Baseball has been a continuing metaphor the 48 years I've been on this Earth. The Kevin Costner movie of the late 80s truly made an even more powerful and vivid personification for me given so many parallels between the movie characters and relationships in my own world. Although I worked for my father and saw him nearly every day of my life until his untimely death there was always some weird chasm between us that seemed impossible to bridge.
For Fathers Day about two years before his death I gave my Dad a ball glove and we had our first catch in well over twenty years. I don't think it was a coincidence that our relationship and communication improved almost immediately. For some reason that short child-like game of toss allowed him to relax enough to be just "dad" instead of the controlling Type-A workaholic personality that dominated my image of him.
Interestingly my grandfather was a little jealous of that gift. He had been a semi-professional catcher for his Kentucky coal mine team back in the 1940s and 50s. My mother still tells stories of the whole family having to drive 8 hours "back home" almost every weekend so Papa could play baseball. So a few months later, on July 4th, 1990 I gave Papa his own new ball glove and we had our game of catch as well. About a month later he was dead from a sudden massive heart attack. His glove was laid to rest with him so that he and I could have another catch one day. A little over two years later my father was gone too. This time I kept his glove with the intention of one day handing it to Carroll B. Waddell, III.
Ben does indeed have that baseball mitt. He even has another one that has the date "9-6-95" written in the palm. That was the day Joan and I said goodbye to a child we never actually met. We saw him or her on an ultrasound screen but were not given the chance to hold that baby. At least not just yet. I'd like to think that Papa Carroll and Papa Cameron needed another person to play catch with on occasion. So there is another glove still waiting to be broken in, sitting Ben's room for a chance to snag a hard hit grounder in the hole or a deep fly ball at the warning track.
Me and Ben will have our catch one day. I will watch him pound the ball into the palm of his glove a couple of times before his right arm cocks back. It moves in slow motion. I notice sweat beads on his forehead just underneath the bill of his red cap. Ben's left leg takes a step toward me as his right one pushes his trunk forward. He is healthy. He is whole. And his smile is even bigger than the one I've grown so accustomed to over the last eleven years. His right hand appears above his shoulder, the wrist snaps forward, and the ball begins it's flight. In a few nanoseconds I'll hear and feel the slap of leather in my palm. I look back across the field and there is my son. Grinning. Standing. Arms waving, calling for the return throw. It is a vision so vivid I can almost smell the leather...
I put the glove back on the shelf and lean over to kiss him goodnight. Under the heavy sedation from a hard day's work at therapy I see him smiling. His lips begin to move as if he is having a conversation. Perhaps my dad or my grandfather are calling for him to "batter up." After all, tonight he has his dreams to attend to.
Bennie and Ben generally talk baseball and other fun topics at their blog, A Work of Art: Raising Our Exceptional Son.