Spring Fever
By Frank Kelly

Break out the oils; y’know, neats - foot for the glove and Oil of Wintergreen for the arm. Dust off last year’s bat, the Adirondack, Hillerich and Bradsby, or Louisville Slugger, the one you retrieved from the garbage can at the park. A couple of minutes in the basement at your dad’s workbench, a few well placed nails, some friction tape, and it’s as good as new.

“.. Hey Ma, Ma! My spikes don’t fit ...” proudly you say “... guess I grew a little, huh!” ... “Use your brother’s spikes ... ’says he ain’t playin’ this year.” .... “but they’re too big” ... “wear two pairs o’ white socks, you’ll make do” ... “Well, I’m already wearin’ his pants and shirts. Guess I can thank God I ain’t got no older sister.”

Don’t matter now. You’re on your way to the park with your friends. Bat in one hand, glove on the other, spikes hung over your shoulder supported by their shoelaces tied in a knot. You’ve stopped at the corner grocery store and bought a nickel jaw breaker. It’s in your pocket now but after practice it’ll find its way into one of your spikes, wrapped in a piece of paper. It’ll last a week that way. The jaw breaker, it’s an essential part of the game. I mean, y’gotta spit y’know. But yer still a little too young for a chunk of Redman. That’s for the bigger guys. Man, their spittin’ machines. That Redman must be good stuff.

You’re at the park now, your nostrils filling with the sweet smell of Acacia trees and the fresh cut grass of early spring. You can feel the warm sun radiating off the still damp field onto growing bones, limber muscles and supple tendons. Stretching isn’t even part of your curricula. It’ll be years before those bones, muscles and tendons calcify, and become as fragile as peanut brittle. So you start out the afternoon by whipping the ball around. No such thing as warming up.

... “We’ll take battin’ practice first. coach says ... “five swings each, ‘gotta lot of infield to take today.” There it is. Everything stops for a moment, you’re suspended in time, and you inhale deeply.

Man! Everything smells better ‘n’ Mom’s home cooking on Sunday afternoon. The coach’s words reverberate in your ears ... “Battin’ practice!” Wow, I’m talkin’ bout the most sacred moment of the year is about to take place, and it ain’t Ash Wednesday. I’m talkin’ ‘bout the first crack of the bat initiating baseball season. Ground balls into the hole, Texas Leaguers over the shortstops head, liners into the gap. All of ‘em chasing the winter solstice back to the southern hemisphere, where it belongs.

You’ve fielded a hundred ground balls, or so it seems. “Practice ‘s ‘ovr coach says ... “C’mon coach, ten more .... nope ... k’ok, five more ... nope ... ’k, two, two more an’ we’ll quit ... ok, two more but pick-up the bags on yer way in”. The bags ‘member them. Canvas bags filled with straw or sawdust or a combination of both. Pick ‘em up! Hell, you could sail ‘em across the diamond like a Frisbee. The Frisbee, go figure, still a few years away yet. Of course, none of us being geniuses, we let another opportunity for early retirement slip through our fingers like an infield pop-up.

“O.K. Coach says ... ” how’er them arms ‘doin? “great coach, loose as a goose” ... ain’t even gonna hurt t’morrow”.

Coach says “ ‘member, put some oil of wintergreen on them elbows and shoulders after yer baths t’night.” We all look at each other, baths t’night, its ‘nly Thursday.

On your way home, one of your friends spoils the afternoon by bring’n up homework. “Hey, ‘member we ‘gotta look up them build’ns Sister was talking’ bout t’day. Wha’d she call em, ancient architecture or sumptin!”

Man! Two hours ago I was practicin’ baseball. Now I’m lay’n on the front room floor do’n my homework. The Pyramids, the Mayan Temple at Chechen Itza, the Cathedral of St. Basil in Moscow, the Drum Tower in Peking, and the Taj Mahal.

Big deal, I mean who cares. How come Abner Doubleday ain’t in these books? Look at Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. There all built around Doubleday’s creation of the perfect diamond formed by 90 foot base paths. And they even polished it off with Home Plate made in the shape of a pentagon. Now that’s architecture.

My newly repaired bat is leaning against the wall in a corner of my bedroom. My spikes, which are two sizes too big, are on the floor with my glove resting on top of ‘em. It’s oiled up with neats-foot and a ball sits in the pocket, their neatly tied up with a leather shoestring from one of my dad’s old work boots. Last year my dad built a new bedroom off the back of our house for me and my brother. I can prop myself up in bed, look out the window, and see Seals Stadium in the distance. The Seals are play’n their last season here ‘cause next year the New York Giants are mov’n to San Francisco - Wow! The Giants, right out there at Seals Stadium. I can’t see the stadium tonight ‘cause there’s no lights on. But I know its right there next to the big Hamms Brewery glass of beer. Ya know, the one that’s made of lights that keeps flll’n up and go’n out and then fill’n up and going out all over.

Well, our first practice is over and the next one ain’t ‘till Saturday. But after school t’morrow we’ll have a pick-up game. Man, is there anything better ‘n’ baseball season?


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