His coach says, “he has an arm,” and calls him the team’s star pitcher. He plays Little League in his hometown of Pelham, N.Y. His father says, and I quote: “Yesterday he threw 60 pitches in three innings. He had five strikeouts, caught a line drive back at the mound and fielded a ground ball throwing out the batter at first! He is always asking me to show him how to throw a knuckle curve, a screwball, a cutter or a slider. I told him I have no idea.” Joe says he emulates Mike Mussina and A-Rod, names I’ll get to know better, I have a feeling. The other day I saw him spit over his shoulder, and then in his hand, before winding up. “Grrr-e-ggg,” called his mom. “Stop that!” He let one fly, right past his dad. (A whiffle ball I should say, in our back yard.) This is my grandson, Gregory.
When he was here a few weeks ago I had more conversation with him than in all the preceding nine years of our acquaintance. As soon as he arrived, I noticed the new glove he was carrying, and how not? It looked big as a soup plate. “Beautiful glove, Greg,” I said “I think we’ve still got a bat of yours in the pantry . . .” and a few other pleasantries. If baseball was going to be the topic, he would give me his attention, and for the next three days he actually sought my company, thinking of more to tell me, more I needed to know, more he was sure I was anxious to be aware of. About baseball.
“Greg,” I say, “did I ever tell you what your great-great-grandfather did?” (I hadn’t, but it seemed like a winning topic now). “He made bats for Babe Ruth.” He looked so blank I thought I might have to say you know, Babe Ruth? Then I realized, Babe wasn’t A-Rod, so what the heck? “Listen,” I persist, “he was the foreman for Hillerich and Bradsby, makers of the Louisville Slugger used by all the leagues . . . and Babe broke a lot of bats; they worked together to make a bat he couldn’t break.” Greg was giving me his polite attention, all the while throwing his ball back and forth into his glove hand. We moved on.
The glove and the ball are part of his ensemble, his life. More than his shoes or shirt. (Unless he’s got on his number 13 A-Rod jersey.) So we talk baseball, and he throws me zingers of humor from time to time. Mostly about how much I don’t know about The Game. He is a handsome boy, wiry and quick, and growing fast. I am thinking, go easy on the arm, your bones are young, don’t overdo it. Things people say to each other. Like: “That ladder is wobbly, watch the third rung . . . “ or “Where’s your mask, you shouldn’t breathe that stuff . . .” and “Do you have to leave so late? You’ll be driving all night . . .” Or, “Don’t hold the knife like that, you’ll cut your thumb off!” Nobody listens to anybody, they just want to get where they’re going, finish the job, do it their way. Greg doesn’t think of overtaxing his young muscles, why should he; everything is working, what else matters?
I got interested in baseball one other time in my life, and learned the names of the players, watched games, kept track, understood plays, until one night sitting up in bed at 1 in the morning, frozen with attention and hope, we watched the Red Sox lose the pennant.
Now probably there is another period of sports awareness coming on. Greg’s family is moving East . . . east from New York. Into Red Sox territory where the passion for the team is the same as his, a born and raised Yankee fan. “I will never be a Red Sox fan,” he says, with a stern look on his face. “Never.”
“Yes, but you’ll go to a game won’t you? Think of it, Fenway Park, it’s world famous.”
“Maybe I’ll go if they play the Yankees, and watch the Sox get beat,” says Greg.
“Oh, dear,” I think. Greg will certainly play ball when he gets to his new hometown. Little League, the town team, pickup ball with friends . . . he loves the game. I’ve been reading up on the Cape Cod League and the South Shore Baseball League. I run all this new (to me) baseball lore past Greg. Meanwhile his teammates are going to be Sox fans. I don’t know how tolerant, or sportsmanlike a nine year old is supposed to be, but I hope there won’t be hard feelings — if not hard knocks. “Give them a break, Greg,” I say. “You live here now.”
I’ll save my breath and go watch him pitch; learn some names and plays and towns and ratings. I’ll watch him throw a knuckle curve, and spit.
Jeanne Hewett is a freelance writer and fabric artist who lives in Vineyard Haven.