The moment I climbed off the school bus, I knew. The field of dry dusty green that usually stretched out before us was stained with a rainbow of colors, clumped together messily like blotches of oil paint. There were boys: fidgeting boys, boys chasing each other, playing tag among the admonitions of their mothers, boys punching each other in the shoulders, boys flashing yellow caps or maroon stirrups. The field looked as though it had been occupied by gypsies. It was that lowest point in any season: picture day. Picture day. A day to commemorate the playing of baseball by canceling our baseball practice and forcing us to care if the bills of our mesh-backed caps were curved correctly.
I picked my way through the chaos to my own team, the navy hue of the Normandy Park Royals, and collected my crisp new uniform. A second baseman by trade, I was pleased to discover a nine adorning my jersey, the same as worn by the soon-to-be great Gregg Jefferies. I hoped that some of his magic could be carried through that number to my own performance, if only a little.
After that came the waiting, as the photographers sent secret signals to the coaches around us. To stave off boredom, we tried a game of pickle with two extra mitts as bases; this worked well until an errant throw clocked a grade-schooler in the back of the neck. After that, and a few angry words, we were forced to sit and pick at the grass in silence.
Finally, our turn came up. The photographer gave us concise directions: face forward. Bat on the shoulder. Big smile. Next. I watched my teammates file through the line like automatons, until I got to the front.
“Bat on the shoulder,” the man, whose face I do not remember or who perhaps had no face, called wearily.
“Can I do a different pose?” I asked.
“No. You can’t. C’mon, kid,” he argued, though we both knew only one of us had willpower. It took a second for him to give up. He sighed. “Alright, but make it quick, and don’t hit the camera with the bat.”
My head spun as I rifled through the possibilities. 1987 Topps Wally Joyner? No, I had to face toward the camera. Or maybe Sammy “The Gazelle” Khalifa? Forgot my glove. So I did the best I could: I pulled my bat around in a head-on follow through pose, the result of a soft liner to left field. Behind the camera, my teammates who had already gone throug the line glowered with envy.
“Okay, smile,” the photographer said.
Smile? I knew you were supposed to smile in photographs, but… in the middle of my action pose? Wouldn’t that look really stupid?
“Smile,” the man repeated, in a hollow voice that warned that he would repeat this word forever if necessary.
Sensing that I had already spent my bargaining power, I gave up and smiled.
It looked really stupid.