I materialize in a hallway. Not sure where I came from, and not sure where I am. Tall, skinny, pale blue lockers line the corridors. Teenagers pop into and out of focus at the perimeter of my vision. I’m vaguely aware that I shouldn’t be here, but the environment is familiar and uncomfortable. I am face to face with a locker and my hand spins in the combination with no input from my brain.
As the door opens to blackness, panic hits hard in the back of my neck and the residual heat spreads over my skull. No uniform. But wait, is there a game today? Is it even baseball season? And didn’t I graduate a long time ago?
I deal with the uniform first. Either my mom can bring it to the school or I can drive home during free period. A small risk perhaps, but most of the disciplinarians are looking to catch smokers, not naked ballplayers.
As soon as I conjure the solution, the uniform appears. That works too. Phew.
Next, I examine the weather and recall my most recent glimpse at the calendar. Yes, it is baseball season. It’s opening day, in fact. A whole, pristine season stretches out in front of me and all that’s left of the hot panic gushes out of me. In its place is joy.
But this cannot be my opening day, can it? I remember making a note that my opening days were all used up. But everything around me supports the alternative. It is my school, my locker, and my number 35 jersey slouching in my hands.
I must have been mistaken. I’ve got one more season left. In a few hours, school will end, and I’ll be shagging flies in left field as the sun sets behind the school gym.
Left field is the sun field at my home park. And for one inning of every game, I can’t see anything. If the ball gets hit to me, I have to hear it.
I’ve got to know what the pitcher’s got and what each batter can do with it so that I’m starting in the ball’s most likely landing spot. Then there’s the crack of the bat – is it true, is it solid? It would be great if the left-side infielders could help, but they’re mostly blinded too. The centerfielder is my best friend, whether he likes me or not, and he’ll help in two ways. He’ll yell “back” or “in,” and he’ll yell it with the appropriate inflection to communicate urgency. We’ve got good pitching; I almost never hear “BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK!”
I’m standing there now, testing a brand new pair of sunglasses that my father brought home from a business trip Japan. Supposedly you can stare directly at the sun and still pick out a mosquito zipping across the sky. We’ll see in the fourth inning.
It’s almost my turn in the batter’s box. We don’t usually take batting practice before a game, but maybe it’s a special treat for opening day? Maybe we’ve been snowed in so long this spring that we need some extra reps versus a live arm? I don’t know, but I’m not going to question the un-reality of this detail – pull a thread like that and who knows what falls apart with it?
I swing the bat in the on deck circle. The batting practice pitcher is a god of accuracy, wasting neither time nor patience as he rifles through the lineup. I’m squeezing the handle, testing the weight of the bat, taking short, swift strokes and approaching home plate.
I’ve walked these 20 feet hundreds of times in reality and hundreds more in my dreams. I stare at the pitcher, take one more purposeful practice rip, and then I coil.
I’m ready for anything, even waking up, but I’m hoping for a fastball.