Another Fat Lady in a Sweatshirt
Death sometimes leaves his gifts unannounced.
I was reminded of this recently when I stopped at McDonough Park on my way home from my brother’s funeral.
I don’t know what possessed me. I rarely went to his games when he was alive. Never cared much for baseball. Too slow. Besides, he never came to watch me work.
Two overweight women in sweatshirts, one red and one gray, stood behind a wobbly card table at the entrance. A gray metal cash box with a small pile of bills was open in front of them, and beside the box lay a roll of generic yellow tickets the size of a medium pizza. The air smelled of popcorn, dirt, and mould. I could hear yelling from out on the field–angry, reassuring, taunting–and the unmistakable slap of a hardball into a leather mitt.
“Three dollars,” said one of the women. When I looked at her in disbelief, she explained, “All the money goes for stadium renovations.”
I looked around at the rusted ironwork, the roofs that needed shingling, the sad chain link fence, the peeling green paint, and then back down at the meager pile of bills in the cash box.
The ghost of a minor league stadium, now used only for local high school and legion games, was about thirty terraced rows of folding seats with wooden slats, separated from home plate by a wire screen to catch foul balls. Two sets of bleachers ran out on either side behind the dugouts as far as first and third base. Not much had changed since Ben had played there in high school: the same gangling players, the same overweight umpires in blue, the same knots of parents and friends scattered around.
I sat alone at the top of the stands, as far from the field as I could get, and looked out on the players strewn across the grass. I had forgotten how much they all look alike from a distance, anonymous in their uniforms and caps. I was never sure which team Ben was on until someone told me, but I knew I could pick him out anyway, with that distinctive stance of his, his identity as uniquely written in the grace of the movements I knew so well as in a finger print.
The only other people near me were two old men sitting a couple of rows below me. Neighborhood residents, probably; public assistance, for sure. I wouldn’t have minded, or even noticed them, except that one of them insisted on sharing his detailed analysis of the game in a loud voice, much louder than necessary, even granting that his elderly companion had suffered significant hearing loss. The talker was dressed in an old blue-plaid flannel shirt, denim overalls, and a Yankees cap so worn that the button on top shone bare.
According to this loudmouth, the guy in right field was playing in the wrong place: too deep or too shallow. I don’t know, something about his “shading” was off. Then he threw a man out at home trying to score from second base on a single, and the crowd, sparse as it was, cheered its appreciation. Everyone except Mr. Know-it-all. “If he’d been where he should have been, that guy never would have been on second in the first place.”
The words were out before I knew my vow of silence was even in danger.
“Excuse me,” I said, “would you mind keeping your comments to yourself?” or words to that effect. I may have been a little less tactful.
“I got a right,” he said, turning around to look at me. I could see the white stubble on his chin. What is it about old farts that they can’t shave right? “I wasn’t talking to you anyway,” he said.
“How about you just turn it down a little. How’d that be?” He glared at me but didn’t say anything. “How do you know that’s not my little brother out there you’re talking about?”
At that, he turned back around in his seat and mumbled something to his friend. But not a minute later, he said in a slightly modulated voice, to no one in particular but loud enough for me to hear, “He’s still playing too deep.” I was about to let him have it, when one of the ladies from the ticket table—or maybe it was another fat lady in a sweatshirt, I can’t be sure—came around selling raffle chances. She was carting a big roll of tickets like the one I had seen on the table coming in, but these tickets were red. I bought five dollars worth—for the stadium renovations.
It was a comfortable afternoon, and the sun shone through an early autumn haze, casting an unusual and agreeable glow over the field. The old guy in front of me was still talking pretty loud, but he had lowered his voice enough that I could ignore him.
I left after a few innings. On the way out, I stopped and gave my five dollars worth of raffle tickets to the loudmouth in the Yankees cap.
“Didn’t mean any offense,” he said after thanking me.
“He’s a good little ballplayer, your brother. You should be proud.”
Theodore D. Obourn has published stories in “Natural Bridge” and “Whetstone,” and he has a novel seeking a publisher. He has a Ph.D. in English from Rochester, and has worked most of his professional life as a writer and editor in public relations.