It only took him around twenty minutes to get through the neighborhood and out of what he called the ‘town proper.’ It was another term Pappy had used in reference to the areas of town that actually looked like a town and not like country roads that went on forever with only fields to either side with an occasional run down house or barn to break up the monotony. Then he was driving along a stretch of road just outside of town he thought probably went from one end of the state to the other.
He came up on the dirt road to his left faster than he expected, and passed it. He drove a little further down until he came to another dirt road to his right. Ten yards off the main road was a rusty metal gate, a chain and lock holding it in place. He pulled onto the road, backed out and headed in the direction he had come, this time a little slower.
There was a road sign, but it wasn’t the normal Green background with the white lettering. It was wooden and in the shape of an arrow. It looked as old as he was. Black paint that had faded to gray over the years announced the road was Cherry Park Road. He made the turn and followed the bumpy red clay street. He passed a handful of mailboxes as he went, but he saw no houses anywhere nearby.
Must have fallen down, he thought. Or been torn down.
Two miles fell away beneath the wheels of the old truck. Then, as if he had gone over a hill, a baseball field appeared off to his left. He pulled the truck into the tall grass and shut off the engine. To his right were trees and a set of wooden bleachers that faced the field. A mailbox leaned to one side, forced that way with the growing tree beside it.
As he sat in the truck, he looked through the windshield at the tall grass and the run down dugouts (one of which had the words HOME OF THE CHERRY PARK ANGELS spray painted on the outside). His heart sped up and he licked his lips.
Along the top of one of the dugouts sat a flock of blackbirds, very similar to the ones that had been on the wires along his street.
Wendell stood from the truck, his knees popping in nothing short of sweet relief. He stretched his back and arms and then walked toward the field. There was no dugout gate, just an opening that led from outside the field, to the dugouts, and ultimately, on to the field. He stepped inside.
“Not too bad,” he thought. “I can work with this, I think.”
The wooden frame was still in good shape. The ceiling didn’t look like there were holes in it anywhere. The bench was nothing more than two wooden planks, side by side that ran the length of one wall. Chain link fencing separated the inside of the dugout from the field. Though it looked as if it hadn’t been used in years, it still looked like it could be used tomorrow (or today, he thought) by any group of kids who might show up to play a game or two.
Wendell didn’t spend too much time in the dugout. He stepped onto the field where so many kids had probably played, where so many dreams had been born and probably died, as well. He hated that prospect, but it was true. He was a living testament to that, having been a little boy with dreams of big league baseball in his future, only to realize a few years in that he would never be able to hit that little white ball with the red stitches. It didn’t matter how good he was at fielding and throwing, his coaches wanted hitters, guys who could get on base and produce runs. Wendell frowned at this. Other kids could hit, and hitting, he thought, was overrated. How many of those kids could make a diving stop at third base and still throw the batter out at first? If his memory served him correctly, the answer was not too many. The art of the diving player stopping the ball didn’t become popular, he thought, until the seventies. Now everyone could do it.
“I was cool before cool was invented,” he said as he stood where he thought first base should be, and where it clearly wasn’t. He let out another deep sigh, this one more from remembering than anything else.
Wendell looked back at the dugout, then back to where he stood. “First base should be right around here,” he said and stepped through the knee high weeds and grass. For a few moments he thought the bases had been pulled up the last time the field had been used. It made sense—they weren’t cheap if you bought the good ones and all the accessories that go with anchoring them in the ground. A couple hundred dollars apiece, for starters Unless they went with the throw down type that went on the ground whenever you wanted to play. They weren’t all that safe, in his opinion, but he had seen many places use them to cut back on the cost of equipment. Just as he was about to give up, Wendell saw the dirty base sticking out where weeds didn’t seem to dare to grow.
Wendell toed at the bag with one foot.
“Hard as concrete,” he said.
Wendell looked back to the dugout again. He was a lot further away than he thought he would be. He turned his attention to where home plate should have been. The back stop was on a slight slope and covered with grass and a few weeds, but not nearly as many as the infield and the outfield had. From where he stood, next to first base, there was no way the bases were the right distances apart.
To be continued …