SOMETHING WONDERFUL

SOMETHING WONDERFUL

From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

Something Wonderful

One home run for my entire career.

The shot came on a Saturday in June when I was ten years old. I still smell buttered toast whenever I think about the ironed blue-and-white uniform that my mother left on the bed that morning. She folded the pants and shirt, leaving them close to my pillow.

I remember pulling on the white pants with blue stripes and looking at myself in the mirror. Back then, the hair was brown and cut in the style of the day, which is to say a flattop. Looking in that mirror, I didn’t realize another eighteen inches and about one hundred pounds would come to me.

A two-inch black leather belt went around my waist before putting on a white T-shirt and then the short-sleeved baseball shirt.

Mom kept my cleats in the hall closet near the front door. That day, I remember sitting on the staircase steps, lacing up the cleats and telling her that I felt something wonderful was going to happen.

Just have a good time, she said.

Our last game of the season was played on a field we called Fleet Street in Forest Hills, Queens. We already made the play-offs and were eager to finish the regular season. Our record was 8–1 and we faced a team hoping to win the last play-off spot.

Six months short of my eleventh birthday, my dream was to play first base for the New York Yankees when older. I wore No. 7, played first base and learned to switch-hit. Like Mickey Mantle, I took the first pitch and batted fourth in our line-up.

My father came to every game. Usually he stood against the brown iron fence on the third-base line. Back then, his hair was jet black and he was never without a smile.

The opposing pitcher that Saturday was short even for a ten-year-old. His team was sponsored by a pizza parlor that gave us the second soda free. His father coached and older brother played shortstop.

The first three times at bat, Brian Kugleman got me to fly out to left field. That season, I tagged the outfield fence twice, only to kick the dust while running toward first base.

Kugleman was one of the better pitchers in the league. Good control and knew how to move the ball around the plate. His first pitch to me in the last half of the seventh nicked the outside corner and the umpire called strike one.

There were two outs and nobody on base. I knew this was my last at bat of the day.

His next pitch was inside and forced me out of the batter’s box. I looked down the third-base line and saw my father leaning over the fence. He yelled words of encouragement but I heard none of his advice. Then, when our eyes locked, he clenched both his fists as though he held a bat. He motioned for me to swing faster just like when we practiced in the backyard.

Thirty-five years later, I still see the ball coming toward the plate and Kugleman’s black cap falling on the mound. My left foot moved forward in the brown dirt before the bat and ball connected. The crack of the wooden bat hitting that ball remains louder in my memory than when one of the children cries.

The ball went in a slow arch over the fence in the gap between left and center fields. I remember hearing my father call out my name. Never again would he cheer as loudly for me as he did that day.

When rounding first, my heart beat through that short-sleeved shirt just as it would many times years later. The second baseman, a third-grade classmate, hit me with his glove as I passed him. Going from second to third, there was a wide smile on my face. I still see my father slapping the iron fence with his right hand and can hear the sound of the fence rattling.

Rounding third toward home, I saw teammates crowded around the plate. Somebody yelled out, “Don’t forget to touch the plate.” I remember that, because one foot away from home, I stopped and then jumped on the plate with both feet.

We went on to win the game 7–3. While walking back to our car, I passed Kugleman. He was crying because his team didn’t get into the play-offs. “Nice shot,” he said.

Back home, I told Mom what had happened even before the screen door closed behind me. In my hand was the ball, signed by our manager and my teammates. She looked at the ball and then at me.

“Told you something wonderful would happen,” I said.

Robert Remler

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