The boy picked up the bat. I could tell by the way he held it and turned it in his hands that he had never touched one before. The expression on his face was a combination of curiosity and wonder. How could it be that he had never held a bat before? He appeared to be about ten or eleven years old.
Tentatively, he swung it. He almost lost his balance and looked around quickly to see if anyone noticed. I averted my eyes to a hangnail on my left thumb and waited a moment before I looked up. He had both hands on the neck of the bat and was slowly turning the bat as though he was caressing a loved pet.
He took a few more swings and I could see that he was getting more comfortable. He stepped away from the path, and leaned down to pick up a small stone. Tossing it in the air he clumsily swung and missed by a large margin. More determined he picked up another rock, missing again. He didn’t look around this time, so intent was he on hitting the rock. After a dozen or more tosses, he finally smacked one. The bat cracked loudly. The excitement surged through him, and he leaped, pumping his fist in the air.
I turned my head away and covered my mouth, afraid my whelp of delight would burst from my mouth. I didn’t want to frighten him. I wasn’t a pedophile although in today’s world I may quickly be suspected of being one. I was just an old man who came to the park daily to read and who missed my own baseball days.
Several weeks earlier, I spotted the boy angling through the park, stopping at the creek to skid rocks across the surface. His pattern was to appear around 3:00. I guessed he was a latch key kid.
I brought a bat abandoned by my own son once baseball was no longer a part of his life. I got there a little before three, dropping it next to the creek bed where he stopped for rock throwing. That’s where he found it, slightly hidden in some overgrown grass.
After a few a moments longer, I stood and stretched, picking up the objects next to me. I walked slowly in his direction trying not to attract his attention. This worked as he was engrossed in the bat. Once I stood next to him, he looked up at me with a startled expression.
“Nice bat.” I smiled.
“I didn’t steal it,” he croaked at me. I stopped a moment, taken back at his quick defense. Why would he assume I thought he was a thief?
“I know. I’m giving it to you.” I stared at him a moment. “You might need these, too.” I handed him a black baseball glove and a baseball. He just looked at them as if I had asked him to eat them. I felt like I had cornered a wild animal. ”Go on. Take them.” I waited a moment for him to respond. He still looked frightened.
“Excuse me. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m giving you the bat. And the glove. Oh, and the ball. They’re just sitting around my house. Somebody ought to use them. Bats aren’t any good if no one swings them. Same thing with gloves. Zero. No good. But you’re gonna need more baseballs. I saw how you started hitting those rocks. Pretty good eye. Balls will be flying everywhere. Somebody will have to shag them for you.” I stopped. ”That means pick them up. In the outfield.” I looked around. ”Or in the park.”
He was holding the glove gently, looking at the stitching. ”Here.” I took the glove and his left hand and slid the glove on. ”Ever worn a glove before?” He shook his head. ”Well, now you have. I think you’ll be pretty good at this. Just got to get used to it.” He finally smiled. I noticed a slight dimple in his left cheek. His dark eyes glistened and I felt my own tears well up.
“Well, now, well, now…don’t do that. No reason. I just had this stuff lying around and I figured….” I stumbled off at the end of the sentence. He took the glove off and tucked it gently between his left arm and his side. Then he stuck his right hand out. I glanced at it, then up towards his face. I suddenly realized he wanted to shake my hand. Smiling broadly back at him, I did exactly that.
“If you ever want help. I mean here in the park. I come to read most days and I can show you how to hit. Throw the ball to you. I have lots more baseballs.”
He picked up the bat, grinning broadly at me. With a quick salute, he said,”I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turned to dart away from me but stopped, and turned back shyly towards me.
“Thank you, sir. What do I call you?” I felt a swelling of love inside of my chest. My heart beat strangely, and I mentally chided myself. Don’t love him. Whatever you do, don’t love him. There was too much pain in loving children who grew up to leave you and lead their own lives.
“You can call me Robert.”
“Okay, Robert,” he said softly. “I’m Jose. I’ll see you tomorrow, Robert.”
With that he darted off along the creek bank and disappeared under a bridge. I stood a moment longer, then shook my head while walking back towards my bench and the forgotten book lying there.
“Robert, you old fool,” I said under my breath. ”Just what you need. Another baseball progeny.”