I am no fan of baseball. I did not play little league, or round up the neighborhood lads for a pick-up game as a child. The briefest thought of attending some endless contest abbreviated by trips to the mound by some shuffling manager to mumble into his hat while the pitcher nods like a bobber is enough to send me into narcoleptic shivers.
So long ago we were in Savannah, sharing pizza on the square, strike squads of drunken bachelorettes marauding through the front lines of industrious hustlers looking to cop a cigarette, dollar, or drink for a palmetto rose. It is a spring wedding on a Monday morning. I’m swirling the ice in a greyhound, hugging the grooms-people and bride-persons smiling over a shoulder at a knockout brunette. She is my wife and to watch us you would think all we do is attend the events of the season and show strangers photographs of our apricot poodle.
Now I am on a plane to Detroit. My eleven-year old best friend and I on an adventure. It is her first flight, and my first flight responsible for a child. She is excited and I am nervous. She charms the TSA agent, the flight attendants, and our somewhat milquetoast seatmate from Ohio. Oh she is really something, showing no mercy disarming all she encounters like she is dizzying pheasants and gently laying them on the mulchy cool ground.
That night I lay back on a creaky futon,victorious, while she and her dad execute the Country Pretzel in a living room of temporary housing.
The next morning the world stops. A sickness envelopes the land, everywhere. Savannah, GA is sick. Detroit, MI is sick. New Delhi, Sao Paulo, Moscow, and Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska are sick, sick, sick. We walk empty streets and get the best table in every restaurant. We sit in the apartment watching the news. I surreptitiously reserve a car in case the airlines shut down. Escape from Detroit by any means necessary.
The airlines do not close, but they may as well do so. We fly down I-94 in a black Excursion. Our driver says not in 30 years has he seen the roads so empty at this hour. I pay him sixty dollars and tip him another twenty. Competence is cherished in dangerous times. “Bil-tawfiq” he says as he hands us our luggage. “What does that mean?” whispers the eleven year-old. “It is Arabic for listen to your uncle very carefully today and do not touch your face.”
The next two weeks every day is Monday morning or Saturday night. I convince myself I feel the virus niggling at my mind, or is that my chest? I wake up sweating, but it is only anxiety and I wipe my face with a cold, damp washcloth, staring at the mirror, asking the face in front of me if I will get it. Do I have it? Two weeks go by without incident or symptom. The clock starts over at the grocery store, when I went to my mother’s house, Walgreens,-restart the clock, the gas station, -re-start the clock. I am even now only six days into a fresh two weeks because a friend touched my door knob and entered my house in search of alcohol. A mistake akin to lighting a cigarette in the trench at night, punishable by death, but whose?
Every evening is the same. The leash, the collar, the lush green trail, then the park. We walk as long as the dog wishes. I carry a beer in my hand, another in my back pocket. These walks are celebrations. Every one we take is a defiant stand against the disease. We are fine. We will be fine.
Due to my disdain for the game, I am caught off-guard when the ping of an aluminum bat shanking a foul over the fence into the playground catches in my throat. Ping! Again. Ping! Again. A father, round as a bowling ball, is lobbing balls in with finesse, and his son swings a split-second too late, over and over, sending ball after ball over the side fence. We stop on the sidewalk across the street and watch. I want this for them both so badly it is ridiculous. I wipe tears away to focus on that point of contact, bat to ball. They pause. Dad summons the batter to the mound and he murmurs. His son nods along, bill of his cap poking to the ground like an Egret spearing fish. Back at home plate the bat comes to his shoulder. I notice his father’s fingers fanning out just so as he releases the ball and then ping, the ball is stinging low and straight beyond dad’s reach and landing between second and center field. I’m clapping and cheering, they pause confused. Dad raises his mitt or glove in a mild salute, not necessarily appreciating my fervor. I can’t help it though. I am now a fan of everything.