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Bat Boy

By Donald G. Evans

There’s a picture of me, circa 1971, sitting on the granite divider outside Wrigley Field. I’m about to serve as bat boy for the Blackhawk Park all-star team, a sort of mascot to the older players, in a game played before a few hundred people. The Cubs, presumably, were on the road—an off-day, perhaps. I’m wearing a plain blue hat, baggy white pants, a white t-shirt, and my Rawlings Ted Abernathy mitt draped over my knee. I’m a little kid. donevans2L.JPG

Details of the day elude me. I can’t, to begin with, remember why two little league teams were playing in Wrigley Field, or how modest Blackhawk Park finagled their way into this game, or who we played, or who won. I can’t remember how old the older boys were. I don’t know whether the longest hit was out of the park, or whether everything was scaled down to where a monster fly ball landed plunk in medium deep left field.

I do remember the buzz. Sparky Mengarelli, the bread truck driver next door, offered advice about how to break the cap. Gary, the postman across the street, teased all week long to make sure I said hello to Billy and Ron. Even Old Man Carpentino, the grouchy Union steward who refused to return our balls when they strayed into his yard, offered congratulations.

Around my neighborhood we were more likely to call it Cubs Park than Wrigley Field. The Cubs…they weren’t everything, but they were a lot of it. The Cubs connected us to each other, literally and figuratively. As boys we could roam the neighborhood on any given summer’s day without missing a single play. Sen had the game blaring from the car radio as he lay underneath his primer-colored, two-door Olds Cutlass with bullet holes in the front windshield he said he got driving under the viaduct. Sadie, face pressed against the lace-covered window in her yellow brick bungalow’s living room, would yell updates. Tommy Harrison’s blind dad watched the radio on his front porch—his hands crossed gingerly over the cane top and his sunglasses trained on the dial. Mr. Harry had the transistor screeching as he worked his zucchini and egg plant garden. Red-faced Chester Dimocheviwtz with the oily gray hair listened to the game as he sat, cooler at hand, in the garage. Even Mr. Wolvertine had a tiny portable TV at the pool, and though he always seemed to be working and not watching he always knew every detail of every game, as it happened. donevans1L.JPG

We would be playing tag and hear, “Down a run—top of two.” During a street softball game, somebody would yell, “Billy doubled to right—nobody out.” The cowbell would give us pause on our way to the park, and we’d listen as Vince Lloyd announced, “It’s a bell-ringer!”

It was never, “The Cubs are losing.” It was, “We’re losing.” Maybe it was the blue-collar work ethic of the neighborhood, but if we were fully prepared to claim part-ownership of an eventual success, then we were duty-bound to accept our part in every failure.

It must have been some combination of Briscoes and Glissons and Browns and Martinellis and Santanas and Salernos and Lattuces—these were the families that lived around the park and would have been crunched into the first ten rows behind the Cubs dugout that summer day. My mom and dad, of course. My sister. My Uncle Ed and Aunt Pat.

What I remember was the drinking fountain—this was the same drinking fountain from which Kenny and Ernie and Billy and Randy drank. Me, too, at least on that day. And the on-deck circle. The older boys coached me on etiquette and style, and the big painted C seemed a large enough circle in which to live.

Wrigley Field. Man: I was sitting in the dugout at Wrigley Field. Standing on the dugout stairs on that summer day in 1971, one leg on the top and the other below, staring at the mesmerizingly green, manicured surface, I was already fully baptized, just six years old but already attached in ways that had nothing to do with anything except that’s the way it was. I never had a choice. It would be like asking why somebody would want to be an only child.

I knew, then, as Gary the Postman did years earlier, as my Dad did a long time before that, as Greg Hunt before Vietnam and all the drugs convinced him he was Jesus Christ, as Uncle Ed and Chester and Sparky Mengarelli had all known at one time, as Tommy Harrison’s dad had when he could still see, that I would someday be a Chicago Cub. That I would play right here.

This is 36 years ago, and we had all, already, been waiting a long time.

I’m 42 now, and like everybody else not a Chicago Cub. I mean, I don’t play for the Chicago Cubs. I’m still a bat boy, and as such every bit as much a part of what our proxies do on the field, for good or for bad—mostly bad—and I’ll pick up the lumber every summer until I run out of them.

Donald G. Evans, author of Wrigleyville sports gambling novel Good Money After Bad, is the Lovable Losers emcee. His stories have appeared in StoryQuarterly, Pinyon Review, The Journal and Narrative Magazine, among others.

Posted on Friday, March 7, 2008 at 10:31PM by Registered CommenterLovable Losers Literary Revue in , | Comments10 Comments | References3 References

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