The only time I ever remember hitting anything that remotely resembled a “home run” did not occur in a baseball diamond, but rather, in a suburban neighborhood in California. When this remarkable feat took place, the sound that I heard was not that of a crowded baseball stadium erupting in cheers and carrying me off the field of victory on their shoulders and chanting my name; instead the sound that greeted my ears was that was that of shattering glass and the sing-song melody of expletives that would make a sailor blush coming from my neighbor, having had her shower interrupted rudely by a rogue baseball flying into her bedroom window.
When I was a kid my parents moved around a lot. My father held a series of odd jobs throughout the years, including a job as a DJ at a gospel radio station, a quality control taster for a bakery, and a personal fitness assistant for a Gold’s Gym in San Diego.
The first place that I remember settling down and taking root was a nice suburban home in Salinas, California, the home town of John Steinbeck. I had just turned 10 years old, and my brother Matthew was 8. I remember him bragging about the fact that I was now 2 digits of age to my neighbors David and Aaron, who were both 13 at the time and seemed unimpressed by the whole thing.
One thing I’ve noticed is that kids don’t really need anything in common to become friends. All that is really necessary is that you live near the other person, and that your parents and the parents of your neighbors like each other enough to allow their children to run wild through each other’s lawns, backyards, and living rooms, leaving a mess of destruction in our wake. Kids will be kids, they tell each with a laugh, while they sip coffee and talk about personal finance and the economy.
My mother felt that all boys should be physically active, and as such I was enlisted in all the sports you can imagine: Baseball, basketball, soccer, football, track and field, gymnastics, and even Tae-Kwon-Do! Yes sir, I was quite the athlete when I was younger. My parents were very proud.
On one sunny, summer afternoon me and the kids from the neighborhood decided that it would be a good idea to play a friendly game of baseball. Why not? It was a beautiful day and none of us had jobs to go to or house payments to worry about. Life was pretty care free back in those days.
The first few innings passed pleasantly enough. Aaron stole third base (my dad’s blue car) in the first inning, so my team was winning quite comfortably.
David’s mom had just bought him a new Boston Red Sox hat, and when he took the plate he did so with the confidence one feels knowing that your head is properly adorned and that all is right with the world. Unfortunately he struck out in no time. I think he felt betrayed by his ball cap, because he removed it in shame after the third strike was called.
“Better luck next time, sucker!” Aaron called from outfield (near the rosebushes).
When it was my turn at bat my team called out words of encouragement. At this point I had had 2 grape sodas, so I was feeling pretty good. Flush with confidence and determination I strutted over to the plate (an old pizza box). I pointed my bat in the way that I had seen Babe Ruth point his, and made myself ready.
“Strike one!” Damn! I took a deep breathe and waited, squinting at the sun.
“Strike two!” Come on! I felt my confidence waver, but I kept my faith. This next one is going to be great, I promised myself.
The pitcher threw the ball and I swung with all the strength and all the fury that I could muster…. BAM!!! My bat struck the ball with such force that my arms and teeth rattled. All eyes were on the ball as it hurtled mightily through the air. I felt as if the world were in slow motion. I could feel the earth as it slowly rotated. The sun beat down on my brow as I gazed with wonder at my incredible feat of strength.
CRASH!!!!!!!!! The ball flew across the street into the upstairs window of one of my neighbors. Well, it’s been a good life, all things considered. Too bad it had to end this way, I remember thinking.
“Oh shit!” cried Aaron, “My mom’s gonna kill me!”
“Mine too!” said David, not wanting to be left out.
The neighborhood kids scattered before I knew it, leaving just the three us in front of Aaron’s house, staring at each other, not sure of what to do.
“Well, somebody has to go over there and get my ball back,” said Aaron.
“I nominate David,” I said. “He’s the oldest, he’ll know how to handle this situation.”
David looked at us both in disgust.
“I’m only 2 months older than you, Aaron!”
Aaron shrugged his shoulders.
After a while David mustered up the courage to walk over to walk over to the house and knock and the door, while Aaron and I hid in the bushes, trying not to make a sound.
The door opened ominously and there stood Michael’s mom, hair still full of soap suds, eyes full of rage. Heated words were exchanged and after a while David came back to where we were hiding.
“Well, she’s not going to press charges,” said David, visibly relieved (he watched a lot of “Cops” that summer), “but we have to promise never to break another of her window’s as long as we’re alive.”
Aaron and I looked at each other and solemnly promised to never again violate the sanctity of this gracious woman’s windows.
“Whew!” I said with a laugh, “that was a close one! I thought we were dead meat for sure!”
Then the three of us strolled off into the sunset, humming “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” content in the knowledge that we would all live on to see another day.