A full count leads Bob to a surprising conclusion.

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“Strike one!”


Sweat drips down my neck. Jason, the pitcher, catches the ball and checks the field. Three men on. Two outs. Bottom of the ninth.


Some man is yelling somewhere behind me as I stand sweating in the batter’s box. “You’re ahead of him! Come on, Jason. Just put this guy away and we’re done.”


Three men on. Two outs.The players holler, “One more, Jason!”


“Put this guy away!”


“We’ve got him, Jason.”


“He’s all yours.”


I listen for my name. The pitch.


“Ball, inside.”


My first glove is tacked up on my wall. I was so little when Dad gave it to me that I don’t even remember using it to play catch. My dad’s old glove is under it, next to his picture of some baseball player named Mickey Mantle.


People in the stands yell, “Don’t worry about it, Jason!”


“You’ve got him.”


“Put him away, Jason.”


I listen for my name. Past Jason, a breeze is blowing the tops of the trees beyond the other diamond. Beyond them are the only clouds in the sky. Some kid in a red shirt is running for first over there. Little kids with their fathers pitching to them. People are jumping and waving, but I can’t hear them.


The pitch.


“Ball, away.”


The runners watch me intently as I step out of the box. I can tell that Mr. Conn, the coach, is watching me, too. I have to get a hit. If only somebody else could have my turn. I take a practice swing. I don’t look at the stands. My dad’s not there. He’s standing next to the dugout. I don’t look there either.


He tapped me as I walked past him coming out here. “Get ’em,” he said, but I knew he was thinking, “Do something.”


My cheeks felt all prickly when I first stepped into the batter’s box, but now they feel hot. The base path is dusty, and I’m wiping sweat from my eyes. First base looks far away.


The pitcher checks the field. The third-base runner, Mike O’Neil, takes a big lead. He stands watching Jason watch him. If Mike were up to bat now, everyone on our team would be screaming, “Kill it, Mike! Drive me home, Mike! Knock it outta here!”


Jason fakes. Mike shies back toward the base but doesn’t touch it. Jason fakes again, and then the coaches tell them to knock it off, and Mike retreats to the base. I listen for my name.


The pitcher checks his signals. I can’t trade off hitting “’cause that’s not baseball.” You have to hit the ball and throw the ball and catch the ball all on your own.


The pitch.


“SteeRIKE two!”


I’m done. It’s over. Get the ball and throw it back here already. I’m out. Forget it. I did my best. I got my bat up in the air. I got my feet “just a little better than” shoulder-width apart. My right arm is cocked. My head is turned toward the pitcher.


“Do it, Jason!” someone shouts from the outfield. I listen for my name. The pitch.


“Ball, inside. Full count!”


From behind the umpire I hear two women talking. One asks if “this batter” is any good. I can’t hear the answer.


The umpire yells, “Time!” He turns around and says, “Would you ladies please move away from behind the backstop?” The women smile, roll their eyes, and walk off. The umpire turns and looks me straight in the eyes. He heard the response. “Play ball,” he says, pointing at the pitcher and squatting behind the catcher.


I grip the bat. I step into the box and take my stance. This stupid game. The ball. The ball. The stupid little ball. Just throw it in here. Throw the stupid ball over the plate and finish the game, would you?


The pitch comes in. I swing. Something cracks solid and hard. The ball is flying back, just over Jason. His hand shoots up, but it’s already past him. The center fielder is running hard, back, looking over his shoulder. Everyone is screaming. Everyone is moving. As I round first, I’m looking at the ball. The center fielder is at the fence by the parked cars. He jumps.


The ball is way over him. It lands in the parking lot, and I turn away from it, heading toward third. The whole team is running from the dugout. The coach. My dad. I touch home. Everyone is screaming everywhere.


“Grand slam!”


“Home run!”


They try to pull me apart and then hoist me over their heads.


Later, we’re driving home from the ice-cream place and I figure I can ask. “Dad . . .” I take a swallow from my chocolate shake and a lick from my cone.


“Yeah, Bob,” he says, smiling this broad smile at me.


I smile back. “Can I go to soccer camp this summer?”


He crinkles his eyes and looks back at me again. “Soccer?”


“Yeah,” I say. “I want to play soccer this fall.”


“And then baseball in the spring,” he says, smiling again.


“Ah . . . no,” I say. “I want to play soccer then, too. If that’s OK.”


We pull up behind some cars at a stoplight, and he turns and looks at me. He doesn’t say anything, just looks for a moment. Then he says, “I guess—I guess maybe we could learn something new, together. What do you think?” I smile as I sip my shake. I like the sound in his voice.