I don't remember games as much as moments. Of growing weary and bored in the outfield during some early inning of a game as the other team piled on run upon run upon run until quite literally the sun set without us retiring the side or even getting our ups, but us so far behind that our coach threw in the towel, saying, That's enough boys, it's too dark to see. I remember being on third in some late inning of a game we trailed by one, and the batter lifting a soft fly to center, and half my teammates yelling at me to tag up and half yelling to hold, and me holding, me not challenging some linguini- armed 9-year-old to throw me out at the plate, me then never coming around to score.
We had one good chance to break the losing streak. The game was played on a hot Saturday afternoon, so hot that I recall some breathtakingly insightful adult say, "Why do they make these boys wear wool uniforms in July and short pants when they play soccer in November?" I remember that we had somehow gotten the lead, that I had distinguished myself by making an unassisted double play. I caught a soft liner and the boy on first broke for second anyway. I can still see his loopy expression, his tongue hanging out of a big dumb grin, as I applied the tag. (And this is the essence of Little League, of course: I made a heads-up play, but somewhere in America there sits a man who, from time to time, broods about running his team out of an inning.)
The next inning, we were in the field. There was a man on first, none out. We were actually playing pretty sharp, getting decent pitching, and the batter hit a grounder to third. I ran over to second, ready to make the double play, and the third baseman fielded the ball and turned to me. The third baseman was a frustrated pitcher, a devotee of Juan Marichal. Instead of tossing me the ball, he went into his full motion, big leg kick and all. The guy from first was bearing down, I wanted to make the pivot, I couldn't believe the leg kick, I got distracted, the ball skipped off the end of my glove, the ball banged into my nose. There was blood, there was confusion, there were men on second and third with none out, there was me, sidelined, with a friendly parent applying ice to my face, there was the coach's son, scrawny and underage, taking my spot in the field, there was the start of an onslaught that claimed our lead.
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