The Diamond Refugee

On Saturdays I’d wake up at dawn and cram. Stuart Scott and Scott Van Pelt led class through a review of the previous day’s broken tackles and five-four-three double plays and birdies from the fairway until mom woke up and asked too many questions waiting for the morning brew. Coffee still smells like ignorance and mom still asks why the Bears would punt at the fifty-yard line and Stuart Scott died at forty-nine.

Sports are just games with known winners.

Andrew and I watched together from different houses across the street. On the walk to the baseball field outside the elementary school we’d administer the oral exam and rehash the important segments. There was much to debate, like whether Kenny Lofton’s diving catch outshone Maddux’s twelve strikeouts or if the Nomar trade would materialize before the deadline and how old Jim Hendry’s going to make enough room in the salary cap.

Andrew struggled with dyslexia and a crippling disinterest in math through second grade, but on the diamond he remembered the batting average of every Cardinal to the thousandth and threw an overhand slider that defied vector calculus.

Sports are just lessons for the kinesthetic learners.

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He hit the ball so hard it dented. No really it dented I thought it was the coolest thing ever but he cried about it his dad gave him the ball for Christmas he’s been overseas since last year Or we can pay you if it helps you’re sure you’re sure you want to walk him home everyday you’ll have to meet him by the lobby we can’t thank you enough ever since I started work I just haven’t had time to pick him up from school you’re an absolute angel what would we do if we didn’t live next to such a lovely young man

The ball dented it really did I gave Andrew one of mine because my dad always buys too many he thinks I want to be a professional he doesn’t know I’m fine just pretending to be professional the Cubs don’t need a second baseman anyway

My dad didn’t play baseball at all in the Philippines

Oh yeah did he ride bikes

No I think he just read a lot

Is that what he’s doing there now

Well little John John’s doing good real good yeah he’s four now time flies when you’re having fun but not really time snakes most days and it’ll get up and sprint now and again till it has to stop to breathe and crawl the rest of the way

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Sportscenter ended so I walked to the meeting point at the middle of Liberty Bell Lane and waited. After ten minutes I continued down the sidewalk and tapped on the glass window above the doorbell. His mom opened the door and mouthed hello with a necky grin and scrunched face.     There was a muffled voice speaking in short bursts from the refrigerator. I followed it through the dining room into the kitchen and saw Andrew pacing the floor with the phone to his ear. We held a look for a second and he rolled his eyes and sighed impatiently. He had to go, he had to go, he had to go sure talk to you soon.

The phone slammed to the counter and Andrew went to his room to find a ball and mitt. His mom nervously busied herself in the kitchen, fumbling through old bills while making small conversation about how fourth grade was going and who we played sports with these days. She smiled the same but without her eyes. John John sat in the corner picking at Cheerios and resting his head on one arm.

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Once when I was six my dad screamed himself crimson because I looked both ways and crossed a carless street to retrieve a soccer ball. The concrete divider felt to him an ocean.

Then I was eight and went biking alone, without a helmet, neglecting to alert anyone that I had left the house. When I sauntered into the living room my mom was pacing the floor with the phone to her ear. He’s back, he’s back home, everything’s okay see you soon.

I grew up on a leash of love shorter than a wooden bat. If I threw a football in any direction I knew chances were I would hit a living male relative before breaking a window or damaging anything worth consequence.

Ankle-breaking jukes and behind-the-back passes and midfield assists momentarily detach the leash. When love is measured in yards to the endzone or feet to the warning track or meters to the finish line you forget that the Pacific Ocean takes more than a bounce pass and jump shot to cross. You forget that dad wouldn’t be coming home even if you had made the basket.

Sports are just breaks from other games.