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My Bat

“My Bat,” Christopher Street (New York: February 1994, issue 210), p.17, ISSN 0146-7921.

I found it two weeks ago in the rafters of a shed in the backyard of my parents’ house—my Little League baseball bat. I carried it every year, slung over my shoulder with my first baseman’s mitt slipped around the thick end of the bat, in the parade that marked the first day of the Little League season in Middletown Township. The teams assembled on the practice fields that faced the natatorium, as the swimming pool was officially known, at Carl Sandburg Middle School (site of sporting misadventures and much pubescent angst yet to come). We then marched through neighborhoods of identical Cape Code and pseudocolonial houses to the playing field south of the Twin Oaks subdivision. It was a significant event in our town of ‘60s suburban pioneers where nothing significant ever happened. Our moms and dads, transplanted from the rowhouses of working-class Philadelphia or dying upstate Pennsylvania coal towns, gave us what they could to blur the newness of the carefully planned black-asphalt streets and the saplings in our front yards that didn’t yet look like the majestic maples and oaks of the pen-and-ink drawings that illustrated the brochures that the developer passed out in the foyers of the sample homes. They gave us baseball. It was our most palpable connection with the Great American Past, the only tradition in our otherwise ahistoric lives of glass-ceiling experimental schools and clean theme-park summers.

So I fished in out of the rafters, and held the aluminum in my hands, the same metal that Mike McNew would sometimes borrow. The third baseman told me once that my bat brought him luck, words that tore into my flesh as the ball flew over the cyclone fence and fell into the creek that ran behind left field. But generally he would take it from me without uttering a word, his deliberate pout never broken. His aggressive silence was out of place on the Seafood Shanty Shrimps, his seriousness an affront to normal fourth-grade boys for whom any group activity was as much an excuse to goof off as anything else. I had assumed that midget football was the cause of his singularity of purpose, and was hence was more forgiving than our teammates. As long as Mike whacked the daylights out of the ball with my bat, he could do not wrong in my eyes.

That year the Middletown Township All-Star Team played Levittown Western, with whom we enjoyed our fiercest rivalry. Mike and I were the two players from the Shrimps chosen for the Middletown team, he at third and I at first base, as it had been all season long. Although we now had a different coach, different uniforms, and different teammates, to me it seemed as if nothing had changed. I was surrounded by everyone and everything that meant something to me. Mike shot the ball to me as he always had, and I for an instant froze as it occurred to me that I either had to catch it and make the play, or would wind up lying in the emergency room, my skull split open by the impact. The familiar sting in the palm of my hand, and the momentary hardness in the stiff of the glove pleased me as nothing else could. My bat, Mike’s hands, the product of our wordless exchange, later belted out the detested ball that soon dropped from sight for good in the creek behind left field. After the game, he grabbed my shoulder, and my body ached at the contact, brief and unexpected. “Good game, Rich,” the first thing that he had said to me that day, and the last time we ever spoke.

The bat sits today in my apartment. I pick it up and bounce memorably, alternately touching the bat to a nonexistent home plate and bringing it to the ready for a nonexistent pitch. John, ex-college football coach, competitive weight lifter and all-around tough guy, has for the past two years systematically if unwittingly indulged every jock fantasy I have every had. A true subversive, a warrior who has turned my world and our collective histories upside down, he now searches for common ground to connect a past of convention to the present’s unrelenting newness. He watches as I perform my Field of Dreams catharsis. Johns then takes the bat from me, silently. “This bat'd be great for going straight-bashing.” He looks awesome as he holds the bat, one of the boys of summer poised to crush the skulls of nonexistent straights. “Hey, you straight? Yeah, I bet you’re a goddamn straight. Look at the way you’re dressed; you dress like shit. You gotta be straight. Makes me sick.”

He looks as if he is about to dome great harm during the diatribe, inverting the presumed order of bashers and bashed, powerful and powerless. And he looks damned powerful with my Little League bat in his hands, like a grownup third baseman who can cleanjerk 300. Suddenly I’m on my feet facing him, and the bat falls between our chests, where it rests as we embrace, its sting, the unexpected hardness, oddly familiar. In our private, personal pornography, John and the bat return me to the innocence of a childhood prematurely, but not irretrievably lost. With my bat, he can do no wrong.

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