[img_assist|nid=7423|title=Self-Contained by Suzanne Comer© 2011|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=250|height=321]“You guys are gonna be late,” Mom said as she cleared the dinner table. Neither Dad nor I answered even though we’d heard her just fine. We also knew our time constraints, just like we did for every Phillies home game. In all the years my dad and I had been going to games at the Vet, I don’t think we ever saw the first inning.
Instead, we always picked up the bass-drenched voice of Harry Kalas as we motored down Route 42 in one of the many assorted Ford Tauruses my dad drove as company cars over the years. We liked it that way.
I’d have my glove on my lap and we’d pop a couple pieces of Doublemint gum into our mouths and talk about how crappy Steve Jeltz had played the week before or how pathetic Steve Bedrosian looked coming out of the pen. We’d laugh as Whitey and Harry the “K” dropped playful banter over the airwaves. We’d plan our post-game festivities, usually a much-anticipated trip to Pop’s Water Ice where we’d double park along Oregon Avenue, me with a small chocolate and Dad with a cup of lemon (both of us munching on pretzel rods). And, we’d soak in the warmth of summer along with the last few drops of baseball for the evening.
At the park, we’d file in somewhere near the middle of the second inning and find our seats in section 325 next to my uncle. Then my father and uncle would teach me everything I ever wanted to know about the game. It was the most wonderful session of summer school you could imagine.
“See, Frank,” Dad would say. “Runner at the corners and no outs, the infield will play the corners in.”
“Corners in?” I’d ask quizzically, munching on peanuts and tossing the shells on the beer-stained pavement under our seats.
“Yep. That means the first and third basemen will play up and the middle infielders back.”
“Well, if it’s hit up the middle they’ll turn a double play. If it’s hit to the corners they’ll try to nab the guy at the plate.” I’d nod and stuff huge wads of blue cotton candy into my mouth. The lessons always sank in, whether I was busy eating or obsessing over catching foul balls.
On most occasions the entire game flew by without a foul ball coming anywhere near us. After all, our seats were pretty good. Right behind the plate, and in the lower level, which meant a pesky screen blocked just about any ball hit even remotely in our direction. Whatever did make it over the screen usually came in the form of a screaming line drive that was liable to take your head off. Dad found this out the hard way a few years prior when he stuck a bare hand in the path of one of those screamers and watched it ricochet a full fifteen rows in front of him as his paw ballooned to twice its normal size.
Regardless, I still found it necessary to bring my glove just in case the rare chance presented itself. One glorious night, my suspicions paid off. Darren Daulton was at the plate and we were lulled into comfort by the wondrous chatter inside Veteran’s Stadium –“You bum!”, “You guys suck!”– when an awkward crack of the bat brought us to our senses. A frozen rope shot back in our direction like a laser beam.
Nobody in our section had the presence of mind to react, except for a guy at the end of our row toting a six dollar beer. His presence of mind, however, may have been stunted when it came to unhanding his brew. The whizzing dart of a line drive slugged him directly in the beer mug. Suds splashed all over his shirt and the ball dashed down the row behind us with a few hollow thuds.
It camped under a cadre of old ladies who seemed afraid to react. Being the consummate gentleman, I did the only thing I could think of. I dove behind my seat and nabbed that baseball right out from under those geezers. I held it up triumphantly as if I’d snagged the liner one-handed. Everyone cheered because I was a little kid and they thought my exuberance was cute. Otherwise they would have booed me right out of the stadium.
As I was enjoying my moment in the spotlight, a curious thing happened. I dropped the ball. It took one long bounce before it trickled two or three rows in front of me. I couldn’t believe it. I’d just ruined the first chance I’d ever had at a foul ball. Probably the only chance I’d ever have. Disgusted, I buried my face in my hands. I didn’t want to face the game or my father or my uncle or any of the fans in my section that I’d let down. But when I finally lifted my head from mourning, something even more amazing had occurred. There was Dad, smiling and holding the ball between his thumb and forefinger.
“You lose something?” he asked.
That may have been the first time I dropped the ball, but it wasn’t the last time Dad was there to pick it up.
C.G. Morelli grew up in the Philadelphia area and now lives somewhere in the back woods of Carolina. His work has appeared in Highlights for Children (winner of a 2010 AEP Award), Chicken Soup for the Soul, Ghostlight Magazine, Land more. He is the author of a short story collection titled In the Pen (2007).