When he was my age, my father took
a deliberate demotion. The chubby ball boy
at the Pirates game last Sunday
handed my son a foul ball.
We’d never sat in the first row before.
When I was ten, a large man leaned over
to grab a ball tossed by Frank Robinson
right out of my cupped hands. He held it proudly aloft.
My father took his demotion after burying
two co-workers. He didn’t talk about it then
or now. He took me to my first game
as a communion gift—Tiger Stadium’s
impossibly green grass, Harmon Killebrew
smacking one out for the Twins.
He worked so many hours that even now
I can’t stop counting. Last month, he revealed
that he told neighbors he was growing
Japanese Dwarf Grass to explain our stunted lawn.
My father telling a joke—I take time imagining
that. My brothers and I stomped that grass
while he was working. We have no yard here,
and our stadium has fake grass. They call it turf
to make it sound better. Even Harmon Killebrew
looked pretty small from the upper deck.
My first communion—donuts on the ping-pong
table, then Harmon. He hit 573 career homers.
I don’t have to look it up. My father worked
at Ford’s. Henry Ford’s. That apostrophe
means everything in Detroit.
My father asked for a demotion.
A star pitcher in high school,
he knotted his arm with early curves.
Clippings in a cigar box.
A rich friend gave me the good seats.
I remembered to tip the usher. I am wanting
a demotion. My son likes home runs, the ball’s
disappearance. Other boys held out their mitts,
but the ball boy picked out my timid son.
After the game, I waited under the stands,
but Robinson would not sign my score book.
What ball? he griped, as I stalked him
down the dark corridor to the team bus.
I stood waiting hours for my own bus home
on the wrong side of the street—
sometimes you just have to smile
that sad little smile that says,
I’ll take my lumps, okay. I’ll take my demotion,
okay. I want a demotion so I can breathe
a little deeper without the sharp jabs.
So I can take extra batting practice.
I love green grass but not the taming of lawns.
My father throws a great knuckler even now.
I still can’t catch it. I chased his pitches
over bumpy sidewalks, then threw the ball back
to him high and far. We didn’t play much catch—
I hope this doesn’t sound whiny, like if we’d just played
a little more, the world would be a better place. Memories
are like that. High and far.
Albert Pujols hit a three-run homer for the Cards.
On pace to break a lot of records. If he stays healthy.
If he doesn’t retire early. We’ve left our mitts out
in the rain once already, my son and I.
I hope the company lets me go back to my old job.
All grass is artificial. I love my father with his battered suitcase
of the unspoken. I love my son with his scuffed prize.
I once saw Frank Howard hit one over the roof
at Tiger Stadium. That same day, my friend Billy Bowen
won a free ham in the lucky number scorebook drawing. I
never saw that ball come down. It just disappeared,
white ball against white sky, memory against time.