A field of dreams in one boy’s mind

. October 25, 2012.
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For hours at a time the boy would play, by himself in reality but never alone in his mind.
In a crumbling concrete alley behind his two-story house, built a year before Babe Ruth first stepped on a Major League Baseball field, the boy, his tattered glove and a rubber ball were at the center of the universe.
He would hurl that ball, again and again, at one of two three-foot-wide sections of cinderblock on either side of a garage door with flaking white paint. He played every infield position, and seldom did he make an error.
Hitting that wall about a foot above the ground would produce a standard ground ball, which he would scoop up cleanly before gunning the ball again, this time high off the wall, to simulate the throw to first base. As the ball bounced off the cinderblock, the boy shifted infield positions. Now, he was the first-baseman, waiting at the bag for the throw that would just barely beat the imaginary runner to first base.
Around the horn he would go, just like in infield practice before his Little League games. He would adjust his arm angle on his tosses to mimmic the actual throwing angles each position player would use to relay the ball to first base. He’d plant his right foot and make a strong, overhand throw as the third-basemen. He’d use a crow hop and throw on the move as the shortstop. As the second-baseman, he’d employ more of a sidearm toss.
But baseball isn’t only played in the infield. If he threw the ball hard but bounced it on the ground about a foot in front of the wall, it would rise in the air like a fly ball headed toward the outfield fence.
Now, the boy became an outfielder, bent on robbing the unseen hitter of what looked like a certain home run. Across the alley was a garage painted green (what other color could the outfield wall be?).  The garage door protruded slightly, leaving a one-foot ledge about six feet from the ground.
That ledge, in the boy’s stadium of the mind, marked the top of the outfield wall. The boy had mastered the ricochet to the point where he could make that ball fall from the sky near that ledge almost every time.
So, as the ball descended, the boy would drift back toward the garage. Timing his leap perfectly, he would extend his glove just above the ledge and snag the ball before it left the park, stealing a sure home run from the batter.
Other times, the boy would take his imagination into his backyard, with its thick, green lawn not much bigger than a welcome mat. A plastic bat, a sponge ball, and the memorized lineups of teams drafted from his baseball card collection became the tools of the game.
He not only knew the lineups, but he knew the batting stances and quirks of every player in his lineups. He’d mimmic their swings as he hit that sponge ball, even adjusting the force of the swing to the power of the real-life player.
The back of the boy’s house was a mix of odd angles and varying roof lines — the perfect set for an imaginary stadium. A ball reaching the roof of the breakfast room, added to the house years after it was built, was a home run. The main roof line then angled down above the addition and over my bedroom. Anything making it that far was an upper-deck shot. In straightaway center field, the outer wall rose the full two stories, making it the toughest home run to hit.
For hours, the imaginary stadium would be his sanctuary. As that boy’s favorite team, the Detroit Tigers, plays in the World Series this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about him.
I miss him.
 
John Deem grew up in Toledo and graduated from the University of Toledo. He now is a writer living in Huntersville, N.C.  He can be contacted at johnd@lakenormancitizen.com.