My Parents’ House
by Suzy Beal
This twelve-hour drive
begins in the dark hours
of the early morning.
Little girls strapped
in their sleeping bags
in the VW van, puppy
at their feet in her box.
Did I remember their lunch,
the dog’s food, leash,
drinks, camera? Off so
early to catch the 3 o’clock
ferry to Lopez Island.
It’s our vacation. The only
one we can afford–to stay
at my parent’s house.
High hopes ride with us.
I want to see Mom,
not so sure about Dad.
Will he be kind to the girls,
will he insist I go with him
to the bars? Will he drink
too much? Vacation
should be fun. It could
be fun. Most often it is not.
Our Summer Game
by Michael W. Shurgot
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
— Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill”
“Who’s got the rope and the sticks?” Mike yelled.
“I do,” shouted George. “They’re all in my bag.”
“OK, I’ve got all the bats and balls,” Mike added.
“George, if you fall off your bike with those sticks pointed straight up like that, you’ll stab yourself in the back of your head,” shouted his brother Paul.
“Yeah,” added Danny, “and then we’ll have blood all over the center field fence. But that might make it easier to tell home runs.”
“Let’s just go,” Mike shouted. “We can worry about George’s blood later. We need to get to the field.”
And so we four aspiring athletes, dreaming of heroic home runs and stellar plays, hopped on our bikes and, accompanied by my dog Brandy who raced along beside us, pedaled eagerly toward the luscious green field we secured for our summer games at the bottom of the hill.
For reasons no one ever understood, we called this game “strike out,” probably because so many hitters struck out during a game. We played it three, maybe four times a week in a corner of a large field on the University of Buffalo campus at the corner of Bailey Avenue and Main Street. It approximated real baseball only in its barest outlines, and then only because we were able to reimagine the game to fit our modest circumstances and challenging locale. The grass was seldom mowed, and rocks and debris littered much of the field, as it was often the site of drinking parties by older students of the University. We often had to remove empty beer cans and food wrappers, and sometimes condoms, from the area around home plate before we could commence playing.
“Make sure the sticks are deep enough so they won’t fall over,” Paul asserted. “They have to hold up the ropes in case we crash into them making a catch.”
“Are all the sticks the same length?” Danny asked. “Cause we have to try to make the rope the same height all the way around the outfield.”
“Yeah, I think so,” Paul added. “Hey Danny, did you bring your dad’s hammer?”
“Yeah, I remembered. I’ll go get it. It’s in my bag. Paul, help me get the sticks in the ground. You hold them while I pound them with the hammer. Then we can attach the rope.”
“I’ll set up home plate,” Mike declared.
“Make sure it’s wide enough this time. Last week it was too small for calling balls and strikes,” George said.
“Yeah, OK,” Mike answered. “This time I have one of my dad’s old t-shirts he said we could use. We can make it as big as we want. I’ve got the same rags for the bases.”
- < >
The rope duly strung around the outfield, the old t-shirt pounded into the ground with a bat for home plate, and the rags appropriately distributed for the three bases around the imaginary diamond, the game commenced. The “teams” consisted of two players; one pitched, the other played outfield. Because there was only one outfielder, batters could hit the pitched ball only to the right or left of an imaginary line extending from second base out into center field, depending on whether the batter was right or left-handed. If a right-handed batter hit the ball to right field, where there was no outfielder, the batter was automatically out, and a left-handed batter would be out if he hit the ball to left field. Fairness demanded such a rule: the outfielder had to have a sporting chance of catching a fly ball. A ground ball was an automatic out, regardless of direction, and to be a “base hit” the batted ball had to fly over an imaginary line between first and second for left-handed hitters or second and third for right-handed hitters. This line was imaginary and thus invisible, so arguments about whether a batted ball was a “base hit” erupted often during a game.
Since there were no infielders, all baserunners were imaginary. The team at bat had to keep track of how many runners had gotten a hit and thus were “on base,” and runners could advance one base on a single, two bases on a double, etc. So, if the previous batter hit a single, and the next batter’s fly ball dropped in for a double, the “team” would then have runners on second and third base. And what, indeed, constituted an “extra base hit?” While determining a single was fairly easy (arguments notwithstanding), a fly ball that was hit to the appropriate field but that the outfielder did not catch was a double, and if the ball flew over his head, but not over the outfield rope, it was a triple. A home run, obviously, was a ball that sailed over the ropes that marked the outfield wall defining the space of this imaginary baseball park.
The definition of extra-base hits thus determined, what remained was calling balls and strikes. And here the whole illusionary nature of our game sidled into the maddeningly subjective. There were four players, but no umpire. Instead, the pitcher called balls and strikes! While eventually debates about whether a batted ball had crossed the imaginary line between the bases “on the fly” and was thus a base hit could be settled, disputes about balls and strikes were endless.
“Strike three, Mike You’re out.”
“Hell no! That was outside.”
“No, it wasn’t. You moved back when I threw it.”
“No, I didn’t! It was high too. Besides, when George was up that same pitch was a ball.”
“The pitch to George was different.”
“No, it wasn’t! It was the same pitch. You’re not callin’ fair today! Just ‘cause I got a hit last time. Ask Danny.”
“Danny can’t see from left field! Besides, I don’t care if you got a damn hit! That pitch was a strike. You’re out.”
And so on. Pitching this became a major existential challenge. Could one pitch and simultaneously judge one’s pitches? Could one always be fair, especially in the bottom of the last inning with a one-run lead and that phantom runner lurking on third base? Could you really call out your best friend who lived across the street on a pitch that barely reached home plate? Was this training for some of life’s truly serious circumstances where one’s integrity would really be challenged? If we sensed any of the above, we did not say so, so engrossed were we in our shared fantasy of a real baseball game.
Given the constant rhubarbs about balls and strikes, and the occasional argument about whether a short fly ball had traveled far enough to be a base hit, or was to the left or right of the crumbled, formless rag that marked second base, a seven-inning game of “strike out” could consume an entire summer afternoon. But we did not care, nor even notice. Time, as Dylan Thomas writes, held us “green and dying”—we knew the green part, though not then the other—and what was left undone during any one game on any one day could always be re-imagined, revisited, redone during the next game the next day in the endless summer game of our imaginations.