Play Ball!

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In the spirit of baseball season and my fave team, The St. Louis Cardinals, this half scene from GEORGIE GIRL will leave you wanting extra innings.

Spring was passing like one of those flip books where you draw your thumb across the edge, and the pictures move in quick succession to make a story. Following a fortnight of rain and unseasonable humidity, everyone was excited to turn out on a beautiful day for the final Browning baseball game.

I poked an orange macramé belt through the loops of my jeans and cinched it tight—my waist was getting so small—then pulled my hair into a ponytail with a hank of blue ribbon. Truman came by early with a surprise for Ronnie: an oiled leather baseball glove, a scuffed ball in its palm. He flexed his fingers like a cat’s claw. “It’s too small for me now. Thought you might like to have it.” Ronnie beamed so brightly you could have read by him.

We headed en masse down the hill and past the Persimmon trees to the immaculate ball field where the white lines stood out like radioactive bones against the Virginia clay. My mother, who had convinced my father she could handle the walk, looked pretty in jeans and a sleeveless blouse, an orange cotton scarf knotted around her throat.

At the field, the aroma of hotdogs and popcorn from the equipment shed/concession stand made my stomach rumble. “Can I have two hotdogs, Daddy?” Ronnie asked. Little greedy-guts.

My parents and Miss Foxie took seats on the front row generally reserved for faculty. Truman and I stomped up to the top row of the student section—where Lacey and Findley waited amidst a flock of orange-and blue-clad spectators—and exchanged greetings.

Miss Magpie teetered across the grass in high-heeled sandals and tight white pedal pushers; a blouse tied at the waist, a yellow hat and Jackie O. sunglasses.

“Oh Lordy,” I saw Miss Foxie mouth to my mother.

I grinned at Lacey. “I know what those two are thinking, don’t you?”

“Yep. It’s not yet May, and Magpie’s wearing . . .”

“White pants,” we finished in tandem, giving each other a high five.

A trio of seniors in front of us snickered at the woman. “What a slut,” one of them murmured.

From the dugout, Coach Lucius Cassidy regarded the players’ warm-up and whistled “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Dr. Banks—a baseball fanatic who had played for Duke University—strode to the announcer’s table, his grin wide as the horizon.

Miss Magpie picked her way to the dugout. “Yoo-hoo, Coach Cas-si-dy!” she called, blowing her husband an ostentatious kiss. A sudden gust of wind blew the hat down over her face. Miss Magpie snatched it from her head and abruptly sat on the front row, swiping at the lipstick that streaked its brim. The top rows cracked up.

Dr. Banks and the announcer for the opposing team, Karen’s school, Laurel Ridge High, called the players out one by one. Karen, who had zero interest in family events or team sports, was not in attendance.

Lacey and I hooted and cheered when Frank’s name was called, and then stood for the invocation and national anthem. I looked at Truman, handsome in the orange and blue plaid shirt I remembered from the fall, and wished I could rewind the months to when our love had been carefree. But then, he smiled and put his arm around me, and I relaxed in his embrace.

The Browning Eagles scored two runs in the first inning. Dr. Banks’s bass voice from the loud speakers was exuberant. Laurel Ridge scored one run in the second. At shortstop, Frank’s body thrummed, his cleated shoes seeming to hover above the packed earth.

At the fence behind first base, Clover and Blue stood in the red dust, their feet bare, their fingers hooked through the chain link fence. Clover held a ragdoll with yellow hair the color of her own in the crook of her arm. Now and then she looked down at it, a fond smile curving her lips.

“Who’s ready for a hotdog?” Lacey asked.

Findley’s legs were bouncing like bad checks. “Wait till the bottom of the fourth.” The score was tied, six-six.

“Let’s you and me go, Lace,” I said.

We squeezed to the end of the row and hopped onto the grass. We passed my father and brother on their way back from the shed, Ronnie clutching a dog and grinning, his cheeks already painted with mustard. Lacey and I fell in line behind a broad-shouldered boy with a tight bottom and dark wavy hair.

My heart sped up. Kelly.

 

Lacey said, “Hi, Kelly!”

 

He turned and dipped his chin. “Ladies.”

“Gorgeous day, huh?” Lacey said.

“Yeah, the best,” he answered, looking at the unsullied blue miracle of sky and then at me.

“Next!” the surly senior working the window demanded, a greasy apron around his middle.

Kelly stepped up. “A dog and a Coke, please,” he said. Kelly’s changed so much. He even has polite manners. I wish he could sit with us at the game and be friends with everyone. But Truman would—

“Where are you guys sitting?”

Lacey shaded her eyes and pointed to our seats. “We’re on the top right.”

Findley waved. He raised two fingers and pointed to his chest: Get me two. Truman’s face was shadowy and very still.

Something blew into my eye. “Oww,” I said, holding my eye open wide with my fingers. “Lacey, what’s in my eye?”

Before Laceycould move, Kelly stepped forward and gently took my chin in his hand. My heart trip hammered in my chest.

Oh, no, is Truman looking?

Kelly, his breath warmer than the afternoon sun on my face, said, “Close your eyes.” His finger touched the corner of my eye and scraped softly downward. “Here’s the culprit.”

Blinking rapid fire, my eye streaming, I peered at a tiny blade of grass on his fingertip.

“Thanks,” I said, brushing the tears from my cheek. I didn’t dare look at Truman.

“Dog and a Coke!” the concession guy barked.

Kelly collected his refreshments, then smiled at me and then at Lacey. “Well, guess I’ll see you at school Monday.”

My heart was still pounding as I took my place beside Truman, my mind a tilt-a-whirl ride.

He eyed me as I unwrapped my hotdog and took a bite.  . . .

2 thoughts on “Let’s Play Ball!

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