by Kevin Michael Klipfel
The ball leaves the pitcher’s hand and the kid starts to cringe, like a fist was raised over his head and about to smack him. It’s so subtle you don’t know if anyone else notices it. But you see it. This kid who represents you out there in the world, your own son, your namesake, afraid of the ball. You could begin to understand, maybe, if something had happened to make the kid like this, but you asked him: he’s never been hit by a pitch, not even once. He told you himself.
Somehow, though, the kid makes contact, sends the ball out into center field. A double. He does this pretty often, but he’ll never be a great hitter. Not if he won’t stay in the box.
The kid steals third, scores going home on a wild pitch, and everyone cheers. High fives all around, a pat on the back from coach, boys’ mothers smiling adoringly. Fathers’ heads turn your way with an approving nod. Your son, the star.
Your old man never would have let this happen. You’ve told the kid how many times the story about Sarge, how the old man saw the wildest puppy of the bunch and said “That one!” – and then broke him down, barely fed him, locked him outside through snowy nights, even hit him once or twice, you laugh – and how Sarge became the toughest, most obedient hunting dog you’ve ever seen. That was my father, you say. That was my father, exactly.
Your son approaches you, smiling. There’s one last high-five-from a teammate before the kid makes his way over to you in the stands. He sits down next to you, runs his tiny fingers over the aluminum bench, takes off his helmet. He raises his eyebrows and looks up at you in anticipation. He’s expecting something.
You tell him what you think.