by Fr. Matthias
I couldn’t find home. The weeds had grown tall over the old ball fields, the manicured diamonds all but blown away.
I sigh and mosey over to the old dugout. Nothing but twisted tin poking from the ground like spikes of yucca. The warped bench reaches up like the hand of an old friend and I remember sitting there with my pals, pants rolled up to just below our knees, ball caps pushing down our 7-year-old ears. We’d watch the big boys from the “Babe Ruth” league walk slowly down the asphalt path, metal spikes crackling like fireworks. I can’t wait to grow up and be like them, we said to one another.
Now I have my doubts.
I’ve avoided this place since I moved on to high school, unwilling to take in the wreckage of one of the most important places in my life with its memories of Little League baseball, scenes of childhood simplicity and playful innocence. This hallowed place where I cried over losses, sweated out the salt from sunflower seeds and celebrated championships beneath Comanche moons. Now it lies desolate and abandoned, thanks to “club” ball, parent politics and a rise in city water taxes. You know, grown up stuff.
Why did I drive here today? Not sure. Might be the need to find a suitable place to mirror an encounter this morning, a deep conversation with a troubled soul whose hopes and dreams have been ripped apart from the inside out: her home, now a wreckage of battered tin; her children in danger; her mind reeling with fears too frightful to articulate.
I jam my hands in my pockets and kick the dust as I walk. When eye catches the sight of a white sphere half-buried in the hardpan, I unearth it: the rotted core of a baseball, a million strings wrapped tightly around a rubber center. Like the memories of my youth, like that woman’s home, I hold the torn remnants in my hand and wonder if my own core—my calling, my vocation itself—might also be unraveling.
How long before ruin sets in?
The sun is setting and I walk to sit on a now-flat pitcher’s mound, the very spot that I had once stood, white pearl in hand, hurling fastballs into the catchers’ mitt to the slap of cowhide leather. I am a kid again, living in the simplicity of free soda and the smell of summer showers on freshly mowed grass, blowing gum bubbles next to my buddies.
As I reflect on these memories, I look down and run my thumb over a scar on my left hand. Over a decade ago, sixty feet from this mound, I had caught a hard fastball with this hand while playing catcher and split it open. I remember my dad’s advice as he cleaned up the blood and bandaged the wound: “Son, baseball has a lot to teach you.” He looked me in the eye. “Someday, this scar will mean more to you than any trophy.” I can almost feel the strength of his grip on my shoulder as he encouraged me to get back behind the plate.
A train whistle sounds in the distance and I shift my eyes to the sky: an explosion of pinks and oranges that defy the coming darkness. I glance at my hand and rub my thumb across the scar one more time. My heart is strengthened. I take a deep breath, sprint from the mound and run the bases. Through the weeds, amid the rubble, I round for home.