The Greatest Show on Dirt

The drive was 5 minutes. Always close to home. May as well have been home. The home from 20 years ago. Hell, more like 25. It’s as if time jumped on the back of a Ferrari and said jokes on you. Parallels run deep. We go to what we know. What we love. Things we hated as kids we grow up to love.

The wife, dog, and I have purchased a house right across from a baseball field. The movie Serendipity, but instead of testing fate with an elevator and an Isotoner glove, destiny was fulfilled with a corner lot and a Rawlings baseball glove. Also, I love romantic comedies, and I’ll fight you if you have a problem with that.

The house closes April 27. I am, however, using the ballfields now. The drive is a closely acquainted 5-minute trek. A more intimate five minutes than you might expect. I looked for it, I knew it was there. I hoped it was there. I left the car scruffy on purpose. A car is like a bed; why make it when you gotta use it anyway the next night. The dog drives with me everywhere. He likes the car the way he likes the car. There’s an impressive, rather colossal, amount of drool on each back window, on the center console, and all over the dashboard. Don’t know how it gets that far from the back seat. His slobber knows no bounds.

The trees tried to hide the sun on the drive. To the east, because I googled where the sun rises and I don’t carry a damn compass and shut up, the sun sneaked through the trees like Dave Roberts in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS. Bucket of baseballs, bats, gloves, riding passenger as the dog lost his mind in the back seat.

Pulled up to the field. 7:30am. The dog and I get out. The Black Lab is furiously and infinitely pleased at the calling of the green field. He jumps from the backseat and leaves me to grab our equipment. He doesn’t wear a glove, so in his eyes that’s my burden. He can field his position modestly. Paws and mandible. I look up as he barrels through the dugout and onto the on-deck circle. He takes off vehemently towards left field, all the way back to the fence, and onto center and right. A momentary pause to poop is all that slows him down. After his warm up, he employs shortstop.

I take to home plate, set down my soft-toss pitching machine, commission my batting gloves and take a few practice swings with two baseball bats at the same time, to build up a tolerance to the wooden Louisville Slugger, my elite weapon of choice. The bat is a 34-inch, 31-ounce model I bought with miles on the tires from a place called Play It Again Sports. Baseball equipment is best purchased when it’s had a few rounds on the bases, a few hacks on its barrel, and a few nifty snags in its web. I wrapped the bat myself in black gripping.

I took my first crack, the dog maneuvering heedlessly to make his grab, quickly retrieving the ball before his scamper back out to the outfield. He plays by his own rules. I mean, he took a dump in right center field. You control him.

Swinging away, as the cracks echo through the early morning air, I go through the bucket of 24 baseballs, slowly, methodically, all the while trying to snag the breath back into my lungs. You wouldn’t believe how much hitting baseballs takes from you, physically. My abs, visible only by x-ray (and even that thing may have a hard time revealing the obliques that sit beyond years of deep dish pizza), are enacted like an old carburetor in a ’67 Chevy truck, my shoulders nearly needing a kickstand to hold them up as my elbows creak like the floor of an antique shop. I’m beginning to hold up as the weeks of practice mount. Muscles that have been hibernating for 20 years or so come to life.

In those days, I’d play with my dad. I’m quickly reminded of that as I drive the dirty car to the field, as the first bucket of baseballs is now spread over the outfield. Going to collect them, empty bucket in hand, light shines off the grass, the dew reflecting like a magnifying glass in the sun. The grass looks like ice when you look into the horizon, not too sure where the sun ends and the grass begins. They blend like a fine red. The parallel is unfathomable, as two moments in time sit side by side. The sun and the grass working as a Doc Brown’s flux capacitor. The bucket of balls the time circuits. My dog Einstein. My partner in travel. Back to 1992, the Chevy S-10, overflowed ash tray, a thermos cup from the gas station, a honey bun wrapper. A bucket of baseballs, couple bats, gloves, riding in the middle of the bench seat as I ride passenger. Dad drives. No dog. Back to the time when I first hit a baseball, a pitch from my old man, sent like a missile past the monkey bars. That was the deep part of the sandlot. I knew if they went there, I was on. “Turn on one,” he’d say, so I’d put my swing a bit ahead of time. Then opposite field, I’d slow down the time. Slowing down the time, why, that fits today. The dog and I, Dad and I, stand equidistant from one location at different times and locations in the universe. That’s the game I guess. It runs close to life. Everyone has something that brings them home. Say, a particular brand of toothpaste, or fish sticks for dinner. Baseball for me. The game works beside life, one and the same, parallel, as both endeavors deal in getting home. An idea swiped from Bart Giamatti in A Great and Glorious Game. Too good not to compare your life to, especially when you are out on a Saturday morning chasing the sunrise.

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