January 11, 2017: A Brother, a Baseball and Belonging

~by Louis Templeman


The field lights, which were newly strung down the perimeter of the diamond and outfield, were blazing away and fighting off the intrusion of dusk that was wrapping up the summer day in Fullerton, Kentucky in 1956. The final game of the Little League season was over and my brother and I stood poised in the outfield awaiting the baseballs some coach was batting away. It was the end of the season and he was getting rid of very used, old baseballs. Whatever you could catch was yours, for free. Of course, the big boys, the fast boys, the clever boys would leave with plenty of balls while the slow, the uncertain, the scared and the youngest, like me, would drag away feeling robbed and disappointed.

I can still feel the tremble of anticipation as I waited on tight coils of muscle and thrill as the ball loped so gentle-like towards me. Did it have my name on it, or what? So, I stood there with a too big, borrowed mitt on my left hand. I knew nothing of the athlete’s instinct to advance agilely towards the ball and scoop it up. And, I certainly did not have the confidence required for yelling, “Mine, I got it!” in a competitive attempt to claim it and ward off the other hungry boys who covered the field like vacuum cleaners until they had no pockets or fists left for their booty.

The ball came to me with a bounce not unlike the bounce a ball would make when my mother tossed me; what she called, “baby bounces”. Sometimes, I could catch those. More often, I would chase them after they skipped through my legs. I tapped my fist into the pocket of my mitt just like I saw the big boys do as my brother and I watched the game. Just like Eddie Matthews or Frank Robinson did before they fielded the ball. They had just stood against each other on our black and white TV when the Cincinnati Redlegs lost to the Milwaukee Braves. I wanted to look good. To feel good. To make a good catch. To carry a prize home. To have a story for my friends. A baseball to set on my dresser and look at just before I went to bed.

As I stood there, still as a billiards pocket, a bigger boy yelling, “I got it,” sprinted in front of me and scooped it up. He shouted the way I had just been imagining I would soon shout. He held the ball tightly in his leather mitt and waved it over his head. With his throwing hand he held up two balls while making a V with his arms.

I teared up, of course. It was not the first time I’d ever looked like a fool, however, it was the most public. My feeble, whining protest found a young adult with some Little League supervisory capacity ridiculing me for acting like a little baby. He told me that if I was going to match wits with the other ball players I better learn how to play ball. I am sure the young adult was aware I barely came up to the other boy’s rib cage and was at least four years younger but in those days all adult males felt it was their job to make men out of little boys. And, the best of their available man-making tools in that great American decade was ridicule.

The baseball bat-away had ended. It lasted only a couple of minutes. Everyone began going home. The electric field lights were flicking off. Departing car headlights and a very few street lights lit the night. It was mainly a sky speckled in stars and a big yellow half-moon that lit the path from the ball field which took us over the little shallow creek and back to our street. I stood still as the voices died down and the crowd melted away. Disappointment nailed me to my spot in the outfield. I barely controlled my emotions. I kept reliving the loss, the robbery. Those few seconds of time slowed down and echoed the sting of my loss. My brother, Sammy, nearly two years older, came to me and with a rough but comfortable familiarity knocked me on my shoulder with his glove, “Come on.” He was glad I wasn’t full- out crying. Otherwise, he would have been tempted to leave me. Instead, he said, “He was faster. He was bigger.” Pausing to let that soak in, he then said, “So what?” Somehow, it helped knowing he had seen what happened.

He put a baseball in my hand. “I can’t use this one. I got these.” He had three! He turned to go home and I followed. It felt so comforting to rub those raised, red stitches and the scuffed leather of a ball that had probably been hit a thousand times and steeped in the laughter, taunts, shouts and grunts of sweaty, tiny athletes. Sammy said, “Just keep good care of it, in case I need it later.” Letting me know it was really my ball without being mushy and sweet which was not a manly trait back in 1956. He continued, “I probably won’t ever need it though.”

I had a ball. Almost as good as if I’d caught it myself. I was proud of my brother. Only eight, but already a big boy. He’d caught three; and, gave me one. I would shortly ask him how he caught each and he would then be free to demonstrate with all the vocabulary and reenactment skills he could muster, but before I did, I had to have closure on my own budding masculinity, “Bet I could have caught it.”

“Sure. Anybody could have caught that one.” That was good enough for me. If anyone could have caught it then I could have, too.

I was happy walking home. Happy to have a ball. Happy to have a brother. Happy to know it really didn’t take much to make you happy. To make you feel special. That so little could sometimes mean so much.

With fifty years’ perspective I can see now that the incident, of the bigger boy snagging the ball I wanted, was a divine gift. For through that sorrow the stage was set for my brother to show me I belonged to him. As we collected tag-along weeds on the rolled up cuffs on our dungarees on the path back to our house, I was glad the baseball belonged to me. And, just as that baseball lay snug in my ball glove, I was feeling pretty snug myself.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.

CLICK HERE to visit Louis’ Catholic Journeyman Archive

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