Ode To Not Having Enough Kids To Play a Game of Baseball 

Patrick Rosal

                 for my brothers, Anthony and Mark

One time, it started with a broomstick and a bag of grapes, us whiffing til half the bunch dropped in the mud. Then someone mucking around deep in the brush found an old Rawlings losing its stitches and someone else would rush back to his room to snatch his only bat. We didn’t need a full nine-a-side, just one kid to fungo at the plate and one or two others to chase the ball down. You couldn’t get plunked in the box like that. No crew-cut knucklehead on the mound with enough of his dad’s mean streak to crack you on the chin with some middle-school heat. Mostly, I hit worm burners, but sometimes smacked one deep past shortstop. Every ten shots, we’d take turns and I’d trot back to the dried up, dead grass of left field. Sometimes I had to break back and right, bare-hand side toward the fence, out there, where I learned to read the cut and judge the English.

These days, I still dream of snagging a loop or chipped dinger after a late jump. Bum knee be damned. I would love one more chance to sprint full tilt toward a line drive hooking foul, pump my arms so hard I catch a whiff of linseed oil soaked into my mitt, the laces on that beat up glove snapped loose and retied twice, then soaked in a summer-and-a-half’s worth of rain that shrinks leather to tight brown buds. Sometimes, in my mind, I dive headlong then pop to my feet to chuck the scuffed up globe across the infield to gun the runner heading home.

I was one of three children who shared two gloves. My big brother, Anthony, the lefty who could track fly balls with the wrong paw, and Mark, the youngest, the hustling, husky one with a good gun and nasty knuckle sinker. Each of us eager to race a thing with no legs, to outrun something humming down an imaginary line, two-hundred feet from a collapsing backstop.

In an era of bloody noses and bastard saints, it will always happen that three boys step onto a field and simply multiply. Eighteen bodies in all. And they’ll keep at it until every tree around the puny Church of St. Margaret and Mary go bare. I know those mongrels, those familiar monsters. They eat splinters. They’re filled with kites. I often see them playing long into October, often after dusk, giving each other busted lips and a maw full of dust to cuss with. Even after the last light, a mother shouts for them down the block, and a father shouts after the mother, and the boys, having heard the terrible crack of wood on hide, up close and far away, scramble in the dark field, learning as they go, with so many arms, three dozen useless eyes, and all of their hearts beating faster at once.