Of Baseball And The Dog Days Of Summer

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When I was a kid, I used to keep track of my batting average during our extremely informal sandlot baseball season.  I really didn’t know how to figure out a batting average, but I knew that one hit in two at bats was a .500 average, and I would go from there.  One year, I hit something like .667, but I may have been off by 50 points or more.

To call it a “season” really doesn’t do justice to our daily habit of roaming around Bridgeport looking for a place to play ball, either.  Moreover, if we couldn’t find other kids beyond our neighborhood to play against (which was often the case), then we would split our core group in two and just play against each other in a lot, a field, or a side-street.

Our baseball season would go on without significant interruption until the dawn of another school year.            At that point, as the late summer sunlight began to slant away from us, retreating into an early dusk, fewer and fewer of us would be regularly available after school to play ball.

A terrible disease called on-set Algebra now vexed us in the short hours between our after-school snack and bath-time.  It was often accompanied by a sharp pain of anxiety in the gut as it became clear that those moments day-dreaming in class were probably a fatal mistake. The darkness of the dreaded spelling homework doomed us, rendering irrelevant our pointless remonstrations to mom.

“Mom, can’t I go out and play now?”

“Not until after you finish your homework.”

“But Scott and Johnny are out there playing ball already.”

“I don’t care if Scott and Johnny are out there all night.  You’re finishing your homework, then you have to wash up for supper.”

But there were still those infrequent moments where on a surprisingly warm September afternoon just after Labor Day, my friends and I would sweat out the school-day and revel in the smell of leather and the sound of the ball smacking into our gloves.

These, our Dog Days of Summer, passed through us, around us, over us, the aroma of dead August still scenting the air.  We would fight a losing fight to reclaim September as our own, knowing full well that   October portended thicker jackets, shorter days, and frostier mornings.

Funny about the last day of summer.  By our unwritten definition, it was the last day we were all allowed to get together to play baseball.  But we never knew in advance which day that would be, and we never marked its immediate passing with ceremony or scroll.

Yet, for some odd reason, after several slippery decades have passed away and yet another Labor Day looms, I still half expect to look out my apartment window and see Scott and Johnny, Trenton and Tony, tossing a scuffed ball around, dented bats resting on idle shoulders, waiting for me to come out and play.

Now my son faces daily homework, his lazy summer afternoons out of reach. But the bat and ball buried deep in the closet beckon, and my arm feels good today.  The math problems will still be here when we get back and I doubt Scott and Johnny will wait around out there forever.

In baseball, as it turns out, there are no last games, just irregularly scheduled off-seasons.

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