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Memories of Little League

09/02/03 12:00AM By Jay Parini
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(Host) While Vermont summers are short, summer memories can last a long time. In our series "Summer Times", VPR commentators reflect on the importance of the past and recall some unforgetable summer experiences. Here's commentator Jay Parini with a baseball summer memory.

(Parini) The dog days of August always remind me of baseball, and the endless hot afternoons spent in a dusty right field in boyhood. I was always in right field, because that's where they put you if you couldn't catch, and I couldn't.

It's not that I could hit, either. I was something of a rumor in my own time, never getting a hit in three straight years in the Little League. I don't think I even got a foul ball or a tick, though once I inadvertently bunted and almost got on base. For some reason, I had no eye for the ball, and no timing. If I ever got on base, a wild pitcher had probably hit me with the ball.

I have one particular memory that stands out, pulling every other baseball memory into its whirling vortex.

It was a steamy afternoon, some forty years ago, and I was standing, as usual, in right field. I was daydreaming and vaguely hoping nobody would hit a ball in my direction.

I could see my father in the stands, his large face and bald head, always looking in my direction. He had been a terrific ballplayer in his day, back in the thirties, having once tried out for the Major Leagues. I don't doubt that I was, as far as my baseball skills went, a disappointment. But he faithfully attended my games, and never ceased with the encouragement and advice.

Well, on this especially memorable afternoon, I was dreaming away when I heard a distant but distinct crack of the bat. It seemed as though everyone on the field was running, not just the hitter. There was great commotion, and people on my team and in the stands began to yell my name very loudly: Parini! Parini!

My thick glasses slid down my nose, and I searched the sky in vain for a ball. Suddenly, a dark speck caught my eye, and I began to chase it. The speck moved toward the right side of the ballpark, seeming to gain in speed as it flew. I ran faster and faster, not realizing it was a bird. Yes, a bird. It soared over the fence just as I made an athletic and courageous dive for the ball, crashing into the rightfield wall and breaking my shoulder.

The ball, as it were, had been hit to center-right. I had been seen, by everyone, running in the opposite direction, away from the ball, then diving into the fence, headfirst.

My poor father, humiliated, nevertheless rushed to my side, as did the coach. They thought I'd lost my mind.

Since that day, baseball has never been the same for me. I still get a weird feeling in my stomach when I pass a dusty ballfield in Vermont and see the little kid with the glasses, all by himself in right field, hoping against hope that nobody will hit the ball in his direction.

This is Jay Parini from Weybridge.

Jay Parini, a poet, novelist and biographer, teaches at Middlebury College.

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