Numbers in the Park

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: New Writers wanting Reviews

Submitted: October 26, 2017

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Submitted: October 26, 2017

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Numbers in the Park

Zero and 12. Maybe your dad never coached your little league team. Maybe you never played. But you don’t need an invitation to the All-Star game to know that’s a bad record, zero and twelve. Zero and anything, really. It’s a twelve game season, and everyone makes the playoffs, but after that when we lose it’s over. I’m ready for it to be over, but Dad says we have “a shot.” He keeps saying things like that, using phrases I don’t understand, and not because the words are big or complicated. Dad stands at home plate with a bat in his right hand and a bag of balls in his left, ripping off grounders and nonsense sayings like “eyes open, heads up” or “get hard in the middle, close that gap.”

When you’re playing craps and your roll 11, they call it a yo. Dad says it’s so no one accidentally thinks the dealer said seven. A five and a six, that’s the only combination of dice that can make eleven, and chances are you’ll only roll an eleven only once out every eighteen times. That’s equal odds to rolling a three, and little higher than rolling a two or a twelve. If you roll a twelve they call it boxcars, because the marks on the dice line up to look like railroad cars.

10 seasons, that’s how many dad played, for four different teams, all in the minor leagues. Twelve hundred thirty eight at bats, seventy home runs, three hundred and one hits. Lifetime batting average of point two four three. Dad says baseball is full of math. Granpa Gene used to take him to see the Phillies play, and together they’d fill out the scorecard. Dad says Granpa Gene called baseball “numbers in the park.” Dad says when the fly balls go up in the air just to start counting down from twelve, and by the time I get down to zero, the ball will be in my glove. The record hang time for a home run in the major leagues is seven point one seconds.  I love numbers, but hate baseball. I’ve started to notice when people use numbers to trick me into liking something that I don’t.

Step 9, step nine, step nine he says. Dad pleads with Mom, but she says he’s taken enough steps at this point to cross the country, so why does she always feel like they’re right back where they started. She asks him why he feels the need to call her every time he’s messed up, to unburden himself. She says maybe he should tell a therapist, but Dad says the steps are his therapy. I think maybe this time things might go better. I like that he’s following steps, that makes sense to me, and very little about my dad has ever made sense.

8 meals, that’s how many he knows how to cook. Chicken tacos, burgers with frozen fries, linguini with clam sauce, linguini with red sauce, canned salmon with instant grits, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, egg sandwiches. Eight sounds like a lot, until you spend a long weekend at his new apartment and your little sister is sick, so you can’t go out. Until you consider how many things mom can cook, all the twists and variations, the ways to make something different in case I’m allergic to part of it. It’s almost uncountable, and I’m very good at math. Exponents are involved.

Chances are Lucky 7 is your favorite number. They’ve done polls. Three is the second most popular choice. I don’t have a favorite, although grown-ups ask me all the time, when they find out I love numbers. At Christmas, dad plays seven-card stud poker with my uncles. He says it’s the proper way to play poker, but at the casinos now all they play is Hold ‘em in the high stakes room, and it puts him at a disadvantage. Casino dealers shuffle seven times between hands. He taught me that. Say that to your Uncle Carl on Thanksgiving and everyone will think it’s clever. Say it seven times, count his shuffles to make sure he’s playing fair, and people will become upset. Mom will pull dad into the kitchen, away from the card table, and she’ll whisper but he’ll yell, and you will know that there is some part of you that is broken inside, that makes life harder for everyone else.

6 months he tells her, that’s how much time I’ve got. She says no, it’s not enough time, and even though I’m not great at knowing people’s feelings I can tell she’s sad, because she keeps using the back of her hand to wipe the tears before anyone can see them, the way she taught me to with the bullies on the bus.

5 positions he’s tried me at: shortstop, pitcher, catcher, first base, third base, right field. Dad started me at shortstop because he played shortstop. He said it’s in our blood. I said I didn’t like being between two bases. It confused me. All the other baseman got a clear assignment. I didn’t last an inning at pitcher. No one could hit my pitches, which sounds like a good thing, but wasn’t. I walked them all. Catcher gave me a panic attack. The pitches keep coming and coming. Dad figured first base to be just right – I’d stay alert because I’d be involved in almost every play, but instead almost every play my teammates blame me for missing the catch, even when their throws come in too hard or wild.

Four Seventeen West Chamberlain Street, Apartment 4, that’s where’s living now, where we go when he’s allowed to keep us for the weekend, where we eat eight meals. The carpeted floors hurt my feet, so I don’t take my shoes off all weekend, which means I’ll get a rash. The fluorescent light in the kitchen gives me a headache, but we can turn it off. Dad says this is the best place he could find that leases month to month. He wants to be ready to move.

He spits, on average, 3 times between batters. I count it from where I stand out in right field. When I was younger, I thought he was Superman, or maybe Aquaman, because he could spit so much so far. Now I know it’s just ground tobacco he holds in his lip, the kind that come in the round plastic tins that wear the circles into his jean pockets. He’s killing himself, mom says, but I know now she means slowly. The first time I heard her yell that I ran from my room, expecting to find him cutting his wrists, like I saw in a movie, but he was just leaning against a kitchen stool, spitting into a coke can.

Mom showed up to 2 games so far this season. At the first one, I think she just needed to make sure he showed up. “On time and in shape” as she says. Now she’s come for the playoff game, and when I see her in the bleachers, her expression’s changed. She doesn’t look mad or worried anymore. Maybe bored, or a little annoyed.

1 out. That’s how many outs the other team has, in the very last inning of the playoff. Danny Sanchez, our new pitcher, calls time, and dad runs out to meet him on the mound. We’re up by one run, and even though I can’t hear them from right field, and I know what he’s telling dad. The league has mercy rules, little changes from the regular order to keep the game flowing and fun for both teams. One of them states that after ten at bats in any innings, the teams switch sides, even if there aren’t three out.

Except right now, the Braves have managed to catch up to us in the last inning of the game. They’ve put nine batters up, and only one got out, an easy pop up to Danny. Runners sit on first and second base, and a tough kid named Brett is up to bat. What Danny is telling dad is that he’d like to walk him on purpose, to take advantage of the mercy rule, and squeak out on win for us this year. Danny pleads and Dad shakes his head no. I want to scream at him from the outfield. This is our best chance not to embarrass ourselves! Danny looks disgusted, and when play resumes he throws one high and to the left, a ball but not an obvious one. He glances at Dad, who drains a long spit and balls his hand into a fist, the sign for a strike. The next pitch comes a bit high and to the left again, but Brett reaches out for, and steps into a high fly towards the outfield.

12

The balls comes off the bat and my breath sucks right back into my chest.

11

I pray it coasts left, into center field, but I keep counting, to calm my nerves.

10

Brett waits a second to watch his ball float, and then chucks the bat and pumps hard towards first.

9

Danny looks towards the dugout, glove crossed under his pitching arm, as if to say “I’m done with this.”

8

Dad’s watching the ball coast towards right field, hands still balled into fists. Mom’s looking at Dad, and she doesn’t look bored.

7

I step forward and my glove goes up, elbows back, fingers pointing towards the sky.

6

Brett rounds first and heads towards second.

5

The ball starts to come down, and I step back, thinking about the angles, lining them up.

4

Maybe your dad never coached your little league team. Maybe you never played.

3

Maybe you were like me – never good at anything. Or maybe you’re like him, so good at everything that you don’t know when to quit.

2

But listen, let me tell you why I love numbers so much. It’s not about keeping score. All those scorecards in the park, they end up balled into the trash can, they all add up to nothing.

1

I love numbers because when life comes at me so fast and heavy that I think I can’t breathe – numbers break it down, take it apart until I’m dealing with something that I can understand. And then maybe, I’ve got a shot.  And we all deserve a shot.

Eyes open.

Head up.


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