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Doing It Right

by Lawrence D. Elliott

[Originally published in the book Not Your Mother’s Book… On Family. © Copyright 2014 by Publishing Syndicate, LLC.]

I walked nervously through the parking lot. My legs felt as wobbly as freshly cooked pasta and my heart pounded in my chest like a bass drum — it almost drowned out the clacking sound my cleats made on the decaying asphalt. I was about to participate in my first Little League game.

As I approached the baseball diamond, I passed a group of young guys sitting on top of a hideous purple Impala. They passed around a funny-looking cigarette and each one took a puff.

Entering the gate to the baseball field, I straightened up and tried to walk like a veteran instead of the rookie I was. I could see the stands had already begun to fill, not just with parents and family members, but also with area residents from one of the toughest neighborhoods in San Diego. It was not uncommon for clashes to break out between rival gangs nearby when our team practiced, and I recognized some of those same faces among the spectators.

My eyes caught the wall of a nearby building on it was a fresh piece of obscene commentary about the mother of someone named Joe. I was really glad I wasn’t Joe because my mom was already in the stands waiting to see me play, expecting me to do my best. She would be upset if she saw the graffiti about Joe’s mother.

My mom was born in a farmhouse in the small town of Lillie, Louisiana. Her life was not an easy one. She learned early that nothing was going to be handed to her. She worked to instill is knowledge in my siblings and me. We learned very early in life now right she was.

After our father abandoned us, there were times when we didn’t have a place to stay or know where our next meal would come from. But we were never allowed to complain. She’d remind us of what we did have and how some people didn’t even have that. For her, self-pity was verboten. It was not only a waste of time but a misuse of energy.

Mom worked long hours and juggled our little budget to make every end meet as she played economic leapfrog to better job opportunities. Sometimes she wouldn’t get home until late at night. But she practiced what she preached — she never complained.

And when I wanted to play Little League, Mom scraped together enough money to pay for a baseball glove, cleats, and the registration fee. But it came with a caveat.

“If you’re going to do this,” she warned, “you’re going to do it right.”

“OK,” I eagerly answered.

“You mind your coach. You remember how you’re supposed to act.

“Yes, I know.”

“Just because things get rough that doesn’t mean you just up and quit. That’s not how life is.”

“I know,”

“You don’t get to give up because things don’t go the way you want. That’s not how life works.”

“I know,” I said, hoping the lecture was over. I just wanted to play.

After a few warm-ups catches with a fellow teammate, we all went to the dugout as the coach discussed the line-up with the umpire. As the visiting team, our team would bat first. I would be the second batter.

As the leadoff hitter stood at the plate, I waited in the on-deck circle with my bat as I ’d seen so many major leaguers do. I could feel my heart pounding even more when my teammate took a swing at the first pitch.

Crack! The ball flew to left-center and the fielder barely had to exert himself to make the catch. First out. It was over that fast.

I approached the plate and stood nervously in the batter’s box. My heart was beating even more erratically now and my knees wobbled. The pitcher stood on the mound, went into his windup and hurled the ball across the plate.

“Ball one!” exclaimed the burley umpire in a deep baritone. My body seemed to tremble from the power of his voice. Knowing my mom would be watching, I was glad my back was to the standards I couldn’t bear to look at her.

The pitcher started his windup again. I choked up on the bat. The ball sailed toward the plate and I started to swing. But when the ball reached the plate, I found myself unable to follow through with my swing.

“Strike one!” yelled the umpire.

Shoot! I should swing at that one! I yelled in my head.

I could hear the taunts and comments from the crowd.

“He ain’t swinging!” one deep voice barked.

“He’s chicken!” shouted a female voice.

The catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher. As I prepared for another salvo from the mound, the catcher yelled to the pitcher, “This dude’s scared! You can throw anything!”

That comment made me angry! I was determined to swing at the next pitch, no matter what. I just hoped it would be a good one.

Once again, the pitcher went into his windup. This time, there seemed to be cockiness in his body language and he gave me a sneer when he threw the ball. As it approached, I prepared to swing, just as I’d been taught. The ball made strange serpentine movements as it neared. I swung with all of my might. Crack!

From the sound, you might have thought rd made a solid connection. But you would have been wrong. The sound was of the ball connecting with my knuckles! The bat immediate fell from my hands. I tried not to cry, but the pain was so intense I couldn’t fight back the tears, The coach dashed from the dugout, and the crowd softly chattered.

“Can you move your fingers?” the coach asked me as he checked my hands.

Then a loud voice pierced the silence: “Don’t baby him!”

The coach stopped working on my hands. He looked into the crowd. He wanted to know to whom the voice belonged.

“Don’t baby him!” the voice repeated. “Shake it off!”

“Oh, no,” I said under my breath.

Slowly, I turned toward the crowd. There, I saw that everyone was looking at this one person.

Every mouth was wide-open with astonishment. Embarrassed, I closed my eyes and only one thought came to mind.

Oh, God, I knew it!

The voice was that of my mom.

© Copyright 2014. Lawrence D. Elliott