Sunday, June 7, 2009

According to legend, in the year 1863, a cadet at West Point by the name of Abner Doubleday, while doodling in his dorm room with pencil and paper one lazy, Spring afternoon, sketched out the first ever drawing of a playing field to which he penned the name, "Baseball Diamond."

Stealing a couple of ideas from the European game of Cricket, and adding a few tidbits of his own, he supposedly created the game to which millions of people from coast to coast have since called, "America’s Pastime."

Whether or not the story is true remains debatable to this day. However, the fact that athletes, young and old, on all sides of our planet, at some point in their lives, find themselves standing in uniform upon a playing field shaped roughly in the form of the most expensive and priceless jewel mankind has to offer, is no coincidence.

It’s a game where friendships are often started. Where the term "teamwork" is first taught to our country’s youth. It’s where memories, some great, some not so much, are made and remembered for the length of one’s entire life. And in the spring of 1984, under a chilly, but cloudless burst of radiant sunshine, upon Berlin’s dusty baseball diamond, my life took an unexpected turn to which I’ll never forget.

Baseball tryouts for the youth leagues in central Ohio are a serious matter to this day. Beginning at the age of eight, boys who dream of becoming the next Cal Ripken or Nolan Ryan, gather together in their town’s playing field, and for several hours are permitted the opportunity of showing off their athletic skills under the scrutiny of Holmes County’s finest baseball coaches, in order to secure a spot for themselves on one of Berlin’s youth baseball teams.

Entering my third year of eligibility, and having already established myself as somewhat of a power hitter from my previous two seasons on the PeeWee squad, I faced a challenging dilemma as I made my way onto the field that memorable Saturday morning.

The PeeWee League was a coach pitch league, in which each team’s head coach was also the team’s pitcher for every game. In PeeWee, players were taught to focus on the fundamentals. Playing good defense, and making solid contact with the bat.

Now that I was ten, I had become eligible for either the Farm Team, or if the coaching staff found my skills to be above and beyond that of my peers, an opportunity was available to be promoted to Berlin’s Little League squad.

At this point, fundamentals were no longer taught, they were expected. Tryouts still consisted of batting practice and fielding, but the main focus for that morning was quite clear as I donned my fielder’s mitt and began throwing warm up tosses with Brad. The coaching staff was looking for a couple of kids who could pitch.

Every player trying out would be given an opportunity to stand on the pitcher’s mound and throw a handful of their best fastballs, while being heavily scrutinized by the members of Berlin’s coaching staff, including Brian Hummel, who not only coached the defending champion Little League team, but had recently taken over as Commissioner of the county’s athletic board.

In his youth, Brian Hummel had been a dominant ball player up through his days spent in the Cincinnati Reds minor league system, before finally suffering a devastating knee injury which eventually cut short a promising career. He returned home and quickly grew within the ranks of the local coaching system.

Often described as a coach with an eagle-eye for talent, rumor had it that he was cursed with a fierce temper and very limited patience. At the end of the day his goal was to win. As ball players under Hummel’s tutelage, we were instructed to perform at a high level, or to stop wasting his time.

Coach Hummel had stayed in shape over the years. He stood an inch or two over six feet. Hair the color of corn silk peeked out from under a red baseball cap. His dark complexion appeared leathery, like that of an aging surfer having spent the majority of his life outdoors, maneuvering the Pacific’s harshest tides.

His red, Berlin Baseball jersey was tucked into his blue jeans, his hands jammed into the front pockets, his steely blues eyes intense.

There were between forty and fifty boys at the tryout, ranging in age from eight to fourteen. All boys who were under the age of ten, were immediately sent off with the PeeWee coaches, while the rest of us were placed in various positions on the ball field, while awaiting our chance at throwing some pitches in front of Coach Hummel.

Pretty much as I’d expected, I was told to begin practice in right field, and they’d make sure and give me shot at pitching before tryouts ended. Even at our young ages, we all knew how the system worked. Coaches talked amongst themselves. They updated each other on which kids were considered talented, and which ones would make nice utility players on the Farm Team.

It was no secret that I had very little confidence in my throwing arm. My velocity was average at best, and my accuracy from long range remained a work in progress. I figured in order for me to make much of an impact with all the competition on the field that day, I would have to do it with my skills as a hitter.

Despite the apprehensive butterflies looping to and fro within the lining of my stomach, I felt grateful on that morning under a generous blessing of sunshine. For whatever reason, the unsteady waves of hostility within the walls of my family’s home had calmed considerably throughout the final icy gasps of winter.

From my position in right field, I watched as Richie Frank was given his opportunity at pitching. He made the most of it.

Given a chance at facing three batters, Richie’s fastball seared by each player untouched, all but guaranteeing him a roster spot on Coach Hummel’s Little League team.

"Hoo-yeah!" Richie’s excited hoot rose into the breeze following his third strikeout. He pumped his fist into the air and was happily congratulated with a jovial handshake from Coach Hummel, who was smeared in a toothy grin.

Brad Miller, my best friend for as long as I could remember, was called to the pitcher’s mound next. Despite standing several inches shorter than most of his friends, Brad had been blessed with a pitcher’s arm.

Carrying himself with the confidence of an aging veteran, he very systematically struck out the first two batters he faced.

"Kaufman!" Coach Hummel suddenly hollered out to me from the infield. "Get in here and take a few swings!"

I immediately tensed up at his request. I had been all but ignored by the entire coaching staff up to that point. With Brad firing multiple strikes however, Coach Hummel had decided it would be a great time to see what I could do with a bat in my hands, which of course meant pitting me against my best friend.

There had clearly been some thought put into this decision. Everyone knew that Brad and I were closer buddies than a hot dog and ketchup. So why face us against each other?

Nonetheless, I did as I was told, jogging onto the dust-covered infield, meeting Brad’s intense glare as I passed him en route to home plate. It was not a look I was used to receiving from him.

Despite our close friendship, we were both very competitive athletes. While it was never discussed between us prior to our arrival that morning, we both knew what was at stake.

His goal was to strike me out. Three fastballs he intended to send by my flinging bat and into the safety net of the catcher’s mitt behind home plate.

I understood. Because likewise, if given the opportunity, I planned on knocking one of his pitches out into the parking lot, and with a little luck, through the windshield of Coach Hummel’s shiny red Firebird.

A chilling breeze sliced through my cotton sweat pants and faded ball shirt, causing my eyes to tear up as I eased into the batter’s box. Perhaps nature’s way of reminding us that Spring time in Ohio wouldn’t be arriving without one final tussle from Jack Frost.

Following a few practice swings with my favorite bat, I fell into my hitter’s stance in what turned out to be the first time Brad and I had ever squared off against each other in anything competitive.

Answering Brad’s steely gaze with one of my own, I tried to focus on him not as my best friend, but as an opposing pitcher in a duel reminiscent of two fearless gunslingers squaring off along a dusty street in some western ghost town.

I tensed, awaiting his first pitch.

His windup was quicker than I had anticipated. The ball left his hand much higher in his windup, making it difficult for me to pick up until it was gliding by me unscathed. It was a perfect strike, which I had failed to swing at.

"What are you waiting for, Kaufman?" Coach Hummel asked. "That was a beautiful pitch. Swing the bat!"

Angry at myself for letting one get by me so easily, I stomped back into the batter’s box prepared to swing.

Brad didn’t hesitate, winding up and tossing another fastball on target, right down the middle.
I closed my eyes and swung, missing it, feeling the chilly stream of air against my fingertips in the ball’s wake as it blew by me untouched once again.

"Keep your eyes open," Hummel instructed. "You can’t hit the ball if you’re not watching it."

Frustrated, I issued a deep breath, and tensed up for my final chance at getting a hit.

"You’re swing’s late. Choke up some on the bat and you’ll hit it."

I glanced behind me and recognized Bruce Yoder, my dodge ball nemesis, armed in full catcher’s gear, squatting down in preparation for Brad’s throw. As he was at every other sport he participated in, Bruce was an amazing talent at baseball. Entering only his second full season of summer league, he had already been elevated from the PeeWee level, and was pretty much guaranteed a spot behind the plate for Coach Hummel’s Little League squad.

I huffed, not wanting to take any advice from some hotshot, underclassman. For all I knew, he was lying to me anyway.

Easing my arms back, locked and loaded with bat in hand, I awaited Brad’s final serve.

Another perfect fastball. I swung the bat with all the velocity I could muster. This time keeping my eyes open, I was able to fully watch as my swing glided underneath the ball by no more than an inch, missing contact yet again. Nearly instantaneously, I heard the sizzling pop as it landed, untouched into the leather folds of Bruce’s mitt behind home plate.

"Yes!" Brad exclaimed, pumping his fist into the air.

"Nice pitching, son," Coach Hummel said, patting Brad on the back. "Good accuracy."

Turning to the remaining players standing in their current positions in the outfield, he waved in his son, Jason, in order to take his turn on the pitcher’s mound.

Tossing my bat onto the ground dejectedly, I reached for my mitt when Coach Hummel instructed me otherwise.

"Kaufman, stay in there and take a few more swings."

I picked up my bat once again, watching as Hummel mumbled something to his tall and lanky son, who despite being a year younger than myself, was taller than most of the boys in the entire grade school. Being the son of the famous Brian Hummel, Jason had been tagged for greatness before fully understanding the ins and outs to the art of potty training at the age of three.

Feeling like a slice of bacon, having been suddenly thrown into a sizzling frying pan, I watched as together, Brian and his son shared a grin from the pitcher’s mound. Then Jason turned his attention my way, easing into his windup and delivering his first throw.

I followed the ball’s arc perfectly. Timing the trajectory, following it to the exact point where I felt confident the ball was going to meet my bat, when all of a sudden it dropped out of my line of sight, dodging my swing like the fleeting dip of a Finch while avoiding the oncoming attack from a hungry feline. The baseball dropped into Bruce’s mitt unscathed.

I glanced out to Jason, unable to hide the sight of my jaw dropping, shocked at missing that pitch. Jason only giggled in response, clearly enjoying the results of his first toss.

"Nasty curve," Bruce mumbled from behind me. "Nothing you could do."

Jason Hummel could throw a curve ball at the age of nine? I looked at Coach Hummel, scowled at his grin, and wondered exactly what I’d done to deserve this type of treatment.

I barely knew the man. Had never actually spoken to him. And yet it seemed as if he had pegged me to be his goat for the day. His perfect example of how not to perform on the first day of tryouts. I didn’t understand the reasoning behind it, other than finding myself the victim of a royal dose of rotten luck.

Anticipating another curve ball from Jason, I dipped my swing in an attempt at making contact with the ball while it made it’s break. Despite timing the pitch perfectly once again, this delivery had been a simple fastball which fluttered right down over home plate in a lazy arc, much slower in velocity than the previous pitch. I missed it by an inch, but it felt like more than a mile.

"Why are you golfing, Kaufman? Level cut! Hit something for crying out loud!"

I stepped out of the batter’s box in order to collect my thoughts and attempt to get some semblance of control over my nerves, which at that point were frayed like the tattered end of an old shoestring.

Behind the backstop fencing I spotted a group of Amish boys, probably no older than myself, watching the action intently. They all wore identical, homespun denim coats, over pocket-less trousers of no doubt the same fabric.

I made eye contact with one of the boys, and could clearly see the excited gleam in his eyes. He wanted nothing more than to throw off his coat, grab a bat and take a few swings at Jason’s curve, fearless of the outcome. He just wanted a chance because he loved the game of baseball, and coming from an extremely conservative, Amish background, with literally no hope of a future in constructive athletics, hit or miss, he had nothing to lose anyway.

Meanwhile, there I stood with a world of possibilities resting in the palm of my hand, and yet, was blowing my chance of ever being able to pull on a Little League jersey due to my inability to hit either Brad’s fastball, or Jason’s nasty curve.

Mentally spent, I stepped back into the batter’s box fully prepared to swing at whatever Jason threw my way. I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to go home and crawl back into bed.

Jason wound up and released his final throw. The ball looked as if it had left his hand a little higher than he’d wanted. Coming in at a much faster velocity than his previous pitch, I recognized the lively action associated with his spiraling curve, but instead of breaking low and to the plate, it veered high, and directly at my face.

I flinched away from the pitch, but was too late. With a thud and a blinding flash of light, the baseball smacked into my cheekbone, inches below my left eye socket.

I immediately dropped the bat and fell to the ground, seeing clusters of shooting stars orbiting behind my eyelids.

Several minutes later I found myself sitting upon a row of bleachers along the first base line, clutching an ice pack to my swollen face. The small group of Amish boys had gathered around me, staring at my every move as if I were a lab rat lost in a maze under the scrutiny of some high-tech scientist. I wanted to chase them off, but was too exhausted.

I must have temporarily blacked out, for I dimly remembered Coach Hummel picking me up and carrying me over to the bleachers. I remembered Jason asking me if I was going to be okay. Coach Hummel’s nasally voice mumbling into my ear to relax, that the swelling in my face would go down soon.

Twenty minutes dragged by, and the swelling did not go down. I could feel my heartbeat within the wound, pumping angrily. Blood circulating, rushing up against my bruised cheekbone. The stinging onset of a migraine building strength from behind my left ear.

"Well gentlemen, I think that’s it," Coach Hummel announced. "Did everyone get a chance at throwing a few pitches?"

Across the ball field heads nodded in unison. Some of the boys began walking toward the dugout, pulling their hands out of their leather mitts, swatting dust off of their pant legs before leaving the diamond.

"Hey Coach," Bruce hollered from behind home plate where he still had on his catcher’s mask. I watched as he jogged out to the pitcher’s mound and mumbled something into Coach Hummel’s ear, glancing in my direction as he spoke. Hummel turned and faced me from nearly twenty feet away, his hands shoved into the front pockets of his blue jeans.

"How’s the eye feeling, Kaufman? You want to try throwing a few pitches?"

The eye still throbbed. The swelling had not gone down as Hummel had predicted it would. The sun’s glare was only adding to my headache, which was growing more intense by the moment. The thought of trying to throw some pitches, something I’d never been able to do with much success in the past, made me want to vomit.

"Get off your ass, Kaufman," Richie said from his position at first base. "Give it a shot."

I looked out at all the other players, having stopped in their tracks, watching me and awaiting an answer.

Not exactly sure why I was actually doing it, other than the extreme cloud of peer pressure I felt hovering over my head, I stood up upon wobbly legs, reached for my ball glove, and trudged out to the pitcher’s mound.

"Jason, grab a bat," Brian Hummel hollered to his son.

I stood upon the pitcher’s mound, feeling uncomfortable. Coach Hummel dropped a ball into my mitt and backed up several steps.

Having never actually practiced pitching, I wasn’t even sure what kind of windup to use. Standing on top of the rectangular, rubber marker atop the mound, I awkwardly kicked up my foot, stumbled over the rubber, and released a throw that sailed high into the air, above Bruce’s head, behind home plate, and into the chainlink backstop.

I heard a deep exhale of breath from behind me where I knew Coach Hummel was standing. Bruce retrieved the ball and tossed it back to me, a confused look upon his face.

Unsure of what to try next, I ended up duplicating my first attempt. Again the ball sailed high, nearly eight feet into the air before again clanging off the fencing behind Bruce.

Glancing quickly out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Coach Hummel had turned his back to me, choosing to stare off into the distant parking lot under a hazy glaze of sunshine, rather than issuing me any advice whatsoever.

"One more, Kaufman," he mumbled. "Then let’s call it a day."

I turned and faced Jason one last time. I could feel a tear gathering at the corner of my good eye. The other eye had now swelled to the point where my vision had tightened to a slit.

Bruce suddenly stood up and began jogging out to where I was standing. He pulled the baseball out of my mitt and began massaging it with his hands, his eyes studying my expression. We stood there, looking at each other for several moments before he finally spoke.

"Look, I’ve watched you in dodge ball all winter," he said. "You and Richie have the best arms in your class. I hate playing against you two because you throw it so friggin hard."

With his cleated foot, Bruce kicked my left heal off the rubber. Then he nudged my right foot until it barely touched the corner of the marker.

"It’s called toeing the rubber," he said. "You’re tripping over it when you throw. Don’t step over it. Kick up your knee and glide along beside it. Wind up your arm just like you do in dodge ball."

He looked up and met my questioning gaze before continuing. "You love throwing a dodge ball at me. This is the same thing, just a smaller ball. Don’t even look at Jason. Just throw it at me. Try to get me out like we’re in the gym at recess. And think of something that pisses you off. That always helps me."

Having never actually spoken to Bruce before, I remained quiet as I studied his taut expression, unsure as to why he was helping me at all. It was true. I was always trying to get him out in dodge ball. Always gunning for him, the top athlete in his class. And yet here he was, offering me advice.

As if understanding my confusion, Bruce shrugged his shoulders and mumbled, "You know, Jason’s a dick." With that, he turned and jogged back to his spot behind home plate.

Taking a deep breath, I studied Bruce’s open mitt, realizing that he had been right. I was still throwing at him. My favorite target. Just a different ball. A different game.

Completely ignoring Jason’s presence, I did as Bruce had instructed. Pulling the ball back in a long windup, much like I had grown accustomed to doing while tossing the much larger, rubber dodge balls during recess in the school gymnasium, I reared back and fired a blazing strike, right over the plate, right into Bruce’s mitt, and way in front of Jason’s failed attempt at hitting it. The baseball cracked as it sunk into Bruce’s leather glove, causing Coach Hummel to suddenly turn around, his face mired in confusion.

Across the infield, I could hear the sound of several players behind me whistling and whooping their approval.

"Throw another one, Kaufman," Coach Hummel said.

Once again I kicked up my left foot, pulled the ball behind me in as long a wind up as I could muster, and tossed another pitch. Like shot straight out of an armed cannon, the ball slammed into Bruce’s glove before Jason’s errant swing had even finished it’s course.

"Holy crap!" Richie hollered from where he stood at first base. "That was fast! Real fast!"

"Do it again," Hummel instructed.

This time Jason, his eyes closed while swinging, tried to time his attempt in order to keep up with the baseball’s velocity. He not only missed, but stumbled out of the batter’s box, falling to one knee. I heard several players behind me giggling to themselves. I exhaled a deep breath, realizing that I had just struck out Coach Hummel’s son.

"Brad Miller," Hummel suddenly called. "Get in there and take some swings."

I watched Brad as he picked up his bat and inched up to the plate. He glanced at me tentatively before crouching into his batter’s stance, as if trying to make some kind of friendly eye contact with me.

I ignored him.

Anger began coursing through my veins. Pent up frustration at striking out twice, at getting hit in the eye by a pitch, at being picked on by Coach Hummel throughout the entire practice.
I reared back and threw three perfect strikes right past Brad. He swung and missed each one.

"Richie Frank, get in there and hit something!" Hummel barked.

Despite throwing me a wink before entering the batter’s box, I remained focused while pitching to Richie. Three more pitches, like laser beams launched from space, struck Bruce’s catcher’s mitt. Richie’s swings weren’t even close.

"He’s unhittable!" Richie exclaimed, throwing his bat against the backstop.

One by one, players took their turns upon Coach Hummel’s request at trying to hit my fastball. One by one, I struck them all out.

"Brad Miller, take Bruce’s place behind the plate," Brian Hummel said at last. "Bruce, don’t let Kaufman strike out my entire roster."

Throwing his catcher’s gear aside, an air of confidence in his every stride despite his tender age, Bruce Yoder quietly wrapped both hands around his favorite bat, and began flexing his grip upon the leather-covered handle. He never took his eyes away from me. He had caught every one of my tosses to that point. He knew how I pitched, when I released it, how fast it was moving, and how quickly he needed to swing his bat. If anyone had a shot at getting a hit off of my suddenly strengthened arm, it was him.

Glancing away from Bruce’s steady gaze, I turned my head in an attempt at taking in all that had happened over the past half hour. I had gone from a utility outfielder with very little confidence, to a dead-aim, fireball throwing pitcher, all within the time span of one chilly afternoon.

My swollen eye no longer throbbed in rhythm with the beating of my heart. Upon inspection, my trembling hands had grown calm.

Seeing Bruce in position, and Brad crouched down in his catcher’s stance, I kicked up my left leg, pumped my arm behind me, gritted my teeth, and blazed a strike past Bruce before he could muster his monster swing around in time to get any contact on the ball. It cracked into Brad’s mitt with the snap of a firecracker being lit directly under Bruce’s armpit. It was my hardest throw yet.

"Felt that one way out here!" Richie hollered.

By now all four coaches had gathered behind me, forming a half circle around the pitcher’s mound. All eyes were focused upon the duel between Bruce and I.

That chilly breeze no longer felt so cold. The distant sun’s tingling, outstretched fingers warmed my shoulders like a pair of massaging hands, easing away the stressful knots within the muscles of my lower neck. The bright glare caused me to squint as I prepared for my next pitch. I wasn’t hindered though, for I already knew where I was throwing it, visualizing my target.

The ball practically smoked directly through Bruce’s metal bat, as if slicing it in two. I had no idea how he missed it, since he had timed my delivery perfectly. The baseball slammed into Brad’s mitt and bounced back out as he yelped in agony from the contact.

One more pitch. One more chance for Bruce.

As he had instructed earlier, I once again toed the rubber with my right foot. Taking a deep breath, I wound up and fired one last dart toward Brad’s open mitt.

Swinging with all his might, Bruce met my pitch in mid-swing upon the heaviest, meatiest section of the bat. With a ping of metal meeting corked leather, the ball rose out of the infield in a high arc. Still gaining altitude as it glided in trajectory, much like that of a freshly launched rocket, we all watched in awe as the ball traveled over the expanse of the outfield, before finally landing into the soft, newly mulched area underneath the metal swings along the far end of the school’s nearby playground area.

"That’s one way to end a practice," Coach Hummel said, grinning. Then he turned to me, his smile widening. "I was starting to think you really were unhittable."

I smiled sheepishly, said nothing in return, and made my way off the infield in search of my bat. My hands had begun shaking again, but now for a different reason.

"Hey Kaufman!" I turned back to where the coach remained in the middle of the dust covered ball diamond. "That was some beautiful pitching, son. Some of the best I’ve ever seen. Think you can do that all year?"

I slowly nodded my head, fighting to keep from jumping up and down. "I think so," I breathed.

"I guess we’ll find out, won’t we," he said. He turned to everyone as we gathered up our belongings following the end of tryouts. "I’ll be in touch with all of you later today in order to let each of you know what team you’ll be playing for this year. Thanks for coming out, gentlemen."

As I made my way down our township road, my bat resting upon my shoulder, my sweaty palm still nested into my leather mitt, I couldn’t fight back my tears any longer. Before leaving the field, a hearty round of backslapping from my fellow teammates, and a chorus of congratulatory hoots and hollers followed me out into the parking lot.

Rattling about in their native Dutch tongue, the small group of Amish boys who had gathered around me while I had been nursing my sore cheekbone on the bleachers, couldn’t hold back their frenzied enthusiasm as I skipped by them wearing a smug grin upon my face.

Along the way home, as I passed by the town’s fenced in tennis courts which were placed along the edge of the one-lane, chip and sealed slope leading to my family’s apartment complex, I spotted a brightly colored tennis ball nearly hidden along the far corner of the court nearest to where I was standing at the edge of the road. Happily, I bounded onto the painted concrete and picked it up, claiming it as my own. I bounced it off the pavement during the rest of my short jaunt home.

I couldn’t wait to tell Dad about my newly found talent as a pitcher. He had already known from my previous two seasons that I was a decent hitter. But this was altogether much different. A starting pitcher was a leader. The focal point of the entire team. The main factor in whether or not a team won or lost the ball game. And after today’s performance, I was positive that I had just claimed my spot on Coach Hummel’s Little League team. The thought sent a wave of goose bumps up my spine, and I involuntarily shook off the chills as I skipped onto my parent’s gravel driveway.

Then I stopped in my tracks.

I could hear the yelling, the screams before even stepping under the carport. It sounded really bad this time. Violent.

Mom’s shrill voice met my ears like a dagger, sharp and piercing. Followed soon after by my father’s gruff bellowing. Then an array of painful screams. The loud thump of a body landing upon the living room floor. I could see the shape of my dad moving about behind the closed drapes within our narrow living room. Reaching down with both hands. Bobbing his head from side to side.

From another end of the apartment, I could hear Katie’s high-pitched sobs. Crying out, but unassisted.

Another scream was issued from my mother. More cries uttered from my little sister. Mom in pain. Katie overcome with fear.

My bat slipped from my hands, falling to the gravel with an unhealthy clank. Unsure of what I should do, I remained standing in the middle of the drive, listening.

Facing the apartment building, I scanned the brick structure, the large, two front windows, one for both our unit, and Pastor Craig’s side, with a ten foot section of red brick separating the two apartments.

Clutching the tennis ball, I stepped upon the tiny, shared, front yard, separating the two gravel driveways. I walked to within thirty feet of the front of the apartment complex, studying the brick layout as the raucous continued from inside my home.

Estimating the length between home plate and the pitcher’s mound, my eyes fell upon a brick, slightly darker than it’s counterparts, within the structure of the facia. Guessing it to be roughly in the same area as a strike zone, I aimed for the brick and threw a pitch, mimicking my windup and delivery.

The tennis ball bounced off the right corner of the brick I was aiming for, and glanced perfectly back into my glove without me having to hardly move. While the sound of the ball popped hollowly against the wall, it apparently wasn’t noticed from inside my home, where my parent’s continued their fighting without any sign of hesitation.

Anger coursing through me at my parent’s behavior behind my back, during a time when I wasn’t aware of their continued violence, during a time when I had assumed things were returning to normal, I threw the tennis ball against the wall again. And then again. And again.

An hour passed by unnoticed. Glistening in sweat, ignoring the fatigue writhing up my arm, I flung the yellow ball into the brick fascia of our home. On and on, as mid-day aged and clouded over to late afternoon. I continued my offensive attack upon the wall. Hundreds of throws. Pop, bounce, breath. Pop, bounce, breath, onward, into the evening.

My arm began to throb. The tears had long since dried up, but the anger stewed. Inside my home, the fighting had at long last subsided. Katie’s heart-wrenching sobs had finally calmed to where I could no longer hear them through the walls.

As the sun finally began it’s burnt orange decent along the western skyline, the front door opened and my father stepped out onto the concrete sidewalk. He said nothing at first, watching as I aggressively hammered at the brick wall with every pitch, nailing my target, that darker-toned brick, on nearly every attempt.

"Your baseball coach called a little while ago," Dad said at last. I turned to him through a collection of exhaustive huffing, waiting for what I hoped would be at least one thread of good news following what had become a nightmare of an afternoon.

"You made the Farm Team league as their number one starting pitcher," he said quietly.

The Farm Team? I tried to hide my disappointment, but failed miserably. I had assumed I’d be pitching for Coach Hummel’s Little Leaguers following what had taken place at the tryouts. I had been wrong. In the end it apparently didn’t matter how good I played. Brian Hummel had already made his decision, and it didn’t involve me.

I turned away from my father and snapped another fastball against the brick wall.

"I didn’t know you had started pitching," Dad said, still watching me. I ignored him and threw another pitch. Taking a deep breath he said, "I’m sorry you had to hear your mother and I earlier."

He waited a few minutes longer, as if hoping for a response. I gave him none. As if he wasn’t even there, I blazed another pitch against the brick, the one colored slightly darker than it’s neighbors. And then another. Pop, bounce, breath. Pop, bounce, breath. Pop, bounce, breath.

"You know how she gets sometimes. Her moods...they change faster than the weather."

Pop, bounce, breath. Pop, bounce, breath.

"Sometimes I just can’t deal with it."

Pop, bounce, breath. Pop, bounce, breath.

Blowing out a long sigh, Dad finally turned away from me and re-entered the apartment.

As a new gathering of warm tears began retracing the paths left behind from their elders along my smeared and dirty cheeks, I fought against the stress and fatigue, the grief and the pain, and threw more pitches, a lot more pitches, against the brick wall. On into the night.

Pop, bounce, breath. Pop, bounce, breath. Pop, bounce, breath.