He drove the car slowly around the circle out of the empty south lot toward the one nearer the north fields. The hot slant of the noon sun made him squint as he drank in the smell of coming summer wafting through the open windows. The clang of the recycling center sounded from across the way as usual, reminiscent, he thought, of dissonant church bells.
He pulled neatly into a space and propped open the door with his leg. His letters lay ready to be mailed on the passenger seat. The sight gave him satisfaction. A dozen crisp white envelopes holding the contents of his cause, addressed in his own hand to the newspaper editor whom he knew, to the head of the school board, whom he also knew, to some of his former colleagues and friends he thought might or should care.
He lifted himself out of the car and leaned in behind the seat for a tote bag. As he did, he felt a small pull in his left shoulder, which he chalked up to his amazing, twisting catch at mid field, followed fast by the wild lob that outed Williams as he rounded third. He reached up absently to massage the spot as he slammed the door. The place was deserted. The morning games had filled the fields, alive with silent generation players, their shouts and cheers. But now, games played out, all was still.
He welcomed the solitude as he raised a stiff leg over the low ranch fence, giving a muffled grunt as he always did when exerted. The fence demarked the wilds of open space that spread beyond the north fields from the manicured lawn that nestled up against the parking lot path. He was headed into savage country, he thought, amusing himself.
The sky hung its easy blue overhead; one puffy cloud teased by. A couple of song birds warbled somewhere. He crossed gingerly through tall grasses, bag in hand, watching his footing for hidden animal holes and winter swells. No good twisting an ankle that would keep him from running bases.
When he got two thirds of the way across to field seven, his focus changed from footing to balls. His eyes darted over and under the young green reeds, the dried, stickery thistles left from last year, and the sprouting willows and cottonwoods, their waxy leaves shiny and winking in the sun. His search was soon rewarded by the first treasure, white just peeking from its sweet spot. His heart took the familiar leap at the sight. The old, familiar tug that he’d first felt as a boy, scrambling in the woods adjacent the golf course where his father played. The boy scouted stray or lost balls while his older brother played beside his father.
His eyes left the terrain outside and focused softly on that inside. The gaze of that boy, carefully scanning the scratchy brown leaves, the remaining tufts of green wild grass, and the holly bushes interspersed among the huge oaks that lay just beyond the smooth green sea of the course. His eye “peeled,” as his father would say, eagerly hoping, praying for the next glimpse of bright, dimpled white to add to his collection. His father’s voice barely audible, giving instruction to his brother: “Grip it loosely so you can feel it move in your hands, relax your hips, that’s it, now your swing can carry through on its own.” He felt the lump rise in his throat and remembered then that his father’s day was just three days from today. That had been 47 years ago, but still stirred a soft sadness that clouded his eyes.
Ball two called him back from his reverie. He blinked and spotted it under a clump of thick, new grass. He bent to reach for it as the mosquito landed on his arm. Soon the air was full of them doing their dipsy dance, as if the smell of him made them woozy. He didn’t mind. He’d suffer a few bites to continue his quiet, solitary hunt under the warm, May sun. Time for just a few, he’d indulge his passion before heading back home for lunch. His wife would be returned from art class; he’d tell of her of the double header, the stand-out feats of the day’s play. She’d show him the progress she’d made on her oil.
The third ball he saw resting in plain sight on the hillock just ahead. Four trees reached up from it like soldiers in a line. The ball was in front of the third one. Fitting, he thought, third tree, third ball. “Strrrrrrike three, and he’s OUT!” The old shout sounded in his head as he made his way over. Smiling, he felt the sweat under his cap and marveled that it seemed more like July than late May. Ah, July, his favorite month. Something he looked forward to.
He approached the gleaming white, which lay like a dazzling, over-sized egg in its nest of spring green. It pulled him, holding some small secret he cherished. He’d shared his ball hunting pastime with his brothers, son and daughter, then his grandchildren and students, but still, the secret was his alone. The private hope of a child, searching for the magic, the hidden treasure, and knowing that the great joy was the hunt itself, in all its simple perfection. He knew this in his limbs and his blood and his breath. It flowed through him this moment, as if it flowed from every time before, creating a circle of his life, unbroken, inside him, connecting him through time to it all. And in the whiteness that his hand reached to hold, he grasped the seed of his soul.
The awesomeness of this ability would have surprised him, but instead, he felt the dizzying wave of the contact surge over him. Overcome, he sat on the very spot where the ball had been to take his rest. As he lay back into the grass under the small shade of the third tree, he heard it. “Michael.” His father’s voice, from the ninth hole, calling him.
For MCR, November 27, 1930 – May 28, 2003, whom we found lying on a hillock, three balls in his bag.