Sunshine and Shadows
Timothy’s begging did no good. His twin sister Faith had already been outside throwing balls to him in the morning. Now in the afternoon, the sun was high and hot in the summer sky and she wanted to stay inside the house. The room Faith shared with Hope was cool and dusky. The shades had been drawn to keep out the worst of the sunlight. Her books were sprawled around her on the bed and she wasn’t going to give them up for the heat of the backyard. She suggested he try Hope.
Timothy knew that was as nearly as useless as coaxing Faith outside. Though Hope might be willing to come, she expected turn and turn about. If she was going to throw balls for Timothy to catch and block she expected him to do the same for her. He didn’t like it. When he pitched he wanted to practice getting balls over the plate, not throwing them wildly in the dirt. Besides she wanted him to use a softball. Girls, he wagged his head in disgust. He went to find her anyway, just on the off chance she might be willing to do it and do it on his terms.
The living room was as cool and dim as Faith’s bedroom. The long porch that wrapped around the house from the back sheltered the room from the afternoon sun. Here the curtains were open, only in the very late of the day were they drawn against the last slanting rays of the western sun. Myra, the housekeeper, was sitting in one of the big chairs, feet propped on an ottoman she dozed over the day’s crossword puzzle.
Timothy hated afternoons in the hot summer. The girls stayed in and no one was allowed to visit. Mother and nine month old Zachary napped. Everything had to be quiet. Timothy quailed at the thought of Dad’s wrath if he disturbed mother or Zachary in the afternoons. Disturbing Myra was nearly as bad. Although she never tattled to Dad when he got home, facing Myra’s wrath was enough. He passed her quietly.
He found his younger sister, Hope, in Granddad’s study. The lamp over the brown leather couch glowed above her. Several books lay on the floor, one lay open in her lap another on the couch beside her. Timothy looked in disgust. She was concentrating on one of Grandad’s big books.
“Hey,” He began but she didn’t let him get the request out of his mouth.
“Too hot, I’m busy.” Her finger traced the letters of a word and she carefully mouthed the syllables as she tried to pronounce the unfamiliar word. “Timmer?” It was her turn to begin a request that would not be heard. He was already gone. He knew better than to get caught in Hope’s words. One question would lead to another and the afternoon would be lost in a flurry of useless words.
Life in this house was no fun. Timothy slouched back up the stairs and into his room. The basketball hoop and backboard could have been inviting, but they were under his mother’s window and the noise, he had learned the hard way, disturbed her when she was resting.
As he entered his bedroom, he wanted to slam the door shut. He took out his frustration by throwing his glove several times onto the bed instead. It made soft dents in the light summer spread. He made several more dents before he made a huge dent by flopping himself on it in resignation.
He had asked to go to Uncle Jack’s for the afternoon but Mother had said a big fat NO to that. She said he had been there quite enough for one week. Even Aunt Karen deserved a break from the hubbub.
Timothy wasn’t certain what his mother meant by ‘hubbub.’ He liked Uncle Jack’s house. It was always open and noisy. His cousin Nate was always ready to do whatever he suggested. Uncle Jack was often home in the afternoons in the summer. Sometimes Uncle Jack played ball with them, or took them fishing.
If they stayed at the house, no one had to tiptoe around and be quiet. Even though his little cousin, Joey, was nearly the same age as Zachary, Aunt Karen never hushed them because he was napping . Sometimes there were chores he had to help Nate do, but at least it was something to do. This house, Timothy thought, as he flopped again on his bed, was boring. As the word crossed his mind he thought of it like a long wooden plank that stretched into the distance. Long, and plain and boring, that was Timothy’s house.
Timothy rolled on his stomach, his hand searched under the bed for the book on how to throw different pitches. He slid it out and with his chin hanging over the edge of the bed he began to read. Another long reach brought out a baseball and turning to his back he began to place his fingers in the prescribed positions. It wasn’t how he wanted to pass the afternoon but it would have to do.
Pitching wasn’t what he really wanted to do either. What he really wanted to do was catch. There wasn’t much you could read about catching. Catching was mostly practice. Dad had been a catcher, had taught him how to squat and hold his hand behind him. He had said Timothy should practice; practice keeping his balance; practice leaning without falling; practice, practice, practice. And he had, but he had to practice catching balls, and trapping them and you couldn’t practice if no one wanted to practice with you. It wasn’t that he didn’t like to pitch it was that he liked to catch better. He wanted to have people say he was like his dad.
This afternoon he would have to settle for practicing the holds for pitching. He tried his fingers for the curve ball and one for the fast ball. He sighed heavily. This house was boring. Timothy didn’t know why he had been the one born into such a boring family. Nate and Sam had it good. Their dad was the coach and everyone called them ‘coach’s boys’. The only thing Timothy ever got called was ‘Richards’, or sometimes his family called him ‘Timmer.’ Maybe you couldn’t call that boring, but it was stupid. Boring and stupid, that was what Timothy’s life was. Timothy’s sigh turned into a groan. He wondered what Nate and Sam were doing. It was probably something fun while he was stuck at home for the whole, long, boring and stupid afternoon.
The boring afternoon finally came to and end. Timothy was dressed in his ball clothes when his Dad got home and it was time to go. When they arrived at the ball fields the parking lot was already busy. The cars kept coming, creeping slowly to find the empty spaces and watching carefully for all the children running from the cars. The ball players were dressed in the striped ball pants and brightly colored team shirts, their hats pushed low over their eyes. They worked hard to act casual for the younger children that swarmed around them. They tried to impress them by pulling at their uniforms or caps and clicking their cleats importantly on the pavement.
Timothy and his sisters spilled out of the car, adding their own slamming and clamor to that of the other cars in the lot. Dad opened the rear and began to hand out all the equipment they had brought for the game. There was the stroller for Zachary, Faith hurried to take charge of that. There was the water jug which Timothy snatched before his mother could hand him the diaper bag. Timothy didn’t like to be seen carrying that! Hope got the blanket and the lawn chairs were left for dad to carry. The girls had their own bags as well. The girls played softball but they did not play this evening. They would be back again for their game tomorrow.
The family joined the slow shuffle along the walk to the ball fields. Timothy was beyond T-ball so they did not have to go all the way to the back fields. But even the shorter walk made them hot and sweaty. Aunt Karen and Uncle Jack were already there. Aunt Karen was setting up chairs in the shade of a large tree. At least the sun would be behind them tonight. Dad dropped his load, set up a lawn chair and joined Uncle Jack on the field. Uncle Jack was the coach and Timothy’s dad helped him.
Faith took charge of the blanket. She parked the stroller next to her mom and corralled Hope and her cousins, four year old Annie and two year old Alyssa to help with the blanket. She began to give orders as to where and how it should be spread.
Mom was glad they had picked a tree a space away from the chairs. She knew they would rapidly loose interest in the game. Annie and Alyssa would frustrate them, first complying with their dictates and at some point defying them. Their friends would join them and the blanket would become a mass of giggling and wrestling girls.
While the girls wouldn’t care about the game beyond the fact of winning or losing, six year old Sam cared and watched. He found a seat away from the girls’ nonsense and pulled his cap on to match Nate’s and Timothy’s. Sam played ball also but he hated it that he was not old enough to be on the same team with Timothy and Nate.
Because Uncle Jack and Dad coached they arrived early. Out on the field they conferred over the roster, trying to decide who should play where. Without being told, Nate and Timothy began to throw balls back and forth. The pattern was always the same. Several throws and a step back, several throws and a step back, the space between them increased, their voices rising in volume as they talked. As the other players arrived they began to gather around the coaches. Their eager voices clamored loudly over the ball field.
“Can I pitch?” “It’s my turn to play first.” “When do I bat?” “Am I lead off?” Uncle Jack quelled the commotion with a shrill whistle through his fingers. The boys scrambled to form a line. Dad walked down the line, pointing the boys to their various places on the field. Brandon and Steve raced to the dugout and came out fastening on batting helmets. They grabbed at bats and began swinging. The mother’s cringed as the bats came dangerously close to hitting a face or arm. Steve’s mother shouted at him and he moved to the on deck circle while Brandon stepped into the batter’s box. Batting practice began, so did the giggling and wrestling on the blanket.
Finally the game began. The players forgot about how hot it was. The spectators yelled and shouted getting even hotter in all the commotion and didn’t care that they did.
Between innings Timothy came running for a drink. There was water in the dugout but his mom could tell he also had a complaint. Timothy tried to drink the way he had seen the high school boys drink, tipping the spout above his mouth and letting the water fall into it. Some went in but a good share spilled down his chin and neck. He pulled his t-shirt up and wiped himself dry. His mother waited, knowing the complaint would come. It did.
“Uncle Jack says I am pitching the next time we go out on the field.” He kicked the ground, making certain he did not look at Aunt Karen. He had been playing shortstop. If Uncle Jack had him pitch he wouldn’t get to catch.
“That’s great.” Mom acted like it was something to be excited about. “You’re ahead of them now and he wants YOU to keep it that way.” Timothy scowled. Mother didn’t understand that he didn’t want to pitch. “Do your best no matter where you play.” she commanded cheerily. “You’re batting soon aren’t you? Keep your chin up and watch the ball.” She called as he turned away. He threw her a disgusted glance and ran back to the dugout.
“Honestly Mom, tell him something he DOESN’T know.” Aunt Karen scolded with a laugh.
Timothy’s mom yelled and cheered when Timothy hit what should have been a single and got to second base. He slid head first, the dirt swirling in a cloud around him. Nate was up next and he got to first while Timothy reached third. After that the batters struck out and the cousins were left stranded. Timothy trotted in from third. Brandon threw him his glove and Timothy took the mound.
With the first batter, Timothy sent two well placed strikes across the plate. The batter had not swung. The next pitch got away from him but this time the batter swung anyway. Though the batter was out Timothy knew it was a bad pitch. He frowned. Uncle Jack called encouragement from the sideline, told him to relax. Timothy frowned again, this time it was a frown of concentration. The next batter was a swinger but he was too slow. He struck out also. Calls of ‘good try’ followed him as he threw off the batting helmet and sat down in disgust. “Just put them in there.” Uncle Jack encouraged Timothy again as the next batter took his stance. “Just get them over the plate.”
From behind the fence Timothy’s dad coached the catcher. Tonight it was Brandon. At first base, Nate kept up a steady patter of useless talk. “Hey swing batter, swing batter.” He chanted. He turned to Timothy next. “Hey good one Richards, you got ‘em, he’s no batter.” The first base coach for the other team listened with a slight laugh. It didn’t surprise him, Nate was the son of the high school baseball coach. Anyone could see he took the game seriously.
Out in the field the third baseman had lost interest in the game. There was nothing to watch. No one reached base. No balls came his way. He tipped his head to follow the trail a jet left as it flew. He was turning dizzy circles when his actions caught Uncle Jack’s attention. Uncle Jack yelled at him to be ready. The out fielders had also gotten lazy and Uncle Jack yelled to them too. In the field the players bent slightly, their gloves in the ready position in time to have the umpire call a strike three and the inning was over.
Timothy pitched a second inning. By that time Timothy’s team was ahead by four runs. Timothy knew he wouldn’t get to catch. It was the top of the sixth and if he held them from scoring the game would be over. In the stands the spectators began to lose interest. The sun was hot and there was little hope that the team would produce five runs. They left the bleachers and stood behind the chairs in the shade.
“Nice game,” one of the dad’s said. “That Richards kid sure can pitch.” He watched as the last batter got out and the game was over.
The ball players strung out in a line, they walked past each other, the words ‘good game’ repeated as they went. Timothy’s team worked hard at keeping triumphant smiles from their faces but they broke out into whoops and jumped excitedly as they crowded back into the dugout. They had, after all, won the game.
The moms and dads waited for the players to clean up the dugout and to get their drinks and treats. Uncle Jack told them to be ready to play again on Thursday. The boys sifted through to the waiting parents and they drifted off down the walk. The coaches picked up the equipment and piled it in the bin. They locked it. The girls had been running the bases on the empty field. Uncle Jack whistled and they ran to the trees to help carry things back to the cars.
The children scuttled ahead. Nate and Timothy paused to watch other games still in progress. The girls stopped to say good-bye to all their friends. Dad nudged them from behind. “Move along.” He ordered. “It is hot and I want my supper.”
They repeated the process the next evening. This time it was the girls who played and Dad sat with Mom in the shade. He wasn’t a coach for the girls’ team but he coached Faith and Hope from his chair as he watched.
Timothy lost interest in the softball game quickly. In his opinion girls games were not worth watching. It was softball and it wasn’t as good as baseball. He asked to watch the boys play on the next field. Mom let him go.
Dad cheered and clapped when Faith got a hit. She grinned from first base through the streaks of dirt on her face. She waved, the batting helmet tipped down over her eyes. He cheered again when Hope got a hit also. Her hit sent Faith to third. From first she also waved wildly. The first base coach called her to attention. Promptly she crouched, foot extended, ready to run. When they both scored Dad jumped to his feet. The girls waved even more wildly
In the dugout between innings Hope was busy getting into the catcher’s gear. The coach helped as she twisted and turned to buckle all the straps. Faith was warming up on the mound. Dad was no longer in his chair. He stood at the fence, hands in his pockets, to watch them play. Faith struck out the first two batters. “Atta girl Faith.” Dad called. The third batter hit a high fly ball towards the back stop. Hope tore off her mask and caught it despite the bright sun that was in her eyes. “That’s it Hope, that’s the way.” Dad shouted over the cheering from the stands. Hope flashed another broad smile in their direction as she shuffled off the field. The girls won their game also.
They went to the lake for a long weekend. It was nicer to be at the lake than stuck in the house in the heat. They spent the days down at the dock and in the water. Timothy enjoyed the lake. He liked all the swimming but he didn’t like it that there was no place to practice ball.
By Tuesday they had returned to town and more ball games. As they unloaded the car again, Timothy began to complain about not catching.
“You play where the coach puts you and you do your best.” Dad lectured him sternly. “The coach is looking out for the whole team not one player. Chin up do you hear?”
Timothy backed away from his Dad’s strict undertones. “Yes sir.” He said. Timothy slouched along the walkway. His bat dragged behind him and his attitude was as sullen as he thought Dad would tolerate. He scowled under his hat. Both mom and dad ignored him. From behind them came the quick click of cleats running on the walkway. Brandon dashed around them and whacked Timothy on the back with his glove.
“Hey Richards, you gonna pitch a no hitter today?” Brandon’s tone held admiration as well as teasing. Timothy perked up immediately and slapped him back.
“Don’t know.” Timothy replied.
“If I catch I’ll keep you from looking bad.” Brandon teased again and poked Timothy with his bat. Timothy poked him back and they broke into a run. Happily yelling insults at each other, they jostled through the spectators to the ball fields.