SPRING SOUNDS, SPRING DREAMS

SPRING SOUNDS, SPRING DREAMS

From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

Spring Sounds, Spring Dreams

Fatherhood is responsibility, it’s definitely humility, a lot of love and the friendship of a parent and a child.

Denzel Washington

Reluctant spring finally shows up in our town Wednesday. The balls, bats and gloves are on the sofa when I returned home from work.

“Thayer, Dad?”

“Definitely.”

Thayer Field, named for the philanthropists who once owned half our community, stretches off a back road behind the elementary school. Twin diamonds, soon to bustle with ballplayers, beckon like long-neglected lovers. Pines, seventy- or eighty-foot-tall green monsters, line the ball fields’ eastern edge. An occasional passing car, a train moaning through the distance, and a dog’s bark or bird’s whistle are the only sounds that carry through the still, clean air.

It is a good place to be on the first real day of spring, a good place to be with a boy who loves baseball.

“You want to hit?”

“Nah. Hit me some first.”

The boy pulls his hay-colored fielder’s glove onto his left hand and trots toward second. Crabgrass that took root last summer lies brown and dead in the spots where pivoting shortstops and sliding baserunners had sprayed away the infield’s stone dust.

Thwack. I stand under a great gray backstop that hovers like a giant’s catcher’s mitt above home plate. I swing the wooden bat and hit a soft grounder to the boy. He scoops it up, tosses it back on a bounce.

Thwack, thwack. I hit grounders, soft, then harder—at him, then to his left, to his right. “Stay down,” I say, but the boy knows. He fields with ease, a pretty fair ballplayer.

Thwack, thwack. I hit pop-ups and liners.

The boy comes in and I go out to the mound. I pitch. Soft straight throws at first, harder now and harder still.

Thwack, thwack. The boy rips his blond thirty-inch Louisville Slugger around, sending line drives into the wet yellow-brown grass of the outfield.

“Try to pull it,” I yell. He drills a shot that kisses the line in left. “Hey, hey,” I yell to the season. I feel mechanical-legged, like a Babe Ruth running from death, as I chase the ball down. I feel like a lucky man.

I know a man in my town, a quiet, friendly man. He comes alive when he coaches soccer, pounding up and down on September fields with his sons and the other players, shouting instructions to the kids in the crisp evening air of autumn. I stand at the pitcher’s mound. I know how he feels. Here I am, a man who flopped at Little League, pitching to a son who loves the game, a son who can flat-out hit, a son who dreams the truest American dream.

Will the dream come true? Will it take him all the way, forty miles beyond the tall pines to Fen way Park? Probably not. But who cares? Hearing that thwack, thwack, thwack, that sweet song from the sweet spot, is enough.

The minutes pass quickly. The sun drops behind the western horizon, painting the sky around the clock tower of the 175-year-old Bulfinch Church in pinks and blues and purples. A man who had been pitching to his son and another boy on the other field calls it a day. I almost shout “Isn’t this great?” as he drives past. But I don’t. The other boy rides his bike over, puts on his glove and joins us in the field.

“John,” a woman’s voice calls from an unseen house five minutes later. “John.”

“See ya,” the boy says to us. “Thanks.” He slides his glove onto his handlebars and pedals off.

Dusk comes a’creeping. The sparrows sitting in the maple saplings along the chain-link fence sing louder, railing at the end of such a day.

Dong, dong, dong, dong, dong, dong sounds the bell in the Bulfinch tower.

“That’s it,” I say. “I can’t even see the ball.”

“One more,” he says. Always the boy says, “One more.”

“One more.”

I wind and deliver. I listen for the thwack, fearing the ball my eyes can no longer pick up, delighting that the boy can hit it hard enough to frighten his old man.

He’s eleven now. Some year soon he will not want to play with Dad. But Jewel and Lisa, my little girls, ah— Jewel is four and already she talks about playing soccer. I think about pounding down a September field with her. Oh, lucky man, I say to myself.

Paul Della Valle

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