Concerning Springtime, Reincarnation, and Baseball

January 25, 2011

Last night my mother-in-law, visiting for a couple days to celebrate our younger son’s fourth birthday, was explaining what I shall call “cosmic reincarnation” to our boys. Prompted, I imagine, by some inquiry about her father’s death (which was the better part of a year ago but still occupies a prominent place in our six-year-old’s abbreviated conception of family history), she told them that when people die, they become stars in the night sky so they can watch over loved ones still living.

Although I am neither religious nor “spritirual” (that latter term being, as best as I can tell, the de rigeur manner by which people describe themselves when they are unswayed by mainstream religion but uncomfortable with the finality of death), I found the notion of reincarnation as a celestial body to be an acceptable salve for the uncertainties of childhood. But then I thought about what it would be like to be a star, burning ferociously and without noticeable response in the cold vastness of space, my closest colleagues many millions of miles away, engaged in their own versions of the same quixotic endeavor. Even if I were somehow able to see the goings on of the mortal coil, and to offer solace to my survivors, I think the business of being a star wouldn’t be for me.

If I get to create my own reincarnation myth, let it be this: That I should come back as a baseball, put into play in with two outs in the top of the fifth inning of a rain-delayed Mets home game, after a ground-rule double by the visiting team. It would be June. The sun would be shining, the grass damp and impossibly green, the stands cleared of all but the die-hards, who would have trickled down to the now abandoned field-level seats. Let me be in the game as the number three batter on the visiting team’s lineup is walked, and let the clean-up hitter line me to short center field. I would scud and slide across the wet grass gladly, for a new baseball is never happier than when it is stained with grass and scuffed by sharp line drives. I would be scooped up by the charging center fielder, momentarily hidden in the leathery darkness of his glove, then hurtle back the way I came and meet the catcher and the lead runner at home plate for a dramatic put-out. While the fielders trotted happily to the dugout and the fans hooted with delight, I would roll contentedly back to the base of the mound.

In the bottom of the fifth, let me be fouled off on a 3-2 count and skip once across the dirt warning track along the first base line before being scooped up once again, this time by a cap held over the fence and low to the ground by a man who started the game in the cheap seats. I would roll dizzily around the inside of the cap, a soft place smelling sweat and damp wool, then be held aloft in triumph before coming to rest in the soft hands of the man’s nine-year-old son. There I would rest for another hour, clutched tightly at times, turned over and examined between innings, bearing quiet witness to the game’s outcome before riding home on the 7 train inside a backpack.

In some apartment tucked into a brick building in Brooklyn, with a pizza parlor downstairs and an argumentative elderly couple upstairs, I would find a home on the boy’s bedside table, to be cherished for a while. Then, on some Saturday in August, the need for a ball would overwhelm any nostalgia in the boy’s heart, and I would find my way into a park, tossed around and batted and fumbled by small hands. All of the letters and signifiers that once adorned me and distinguished me from a store-bought ball would get smudged and scraped and covered in dirt, until the collaboration of twilight and a strong, errant throw landed me in a hidden spot amid weeds and brush and I was abandoned to the encroaching night.

And I could sit there in the park, muddy, unseen, and thoroughly happy. Leaves would cover me, and then snow, and the boy would think about school and basketball and winter things and not remember me at all. The slugger who lined me to center might break his wrist, lose the speed in his swing, and retire to a high school coaching job in Florida. The young prospect who fouled me into the stands, that flashy, fast-running idol who had captured the boy’s imagination, would be traded away and forgotten. But eventually, the snow would melt. The Parks Department would cut back the weeds and mow the grass. And someone else would find me, weathered and unremarkable but certainly good enough for a catch or some batting practice. And I would be born again.


3 Responses to “Concerning Springtime, Reincarnation, and Baseball”

  1. Alice said

    Josh, this is beyond wonderful.

  2. Got any connections with a publisher? This should be fed to the masses. Your post was really quite lovely, thoughtful and genuine.

  3. Check out Elysian Fields Quarterly as a place to submit this. No pay, but major status.

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