Memoir — From the July 2016 issue

My Perfect Season

Playing it safe in the Pee Wee League

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In the second grade, when I was seven, I joined a baseball team. This was in the spring of 1960, year fifteen, give or take, of the American ascendancy. I was a Brownie. There were Bisons and Lions and Bears in the Pee Wee League, but a Brownie is what I was. Our uniforms were white T-shirts decorated with the brown picture of a diminutive fellow with a turned-up nose, turned-up toes, turned-up tapered fingers, and a turned-down cap festooned with a bell. We were, according to our team song, “the pride of the Pee Wee League.”

The song was sung to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and it went this way:

Brownies, let’s get a home run,
Brownies, let’s get a run,
Get us a single, you’ll make us shout
Try your best not to get us an out.
For it’s root, root, root for the Brownies
The pride of the Pee Wee League.
And it’s one, two, three cheers we shout for the Brownies team.

This song was composed by Claire Barkosky, the mother of one of my fellow Brownies. To my knowledge, we were the only team in the league with a song.

Illustrations by Katherine Streeter

Illustrations by Katherine Streeter

I took the song seriously enough that more than fifty years later I still remember it. I did indeed try never to get the Brownies an out — and I never did. This was not because I was so great an athlete but because I had a deep fear of screwing up, and that guided my Brownie career.

Try your best not to get us an out: that was my mantra. I did not stand at the plate, I squinched there. I had seen a tiny ballplayer on TV, Luis Aparicio I think it was, give pitchers fits by crouching down like a jackknife until his strike zone was about an inch and a half. I was not tiny by the standards of the Pee Wee League, and I was unable to make my strike zone disappear, not quite. But I was able to shrink it down a long way.

I stood at the plate shivering and shaking (try your best) with my bat cocked far back in a way that I thought might menace the pitcher and perhaps offset my clearly terrified posture (don’t get an out). I batted ninth or tenth or fourteenth or twelfth — you batted whether you were on the field or not — and yet I was the most reliable Pee Wee on the Brownies. I tried with all I had not to get us an out. In church I had learned there were sins of omission and sins of commission: I feared the sins of commission the most. I would not, if there was anything I could do to stop it, get us an out. I would not, in fact, even go so far as to swing the bat.

No bat swinging, no strikes, or at least no strikes that could be blamed on me. (Called strikes were the fault of the umpire.) No bat swinging, no humiliation: or at least none of the dramatic humiliation that comes with struggling your way down the baseline (if you ran the way I did) and getting tossed out at first, or maybe being beaten to the bag by the pitcher or even the second baseman, or simply missing the ball three times straight.

I did not swing the bat, and yet I was perfect. I walked every time. I was nine for nine, or, as the record books would more accurately say, I was zero for zero. A walk does not count in one’s average as a time at bat. But to myself, I was impeccable, sinless. I never did anything wrong.

I played right field when I got into the game at all, and there I followed my baseball philosophy: Try never to do anything wrong, annul yourself, disappear! When a fly ball bounced on one occasion (once!) into right, I somehow pawed it up with my glove. But then facing me was the long throw to the infield. I had a pretty good arm. I actually could wing the ball. But hey, it might not go well. I might end up tossing the ball out of the park and feel the silent boos and jeers come down on me. On a baseball field, and especially in the outfield, there’s nowhere to hide and no tools handy with which to dig a hole in the ground and jump in.

I tossed the ball. I tossed it underhand, and not toward the plate but to the outfielder beside me. “Donny,” I said, clearing my throat and preparing my speech, “I know you have a better arm than I do. Why don’t you throw it in?” I spoke these words with a sort of Shakespearean deliberation, and as I did so, I held the ball in my grasp, staring at it the way Hamlet stares at Yorick’s skull. Donny Lenox averred that he would be pleased enough to get the ball to the infield but indicated, with a brisk nod of his head, that for that to happen he would need the ball. I, concurring, flicked it to him underhand. But the flick was imperfect: the flick seemed to encounter invisible resistance and trailed off in the air. Donny didn’t catch the ball. He had to bend and scoop it from the ground, and by the time he did, he could well have had the throwing prowess of Willie Mays, because any throw would have been in vain: the bases by then were empty.

So I screwed up by trying with all my sinew (small) and baseball wit (also small) not to screw up. But really, from a distance it surely looked like a couple of tiny kids noodling with a ball, and whose fault it was — mine or Donny’s or maybe the ball’s — could not have been clear to anyone. Besides, there was nothing in our theme song about not messing up in the field.

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’s most recent article for Harper’s Magazine, “Poetry Slam,” appeared in the July 2013 issue. He teaches English at the University of Virginia. He is at work on a book entitled Being Small, a memoir of childhood.

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