Minutes before we were to walk out the door, my brother arrived with my grandfather’s garden shears in his hands. “We figured you probably already had some nice ones, but thought you might also like these. Because, well…they were his, ya know?”
Made to last. They’re notably heavier than the shiny new. But they weigh even more on my heart than in my hands.
Driving to the game we take a shortcut and comment on how he once lived close enough to walk here. Going to this stadium always makes me think of him. And I realize all over again that both he and my grandmother are gone. They now reside at addresses eternal.
As we walk up to the stadium the anthem of our own hardened soil is rising up and batting against the sides of nearby buildings. I can’t decide how it makes me feel. Is that sadness sneaking in or indignation?
The innings tick by with waves of sun and clouds. The sticky sweet blue of cotton candy, crushed peanut shells under foot, the crack of a breaking bat…
An old man mentions his first game was in Cleveland. He was seventeen and shipped out the next day. “They cut off my leg”, he says. My eyes burn.
Thoughts of eating kumquats in my grandparents backyard play through my mind. I sat under a tree and sang, “Home on the Range”. I remember it clearly now.
A child blissfully unaware of the sacrifice of those who went before her.
The game is coming to an end and three songs of tradition play. “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” gets knee slaps and loud clapping.
We solemnly stand for “America the Beautiful”. Hats off, hand over hearts. Today it twists my heart in a new way. I can’t quite pinpoint why. My mouth offers the words, but my mind is floating away. This place was never a utopia. Not ever. Each corner was built of pain and loss; slavery and starvation. Prejudice and tears. Power and money. Blood and injustices painting the walls. I feel a deep ache.
The music changes and my heart jumps. Take me out to the ballgame. I sing every word. The corners of my mouth lift. Again I see my grandfather’s face. Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks. I don’t care if I never get back.
We are transported. I’m again that child that only sees the light.
Then I look down at my smiling, singing boy. If they don’t win it’s a shame.
What soil will he inherit? What will this land be for him?
His small hand held high. He counts out the strikes.
For it’s one
three strikes you’re out.
At the old ballgame.
I look over the crowd- standing tall and beaming. What inning are we in, America?
Here comes the pitch. Play ball.