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Monday, March 29, 2021




            I have never shagged a souvenir baseball during a professional ballgame.  I came close a couple of times, close but no Marsh Wheeling.

            I did snatch a baseball from a Little League game once.  After a full afternoon of swimming and licking Melhorn’s banana fudgesicles at the old swimming pool, Timmy Maple and I were strolling up the alley south of the ball field when suddenly I espied it right there in the middle of the alley, sticking out like a pot of white gold stuck on a fresh coating of tar—an official Little League Spalding baseball.  Meanwhile on the hillside sloping toward the alley, the score keeper,  two batboys, twenty-some bench-warmers and one very frugal coach were combing the weeds for the runaway hardball.  Tim abetted me by being the lookout while I pretended to tie my carboard-reinforced Keds and ever so subtlety shoved the handstitched keepsake inside my towel roll next to my chlorine-saturated swimming trunks. Our rolls snugged by the crook of our arms against rib cages—giving a whole new meaning to “crook”-- Tim and I strutted up the hill, grinning like two river rats.

            That ball would experience a summer of sandlots and outlive three or four rolls of electrical tape and the scent of chlorine until it unraveled into yarn oblivion.

            Maybe I was born missing the gene for the hand-eye coordination and the mechanical dexterity, the mental timing for grabbing spherical objects in a crowd; for example, I have never collected an Easter egg in an officially sanctioned Easter egg hunt.

            I remember one particular Easter Egg hunt staged at the then bucolic Memorial Park back in the days before Ohio Route 7 became the New Highway and cut off the town from the hills a medieval moat.  I was nine, I think, innocent, reminded of this innocence every once in a while by a nun’s straight-edged ruler from Kuhn’s Hardware.  I toted a straw Easter basket to lug the bushel or so of the eggs I planned to amass and later sell as a side business, maybe even pawn a few at Richie Wallace’s.

            Easter egg hunts back then were like trick or treat these days; kids came out of nowhere, only better disguised. Coming directly from the mountain top called Biltmore Avenue,  I was standing at a lower elevation in the middle of Ridge Avenue when I suddenly found myself engulfed by older kids.  I, however,  knew I was somewhere near the starting line, standing amongst the shadows, some of which were of the five o’clock kind.  These shadows reeked of Aqua Velvet, Brylcreme and Pall Malls.

            Lions Club officials would later say this Easter egg hunt drew a record crowd.  I don’t know whether they meant numbers or average age.  I am pretty sure the average boy there was not so much impressed with the generous bounty of the Easter Bunny as he was with that of the Playboy Bunny.

            I did manage to peep through some cracks of the jostling mob.  The grounds gleamed of pastel oval jewels of every color—from the oiled down gravel of Ridge Avenue all the way up to Indian Rock and across to the outhouses—gems everywhere bejeweling the grounds. These precious eggs were set with such precision and aesthetic arrangement you would have thought Ernie Trosky had handset them himself.  Suddenly I had an epiphany why Toronto, Ohio was called the Gem City.

            The whistle blew, the stampede began.  By the time I saw sunlight, the horde was already returning with bulging bags.   I peeled myself off Ridge and plucked a few pieces of street shrapnel from my body.  Somehow, the mob had overlooked one Easter egg, a yellow gem near the shelter house.  It stood out like a sales tag on the Mummy’s pajamas.  I rushed over to snatch it, this attempt occurring before I perfected the shoe-tying diversion.  I reached out and connected with a cuticle or two on the plastic shell when some Palooka—so fast and violent-- snatched the gem and left me spinning so much both my shoes became untied-- and they were double-laced.

            Years later, I  was watching the Akron Aeros minor league team from  behind the third base dugout, fifth inning, or so, when suddenly a foul ball arced toward me.  “Use two hands,” I could hear my dad’s ball-catching instructions inside my head.  The ball descended, nearer and nearer, my two hands rising to meet it.  I could make out its red stitching, the official trademark, I could smell the leather. Then the ball  arrived, the impact stinging like Sister Mary Paul’s straight-edged ruler rapping my palms, the ball hopping off like a greased white rabbit and then bounding along the bleachers as if it had been shot by rock salt in the ass. Suddenly I found myself engulfed by that huddle of my Easter Egg days, but I was determined to be on that piece of leather like cheap second-hand smoke. I threw all caution to the past and myself headlong,  hands outstretched for that coveted souvenir, but a kid around nine years old pounced on that Spalding as though it were the last egg remaining in an Easter Egg hunt.

            I looked at my Nikes.  At least they remained tied, but my socks didn’t match, and I found myself, once again, swallowed at the never-ending starting line to near misses.


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