The Grasshoppers

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Sports  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a short story about fleeting youth and the connection sports can have in bringing people together.

Submitted: February 07, 2012

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 07, 2012

A A A

A A A


The

Grasshoppers

A Short Tale of Fleeting Youth

By

Mel J. Janousek

We were on the edge of losing our ties to the frolicking adventures of youth. It was during the summer of 1970. The 60’s had just left their lasting impact upon our lives. College, Vietnam, or mirrored employment loomed in the blurred future. The Grasshoppers were a mixture of idealistic, young males who were either about to leave their exposed teen years, or who had just crept into the early stages of blind adulthood. We were 19 and 20 year-old misfits, who for one memorable summer, tried to relive and mimic the playfulness of our younger years.

There was an old, weathered baseball field in our hometown. The years of neglect had left the field just a reflection of what it once was. The unkempt grass had grown tall, the diamond of the field now provided a glimpse of its original shape, and the sagging backstop leaned like the Tower of Pisa. There were a few broken and decaying boards behind the backstop that once provided a seating arena for enthusiastic fans. A couple of antiquated light poles lined the perimeters of the field. Because of the deteriorating condition of this area, most people who passed by didn’t notice the field at all. This was not the case for the Grasshoppers. The field would become a magical connection to our youthful past.

Organized sports were not part of our childhood adventures during the 1950’s and 1960’s; however, almost every summer day you could find a group of would-be, young athletes competing in a pick-up baseball game at some local school yard, public park, or open field. Kids during that time liked to play. They liked to play baseball. We grew up with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, and Roger Maris. If there wasn’t a specific playing field, we would make one. All there had to be was an open area where we could gather to “play ball.” If there weren’t specific bases, we would use shirts, paper, wood, or anything that would resemble them. We would measure off the distances to the bases by our own imaginary contemplations. Even though we knew it was 90 feet to each base in real baseball, we would use measurements that would connect to the field on which we were playing – smaller field, less space between bases – larger field, more space between bases. Our main objective was to “get a game going.” We just liked to play baseball. It didn’t matter how good you were; you could play. It didn’t matter if you had a glove; someone would let you use his glove when their team came up to bat. Just the playing of the game brought us together. This was also true of the Grasshoppers.

There was a group of about four or five of us who started hitting a softball around the haggard, old baseball field. After a day of doing common labor, we would venture to the field to relax and just play. We only had a couple of gloves, one bat, and one semi-circular softball. One of us would toss the ball into the air and hit it to the others in the outfield. It wasn’t really a game, it was just: “You hit some and then I’ll hit some.” As the ball was hit to the individuals in the outfield, one of us would yell, “I got it,” and then watch as the ball landed on the ground five or ten feet away. But, we were having fun. We were playing and we were playing baseball or at least, softball. Each night as the darkness of the evening crept into the horizon, we would walk off the field bragging about the great catches we had made or one of the balls we had slammed to the outfield. “Did you see how far I hit that sucker?” one of us would ask. The adrenaline that came from our meager attempt at playing brought us back to the field night after night. It would also bring the Grasshoppers together as a team.

As we continued to go to the field each evening and play, we sparked the curiosity of other young friends from the community. They would go by the area on their nightly journey of driving around and see us out in the field running, hitting, yelling, and simply playing. At the beginning, a few of them stopped and asked, “Can I play?” As the original small group, we welcomed the additional players and soon there were about eight or ten regulars on the field every night. Only a couple of the players had participated in organized sports in high school. We were definitely not groomed athletes. We were just a group of young guys who enjoyed playing.

At first, we just continued our messing around with the one bat, one ball and a couple of gloves; but eventually, everyone brought a glove and there were four or five bats that were used with six or seven softballs. Because we now had enough equipment and players on the field, the playing eventually allowed us to create semi-game situations. Someone would attempt to pitch, someone would attempt to hit the ball and the others would attempt to field the occasional slam to the outfield. We could continue the rotation of pitcher, hitter, and outfielders until everyone got his chance at one of the positions or the darkness of the evening determined the end of our playing session. “Hey, I didn’t get to bat!” one of us would exclaim as we walked off the field. “Well, I didn’t get to pitch!” another would add. “Then, I get to bat first tomorrow night. Don’t forget,” the conversation would continue and end. Although none of us recognized the potential of our organized playing at the time, the formation of the Grasshoppers was beginning to take shape.

Our playing continued for a few weeks until we started to have actual games against each other. Because there were only nine or ten of us who resumed the playing each evening, the games would match five players against five players or four players against five players with one individual selected as a rotating player who played a dual role for each team as an outfielder. That way, there were always five players in the outfield as each team batted. And, because the lack of numbers did not allow us to cover all parts of the field, we developed a rule that if you hit the ball to right field, it was an out. We did have one left-handed batter, so the rule was switched to left field when he batted. Although we did attempt to keep score during each of our games, it really didn’t matter. We were playing and having fun. We were also developing an understanding of our best playing positions on the field and who the best hitters were. At the conclusion of one of our nightly games, someone even brought up the idea of forming our own team and playing against someone else. This bridging of messing around on the field to the creation of the Grasshoppers was starting to be developed.

The idea of actually forming a team and competing against someone else was not part of our original plans, but it became an obvious progression of our playing. Although we enjoyed the meager attempts of having a game each evening, the patterned activities led us to the decision to actually form a team and play against some other group. We were getting better; not great, but we could now actually hit the ball consistently and our fielding became a more proficient process. Being a team would not only allow us to continue our playing, but also allow us to become more than just a group. We would have specific positions on the field and develop a batting order to represent our hitting strengths. The formation of a team was the next logical progression of our activities. A team; however, needed a name. A name would be the way we could represent ourselves to others. It would allow us to show others that we were not just a group of misfit players - we were a team. The name, Grasshoppers, was a perfect fit.

One of the regular rituals of our group was to smoke pot. Looking back, I guess you could use the term pot-heads to describe us. It wasn’t that we were smoking pot all day long, but we would find the time almost every day to pass a number around. Weed, as it was called, was regularly available during this time and was relatively inexpensive. One of us (if not all of us) would always have some pot with them. After we completed each of our nightly adventures on the field, we would gather as a group near our cars, sit on the damp ground, and smoke a joint or two. Yeah, we would get high from smoking the evil weed, but we would not become incapacitated. It was our social connector at that time. Besides the music, the longer hair, and the vernacular of the 1960’s, marijuana brought many young people together and gave them an alternative social drug to alcohol. We did drink beer and quite often, but pot allowed us to show our connection to a new generation of young people who purposely tried to disconnect with past generations.

Looking back, I’m not sure who exactly came up with our team name. It might have been a combination of all of our comments and connected affiliations to the field and our pot smoking. The field upon which we played had a variety of tall-growing weeds that accommodated hundreds of insects – particularly grasshoppers. They would leap around the field continuously each evening as we played and became part of the nightly ritual. The grasshoppers were part of the field and thrived on the nourishment from the sprouting plants. We also became part of the field and like the grasshoppers, sustained our youthful past on the nourishment the field gave us in our playing. The insect would become a symbol of our field, our pot smoking, and our team. There was no doubt about the team name. We would be known as the Grasshoppers and to give credit to our brotherly insect, we decided to make our team emblem a grasshopper with a joint of pot in its mouth - smoke bellowing from the end of it. As we concluded the decision on the name for our team and our emblem, the Grasshoppers could now represent themselves as a group and look for a worthy opponent to actually play a real game.

There was a group of older softball players in our hometown. They probably ranged in age from their middle 30’s to their early 40’s. They had been an organized fast-pitch softball team a few years previously and had even played other town teams from around the area. We knew a few of the players and questioned one of them about a possible game. Initially, we were rejected, but a day or two later one of them responded with, “Yeah, we’ll play you in a fast-pitch game.” But, what’s in it for us?” We were at first aghast at the idea of playing for something other than just the thrill of actually playing a game, but we didn’t want to lose the opportunity to compete against another actual team. “How about, we mow the field, get the bases set, and clean up the infield a little?” One of us replied. The response came quickly and to the point, “Not enough. We’ll play you if the losers splurge for a keg of beer for all of us to drink after the game.” Without even thinking of the consequences, we agreed and set a time and date for the game. It was hard to believe, but the Grasshoppers had their first opponent and their first game.

We were very busy the following evening at the field. We only had two days to prepare the field for the initial contest. One of us brought a lawnmower, one of us brought a rake, and everyone else came to help put the field into playing condition. Through the local baseball organization, we were able to obtain a set of used bases to adorn the diamond. In our nightly playing, we had just been using some scrapes of cardboard we found to simulate the bases. Now, we actually had the items to make the field look like an actual field. The mowing and the raking and the cleaning of the field took several hours to complete. Before the evening sky darkened the area, we all stood on the side of the field admiring what the field had become. It was an actual playing field and although it was no Yankees Stadium, it was our field. And, we were going to play a game against someone else.

After we completed our work on the night before the game, we took the time to sit on the ground around our cars, smoke a couple of joints, and converse about our playing positions, the batting order, and the main focus - our pitcher. None of us had ever played fast-pitch softball before and none of us had ever actually thrown like a fast-pitch softball pitcher. But, how hard could it be to just throw a softball underhanded? After a brief conversation discussing the merits of each player, we finally selected our pitcher for the game. It really became a matter of elimination. The player who didn’t have a position to play became our pitcher. With the playing positions, the batting order, and our pitcher set, we all left with deep anticipation of the ensuing evening and our first game.

The crowd for our initial game consisted of the one extra player we had and the two extra players from the other team. They sat on the hoods of a couple of the cars that lined the first base line and the third base line. It didn’t matter to us. We were playing a game. Balls and strikes were called during the game by each batter and outs on the bases were done by mutual agreement. We also agreed to play seven innings with the Grasshoppers being the home team and having the last bat. Although there were a couple of contested calls, most of the game went rather smoothly. Their pitcher threw a lot of strikes and walked very few hitters. Our pitcher, on the other hand, walked quite a few hitters and gave up a number of solid hits. As the game progressed our fielding became better and our hitting became adequate, but we were no match for this seasoned team. We lost our first game 18 – 5. Not only did we lose, but we had to buy a keg of beer, bring it to the field, and watch as each of their players lined up to indulge in a victory drink before we were allowed to taste the intoxicating nectar. We learned from the other team’s players that this was a ritual that was started a long time ago and we were obligated to continue the tradition with the loss.

We sat, drank beer, and talked to the other team’s players about the progression of the game for a couple of hours after the game. During our postgame conversations, there was an agreement for another game next week with the same playing guidelines and the same consequences – losers buy a keg. Although the content of the keg was not completely diminished, the players on the other team waddled their way to their cars as the lateness of the evening crept onward. They had wives, children, and permanent jobs they had to attend to the next day. The Grasshoppers, on the other hand, were willing to stay until the keg was completely dry. Besides, we had to buy the beer – we lost. We were going to make sure that every last drop of the beverage was gone before we headed home to catch a few hours of sleep before the ensuing day of mindless tasks at our common labor jobs.

The next game brought a renewed sense of enthusiasm to the Grasshoppers. Maybe if we hit a little better and fielded with a keener sense of urgency, we might be able to beat this team. As our second game progressed, the final outcome of the game became rather obvious by the later innings. Although we played even with the other team for about three innings, their hitting, fielding; but most importantly, their pitching was the turning point in the game. Our pitcher walked too many batters – putting too many of them on base and when he tried to make sure he was throwing a strike by “lobbing” the ball to the batter, the ball was hit solidly to the outfield. We just couldn’t match their hitting and particularly their pitching ability during the contest. Although there was noted improvement in our overall playing, we lost our second game 14-9.

Once again the payment for our losing was the purchasing of a keg of beer. Like the last time we played, the victors had the first beverages from the keg and like the last game, the other players left before the keg was dry and we stayed to finish-off the brew. Before they left, a couple of the players from the other team came over to our group and one of them commented, “You know, you guys aren’t that bad. You are getting better. What you really need is a pitcher. That would help a lot.” We thanked him for his encouragement and asked about one more game next week. Although they were a little reluctant to agree, one of them said, “O.K., sure, we could play you one more time. But, it is getting a little costly for you to have to buy a keg each week. Maybe we should play and that’s it – no keg.” I don’t remember which one of the Grasshoppers replied, but it was said with a resounding voice, “No, we want to play for a keg again. That’s how we started and that’s how we will continue.” The arrangements for the next game were set and as the other team left, the Grasshoppers began their post-game ritual of finishing the keg, talking about the game, and smoking a few joints.

One of the Grasshoppers worked at the local beef processing plant and had talked about the games we had played to a couple of co-workers. One of those workers was a classmate of mine, but I never really thought of him as an athlete. He was from a neighboring state and had moved here a couple of years ago. He informed his Grasshopper co-worker that he had been a pitcher for a fast pitch softball team for a couple of years in his home state. “Why don’t you come to one of our practices and we’ll see what you got,” the player directed him. “Sure, I’ll be at your next practice,” was the reply. Although we were reluctant to add another player to the original Grasshopper roster, we were willing to give him a chance to pitch to a few of our players.

As the pitcher walked onto the field during our next practice, none of the Grasshoppers had high expectations of what he may add to the team. He was rather skinny, medium height and really didn’t show any physical traits that were different from the rest of us. Someone tossed him a softball and said, “Throw a few pitches to a couple of hitters.” One of our best hitters was the first to face him. The pitcher dug around the pitching mound for a couple of seconds, got his pitching stance set, and then threw his first pitch. The ball went so straight and got to the plate so fast that most of us didn’t even see the pitch. We just stood and starred at what we had just seen. The hitter replied with, “Throw another one. I had something in my eye.” Next pitch had the same result. It went straight as an arrow over the middle of the plate and with so much speed that the hitter just stood there as the ball flew by him. This pattern repeated for the next few minutes as hitter after hitter came to the plate. Although a couple of us did hit the ball to the field, the vast majority of the hitters swung and missed at a number of pitches. As our practice session came to a close, we gathered around our cars, and pulled out a few numbers of pot for our nightly enjoyment. “We sure could us you as our pitcher,” one of us noted to our new team member. “Sure, I’ll pitch for you.” Someone lit one of the numbers and passed it to him. His response was, “I’ll pitch, I’ll drink beer with you, but I don’t smoke pot.” “Fair enough,” was the response from a Grasshopper. We now had a good pitcher – a pitcher who could make a difference. We really didn’t care if he didn’t smoke pot, he was now a Grasshopper. He would be the last player added to our roster and one who would have a huge impact on the success of the team.

Before our next game, we talked to the park department in our local community about being able to use the lights on the field during our games. We explained to them how we have been using the field and how we been taking care of the area. They agreed to allow us to run the lights during future games. Although there were only two sets of lights (one with three working lights and one with two working lights) they would add a magical glow to the field and a turning point in the success of the Grasshoppers.

The lights on the field also sparked the curiosity of a few of the local residents. As our next game began, there were about 10 or 12 people, who as they were driving by the field, pulled their cars along the right field line, turned out their lights, and aligned their vehicles to view the game. A few got out of their cars and either sat on their car hoods or on the damp ground to watch. We were starting to get a crowd at our games. It wasn’t a huge crowd, but people were starting to notice our playing and this made our determination to play better even more profound.

The newest member of the Grasshoppers pitched the way we had hoped he would. He threw strikes the vast majority of the time and frustrated the older players with the speed of his throws and his accuracy. During the entire game, he only walked two batters and gave up just a meager amount of hits. Although they did manage to score a few runs, their frustration with our new pitcher showed in their batting and their fielding.

The Grasshoppers, on the other hand, belted the ball all over the field and ran the bases with a heightened tenacity. Our fielding had progressed to the point that no balls that were hit directly to a player were misplayed. Having a quality pitcher to support our overall playing provided us with the connection we needed. We were a better team and it showed in our overall playing. The final score was really not indicative of how much we dominated the game, but we had won our first competitive contest 12 – 6. There was complete jubilation by the Grasshoppers following our victory with a lot of jumping up and down and an unrehearsed chant of: “We did it! We did it!” shouted by the players. There were even a few horn honks at the end of the game by the spectators in their cars to show their support of our play. The Grasshoppers had come a long ways from that initial night of hitting a ball around. We were a team that had just won its first game and were ready to let our playing progress even further.

The beer from the victory keg tasted like a vintage wine that should be opened for a momentous occasion. The Grasshoppers savored every drop of the beverage. Similar to the other contests with the older team, their players left before the keg was dry. This was again not the case for the Grasshoppers. This was our keg. We won it. We were going to stay and celebrate our victory if it took us all night to drink the beer. Before they left, one of the players from the other team came over to us and congratulated us on our victory and concluded with, “We’ll play you guys again sometime, but we’ll give it a rest for awhile.” There would be no rest for the Grasshoppers, however. The month of August would provide new opponents and new challenges for the team.

As the evening sky around the field darkened, the faint glow of marijuana cigarettes lit up the area where we were sitting. The bobbing of the lights from the joints that were passed from hand to hand by the Grasshoppers was the only noticeable feature that illuminated our surroundings. There was a confident silence that seemed to creep over the continuation of our celebration. The silence enabled each of us to quietly reflect upon what we had accomplished. Besides an occasional cough from one of us from the inhaled smoke of the pot, the only other sound that could be heard in this late hour was the rhythmic prancing and jumping of our insect friends in the playing field nearby.

The final month of summer provided a number of different games for the Grasshoppers. There was group of 17-18 year-olds from our hometown who formed a team and wanted to play us. There was a team from a neighboring community about the size of our town who challenged us to a game. And, the older playing group finally decided to give it one more try to beat us. None of these teams were a match for the Grasshoppers. We waltzed through these contests beating them by scores of 20 – 4, 17 – 7, and 19 – 2. We were on a roll. All of these teams wanted one more crack at us after their losses and we accommodated them. However, the results of each rematch were the same. We beat all of them soundly again. The Grasshoppers had won seven games in a row. The news of the success of our team traveled to a much smaller nearby town where a group of softball players about our age had been competing in an organized league for the past few months. They had won their league title and were looking for a few more games to play before the end of the season. One of them contacted one of our players and a game was set for the last week of August.

The game with this seasoned team from the smaller community was a back-and-forth affair. Neither team could muster more than a two run lead for most of the game. The score was tied on several different occasions during the game. The fielding was sound, the hitting was adequate and the pitching was excellent. Both pitchers only walked one hitter a piece during the entire contest. The outcome of the game came down to the timely hitting of the Grasshoppers. We would finally break open the close contest by scoring four runs in the top of the last inning. By a coin toss, the opposing team was designated as the home team and had the last bat. Although they did push across a run during their final at bat, it was not enough. The Grasshoppers were successful once again by the score of 8 – 5. It had been a well-played game. It had been played against a very worthy opponent – an organized softball league champion, but the winning streak of the Grasshoppers continued. We had now won eight games in a row and were becoming more confident as a team with each sequential win.

Our hometown was noted for a number of different things, but their three-day Labor Day celebration was famous throughout the state. There was a carnival, a community picnic, and a parade on Labor Day that was attended by a few thousand people from around the area. The Grasshoppers decided that a softball tournament would be a fitting addition to the celebration this year. The first round games would be played on Saturday, the semi-finals would be played on Sunday and the championship game would be on Monday evening. We contacted the older playing group, the younger players, the team from the nearby town, and the league championship team from the smaller town about playing in the tournament. All of the teams accepted our invitation to play. The teams were now set for the first and last Grasshopper Softball Tournament.

Having only five teams in the tournament made it difficult to arrange the brackets for the games; however, we were able to schedule a process that each team got to play at least one game on Saturday and at least one game on Sunday. When a team lost two games, they would be eliminated from the tournament and the two teams that were left would play in the championship game. It wasn’t the finest of schedule designs, but it worked. We even made flyers of the tournament schedule and notified the local community of the games by putting them on all the parked car’s windshields we could find in town.

The Grasshoppers had little difficulty in the early games of the tournament. We defeated teams with scores of 11 – 4, 9 – 3, and 12 – 7. It had been so long since we had lost a game that winning became an inevitable process of our playing. The league championship team from the neighboring small town also breezed through their games with their opponents. With the elimination of the other teams from the tournament on Sunday, the two teams were now set to play in the championship game on Monday evening. The best two teams had made their way through the process and would now meet in the final game.

The championship game brought a crowd of over 100 people to the contest. There were cars parked up and down the right field line and the left field line. There were people who brought lawn chairs and sat along the field. There were older people and there were younger people. The lights were on. The field had been mowed the morning of the game and the bases had been set. We were even able to obtain some chalk and mark the lines down the right field line and the left field line. With all of these added aspects, the field really looked like a baseball diamond. It had become a reflection of what it once was in the past and through all of this process, the Grasshoppers had made a final connection to their younger years and what they once were.

To say that the championship game was played well by both teams would be an understatement. There were no walks that were given up by either pitcher during the entire game. The fielding by both teams was miraculous. There were no errors committed at any time during the game. The few hits that were obtained were solid singles to the outfield. Although there were a few stolen bases during the progression of the game and a few players who were able to cross home plate, it was a contest that resembled a well-played professional baseball game.

Entering the final inning, the league championship team had a lead of 3- 2 on the Grasshoppers. We were the home team. We would have the last bat. We needed to hold them from scoring in their final at bat and then score a couple of runs of our own to win the game or at least one run to tie the game and send it into extra innings. Although one of their batters did get a single during this last inning, the Grasshoppers were able to halt any kind of rally they might have obtained by our timely fielding and pitching. Our pitcher struck-out a hitter and the infielders threw out two other batters at first. We were able to hold them to their three runs. Now it was our chance. Now it was our final chance.

Our first hitter in the final inning was able to make contact with the ball, but lined it right to the second baseman – one out. The second hitter slammed a couple of foul balls down the third baseline before drilling a solid single right up the middle of the field. The tying run was now on first base. A confident hope now hovered over the Grasshoppers’ dugout. During the first two pitches of our next hitter, the runner at first was able to steal second and then third base. The runner was now just a base away from tying the score. Although our batter had a nice swing at the ball, he hit a pop-up to the infield that the shortstop eventually caught. The runner at third had to hold his base. There were now two outs. One more out and the game would be over. The Grasshoppers had one more chance – one more batter – me.

As I stepped to the plate, I tried to block out all parts of my surroundings: the crowd, the opposing team on the field, the encouraging yells from my teammates, the runner at third base who was shouting at me, “Come on, you can do it. All we need is one good hit.” I wanted to concentrate on the pitcher and the ball that would be leaving his throwing hand. I was able to drown out all of this as I planted myself into the batter’s box.

The first pitch crossed home plate without a twitch from me. I wanted to make sure I could view the ball as best as I could when it left the pitcher’s hand. I had planned to not swing at the first pitch. It zoomed right over the heart of the plate for strike one. I was now focused for the next pitch. As the ball headed toward me, I saw that it would be too far outside for me to hit so I let it go again. It became ball one. I dug my back foot firmly into the ground for added support as the next pitch came to the plate. I swung, but was under the ball with my swing. It ended up going straight back over the backstop for strike two. My concentration heightened knowing that I would not have too many pitches like that to hit. The next ball seemed to slip out of the pitcher’s hand and landed a foot or two in front of the plate. It was an easy decision on my part. I let the ball bounce over the plate for ball two. The count was now two balls and two strikes. Even with just a few seconds between pitches, I tried to think and guess what kind of pitch would be thrown to me next. I knew the pitcher didn’t want to walk me because then I would represent the go-ahead run. Looking directly at the pitcher, I positioned myself in the batter’s box. He seemed to be taking a lot of time before he threw me the next pitch. Maybe it was the waiting between pitches, but I froze as the ball headed toward home. There was nothing that I could do. I wasn’t ready to swing. My only hope was that the ball would be out of the strike zone. As the ball zoomed past the front of my face, I knew I was saved. It was too high to be a strike. It was a ball. The count went to full – three balls and two strikes. This was my last chance. I could walk. I could hit the ball for a single, double, triple, or even a homerun. I could hit the ball and have an infielder commit an error in trying to field it. I could be hit by the pitch. There were a lot of things that could happen.

I did not hear the screaming and yelling from the fans along the playing field. I did not hear the shouting of encouragement from my teammates. I did not hear my fellow player on third base as he bellowed, “All we need is one hit.” I did not hear the taunting words from the opposing team. I only heard my own silent thoughts. “Concentrate. Be ready. Don’t let the ball go by this time. You have to swing. You have to try to hit it.” The rest of the action was viewed in slow motion by me. I watched as the pitcher began his wind-up. I saw the ball be released from his hand. I could see the seams of the ball as it came spinning toward the plate. It seemed to take minutes to reach my vicinity. I remember thinking to myself, “Swing as hard as you can.” As the ball was getting closer and closer to me, I readied my bat. I could see that it was going to be a strike. It was headed straight toward the middle of the plate. Trying to match the swing of my bat to the flight of the ball, I began my swing. I swung at the ball like I never had before. There was so much force in my swing that I felt the wind of my bat as it flowed toward the ball. My bat and the ball seemed to be on a direct collision course. As I finished my swing, I watched in agony as the ball zoomed right by my bat and directly into the catcher’s mitt. I had missed the ball. It was strike three. There were now three outs. The game was over. Our season was over and the playing of the Grasshoppers was over.

After I realized the finality of my swing, I did not immediately hang my head in disgust or defeat. I walked directly to the pitcher’s mound to congratulate him and to shake his hand. On my way to the mound, I heard a huge applause rise up from the crowd that had gathered to watch the game. A number of different car horns blared across the field. They were all showing their appreciation in watching an incredibly fine game. The final score was 3 to 2. We had played well. They had played well. Although the game produced the end of the long winning streak of the Grasshoppers, there was no animosity toward the other team. They deserved to win. They were a very good team, but the same thing could be said of the Grasshoppers.

Back in the 60’s and 70’s, Labor Day was the end of summer and the following Tuesday was usually the beginning of school for most public schools, colleges, and universities around the area. This was also the case on the Labor Day of our final game. There would be no victory keg to drink that night. There would be no ritual of smoking pot to conclude the evening. There were too many things that needed to be attended to the next day. Tuesday would become the beginning of the advancement of our lives in many different ways. Some of the Grasshoppers would venture off to college. Some had new jobs in different cities and some would remain at their old jobs in our hometown. We would all head in different directions after this final evening and this final game. At the conclusion of the game, we turned out the lights on the field, loaded our personal items in our cars, and said a quick, “See, ya,” to each other. That was it. That was the last time the Grasshoppers would ever be together as a group.

I have not seen or talked to some of the Grasshopper players since that last game. During the course of the last 40 years, the members of the team capitulated into a wide-variety of occupations. One of the players became a corporate executive, a couple of them worked for various trucking firms as truck drivers, one of the players continued his work in the meat inspection industry, and I became a teacher. I’m not sure what happened to every member of the Grasshoppers. We have lost contact during the time we have been apart. However, I’m sure that wherever they are and whatever they are doing, they still stop once in awhile and reflect back on the many years ago when they were a member of the Grasshoppers.

Epilogue

When I was finished writing this story, I decided to drive to my hometown and go past the area where the Grasshoppers’ playing field was. It had been over 40 years since I had last been to this spot. As I drove around the curve in the road that took me directly to the field, I was very much surprised at what I saw. There was a softball field there. It was not the Grasshoppers’ field, but a completely renovated playing area. The backstop had been moved and faced a different direction. A wired fence completely surrounded the field. A modern electronic scoreboard gleamed at the edge of the outfield. Two wooded dugouts had been constructed on each side of the field to accommodate the teams. A concession stand was erected behind home plate. The infield contained a smooth playing surface with some kind of manufactured dirt upon it. The grass in the outfield was a commercial sod that was cut short to benefit the outfielders. Although it was not the haggard area with the tall grass and dilapidated features of the Grasshoppers’ field, I was very pleased to see that it was still being used for playing.

I parked my car next to the playing field and walked over to get a better view of the surrounding area. I stood on the edge of field for a few minutes reflecting back on my teammates and our playing. As I was about to turn and head back to my car to leave, I felt something hit against the front of my shirt. I looked down to see what it was that hit me. To my amazement, clinging to the material on the middle of my shirt and looking straight up at me was a grasshopper.

The End


© Copyright 2020 janoyankees. All rights reserved.

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