One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing the backstops, pitchers breathing hard into curled hands, huddling in their windbreakers, catchers lumbering like great black beetles in their shells, crouching in the tall weeds. Baseball was trapped between the pages of Sports Illustrated, held by trembling fingers near lamplight, images of Mantle and Snider striding, smiling, before black and white fields, frozen.
And then a long wave of warmth crossed the country. A flooding sea of hot air, mixed with cut grass and oiled leather, mingled with loam and chalk dust. The snow dissolved to reveal diamonds, glaciation carving patches of clay out of grass. Aluminum birdcalls echoed above the fields.
The hum grew, matted with the murmurs of crowds in far off stadiums, thrown through warm air on radio waves. Boys playing catch, one apologizing as the other hunted for errant throws caught by the earth. A spider web of ground balls hit by coaches, calls of “one, home, turn two”, while like the Goddess Siva the pitchers’ hands jump everywhere, flying from different arm slots, different grips. Golden light, twilight, balls that touch the sun and appear elsewhere, balls that enter and leave the shadows a little too late for the shortstop, a time to go home but not yet.
Until it is time, batting gloves tear and arms ache, while the pencils appear in the store windows, notebooks, erasers, playoff baseball. The turgid summer air snaps sharp, hard and tense. Leaves fall off of trees like traitors. June dawns, July noons, August evenings over, finished, done, and gone forever with only the sense of it all left here in one’s head. But not all there. Some of it trapped in box scores and programs, books and dandelion wine. And in young boys, their gloves now in the closet, whispering in the early dark: “I’ll never forget this summer! I’ll always remember, I know!”
And I will. So long, Ray.