Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sand lot baseball

I love to write character development -- especially kids, old people, and nuns, or strong ethnicities. In the post about Shasta you get a feel for that feisty little street urchin.

Here is another 'kid' moment at the convent turned homeless shelter.

[Kathryn goes] outside to play with the children who are laughing and hollering on the playground. Each day they get a little louder, a little braver, a little more like other children.

Paul is leaning against a tree, supervising the playground activities. It is a nice day to be outside. I join him in the shade.

“Hi, Paul. I’m done for the day, if you want to be relieved from playground duty.”

“Thanks, Kathryn. I was thinking I may have to give some batting lessons to that bunch over there.” He nods toward a group of pathetic ball players.

“Want some help?”

“Sure, they need all the help they can get.” He laughs.

We walk toward the ball players. Two or three of the older boys are trying to arrange a game, but they have a lot of raw talent on the field. One of the boys throws the ball in the dirt, disgusted, but checks his half-spoken cuss word when he sees Paul and me approaching the group.

“What’s up, Ronnie?” Paul asks the boy who has thrown down the ball.

“Ah, it ain’t no use. Girls can’t hit worth a darn,” Ronnie answers honestly.

That’s news to me, but who am I to question an eleven-year-old expert on girls?

Paul turns to me with a cheeky grin and a smirk in his voice, “Can you hit?”

“I think so. Can you pitch?” I field his question and take up the bat by the makeshift home plate.

The kids start to gather around me to see if girls can hit. The pressure is on to uphold the honor of my gender. “Paul is going to need some fielders,” I say, as I give the bat a few easy warm-up swings, then point the tip toward the outfield to show them the way.

The children take field positions in more or less the right place with some impromptu positions, as well.

“Want a couple of practice pitches?” I call to Paul, knowing that I need them too.

Paul is in average shape, just about like me. Neither of us can be classified as athletes, but we aren’t couch potatoes.

Paul winds up, and throws one over the plate. I evaluate it for his idea of a strike zone, and hope it is somewhere near mine. He throws another one just as good as the first.

“Bat-ter up!” Paul calls with a smirking grin. He squirms his shoulders and begins his wind up.

“No fancy stuff, Paul, I’m not a kid any more.” I taunt him and smile.

“Ready, Slugger?”

The kids laugh.

Holding the bat in my left hand, I make the sign of the cross with my right hand. “God, pleeeaassse, don’t let me strike out!” I mumble loud enough for my fans to hear my prayer.

The catcher falls over laughing about my petition, which is nothing like the nuns' prayers, thus causing a game delay.

“Give me a break. I haven’t even swung yet!” I fake insult, as I extend a hand to help him up; playing up the moment just for the fun of it.

Everyone else laughs loudly, infectiously.

I make the sign of the cross again, lift my bat, take my stance, and check my elbow position. I nod to Paul. “Let’s see what you got!”

Before the kids can laugh again, Paul pitches a sweet strike right where I like them. Crack! My bat makes solid contact. The ball is headed for orbit, well at least past the infield, toward the oddly-placed multiple centerfield players. Paul jumps for the ball as it whizzes past the makeshift pitcher’s mound – minus the mound. I’m not sure, but I think he let the ball get by him on purpose. No one fields the ball, not the girls or the boys. We all stand there in amazement, including me.

“Well that settles it. Girls can hit!” Paul announces.

The ballplayers applaud. Someone tags me out once they retrieve the ball. I forgot to run to first base. I also forgot to find out what was first base in this misshaped ball diamond.

I hadn’t noticed that Mother Elizabeth joined the spectators. “Nice one, Kathryn,” she says, as she approaches.

Shasta cuts through Mother’s path, and reaches me first. “You did good, Kathryn!” she bursts in amazement and pride, patting my hand.

Mother grins. “You have a phone call.” She takes the bat from me and hands it to Shasta.

One of the kids yells, “Hey, ‘ya wanna play tomorrow?”

“If I can, I will,” I call over my shoulder, as I walk back inside with Mother Elizabeth.

From High Tide:

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